3 Strategies to Living a Life of Purpose
I can’t tell you how many people over the years have written to me with that exact question.
They read The Cafe on the Edge of the World, or The Big Five for Life, and get super psyched to live a more meaningful life. Then they stop and go, “But wait, I don’t really know what I want to do with my life.”
Which then leads to them emailing me asking, “How do I find my life purpose?”
So let me share some concepts to give this a bit of perspective, and some specific tactics and tips to assist you in living a life of purpose.
First of all, it makes perfect sense that we feel called to live a meaningful existence. The average life is approximately 28,900 days. Hopefully more, sometimes less, but statistically 28,900 days. If you really want to put a little motivation into your day, multiply your age by 365, then subtract from 28,900 and statistically, that’s about how many days you have left on the planet.
Feel free to take a moment to do the math.
“multiply your age by 365, then subtract from 28,900 and statistically, that’s about how many days you have left on the planet.”
Finished? Is the answer shocking somehow? Are you asking yourself, “What the????”
I know. That simple little exercise really puts the concept of a day into perspective.
Suddenly the idea of trying to fast forward to Friday each week doesn’t seem as appealing.
Our days are precious. A valuable commodity. At a deep, fundamental level we get this. And the big question is, what are we going to do with them?
The answer to that lies in a very simple, yet profound grouping of just four little words.
Why are you here?
I first raised this question in the book, The Cafe on the Edge of the World. In that story a guy walks into a tiny little cafe in a location so remote it’s in the middle, of the middle of nowhere. He sits down, flips over the cafe menu and finds three questions. The first one being, “Why are you here?” A hundred and twenty or so pages later, he’s had his whole world rocked in a positive way and is looking at life overall, and his life in particular from a new perspective.
Because when we ask that question of ourselves, “Why am I here?”
And I mean really ask it with intention— “Why am I here?” It opens us to living a life that goes way beyond just responding to everyone else’s definition of success, immediate needs, current email crisis… It opens us up to living a life of purpose.
How to find your purpose in life
It’s really not hard to find your purpose in life if you use the right strategies.
Over time this idea of discovering our life’s purpose has taken on almost mythical characteristics for some people. Maybe it’s the influence of Hollywood, but I’ve noticed a lot of times people are waiting for the booming voice that calls to them from the sky and announces their destiny.
“Lisa Jones of Chicago, Illinois, YOU shall open a flower shop.”
“Thomas Garcia of Montgomery, Alabama, YOU shall become graphic designer.”
While that would be pretty darn interesting, that’s not really the way it works for most people. In my experience, there’s a certain small percentage of the population that feels called to a particular purpose from the time they’re a kid. They’ve known since they were five, ten or twelve they wanted to help animals, teach, be a baker…. That then guides them in their choices, because knowing our purpose is like having a clearly defined “North” on our own personal compass through life.
What should I study? Where should I live? How can I spend my time in more meaningful ways? These all become a lot easier to answer when we know the answer to that question— Why am I here?
For those of us who didn’t feel that calling from a young age, instead of waiting for the booming voice, it’s about taking steps to find our “North”.
So here are three strategies to help you discover your life’s purpose.
#1. Find patterns in who you are drawn to
Look out at the world and the people in it, and ask yourself who you admire? And what is it about those people that’s admirable in your eyes? Is it their job, lifestyle, way they spend their free time, how they conduct themselves…?
Then think about your all-time favorite movies. What are the roles of the main characters? Are they adventurers, statesman, philanthropists, business icons …?
Lastly, think about the books you loved as a kid. Who were the heroes in them? What things did they do? What attributes did they display?
Take time to think through those three questions and note the common attributes of your answers. You’ll discover a ton about who you are at your core, and what your calling is.
#2. Ask the big question and see what answers you get
Remember that first question from the cafe menu in The Cafe on the Edge of the World?
Why are you here?
When we ask that question of ourself, — Why am I here? and I mean really ask it with intention.
“Why am I here?”
It’s amazing what we learn.
Now the thing is, we’ve been trained by our technological advances to expect instant answers to our questions. We can get on Google and type in some of the most random questions ever, like “What type of dog is best for a farm?” Or “Where was ice cream invented?” and within a split second, there’s the answer.
Uncovering our purpose isn’t often that instantaneous though. It’s a big question and the answer is different and often multifaceted for each of us. To further complicate things a bit, our unconscious mind can’t talk to us in plain text like Google can. The unconscious serves up our answers in flashes of insight, clues our body gives us, random moments of awareness, memories which suddenly resurface…
So realize it might take more than a single moment of contemplation while waiting in a crowded Starbucks for that latte to be ready, in order to find your answer. But if you stick with it and apply some basic principles like allocating time for introspection, disconnecting from distractions, and leveraging the power of nature…the answer will come.
#3. Get in the game and see what feels right
At some point, we have to stop reading the directions and start putting the darn thing together. In the context of figuring out our purpose, that means taking the directional clues we have and start trying things. If we feel called to help animals, volunteer for a day at an animal shelter. Or sign up at rover.com and get paid to take some dogs for a walk.
If we think spending time on the ocean is our thing, then at some point we have to stop watching videos about watercraft and actually get in one. It doesn’t mean we have to go out and buy a 42-foot twin engine dive boat, but sign up for a one-hour guided kayaking trip is a step in the right direction.
The trick is to pick something you think is right, try it on, and go from there. There’s a level of fearlessness here which is required as you try new things, but if you sample your way to success with this, the process will be a lot easier and yield better results. Through that process, you start narrowing down where you want to spend your precious days.
Keep in mind, too, that there’s a difference between the river and the ports of call. There’s a really good visual which you can use to help your brain understand the way purpose, and your daily activities intersect.
Your purpose is like a river. Maybe it’s the “Help people” river, or the “Be an adventurer” river, or the “Live a peaceful life” river. It represents the overarching reason why you are here on the planet. Associated with that is the question, “What are you going to do while you’re on your river?”
“Big Five for Life.
These are the five things you most want to do, see, or experience in your life while you’re here on this amazing planet.”
In other words, if you’ve chosen to sail the “Help people” river, what does that actually mean Monday morning? What will you be spending your time on? The answer to that is something called your Big Five for Life. These are the five things you most want to do, see, or experience in your life while you’re here on this amazing planet.
An example would be the following. If the “Help people” river is your purpose, then some of the Big Five for Life ports of call you might want to stop at could include,
- Become a nurse
- Distribute glasses to children in poor countries who can’t afford them
- Read to the elderly
- Build homes for the homeless
Keep in mind that your Big Five for Life might be long term or short term in nature. You might say that as you are sailing the “Be an adventurer” river, you want to go to Africa and see hippos in the wild. Perfect! That’s a short term, one time port of call you want to stop at. Knowing that, is what enables you to focus your time, energy, thoughts, finances, and other resources until you have done, seen, or experienced it.
A longer-term item as you are sailing the “Be an adventurer” river might be, “Visit a new country every year.” This is one which will continue on over the course of your life.
Not that it always has to, but keep in mind, that if you want to, you can actually get paid to fulfill your purpose and Big Five for Life.
Because there is a point where life purpose and profitability intersect.
See, the more you’re living your purpose, and therefore the more authentic you are, the more people are drawn to you, or to what you’ve created. And if part of your adventure is to make money, the more they’re drawn to you or what you’ve created, the easier it is to do well financially.
Look at any major brand. Disney, Nike, Marvel. Look at the most successful podcasters and YouTubers. They all have clearly defined purposes and people love what they create that fulfills their purpose. The result, is those people and companies do very well financially because of that.
I recently closed a movie deal for the book I mentioned earlier, The Cafe on the Edge of the World. The film people were interested for a number of reasons. The book has won bestseller of the year for 6 straight years in Europe, so they knew it had a big following. They could see from the reviews people were really connected and passionate about the story. Probably the single greatest reason we closed the deal though, is because the producers attended an event I was invited to be a part of, and they saw fans waiting for three hours to get a book signed. They heard those people telling their stories about what the book meant to them and the way it changed their life, and the producer said, we want to be part of that. And the film studios wanted to be a part of that too.
And that’s actually a great place for all of us to get to. Where we’re doing our thing. We’re letting our genius into the world. Because we all have genius. We all have something to offer. And as we let our genius into the world, other people say, “Hey, I have an idea how your genius and my genius can connect to create something super amazing.”
And because we don’t barter chickens for bags of rice anymore, if that connection does end up being super amazing for people, they’re going to say thank you, and the way they’re going to say thank you, is by giving you money.
And let me share one final thought about that because it’s something I didn’t embrace fast enough. When that book, The Cafe on the Edge of the World, started to get popular, I started to get a lot of speaking requests. And I really fought it because I felt like, I’m just me. A shorts and t-shirt guy who likes to backpack the world, free dive for lobsters and then let them go, and take his kayak to go explore a random river somewhere. Who am I to stand on a stage and talk? But here’s what I learned. The question for all of us is not, “Who am I to?” The question is “Who am I not to?” Because we’ve all got something to share, or we wouldn’t be here.
OK, let’s talk about some of the biggest purpose pitfalls and how to avoid them.
I’ll give you three.
Thinking you need to be the one in the water.
If you don’t know his story, check out a guy named Martin Strel. He’s a long-distance swimmer who holds numerous world records. He’s swam the Yellow River in China, the Mississippi River in the US, the Danube in Europe, and lots of others. Eventually he attempted and succeeded in swimming the entire length of the Amazon River. Which, to put that in perspective, is longer than the width of the Atlantic Ocean. There’s a documentary about him, he’s written books, speaks to places like the UN as an ambassador for clean water…. Overall, an amazingly impressive guy, who certainly found and is living his purpose. And by the way, he did his first long river swim when he was 38, and swam the Amazon River when he was 53 years old.
So a great example of finding your purpose later in life, and living it large.
Now here’s the other big takeaway from his story. When he swam the Amazon River, he had a team of communication experts, writers, a film crew, doctor, photographer, nutritionist… All these people who were part of this incredible experience. None of whom were in the water swimming. They added their genius to someone else’s to create something special. So don’t get hung up on is your purpose BIG ENOUGH. First of all, if it’s right for you, then it’s big enough. Second of all, one plus one is more than two. Like with the film example, find the place where your genius interests with someone else’s to create something really special.
Holding Unsupportive Money Beliefs
Like I mentioned earlier, the world is going to want to reward you for your genius. If you can’t accept that, you’ll sabotage your own success. I say this from so much personal experience.
I was raised to believe that if someone had a lot of money, they must have ripped someone off at some point. I also personally hold as high values, integrity, and being a good person.
So over the course of my life, the more value I added, and therefore the more people wanted to say thank you by buying my creations/services, etc., the more uncomfortable I become. Because I had this erroneous belief that having money meant you must have ripped people off, and that was completely out of synch with my values.
It was only when I realized this disconnect that I was able to truly live my purpose effectively. Luckily, all it takes is a little introspection, and a data point or two to help break these erroneous and unsupportive money beliefs. Even if you’ve been holding them for decades. Again, I say that from experience.
Not Knowing or Not Holding True to Your Numbers.
If you say I want to be a great dad, and a successful entrepreneur, what does that mean? Is it you make $200,000 in profit annually and you also tuck your kid into bed 200 nights a year? Is it you go on date night each week with the someone special in your life, and you travel for two months a year, and you have a million dollars in the bank?
The choices are yours, but knowing your numbers, and picking numbers that are aligned with your purpose, is what lets you make decisions that produce the right results.
I remember one time I had a long conversation with the Chief of Medicine at one of the most prestigious hospitals in the US. He read The Cafe on the Edge of the World and contacted me and asked if we could talk. In our conversation he shared something so profound. He said “I got into medicine to help people. And I loved being a doctor. But all I do now is paperwork and make managerial decisions.” I asked him why he took the role. He said they paid him a ton of money. I asked him what he was doing with the money, and he said something so sad. He said, “I have a five-bedroom house I’m never at, with a five-car garage that holds cars I never have time to drive.”
So we talked for a long while about his purpose and what his answer was to that question— “Why am I here?”
A few months later he called me and told me he just wanted to say thanks. He had gone back to being a doctor. He took a fifty percent pay cut, was seeing patients every day, and he was ten times happier because he was living his purpose.
So know and stay true to your numbers.
And I’ll give you one final thought about that. If you say, “I want to make a million dollars so I can provide for my family and that means coaching little league and 4 weeks of family vacation and reading bedtime stories every night.” Then when you get the million dollars, make sure you spend your time doing those other things. Because there is a cosmic algorithm to the universe and once it helps all of that come to life, if you just end up working all day and don’t coach little league, and don’t read the stories at night, or go on those vacations, a day of reckoning will come. I don’t think it’s because the algorithm is mean. I just think that we are called to be a person of our word. And if we aren’t, then the universe will help us learn that life lesson and we may not like the way it’s taught.
A Final Thought on Discovering Your Life’s Purpose
As a closing thought, let me share with you why it’s so worth it to allow yourself to seek out and live your version of a purposeful life. I’ll share it in two ways.
Purpose Through Basic Math
Meaningful minutes feel better than wasted minutes. They have a higher energy. A deeper warmth. They feel better as we experience them, and they bring a broader smile when we remember them. We optimize our life by logging as many meaningful minutes as possible, and we do that by sailing our purpose river and stopping at our Big Five for Life ports of call.
Let’s Go Ahead and Change the World Too
If part of your life purpose is to make a positive difference in the lives of others, then great news, the most effective way to do that is live your life’s purpose. Every inspiring biography is inspiring because the main character did something extraordinary with their life. The arenas for that extraordinary are widely varied. Art, science, sport, business, philanthropy…. What they have in common though is that the person identified their purpose, and lived it to the best of their abilities. And in doing so, left a lasting source of inspiration for all of us who learn about them.
OK, enough talking. Get out there and enjoy the adventure!