What am I here to do? What is my life purpose? Do we even have a purpose?
I have had these questions, and similar others, swirling around in my mind for some time now. A few years ago I tried to address them briefly but always felt that I hadn’t invested enough time or contemplative energy into these subjects..
Work seems to never end, fueling up with coffee in the morning and cooling down with a beer at night. Lots of to-do lists, texts messages and pop up reminders. Most of the time I’m living in a survival mode on too little sleep, doing what is necessary for the immediate needs and obligations.
Who really has the time to search for life’s meaning when you are so busy?
And that’s the whole point. Busy for what? Was the life I was living worth what I was giving up to have it? Was I doing the things that matter the most?
Most of us race through our life and skim across the surface without pausing to consider what is the meaning of all of this, and it is often only through a crisis or a tragedy that we realize what is really important for us.
That is what happened to me during the summer of 2008. I was running various international projects for my past employer and also working on a new software company for him. At the time I hadn’t seen my family for 3 years and always found an excuse for it.
On my 33rd birthday I dreamt that my dad died. It was as real as it can get and I remember feeling lost and frustrated that I didn’t spend more time with him. A few days later my parents flipped their car and landed upside down in the middle of the road. They survived the accident and I immediately went into a reflection mode.
I looked closely at my life and admitted I was not living the way I really wanted. A short resignation letter was written that day and a plan of a way out toward freedom started to form in my head. I worked 7 days a week, sometimes 15 hours a day. I didn’t really feel tired, and when I did, I only had to remind myself what was at stake to make sure I worked even harder. 6 months later I got my freedom, which I have to this day, and which I intend to keep as long as I live.
What exactly happened there? How did I find the energy to work so many hours without feeling tired? When examining this now, I can see that I tapped into the most powerful source of energy and motivation one can have. I found a purpose.
Now, I don’t know if we all have a purpose on this planet but one thing I’m sure of- I’m at my best when I have one. Purpose awakens me and pushes me into adventure. Purpose provides me a road map and a compass. A strong purpose ignites my spirit, and I enter an effortless state of flow with a level of energy I could never have imagined I had.
This is what happened during my Ironman journey and every other big journey I had for that matter. I was able to force myself to get into a freezing ocean in the middle of winter so I could get more hours of open-water swimming training, or go on a 6 hour cycling session without feeling my bum anymore. Most importantly, I felt happiness in the deepest part of my being, the sort of happiness that is lasting and unshakeable.
All of this leads me to keep looking for purpose and to answer life’s big questions. In the last few weeks, I spent mornings of uninterrupted time thinking of my most important values. Life, as I see it, is simply a vehicle to express our deepest values which are at the root or center of everything we do. They define our code of conduct, influence our decisions, and ultimately, build a strong purpose.
We all posses many values which can be easily identified by browsing a list of values published on the net. For example, some of my own personal values 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.
However, a long list can be counterproductive unless the list is minimized and also prioritized. Having a short and easy to remember purpose provides us with greater insight into what is most sacred to us.
This might 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 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 answers:
1. Pursuing well deserved and challenging goals and encouraging others to do the same.
2. Those who push beyond their assumed limits and those who unconditionally accept us no matter what. Perhaps the definition of true love.
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 on a fun and exciting journey shared with others.
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 persue 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 changing my focus every year.
This blog, for example, fits well with my purpose, as it’s not only a big dream of mine, but can also, with the use of the right words, serve as inspiration for others to persue their 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.
It is tempting to focus our attention on life’s immediate tasks, and whilst they have their place, they too often distract us from pursuing long lasting and more fulfilling paths. By reconnecting with our purpose on a regular basis, we can lead our life in a more harmonious way with what we truly want life to be.
A few minutes in the morning of quietness and alignment to our purpose might be enough to tap into one of the most powerful sources of energy which exists, that being our spiritual energy; an energy that is derived from the deeper meaning in our lives. Just as we go to sleep at night, renewing our physical energy and getting our body rested and ready for the next day, revisiting purpose renews our spirit.
You want an extra $50,000? You might not be able to find the energy to wake up extra early and work harder, but see what happens when you’re told that your daughter has only 3 months to live and this amount will save her life.
You want to stop smoking? You might have struggled for years, but if you’re a woman, see what happens when you’re pregnant. You’ll most probably stop immediately (and often resume after the child is born).
You want to exercise more? You might find the willpower to get you off the couch, but see what happens when you register yourself to a Marathon, knowing that the race is only a few months away.
You get me? We just need a good reason, or in other words, we need a good purpose.
Viktor Frankel, author of “Man’s Search for Meaning“, was able to survive Nazi death camps under the most horrific conditions, only because he had a real and meaningful reason for it. He determined he would live to tell the world the lessons he learnt in the camps. Many of the other prisoners who lost their spirit got sick and died.
Whatever we want from life, we must first ask “why”, after which the “how” will become readily apparent. The clearer we are about our purpose, the more engaged and passionate we’ll become, and as a result, we’ll have a much greater chance of succeeding in our goals.
Revisiting our purpose might take a little more effort in the beginning, but after a while it will just become another habit, like brushing your teeth. And if we add some more willpower and use the first hours of the day for our most important priority, we’ll have an even bigger chance to live our dreams.
Live With Purpose!