How To Summon The Courage To Uncover Your Life's Mission
Do you feel lost? Disconnected from work? Struggle to find the energy to do the things you want to do? Feel like something is missing from your life? Feel like there's more to life than what you’re now living? Sick and tired of of waking up uninspired? It all comes down to one word. Purpose. Why am I here? It's the philosophical question we all pose to ourselves at one time or another (or daily if you're like me). Some of us take the time to answer, while others choose to ignore the calling. Those of us who summon the courage to uncover our life’s mission live a very different life than those who choose to let it go unanswered.
In Viktor Frankl's must-read Man's Search For Meaning, his first-hand account of survival of The Holocaust and his life thereafter puts a perspective on life that only a man who has experienced such evil could truly tell us. He knew how to still find meaning in a life robbed of everyone you love. "Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather must recognize that it is he who is asked. In a word, each man is questioned by life; to life he can only respond by being responsible." In other words, the best way to predict the future is to invent it.
The first place most of us look for a sense of purpose is in our careers. But with fewer of us having stable jobs, or careers that have anything to do with what we went to school for, we feel robbed of meaning and fulfillment when work places do little to help us find it. School does a shitty job of preparing you for life. But that's of no concern to school, it's a business first and foremost. Ever try to get help with a sense of direction from your university after graduating? You'd be better off calling 1-800-CALL-CLEO for a free psychic reading.
Pump the brakes before freaking out. That paralyze-inducing pressure that comes with trying to figure out what the hell you want to do with your life? It's part of the problem. Take a couple deep breaths. You're on the right path. It might not feel like it, but I swear you are. Even if you hate your current circumstances, you're here for a reason. This is your time to experiment. It's impossible to fail as long as you learn something from what you do. It can take awhile to feel like you've latched on to something meaningful. But I promise you, everyone has a purpose greater than they currently envision. Self-doubt does a damn good job of keeping it hidden.
Steven Pressfield wrote the book on helping creatives unlock their potential and overcoming the fears that stop us from reaching our fullest potential. Seth Godin called him "the five-star general in the war against fear," when praising The War Of Art. Pressfield's first book was The Legend of Bagger Vance, later adapted into a movie starring Will Smith, Charlize Theron, and Matt Damon. His second book, Gates of Fire, is about the Spartans in the battle at Thermopylae. It's taught at the US Military Academy, United States Naval Academy, and in the Marine Corp basic school at Quantico.
Hearing his accomplishments gives us little context to his journey or how he connected with his sense of purpose. It casts a belief that he's somehow different than you and me. We see successful role models and assume they have something we don't have. They didn't have to go through the shit I do to get where they're at. Or, they were born with their ability so it's easy for them. It's just not true. It took a path of exploring, failing, and falling forward, despite the soul-crushing resistance begging you to give up.
Before Pressfield could support himself as a writer, he started in the Marine Corps in 1966. In the years following, he worked as an advertising copywriter, school teacher, tractor-trailer driver, bartender, oil field roustabout, attendant in a mental hospital and fruit picker. It wasn't until 1995 that Legend of Bagger Vance was written. Nearly a thirty-year journey. His struggles to make a living as an author include a time when he was homeless and living out of the back of his car.
Pressfield's journey is far more common than we'd like to think. Those who live purpose-driven lives grow comfortable with discomfort. Most of us spend a majority of our time focusing on the problems in our lives, rather than on the solutions that move us out of our current circumstances.
At the heart of purpose is a mission. An unwavering focus driving your decisions in life. A powerful connection to something greater than yourself. You don't need goals when you're driven by mission. If goals feel too much like ticking off boxes in school, I'm with you. Achievement only lasts so long. How long are you excited after reaching a goal? An hour, a day, a week, a month, a year? After a while, it's not enough. Achieving goals does not equal happiness. But having a mission to sink your teeth into? Talk about living a life with purpose.
Having a mission nourishes your need for growth and progress in life. Your desire for adventure, excitement and variety. Your sense of significance, connection and love. Your ability to lead a happy, healthy, purpose-driven life. It's not dependent on what you do, but why you do it.
Shitty job be damned, if you're living with a mission, this single aspect of your life is progress towards your happiness. Knowing what you don't want is as important, if not more important, than only focusing on the awesome experiences you want in life. The road to a happy, healthy, purpose-driven life starts with asking yourself better questions. The sense of fulfillment we all crave comes from answering the questions with uncomfortable honesty. Don't hold back. This is not your practice life. This is all there is. The world moves at such a rapid rate that waiting to implement changes will leave you two steps behind. Do it now, do it now, do it now!
That said, move forward with empathy. Both for yourself, the process, and others in search of their own mission. Creativity is maximized when you are living in the moment. Identifying your mission is an exploration. When I started, I felt like I had to be launching the next Tesla or my attempt was a total bust. Everything I imagined felt too small, or lame, or that I was totally missing the mark with some grandiose sweeping statement about something like world peace. So I went in search of a simplified process to give me some guidance. I knew it started with better questions. I couldn't be upset with the answers I was getting, I'd been asking the wrong questions. Listen, listen, listen, for the signs the universe is giving you, then ask strategic questions. The questions with the greatest clarity to my mission came the way of Aubrey Marcus, the CEO of the lifestyle brand Onnit. Marcus, in a quest to find his own mission, outlined three questions that let him and others dial into life's purpose.
1. What do you love about the world?
Dig deep here. There's a world beyond insta-worthy cheeseburgers, sandy beaches and iPhones. What truly moves you? What gets you excited to wake up in the morning? Include yourself because you won't get far without self-love.
What I love about the world often goes unnoticed in the hustle and bustle of the day. The unconditional love coming from the other end of a wagging tail. The kiss of my partner Lindsey. The kindness of complete strangers. Helping others for no other reason than the innate goodness that warms you like a cup of hot chocolate. I love that life's hardest moments have provided my most valuable lessons. I love that every day is an opportunity to create a positive ripple effect in the lives of others. I love that life provides choices at every corner. I love that no matter where you travel in the world, the core of human needs is the same. We all want love, connection, significance, growth, and certainty that we can provide for those we love. These universals speak to the oneness of the world.
2. What is hurting those things that you love?
You thought about what you love in this world and I'm sure if you've taken the time to visualize and connect with the things you love. It brings a warming sense of importance. But what forces stand in the way of what you love? What holds them back? What keeps what you love from being realized on a daily basis?
What hurts the things I love is the limiting beliefs of fear: fear of failure, fear of being judged, fear of rejection, fear of pain, fear of the unknown. The uncertainty of what to do or how to start.
The busyness of modern society has led to the highest rates of anxiety and depression ever recorded. The mirage of being hyper-connected but without the energy of direct human connection leaves us feeling empty. The ever-present feeling that you're not trying hard enough, should be further ahead than you are, or wasting your life is like a bad song you can't get out of your head. It screams at you in moments of silence. Leading you back to the hamster wheel of distraction.
The core needs of the things I love are not being met. School does not prepare those things I love for an uncertain world. School does a crappy job of helping those I love navigate our needs, desires, and living a happy, healthy, purpose-driven life. School conditions those I love to think that achievement equates to success. School conditions those I love to think that if they're not happy in their careers, it's their fault. Those I love are lost in the inner turmoil of thinking they are alone and without hope.
3. What is the most important role you could play to help those things you love?
Again, this comes down to simplification. You're conditioned to think that if you're not moving mountains, you're just slinging dirt. But often the simplest courses of action can make the biggest impact in supporting the people, places, things, or ideas that you value. Tiny actions have incalculable ripple effects.
Scott Harrison, at 28 years old, had it all. A nightclub promoter in New York City, his life was an endless cycle of drugs, booze, and models. But 10 years in, desperately unhappy and morally bankrupt, he asked himself one simple question, "What would the exact opposite of my life look like?" Walking away from everything, Harrison spent the next 16 months on a hospital ship in West Africa and discovered his true calling. In 2006, with no money and less than no experience, Harrison founded charity:water. Today, his organization has raised over $300 million to bring clean drinking water to more than 8.2 million people around the globe.
The most important role I can play in serving others is by helping you gain a sense of clarity in your own mission. A living, breathing vision you can bite into and get excited about. A belief that it's possible you were put on this earth with a purpose. And to help you design an action plan that doesn't leave life to chance, but one of intention.
Your life’s mission is the answer to number three. Breathe deeply and appreciate the moment. Living in the moment could be the meaning of life.
This is where the name Simplify Your Why comes from. You don't need more in your life. You need less. If you don't understand your why, then goals become easy to discard. As Viktor Frankl said in Man's Search For Meaning, "When you know your why you can endure any how." I think many of us feel like we're drifting without any real sense of purpose. We think achievement will bring what we're looking for, but success without fulfillment is the ultimate failure. Fulfillment comes from a sense of contribution, working towards something greater than yourself and alignment with your why.
You are not alone in your journey. Your decisions, not your conditions, have the ability to shape your life. Are you ready to make the decision to step into the life you were destined to live? Together, we will change the world. If you talk about it, it's a dream. If you envision it, it's possible. If you schedule it, it's real. Every journey begins with a single step, and the journey to changing your life is no exception.