How to Choose Your Life Purpose
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If a man does not know what port he is steering for,
no wind is favorable to him.
Life is without meaning.
You bring the meaning to it.
The meaning of life is whatever you ascribe it to be.
Being alive is the meaning.
- Joseph Campbell
Why Have a Life Purpose?
A life without purpose is directionless. Without purpose, one gets pulled by every passing pleasure, and pushed by every twinge of fear.
A sense of accomplishment and an ongoing satisfaction and joy with all of life can only come from having established a life purpose, and consistently living into that purpose. One cannot live a life of purpose based on any kind of moral or spiritual obligation. Rather, living a life of purpose is a path to be consciously chosen because of its many great rewards.
Having a life purpose provides a compass for guiding your direction, and a touchstone for empowering your every decision. Until you have a clear idea of your life purpose, there is no way to know whether any particular task or project is important or not. Is today's physics homework important? Is going to the gym today important? Those questions can only be answered within the context of one's life purpose. A task may appear urgent, but being "urgent," in the sense of another person having stated a deadline, does not make a task truly important in the sense of enlarging your life.
What are the Elements of a Satisfying and Motivational Life Purpose?
Your life purpose can be ANYTHING you choose it to be. You don't "find" your life purpose. Your life purpose isn't like anyone else's - it is uniquely yours. Your life purpose wasn't written on some heavenly scroll before you were born. Your life purpose is whatever you choose it to be.
Your life purpose can be to become a great baseball player, or to plant apple trees, or to have many children, or to end world hunger. It doesn't matter whether anyone else agrees with your life purpose, and it doesn't matter whether you ever achieve your goals. What does matter is that your life purpose consistently drives your life, and that you make all your big decisions consistent with your life purpose.
There is, however, one element that is almost always present in every life purpose that continues to satisfy and motivate throughout one's life. That element is being of service to others. If the life purpose you choose improves the world, it is far more likely that you will stick to that life purpose and that you will live your life guided by that purpose. This is not to say that a service-oriented life purpose is "better," just that it is more likely to be satisfying and motivating.
The Tombstone Exercise
The Tombstone Exercise is a quick way to create a simple first version of your life purpose. Later on, you will want to refine and expand your statement of purpose.
Allocate a few minutes for this exercise - in a very quiet place with no interruptions.
1. Visualize your own tombstone many years from now. A crowd is present to celebrate your life and to honor your transition. Begin to listen to the praise being heaped upon you. Everyone in the crowd holds you in the highest esteem, and speaks of your dedication to your goals.
2. Zoom in on your tombstone. Below your name is space for one sentence to describe your life. What do you most want to see written on your tombstone? Your whole life in one sentence -- let that sentence be so powerful that it can drive your whole life. Be so committed to that sentence that nothing can distract you from your goal.
Write Your Life Purpose
Taking inspiration from the one sentence you created during the Tombstone Exercise, begin writing down your life purpose. While there are likely several distinct aspects to your life purpose, an overly complex statement of life purpose is more confusing than helpful.
Make your statement of life purpose a living document. Modify it whenever you get a significant new insight into your life. Look for opportunities to make that statement more action-oriented. Rewriting your statement to be more specific will help you to translate its intent and emotion into daily projects and tasks.
Put Your Life Purpose in Action Today
It is very unlikely that your statement of life purpose, however much it inspires and motivates you, contains any elements that you can directly take action on today. Suppose your purpose is to end world hunger - that doesn't tell you how to begin today.
The easiest way to get an idea of how to begin today in fulfilling your life purpose is to work backward from your tombstone.
Determine a smaller goal, which you will necessarily have to achieve on the way to your ultimate goal.
Repeat, by determining a even smaller goal, which you will necessarily have to achieve on the way to your intermediate goal.
Continue this process of moving the time-frame back toward the present until you define an interim goal which you sense you can effectively work toward.
Now, begin writing a plan that starts today and leads to the accomplishment of that first interim goal.
Make your Life Purpose the Focus of Your Life
There will always be many calls upon your time - far more than you can ever accommodate. Begin to allocate your time only to projects and tasks that further your life purpose. Does this mean that you shouldn't sleep, or take a vacation, or earn a living? Of course not. In order to fulfill your life purpose you must be rested, fed, relaxed, educated, and provide adequate resources for yourself and your family. But unless "watched over 100,000 hours of daytime television," is what you dream of seeing on your tombstone, ask yourself hard questions about many of your habitual ways of spending time. Choose to focus on projects that are compatible with your life purpose, and allocate a majority of your time to tasks that further those projects.
Stay True to Your Life Purpose.
Your friends and family can be your greatest supporters of your life purpose, or they can be your greatest obstacles. Begin by asking your friends and family for their support. Wherever you get support, be grateful. Wherever you don't, be understanding and polite.
Probably, most of your friends will accept and love you whatever you are up to in life. If so, consider that to be a really good outcome. If you are fortunate enough to have friends who are excited by your new life purpose, be very grateful, and offer to include them in your projects. Some, but hopefully not many, friends will find your new life purpose to be an affront, either because of the purpose itself, or more likely just because you are acting excited and motivated - and that makes them feel "not good enough."
Begin to spend more time with friends - old and new - who support your life purpose, and less time with those who, consciously or subconsciously, sabotage your life purpose.
Thank you for reading How to Choose Your Life Purpose.
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