May 31, 2020
In last week's Sabbath Ramblings, I described the vast importance of Presence, and how the growing awareness of the magic of Presence influenced my own retooling of my purpose statement for life. You can read that post in it's entirety (something I recommend doing before reading this post) here.
But how exactly does one form a purpose statement, and why is that important anyways?
That's exactly what you're about to discover.
Why Purpose Is Important
Let's start here…
In a “cut” section of my book Boundless—which was originally to be an entire chapter on the Biology of Belief (my beloved publishers wound up cutting over 450 pages, but they all “live on” on the book website as bonus sections for any Boundless book owners)—I include what I refer to in that chapter as “my final, most potent tip for increasing your energy vibration and the vibrations of all people around you,” and it was this…
…identify your purpose in life and enable yourself to achieve that unique purpose to the very best of your ability while loving God and loving others as fully as possible with that purpose.
See, when it comes to being happy and living a long time, it’s not your 48th ayahuasca trip, relentless pursuit of six-pack abs, a better WOD time, finally discovering the perfect diet, polyamory and open relationships, or any other recent infatuation of the health, wellness, and longevity movement. All flesh and blood is like a plant that eventually dies: just look around. The fastest track athlete will eventually be defeated by muscle loss, neural degradation, and arthritis. The most beautiful supermodel in the world will not be on the cover of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue when she’s ninety-seven years old. Even wealthy, powerful CEOs get betrayed by their bodies and die.
Yep, we fade. We wither away. As 1 Peter 1:24 in the Bible says: “All people are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall.”
What is in fact contributing most to your energy vibrations at any given moment isn’t your beauty or your fitness or your accomplishments—but rather your soul. Your spirit. Therein lies your ability to be truly boundless. I even have a tattoo on my shoulder that I emblazoned onto my skin when I was just 20 years old. It’s the Japanese Kanji symbol for Ki: which is also known as chi, soul, spirit, chakra, prana, and the invisible, boundless life force that flows through all of us. Caring for this all-encompassing energy of my body is how I live my life.
See, true and lasting happiness is not achieved by external circumstances, not your thoughts, not your intentions, not even your feelings, but your inner soul. In his book Soul Keeping, author John Ortberg defines the soul as that aspect of your whole being that correlates, integrates and enlivens everything else. He writes that we all have two worlds: an outer world that is visible and public and obvious, and an inner world that may be chaotic and dark, or may be gloriously beautiful.
In the end, the outer world fades, and all you are left with then is your inner world.
But ironically, the more obsessed we are with ourselves, our fitness, our cognitive performance, our finances, and our food, the more we tend to neglect our souls. When your soul is not centered and right, you tend to define yourself by your accomplishments, your physical appearance, your title, or your social circles and friends. But then, when you lose these, you tend to lose your identity. I’ve experienced this myself when I’ve gotten injured, sick, or had a poor race or workout and subsequently felt like I was losing my happiness and transitioning to a lower level of energy vibration because I was losing my identity as an athlete or a healthy person. Suddenly the emptiness of those shallow pursuits becomes distinctly magnified. Perhaps this is why one of my favorite Bible verses, Mark 8:36 says, “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?”
So how do you connect with and care for your soul? I’ll tell you how.
You must ask yourself: What is the core part of you that you want folks to talk about at your funeral?
In other words, what is your purpose?
If you’re not clear on this, ask some people who know you well to describe why they think God put you on earth and what your unique skills and talents are that seem to flow naturally from you. Ask them what should be written on your gravestone. Ask them what they think your purpose is. I’ll hazard a guess that it’s not that you were the best exerciser, or followed an amazing, flawless diet, or had gorgeous skin, or made oodles of money.
But it’s not enough to simply identify your purpose (a process I'll teach you how to do shortly). To truly connect with and care for your soul, you must connect with your inner self, and ask yourself this one question:
“What aspect of my life can I change today that will allow me to care for my soul so that I can identify and achieve that purpose?”
Maybe it’s a meditation practice. Maybe it’s stepping into a church. Maybe it’s mending a torn relationship. Maybe it’s stopping to breathe. Maybe it’s dropping a relentless pursuit of a better body and brain and instead realizing that you’ve been horribly skewed and that to truly achieve deep, meaningful satisfaction in life, you must begin to care for the most important part of you that will exist for eternity and begin to share that discovery with the rest of the world by living your entire life based on your core purpose. No matter what it is that must change, you’ll find that you must often radically change your environment and change your habits. This might mean staying in bed an extra ten minutes to gratitude journal, ditching the evening Netflix show to hang out instead with the family, or taking a weekend rest day to go and volunteer at the homeless shelter rather than going on a 2-hour bike ride or doing back-to-back workouts.
So let me ask you this: What is your purpose? And how alive is your soul so that you can identify and fuel that purpose? Now, take a deep breath in through your nose, and out through your mouth. Feel your spirit. Feel your soul. Feel it? It’s there; it may be shriveled up and dry and neglected but it’s there, ready for you to grow and nurture it. Take one more deep breath in through your nose, then smile and breathe out. You are an amazing soul. You are here for a purpose.
Are you now convinced that having a purpose is of pretty big importance in your life? If so, and if you still need help identifying or developing your purpose and your personal why, then keep reading.
How To Find Your Purpose In Life
So now we get down to brass tacks. How exactly does one identify their purpose in life?
I've studied up on this quite a bit, and there are plenty of purpose-finding materials and resources I've thoroughly read and reviewed, with some of my favorites including:
- Claim Your Power by Mastin Kipp
- Limitless by Jim Kwik
- Personality Isn't Permanent by Benjamin Hardy
- The Values Factor by John DeMartini
- Don't Waste Your Life by John Piper
- True North: Discover Your Authentic Leadership by Bill George
- Websites such as Life Purpose Quiz, TheWhyStack.com, StartWithWhy.com, and WhyInstitute.com
Geez. That's a lot of content about purpose.
So do you now need to drop everything and spend the next three months of your life reading all that?
You'd probably come out the other side a better, more purposeful person.
But one area in which I think I can do you a convenient service is to succinctly distill into a few key tips what I personally learned from each of these books and websites, and what I see as recurring themes in most purpose-finding literature and resources like those cited above. I can guarantee that if you use the following steps and tips I've created to identify your purpose, you'll have harnessed 80% of the goodness from those resources above and be left with the option to delve into them on your own free time, if you so desire.
So here we go. I recommend that as you read the steps below, you sit down with a journal and jot down your replies with a pen or pencil and paper. You may even want to print this article and tuck it into a journal so you can step away from the computer, e-reader, or smartphone so you're in a different set and setting with fewer distractions and notifications as you complete these exercises.
How To Find Your Purpose In Life, Step 1: What did you like to do when you were a kid?
You were born with a unique set of skills and talents—things you tend to be good at based on the way your brain is wired, the way your genetics are assembled, and the way your body is built. As a result of these nature-based traits, along with nurture-based influence from the family and households you grew up in, you likely tend to enjoy and be good at specific activities.
For example, I grew up absolutely loving reading books; writing stories; learning via documentaries, courses, and movies; teaching what I learned to others; singing songs; speaking in front of people; creating art and new ideas; and competing in sports and other games, such as chess and video games.
So my own personal purpose statement is…
…”To Read & Write, Learn & Teach, Sing & Speak, Compete & Create In Full Presence & Selfless Love, To The Glory Of God.”
See how that weaves in many of the same things that made me excited when I was a kid? Those are the activities that still ignite my joy and put me into a state of flow.
If you're a bit foggy about what you were actually like and what you enjoyed to do when you were a little boy or a little girl, then, if your parents or relatives who were close to you at that time are still alive, invite those folks out to dinner or a coffee. When you sit down with them, ask them one question:
“What was I like when I was a kid?”
That's it. Then prepare to sit back, listen, and take notes.
How To Find Your Purpose In Life, Step 2: What puts you “in the zone” now?
In positive psychology, a flow state, also known as “being in the zone,” is a mental state in which you are performing an activity where you are fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, enjoyment, and presence in the process of that activity.
For example, if I sit down in front of a blank Word document on my computer and begin to write, my concept of time vanishes. I'll write for hours. Words just flow out of me. I don't think about food or drink, and I'm often oblivious to everything else going on around me, even if I'm in a busy coffee shop. I've always been wired that way. My wife, on the other hand, absolutely detests writing and would rather walk on a bed of nails than pen an essay. However, if you plant her in front of a blank canvas and give her a set of paintbrushes and oil, she'll absolutely bloom, painting for hours on end as she enters the zone with a satisfied smile on her face. (I, on the other hand, will cringe as I forcefully attempt to “make art happen.”)
So what puts you in the zone at this point in your life? Writing? Art? Craftsmanship like woodworking or building something with your hands? Gardening? Exercise? Programming?
Identify those activities, and weave them into your purpose statement. I guarantee you'll find overlap between those activities and what you enjoyed doing when you were a kid.
How To Find Your Purpose In Life, Step 3: What naturally comes easy to you?
This may seem a bit redundant with what you enjoyed doing when you were a kid and what puts you in the zone now, but it's important to take into account because if your purpose statement is built around those activities that naturally come easy to you, you'll be highly self-actualized as you live out that purpose statement. Self-actualized people are those who are significantly fulfilled, driven, and joyful in their day-to-day activities. For self-actualized people living out their true purpose in life, a day of work often feels like a day of play.
And guess what? There's absolutely nothing to be ashamed about if work comes easy to you. Often, we have a belief pattern, perhaps influenced by the traditional so-called Puritanical work ethic philosophy* that a day of work needs to be a day of drudge, drenched in blood, sweat, and tears; and we frequently believe that only at the end of a day of work can we take a deep sigh of relief and “play” (although we're typically so exhausted by the hard work that play is the equivalent of junk food binges, video games, and Netflix).
But, as Mark Twain said, if you “find a job you enjoy doing, you will never have to work a day in your life.”
Others have shared Twain's thoughts. Here's what Stephen King has to say:
“Yes, I've made a great deal of dough from my fiction, but I never set a single word down on paper with the thought of being paid for it … I have written because it fulfilled me. Maybe it paid off the mortgage on the house and got the kids through college, but those things were on the side–I did it for the buzz. I did it for the pure joy of the thing. And if you can do it for the joy, you can do it forever.”
Steve Jobs noted that:
“Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.”
Then there's Thomas Edison, who said:
“I never did a day's work in my life, it was all fun.”
You get the idea. Work can just flow from you. When it does, and when it feels like play, that's another sign you're living out your true purpose. Sure, there will be times when you experience what Steven Pressfield refers to as the “resistance”—rationalizing, fear and anxiety, distractions, the voice of an inner critic, and other elements that keep you from creating your authentic art, whatever that creation of art might be—but this resistance doesn't indicate you're not living out your purpose. It's just the day-to-day temptation towards laziness or fear of the unknown, failure, or embarrassment that we all face. Learn to identify the resistance to living your purpose, embrace the resistance as a sign that you're engaged in something impactful, then press on (and definitely read Steven's book Do The Work!).
*a quick note regarding the Puritanical work ethic. I don't mean to throw the Puritans under the bus. In the book, “Exploring New England's Spiritual Heritage“, author Garth Rosell describes how the Puritans were encouraged to identify their purpose in life with much prayer and reflection, to take into account their natural gifts and inclinations, to seek the advice and confirmation their friends and family, and to consider the practical needs of the community in which they lived.
Interestingly, those who were gifted for and inclined to “sundry callings” (the equivalent of a blue-collar worker, such as farming, construction, etc. – which in modern days could be the warehouse worker, firefighter, construction worker, custodian, etc.) must seek to discover which of these callings is “the best.” Similarly, those who were privileged to study in what was called “the schools of the prophets” and at liberty to become school-masters, physicians, lawyers, or ministers were considered to have a special obligation to seek among these available options their very “best calling.”
Regardless of what career was chosen by these Puritans, their callings were encouraged to conform to three basic principles. First, to serve the public good and to seek one another's welfare. Second, to have “gifts of body and mind” suitable to that calling (although they also believed rightly that when God calls a person to a particular task, he will also provide the appropriate gifts to fulfill it). Third, to be sure that calling is from God, by relying upon prayer, the guidance of the Bible, the counsel of friends, the encouragement of the community and the existence of an open door opportunity.
If that vocation was considered to be homely, boring or ordinary, they focused upon performing that task nonetheless to the glory of God and the good of others. After all, Jesus himself girded himself with a towel, and washed His disciples' feet. If a Puritan was anxious about whether or not their work is successful, they were encouraged to “cast their burden upon the Lord” and to find contentment whatever the circumstance.
So ultimately, while I don't think that work, especially working in our true purpose and calling, needs to be viewed as a daily drudge of sweat, blood and tears, I do agree with this Puritan philosophy that no matter what your work is, it should be chosen carefully according to your unique gifts and the counsel of God, friends and family, be done in full excellence, with a spirit of love towards others with no complaining, and, finally should “multiple purposes” be available to one, the best purpose is the one most highly suited to your gifts.
There are other questions you can ask yourself, but the ones I've listed above, for simplicity's sake, are in my opinion, the most effective. However, should you like to take a deeper dive, a book like Brian Scott's The Reality Revolution lays out even more questions, including:
-When have you felt most fulfilled?
-When has your life held the most meaning?
-When have you felt most aligned?
-When you were younger, what did you want to do when you grew up?
-What experiences in your life have prepared you for something incredible?
-What are you consistently drawn to, and why are you drawn to that thing?
-If you had a year to live, what would you spend your time doing?
-If you had a month to live—healthy, but limited in time—what would you spend your time doing?
-If you lived to be 120 and could look back over a long and fulfilling life with satisfaction, what would you remember the most?
-If you won the lottery and all your financial needs were handled, and you had already spent time buying toys and traveling and having fun—what would you do when you got bored?
-What would you do if your resources could go toward something meaningful instead of just survival?
-Imagine that all of your issues and wounds were things that your soul deliberately chose to develop and sharpen you. What have they given you?
-If you knew you were going to die tomorrow, how would you want to be remembered?
-What would a younger me think about me now? On this point, Brian reasons in The Reality Revolution that, “Often, the wisest version of ourselves was when we were seven years old. Ask that kid what they think. After all, this is the life that your younger self wound up living. What would they say about it? Creating that perspective can give you some good answers about who you are and where you’re going.
-What can you do to help the world? For this question, Brian notes that, “Wanting the new Lamborghini or that perfect mansion is understandable and fine, but thinking outside of yourself is often transformative in a way that wanting things can never be. When you really find your purpose—when everything starts to make sense—it’s often when you’re thinking about how you can help other people with your talents and skills. Your heart will line up with your mind and soul in many ways.
-And even…what am I willing to put up with?
This last question is based on Brian's reasoning that people who have found their purpose are often people who were willing to put up with plenty of less-than-ideal situations. In other words, life is not going to be rosy and wonderful, even if you’re aligned with a purpose. Sometimes you have to work hard and sometimes there is a sacrifice or some sort of cost or struggle that you’ll have to face. Brian says: “Knowing this at the onset can help you to narrow down your purpose. For example, if you want to be a tech entrepreneur but you can’t handle failure, you’re not going to make it very far. On the other hand, if you’re willing to work eighteen-hour days for a couple of months to get your book written or your software complete and that sacrifice seems worth it to you, then you’ll start moving closer to your purpose.”
How To Find Your Purpose In Life, Step 4: Summarize your purpose into one single, succinct statement that you can memorize.
This next step will take practice.
Write down all those things you loved to do when you were a kid, those activities that put you into the flow now, and what naturally comes easy to you.
Then connect the dots and try to express all those elements into one single, succinct purpose statement that you can easily memorize.
Again, my purpose statement is…
…”To Read & Write, Learn & Teach, Sing & Speak, Compete & Create In Full Presence & Selfless Love, To The Glory Of God.”
Before that, it was…
…”To Empower People To Live A More Adventurous, Joyful & Fulfilling Life“.
Keep your purpose statement specific, precise, concise, clear, and goal-oriented. Write it down. It might be two to three paragraphs at first. Then a paragraph. Then a couple of sentences. Then one sentence. Refine it. Edit it. Write it again. Have no guilt about changing it a dozen times if need be. But you must, must, must make it short and easy to memorize so that you can quickly recall it and rely upon it when the bullets of the matrix of life are flying at you and you need to remind yourself of why you are doing what you are doing.
Finally, understand that your purpose statement can change over time as your passions and personality changes. C.S. Lewis, one of my favorite authors of all time, once said “You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.” So your purpose statement during this chapter of the book that is your life may change in the next chapter of your life. That's OK. Don't feel guilty, flaky, or schizophrenic about that. Be open to change and do so by sitting down with your purpose statement on at least a yearly basis—reviewing it, analyzing it, praying over it, meditating upon it, and questioning it to get clarity on whether it still fully aligns with what your soul knows to be true. Run it by friends and family members to get an objective opinion. Do that the first time you write your purpose statement and continue to do it for every future purpose statement you create.
How To Find Your Purpose In Life, Step 5: Love God & love others with your purpose.
Finally, no matter how good your purpose statement is, it will never be truly fulfilling or impactful if it's all about you.
If the motivation behind and reason for your purpose statement is to make more money, own a better car, have a nicer home, attract successful people, run faster, get stronger or achieve, achieve, achieve, then you'll never truly be happy, and in the end, your purpose will feel selfish, meaningless, empty, and unfulfilling.
Instead, once you have written your purpose statement sentence, you must go forth and love others with your purpose. Bless others selflessly with your purpose. Change the world with your purpose because you love people, not because you want to fulfill Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs or scratch your own back. Follow the Golden Rule with your purpose. Pursue your purpose with zero selfishness and in full love for your fellow human beings, and, trust me, the rewards back to you will naturally come in due time. But the focus of living out your purpose statement should not be on your own happiness, but rather the happiness of others. That's what will truly make you happy.
Furthermore, don't just love others with your purpose, but also love God with your purpose. After all, you were created a unique being in the image of God, and one of the greatest things you can do with your purpose is to wake up each morning and, as one of my trusted mentors once told me, “Do the very best thing that day with whatever God has put on your plate.” By doing your work and living out your purpose each day with supreme excellence, you'll magnify and glorify the mightiest Being this world knows, and that's the greatest love and greatest gift you can give back to the Creator who put you here in the first place and bestowed upon you the unique skills, body, and brain you've been blessed with.
One of my favorite preachers, John Piper, puts it this way:
“We are not called to be microscopes. We are called to be telescopes…There is nothing and nobody superior to God. And so the calling of those who love God is to make his greatness begin to look as great as it really is. That’s why we exist, why we were saved, as Peter says in 1 Peter 2:9, “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”
So our whole duty in life, therefore, can be summed up like this: Feel, think, and act in a way that will make God look as great as he really is. Be a telescope for the world of the infinite starry wealth of the glory of God.
Yes, live your purpose in full love for others and for the magnification and glory of God. I guarantee the impact of your life will be profound if that's the lens through which you see and manner with which you live out your purpose.
I realize that's plenty to digest, so I'll stop there.
So now it's simply time to calendar a time with your journal to address these thought exercises:
- What did you like to do when you were a kid?
- What puts you “in the zone” now?
- What naturally comes easy to you?
- Summarize your purpose into one single, succinct statement that you can memorize.
- Love God & love others with your purpose.
Finally, if you're curious or troubled about whether you truly have identified your purpose correctly, then consider these words from my friend Brett McKay from his ArtOfManliness article “You Know You’ve Found Your Purpose When…”:
“Your life’s purpose — whether as a profession magnifier, human caretaker, faith promulgator, or cause catalyzer — is essential to find, but can be difficult to discern. You know you’ve found yours when, despite the risk, pain, effort, and mundanity (and no matter the purpose, the mundanity always far outweighs the excitement), you can do naught else but continually return to its trenches.”
Based on all this, I have one challenge for you: Spend time over the next day, week, or month identifying, honing, writing, and memorizing your purpose; and then, in the comments section below, write your purpose statement for the world to see. I promise to read them all. You can also leave any of your questions, comments, or feedback in the comments section below.