As men, there often comes a time in our lives when we feel that something is missing…a lack of meaning or direction.
Yes, I’m living day to day, but what should I DO with my life?
For a man to feel whole, he needs to find his purpose, live intentionally, find out what he stands for—and prove his worth.
To the world, yes. But more importantly, to himself.
Let’s be honest, you’re going to have good days and bad days no matter what.
But when you have a sense of purpose, it makes the rough days a lot easier. When you know that your boat is at least pointed towards the shore you want to reach, that helps.
Also, when you are true to your life’s purpose, you come alive. You live more in the moment. Life holds more meaning.
You might be wondering, can an article on the internet really help me find my purpose?
The answer is no. Only you can do that work for yourself.
But what I am going to do in this post is give you some food for thought—a few different ways that you can think about how to find your purpose.
Watch the video below or keep reading.
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Does Your Purpose Have to Be Your Job?
Many people think that their life’s purpose needs to BE their career. I think this is only half true.
It reminds of a great quote by Mark Twain: “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes.”
Do your purpose and your career have to be one in the same? No, but I think they should rhyme.
Ideally, your career should be in alignment with your greater purpose in life—or you should be able to extract elements from your job that help support your purpose.
Though I have to say, with the amount of time we spend focused on our work, it sure is nice when they can one in the same.
The Pitfall of Pursuing Your Passion
One of the biggest pitfalls about finding your purpose is the notion that you should pursue a career in an area you’re passionate about.
As Cal Newport points out in the book So Good They Can’t Ignore You, “following your passion” is often terrible advice.
Newport argues that sustained passion for a career path is rarely a pre-existing condition. More often, lasting passion comes later—he calls it “a side effect of mastery.” Newport cites Daniel Pink’s work on the Self-Determination Theory (SDT), a psychological framework which helps determine what motivates us.
“SDT tells us that motivation, in the workplace or elsewhere, requires that you fulfill three basic psychological needs….”
- Relatedness (that feeling of connectedness to other people)
Basically, you are more likely to work your way into being truly passionate about something than to find a field that you are passionate about and then go after it.
Secondly, if you are enamored with a particular path, I think you need to ask yourself: Are you passionate about the IDEA of that thing, or are you actually passionate about the day-to-day reality of it?
You need to be energized by the in-the-trenches, reality of it. When you can be fully present and excel in the moment at what you’re doing, that’s when you can make the greatest contribution and you feel most alive.
Passion can also be a trap, because how do you decide between things that are just your hobbies versus finding your calling or vocation? Which brings me to my next point…
Chefs Don’t Cook at Home
I love cooking. I find it relaxing, and it forces me to present. And of course I love food.
One night several months ago, I was making dinner for my wife and my mother-in-law. And my mother-in-law asked, “have you ever thought about being a chef?”
I said that I had, but I realized that I love cooking enough to know that I didn’t want to make it my job.
Because I’ve talked to enough chefs to know that they don’t actually cook at home. They don’t bring that chefy-ness to their personal lives. The eat ramen at home.
So if passion isn’t the right clue to finding our purpose, what is?
What Do You Stand For?
To boil it down, finding your purpose is really about figuring out what you stand for. What fight or crusade do you want to be in? More importantly, where can you really make a contribution?
Ideally, you should think about the intersection of these three things:
- Your skills and unique talents/gifts
- Your interests
- Where there is a need
It’s the convergence of these things that gives you the sense of living your purpose. As Eric Barker said in Barking Up the Wrong Tree:
Success is not the result of any single quality; it’s about alignment between who you are and where you choose to be.”
So let’s go through each of those 3 things quickly.
1. Find Your Superpower(s)
How do you identify your unique talents or gifts? They’ve probably been right under your nose for years.
Usually your superpowers are the one or two things that come easily to you. While everyone else is struggling, you seem to coast by effortlessly.
It’s almost like that feeling you get if you’re right-handed, but you use your left hand for a while. Then when you switch back to your right hand, you get that sense of power because you feel like “I’m the man! I can do anything!”
The other clue is to pay attention to what other people say about you. What skills, talents or qualities do people remark on? How have you touched other people? In what ways have you helped them?
As they say in the entrepreneurial world, what is your “unfair advantage?”
2. Identity What Lights You Up
To figure out what you’re really interested in, you need to observe yourself.
In his book, The Happiness of Pursuit, Chris Guillebeau says:
Pay attention to the ideas that draw your interest, especially the ones you can’t stop thinking about.”
You also need to get out of your head, stop thinking, and start feeling—what does your body say?
Usually, your gut doesn’t lie. When you’re around things that light you up, your body literally responds with increased energy.
Successful entrepreneur Derek Sivers uses something he calls “The Hell Yeah test” to help gauge how he’s feeling.
When evaluating something, whether it’s a hobby, an interest, or even deciding whether or not to accept a dinner invitation, he asks himself: is it a no, or is it a “Hell yeah!” Anything in between isn’t acceptable.
But perhaps the best gauge for something being a true interest is when something that makes you lose time. You go into a zone when you’re doing it, and time seems to stand still.
Mark Manson said it best:
What makes you forget to eat and poop?”
Beyond identifying things that light you up or sustain your focus, you should also pay attention to what RILES you up. What pisses you off? Where have you experienced pain or injustice?
What is a fight that you believe, deep in your bones, is worth fighting for? That may point to where you can find your purpose.
3. Pick the Right Pond
The final element of finding your purpose is uncovering a real need—and this is critical. Because your interests and skills may be wonderful, but if they can’t be useful, you won’t feel like you’re making a contribution.
In his book The Proximity Principle, Ken Coleman challenges us to think about this even more vividly. He asks: who do you want to help?
When you start to envision who you want to help, you are forced to think about real people who have real needs.
Derek Sivers is even more blunt with his advice. Cal Newport quotes Sivers as saying:
Do what people are willing to pay for….Money is a neutral indicator of value. By aiming to make money, you’re aiming to be valuable.”
Before you get your panties in a bunch, he’s not saying the primary GOAL is to make as much money as possible (and if you research Sivers, you’ll know that’s true).
He’s just saying that money is a reliable indicator of what people value. So maybe “following the money” is less self-serving than it sounds.
But focusing in on a specific area of need is also critical. Eric Barker cites Guatam Makunda’s advice of what he calls picking the right “pond.”
You have to find those specific areas of real need, but also where your unique abilities will be helpful and appreciated. Otherwise, your efforts will be too diffuse and probably ineffective.
Loving Your Sandwich
Of course, living your purpose isn’t all rainbows and unicorns.
Yes, there are many days when you feel a sense of momentum and fulfillment because your life is aligned with your strengths, and you have a sense that you’re helping people.
But living your purpose also involves hanging in there for the day-to-day reality of what you’ve signed up for—regardless of how the weather is that day.
And once again, Mark Manson takes that even a step further with, yes, another eloquent fecal reference:
He said, you ultimately have to decide what flavor of SH%T Sandwich you’re willing to eat.
…the question becomes: what struggle or sacrifice are you willing to tolerate? Ultimately, what determines our ability to stick with something we care about is our ability to handle the rough patches and ride out the inevitable rotten days.”
Your Purpose May Not Be a Single Path
One of the biggest things prevents us from finding alignment in our lives is getting hung up on finding THE purpose.
But author and coach Shannon Kaier says we need “break up with the ONE”.
Over the course of our lives we can change a lot—we grow, we evolve. And the idea that we have to stick to one vision the entire time is unrealistic.
The point is not to stay on THE path. The point is to constantly be aligned to A path. To be intentional about how we are living based on who we are.
As Kaier said,
…the real purpose of anyone’s life is to be fully involved in living. Try to be present for the journey and fully embrace it.”
And she’s right. When we’re fully immersed in our purpose, when we experience that weightlessness of pointing our entire lives toward that North star, it’s not about the thing.
It’s about how we are in that moment. On that journey. It’s about being fully alive, and fully realizing our talents and our abilities in an intentional way.
Your Purpose Won’t Come Find You
One thing is for sure, you can’t wait for your purpose to show up and tap you on the shoulder, and say “dude, here I am. Let’s do this.”
In order to figure out what your purpose is, you need to take action on two fronts:
- Do the inner exploration and reflection to figure out what makes you tick.
- Take outward action in the real world—put yourself out there, and chase after what you need to chase.
Don’t keep reading and watching videos about finding your purpose, get out there and start working towards it now.
In wrapping up, I want to quickly thank our sponsor Moral Code for making this post possible.
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