How would your life be different if you had a crystal clear life purpose?
Would you wake up in the morning excited to tackle it? Would it give you the strength to push through and achieve it no matter what, because you knew it’s what you were destined to do?
I sure thought so, but there was just one problem… I didn’t really have a clear life purpose. Sure I have a pretty good idea of what I’d want many aspects of my life to look like, but it just felt like the clarity and focus for where I should be going was missing.
I am going through another phase of my life right now where I’m thinking, “okay, what next?” Which naturally spurs the question, “what is my life purpose?”
My challenge is to create a life purpose statement, and create a life that follows it.
Step one today is coming up with the life purpose statement.
Past Visions of Purpose
I got to thinking about way back in high school when one of my goals was to be an AP National Scholar, which involved passing 8 AP exams.
My school put the pictures of all those who achieved AP National Scholar status up on a wall of fame. You could see the AP National Scholars of yore stretching back over 10 years to the advent of the program.
The first time I saw the pictures on the wall, I knew that I wanted mine to be there too.
Come senior year I still needed to take 5 AP classes to pick up the remaining scores I needed. I don’t think I’ve ever worked so hard on anything before or since.
At the semester break I was buckling from stress. Thoughts of dropping the AP classes and taking Art instead danced through my head. But knowing that I wanted my picture on that wall kept me going.
The last semester before the exams was a knock down, drag out battle. At one point I was a week behind on assignments and ready to crack. But every time I was down I thought about the picture on the wall, and that refocused my energy and gave me the strength to continue.
My toils were rewarded and I did become an AP National Scholar.
Since then I have reflected back on that experience and thought, “now that is what it is like to have purpose.” I always kept thinking somehow I needed to get back to something that gave me that kind of supernatural determination.
Mis-Identifying Life Purpose
The idea of a life purpose is a lot like the idea of a soul mate.
If you believe that there is only one specific pre-ordained one out there for you, you are probably headed for trouble. For example, what if your soul mate lives in a small village in India and you never get a chance to even meet her? Whoops.
Life purposes are similar. What if you think your life purpose is to be a great lawyer, then don’t even get into law school. Or maybe mid-career you get laid off.
Laid off from your life purpose? Whoops.
Or what if you think your life purpose is to be the world’s greatest parent, then the kids move out at 18 and you are empty nested. Whoops, now what to do with the rest of your life.
Even at a “higher” level, what if you are a world-class tennis player and your life purpose is to be a tennis champion. Then whoops, turn 30 and can’t compete at the world level anymore. Now you have to live the remaining 50 years or more of your life NOT following your life purpose.
Perhaps the most troubling to me was, what happens if I think I’m living my life purpose for 20, 30, or 40 years then realize I was wrong?
Clearly there is a hole in the life purpose boat.
A New Definition of Life Purpose
Like most people I had incorrectly assumed that a life purpose was something I was supposed to “do” in my life, or a specific role that I was supposed to fill.
Brad Swift explains that a life purpose is more about the “being” than the “doing.” A life purpose is a context for our life that describes the type of person that we want to be. There are many different paths of “doing” to live in accordance with our life purpose.
For example, you might cast your life on purpose as “a life of wisdom shared to better the lives of others.” You could manifest that life purpose in many different ways such as being a teacher, counselor, or maybe even an investigative reporter who brings truth to the people.
The idea is to cast your life purpose in terms of who you are being or what you are experiencing, and find ways of doing that allow you to be and experience it.
Good and Bad Ways of Discovering Life Purpose
When you don’t have clarity on life purpose, anything you do to try to find it feels like a shot in the dark.
For a long time I thought maybe I just needed to get out and try more things, do different jobs, experience different lifestyles and eventually I’d stumble upon a worthy life purpose.
The problem? It’s kind of like saying, there’s a million dollars in a paper bag at the back door of a house in Los Angeles, go find it. There are many, many houses in Los Angeles. You might spend a lifetime looking and never find it.
There must be a better way than the trial and error approach.
Swift’s Life on Purpose Process has you look back at three main areas of your life:
- Times when you felt the most alive
- People you enjoy being around the most
- Your most important core values
What are the main themes? What were you being or experiencing in those situations?
If you really felt alive when you made a concentrated effort to eat healthy and go to kickboxing classes for a few months last year then looked back and noticed that this is a repeating pattern in your life, one element of your life purpose might be “healthy living.”
If you finally took that vacation to the tropics and felt like a starving man who’s had his first meal in six months, a kernel of your life purpose might be experiencing more freedom.
Creating a Life Purpose Statement
First, I looked back at my notes about the times I felt most alive, people I enjoyed being around the most, and my core values.
I also asked my parents, grandmother, and significant other for their third party perspective on my life.
I identified these common themes:
- I feel most alive when I am traveling, on the move, and exploring new places and peoples
- I like to have lots of unstructured time and be around others who also have unstructured time
- I value independence, straightforwardness, honesty, authenticity, and loyalty
- I like to be in a tight-knit community of like minded individuals
- I like people who are good at what they do and live with integrity
- I like to live in warm places
Then I broken down these themes into what I was being, experiencing, or connecting with in those moments:
- Intimacy and connectedness with smart, like-minded people
- Health in body and mind
- Quenched curiosity
- Experiencing unfamiliar and novel ways of being
- Self understanding and mastery
- Self confidence and being-enoughness
Finally I combined all of these elements into a life purpose statement that would create a fulfilling life and powerful context to shape the “doingness” of my life:
A Life on Purpose is a life of abundant freedom, fun and light-hearted exploration, healthy living, and intimate understanding of self, human, earth, and universal connectedness. It’s a life of experiencing new ways of being facilitated by health and freedom.
At this point I, and I’m sure you, are left with questions.
Okay, that sounds nice, but what do you actually do about it? Okay hippy, once you’ve had fun freeing your mind shouldn’t you just get a normal job like everyone else?
And those will be the subjects of future posts.
Your Life Purpose Statement
If you coalesced the times that you felt most alive, the people you enjoy being with the most, and the values that you believe the most strongly in into a single statement, what would it look like?
What were you experiencing in those moments and who were you being? How could you describe that experience in general terms rather than specific terms? (ie, achieving self mastery vs. learning karate)
What are the recurring themes? How could you refine them into a single powerful life purpose statement?
If you found this post helpful, I highly recommend reading Life On Purpose by Brad Swift.