Four words and a single piece of punctuation. Fourteen characters in total, including the spaces. Hardly an overwhelming piece of literary work. Not even a very long question, really. And yet those four words, and the inquisitiveness that the question mark adds to them, have incredible amounts of power.
When uttered by a genuinely curious soul, they open up an opportunity to experience existence in a way so profound, that ordinary life completely pales in comparison. Because when we genuinely ask that question of ourselves, we begin exploration into living a life of purpose. And that, opens up a new world of possibilities.
I was twenty-eight when it first dawned on me to ask the question. Later than many. Earlier than some, I suppose. But better late than never. I eventually wrote about my experiences in my first book, The Cafe on the Edge of the World. And one of the most profound learnings I’ve had in interacting with readers of that book is how alone they’ve felt as it related to that question.
Because although it’s becoming more common to engage in conversations about “purpose,” it’s not like that’s the start of most discussions. Sports, the weather, the latest breaking news…sure, you get those a lot. But purpose? Not so much.
We can find ourselves questioning if we’re the only ones wondering if there isn’t more to life than the usual day in, day out activities.
So we can find ourselves questioning if we’re the only ones wondering if there isn’t more to life than the usual day in, day out activities. Wake up, go to a job that’s just OK. Go home, have dinner, spend a little time with friends or family. Go to bed, and start the whole cycle again the next day.
It turns out though, we’re not the only ones. Not by a long shot. My books have been published in forty-two languages. They are spread among readers from incredibly different cultures, lifestyles, and ways of thinking. And when I travel to different countries and interact with readers, what I find is that despite all these differences, there are so many people sharing a common desire to live an extraordinary and meaningful life. This shows me that innate within the human experience, at least for many people, is the desire for living a life with purpose.
So what does that mean for all of us? Well for starters, it means we don’t need to figure it all out on our own. There are fellow adventurers out there. Others who are learning, discovering, and exploring what a purposeful life looks like and feels like for them. That’s great news, because the path can feel pretty lonely and look rather daunting when we’re the only one on it. But being able to learn from others, or even just gain inspiration from their stories, can help us greatly with our own adventures.
And technology is an incredible enabler in that regard. These days you can listen to a podcast created by someone halfway around the world. Or watch their talk on YouTube, read an article they’ve written, or maybe even speak with them. All for no cost and with the click of a button.
So knowing all that, where does one begin with their quest to live a life of purpose?
Step one is authenticity.
That question, “Why am I here?” can only really be answered by you, as it relates to your life. Others can help guide you, for sure. But if they are a good guide, what they’re really doing is asking you questions which help you find your own answers.
Step two is effort.
People have a general understanding that without effort, very little happens in life. You can’t get from your bed to the kitchen by wishing you were in the kitchen. Yet when it comes to discovering and living their life’s purpose, people can get caught in wishing mode. They spend a lot of time wishing they knew their life’s purpose, and wishing they were living in a way that felt more meaningful. But they aren’t taking steps toward identifying their purpose.
If you find yourself operating that way, here are a few suggestions to get you going.
1. Research Your Dream Life Role Models
For starters, ask yourself who is living your dream life? Come up with a list of three or four people and write down what it is about their life you admire so much. Is it the way they spend their time? The attitude or approach to life they have? The contributions they make to others? These could be people you know well, or they could be people you’ve never met, but know about.
What about their life do you find meaningful? The fact that living life the way they do makes them happy? That it makes a positive difference in the lives of others? That it breaks new thought boundaries?
Then learn everything you can about those people. Were they always living the way they are now? If not, what steps did they take to go from where they were, to where they are now? What obstacles did they encounter along the way and how did they deal with those obstacles? YouTube, biographies and Google searches are fantastic tools if you don’t personally know these people.
If you do know them, then schedule some time and just ask them. I realize this might feel a little strange if you’ve never had that type of discussion with someone before. So here’s a suggestion for that. Give them a call, or write an email, and ask them to lunch. When you sit down, tell them how great it is to see them and ask what they’ve been up to. They will give you the full debrief of all they’ve been up to. Then they will ask you what you’ve been up to. That’s the perfect time to say something like, “I’m working on a very interesting project- living a meaningful life.”
They will probably congratulate you, or ask how it’s going. Which is the perfect time to ask for advice. Say something like, “I’m struggling with finding what excites me.” Or, “It’s been tough to adjust my schedule to match my interests.” Or whatever else you’re struggling with. Then say something like, “I’ve always admired that about you. You seem so connected with the life you want to live and are out there living it.” Or, “You seem to be able to maintain such focus on what matters to you.”
Take the opportunity to learn from this person you admire. Do your best to listen a lot and talk little during this part of the conversation. Asking questions is great. Spending a lot of time talking about yourself isn’t.
Taking these action steps will help you leverage the experiences of others, to identify what your purpose filled life could look like.
2. Leverage Previous Meaningful Moments
Here’s another great exercise you can do in parallel to that. This one is about looking at your own life and using past experiences as guiding sources for the future life you want to live.
For this one, write down the five most meaningful moments you’ve had in the last year. This is a very top of mind exercise. Write down the first things that come to mind when you ask yourself that question. Then ask what it is about those moments that made them meaningful. Is it the people you were with, the activities you were spending your time on, the environments you were in, the impact you were having? How long did those moments last? Would you have preferred they were even longer? If so, why weren’t they longer? What would need to change in your life so they could be longer next time?
What was the frequency of those meaningful moments? Once a week, once a month, or the only time in the last five years? Who decided that frequency? Would your life feel more purpose filled if those moments happened more frequently? If so, what would need to be different in your life to make that happen?
What’s fantastic about these mind games is we start to really take strides towards understanding what joy, happiness, and a purpose filled life looks like for ourselves. We also start to challenge our mind to explore ways in which we might fill our time with more of what feels meaningful to us.
they are sitting and waiting for that dramatic moment to happen before they start taking any real steps of their own to uncover and live their purpose.
These games are also good for helping people get past what I call the “booming voice syndrome.” I’ve come across a fair number of people who are confident their life does have a purpose. They would like to know and live that purpose. They are convinced however that this purpose will only be revealed to them in a dramatic flash of revelation. The booming voice from the sky, if you will. So they are sitting and waiting for that dramatic moment to happen before they start taking any real steps of their own to uncover and live their purpose.
In my experience, there are definitely forces at play which help us live our life’s purpose. This often results in moments being created to assist us which are beyond the coincidental. And I have read of people who’ve had a “booming voice” moment, where their life path become apparent to them in a flash of insight and revelation. I’ve met far more people though, who have figured out their purpose through intention, action, and choice.
So certainly enjoy the booming voice moment if it comes to you. But in the interim, go ahead and make progress of your own.
3. Identify Your Version of a Purposeful Life
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. The first is basic math. Meaningful minutes feel better than wasted minutes. They have a higher energy and a deeper warmth. They bring a broader smile when you remember them. The game of life therefore is to get to the end with as many meaningful minutes as possible. This is how we optimize our own life.
The second way I’ll share it is in likelihood of impact. If part of your life purpose is to inspire others, then the greatest 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, they left a lasting source of inspiration for all who learned about them.
Enjoy the adventure!
John Strelecky is the author of the #1 Bestselling The Cafe on the Edge oft he World and Big Five for Life series of books. Subscribe to this blog to learn more about his works, and about discovering and living your version of an amazing life.