What am I doing here? What is my life purpose? Do we even have one?
These questions, and others like them, have been swirling around my mind for some time now. Several years ago I attempted to address them, briefly, but always felt like I haven’t appropriated those questions with the gravity they merited.
Work never seems to end, fueling up with coffee in the morning and cooling down with a beer at night, to-do lists, emailed communication, text messages and pop up reminders. Most of the time one cruises through on “survival mode” – not getting enough sleep, only doing that which is absolutely necessary, and only to satisfy immediate needs and obligations.
Who can muster such ample time as to waste on a quest as profound and philosophical such as “life’s true meaning”, when one is so busy?
And this is exactly the point.
When one is so busy doing what?
Is the life I am living worth what I am giving up to have it?
Am I doing what matters most?
Most of us race through our lives, skimming across the surface without pausing to consider the true meaning of it all, and it is often only through a crisis or tragedy that we realize what is truly important and meaningful for us.
This is what happened in my life during the summer of 2008. I was running various international projects for my employer at the time, also setting up new ventures on his behalf. I haven’t seen my family, who live abroad, for the previous three years, and always seemed to find an excuse that justified the fact.
On my 33rd birthday, I dreamt that my dad had died. The dream was as real as they get, and I remember feeling lost, frustrated for not having spent more time with him. Several days later my parents had an accident – their car flipped, landing wheels up in the middle of the road. They survived the accident, but the event immediately launched me into a deep reflection mode.
I took a close look at my life, and admitted I was not living it the way I truly wanted. I wrote a succinct resignation letter that very same day, and a plan, a way out, towards freedom, began forming in my mind. I started working seven day weeks, sometimes fifteen hours a day. I hardly once felt myself tiring, and on the rare occasions that I did, I had only to remind myself what was at stake, to ensure I worked even harder. Six month later I received my freedom, which I have kept to this day, and intend to keep for as long as I live.
What exactly happened there?
How could I find the energy to work so many hours, so many days on end, without feeling tired?
Looking back, I believe I had tapped into the most powerful source of energy and motivation one can have – I found a purpose.
I don’t know if we all have a purpose on this planet, but of one thing I am certain – I’m at my best when I have one. Purpose breathes life into me, pushes me into adventure. Purpose provides me with a road map and compass. It ignites my spirit and I enter an effortless state of flow, with a level of energy I could never have imagined I possess.
This reoccurred again in my life when I participated in my own personal Ironman journey, or any other big journey I ever took, for that matter. I was able to force myself to jump into a freezing ocean, in the heart of winter, in order to chalk up more and more hours of open-water swimming training, as well as to go on a six hour cycling session, losing all sensation in my bum. Most importantly, I felt happiness running through the deepest core of my being – a happiness of the lasting and unshakeable kind.
All of this leads me to continuously seek purpose, to try and answer life’s big questions. In the last few weeks, I have spent mornings of uninterrupted time, reflecting on the values that bear the most importance for me. Life, as I see it, is simply a vehicle that enables us to express our deepest values – those which are at the root and heart of everything that we do. They define our code of conduct, influence our decisions, and in time, build a strong sense of purpose.
Finding Life Purpose
We all posses many values, easily identifiable by browsing a list of values. Some of my own personal ones are – Growth, Focus, Presence, Full engagement, Challenge, Passion, Health, Energy, Respect, Excitement, Fun, Balance, Adventure, Achievement, Effectiveness, Love, Helping others, Acceptance, Gratitude, Creativity, Inspiration, Honesty, Simplicity, Integrity, Peacefulness, Contribution.
A long list such as this can be counterproductive, though, unless it is minimized and prioritized. Having a short, easily recalled purpose, provides us with greater insight into that which is most sacred to us.
This may be achieved by asking ourselves some key questions -
1. What excites me?
2. What type of people do I admire the most?
3. What is my most valued character trait?
4. What would be the most important lessons I have learnt at the end of my life?
5. Who am I when I am at my best?
Answers to these questions allow us to reveal the core of who we are, or perhaps more importantly, who we want to become. Here are my own, personal answers:
1. Pursuing well deserved, challenging goals, encouraging others to do the same
2. Those who push beyond their assumed limits, those who unconditionally accept us
3. I consistently pursue and live my biggest dreams
4. The experience of life is simply a projection of our perception and beliefs. Ultimately, perception is reality.
5. I’m fully engaged in a fun and exciting journey, shared with others.
Constructing Life Purpose
Looking at my answers, it’s quite easy to see a common theme that reveals a clear path. Perhaps my life purpose can be simply summed up into one sentence.
“To consistently pursue and live my biggest dreams, while inspiring others to pursue theirs”
I’m most passionate, excited, loving, focused, disciplined, creative, accepting and so forth, when I’m on a journey of fulfillment. Most of my values are effortlessly expressed in these words. They also encompass all areas of life, which feels quite right in my case, as I like to change my focus every year.
This blog, for examples, fits well with my purpose, as it is not only a big dream of mine but can also, with use of the right words, serve as an inspiration for others to pursue their own dreams.
I could construct a long and detailed purpose statement, containing all my values, but I feel that an easy-to-remember sentence which really captures the essence of who I am is more beneficial for me.
Revisiting Life Purpose
It is tempting to focus our attention on life’s immediate tasks, and whilst they have their place, they far too often distract us from pursuing a long lasting, more fulfilling path. By reconnecting with our purpose on a regular basis, we can lead our life in a more harmonious way, which actually contributes to what we truly want our life to be.
A few minutes of peace, silence and alignment to our purpose, might be enough to tap into one of the most powerful sources of energy in existence – our spiritual energy. Energy derived from the deeper meaning of our life. In much the same way as we do when we go to sleep at night, renewing our physical energy and readying our body for the next day – so does revisiting purpose renew our spirit.
Want an extra $50,000? You might not be able to find the energy to wake up a few hours earlier and work all the more hard, but see what happens when you’re told your daughter has only three months to live, and that this amount will save her life.
Want to stop smoking? You may have been struggling for years, but what if you’re a pregnant woman? You’ll most likely cease immediately (and often resume after your child is born).
Want to exercise more? You may not find the willpower to get off your couch, but see what happens when you enroll on a Marathon, knowing fully well the race is only a few months away.
You get me. We just need a good reason, or in other words – a good purpose.
Viktor Frankl, author of “Man’s Search for Meaning“, survived the Nazi death camps, suffering the most horrific conditions imaginable, only because he had a real and meaningful reason to do so. He was determined to live, to tell the world the lessons he had learnt at those camps. Many of the other prisoners, who had no such purpose, became sick and died.
Whatever we may want from life, we first ought to ask “why”. The “how” will then become self evident. The clearer we are about our purpose, the more engaged and passionate we’ll become, and so come to possess a greater chance of accomplishing our goals.
Revisiting our purpose may take a bit more effort at first, but soon becomes another habit, like brushing one’s teeth. And if we add extra willpower into the mixture, using the first hours of the day for our most important priority, we’ll have greatly increased our chances to live our dreams.
Live With Purpose!