Find Your Purpose And Let It Destroy You
“Don’t aim at success – the more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue… as the unintended side-effect of one’s personal dedication to a course greater than oneself.” – Viktor Frankl
To my amazing friend who recently found the courage to give up a very well paid corporate day job in search of something more meaningful, as much as I want to sugar coat it for you: It’s going to be fucking tough, and at times you’ll probably think about giving up.
As someone who has previously left jobs, relationships, businesses and financial stability in search of what I’d call “my purpose”, I know how challenging a decision stepping out of a comfortable lifestyle can be.
When I left the corporate world and started my first business almost twelve years ago it wasn’t to be the best in the world at what I did, or to be ‘a boss’ so I could eventually step back and follow other more leisurely pursuits… I simply had a dream of developing ideas that would allow me to be location and time independent while providing me with an income so that I could travel and see the world.
This dream became my very drive for existing. It got me up every day at 5am in the morning when I was tired, it became my fuel for working longer and harder than the guy next to me, it enabled me to go above and beyond for my clients… and because I kept working passionately towards my dream amazing opportunities started to come my way.
So when I was sipping my morning espresso in a little street café in Rio De Janeiro seven years later expecting to see the clouds part and the universe give me a giant fist bump at having achieved my goal… I kind of went into a bit of shock when all I could think about was, is this it? I didn’t feel excited or ecstatic at all, instead I found myself feeling completely empty inside.
But it wasn’t until a recent late night conversation with a taxi driver who for today’s writing purposes I’ll call John that I can finally put into words why.
“What do I do? Well for love I spend my time running a charity that focuses on well-being, and I use my talents and skills to do other things to pay the bills” I said to John mid-way into the small talk on route to said destination. “Ah, so you do charity work. I do the same… I help out with families arriving from Somalia coming to New Zealand. I remember how hard it was coming to New Zealand so I want to make it easier for other families when they come here. And then I spend the rest of my time helping support my sister with her kids. But it’s not easy you know, every week all my money goes, I have children of my own and then I am helping support my sister with her children both in time and financially. And I have money going to save for their university education. I want to see everyone in my family do well in life.”
“Wow!” I said to John. Sitting in silence for a while contemplating this man’s life of total self-sacrifice to others. “So John, I have an interesting question for you…. I’m intrigued. When was the last time you did something for yourself… like something just for you and for no one else, and for no other reason than you love to do it? Like, do you envisage a time when all the kids’ lives are sorted, and you can pat yourself on the back, step away and start doing some things that are just for you?”
John went silent for about a minute; I could tell he was really thinking long and hard about the question I posed to him. “Gosh, you’ve really made me think… the thing is I’ve never really thought about that question. I’m just doing what I learned from my father I guess, and probably his father before him. But you know, I don’t see this ever being fulfilled because after these kids grow up and have families of their own, I’ll be a grandfather. This will be my life’s work, but ah, I really, ah I don’t know.”
I don’t know who got more out of the conversation that night, but what I came away with was this:
Having goals and dreams, and having the courage to step outside your comfort zone to follow them will take you far in life. You might even get to see and experience some pretty amazing things along the way.
But living a life that feels full of purpose will fundamentally change your life forever.
And that’s because when you find your purpose, you realize that true purpose is never about you… its bigger then you. It is your gift to the world uniquely fulfilled through you.
You might think I’m an idealist by saying this, and fuck, yes maybe I am. But besides giving and receiving love, I believe every single one of us has a purpose or two sitting there, waiting to be expressed and unleashed upon the world.
Maybe your purpose is to be a parent and raise some amazing humans, maybe it’s to bring people joy through making delicious tasting cookies, maybe it’s to share more beauty with the world through designing amazing gardens, maybe it’s to entertain people through your words or songs, maybe it’s to take such good care of your body that you inspire others to do the same, or maybe it’s to create businesses that give people all around the world a job with stable income? I don’t know. You and only you can answer that question for yourself.
But here’s what a lot of people won’t tell you:
When you start following your purpose a lot of things may not go to plan.
Case in point for me was two weeks ago when I inadvertently went broke from spending too much time living my purpose through Live More Awesome and The Wellness Report. Now I’m not recommending you go quit your job and go for broke building an orphanage (or maybe I am, if that’s what you feel your purpose in life is to do, then go do it!), I have no dependents and I’ve reached a point where I’m confident in any risks I take. But I’ve only been willing to take those risks because after finding my purpose, everything else feels secondary to spending my time expressing it.
Yes, the brutal honest truth is that living with purpose can often be hard work and require serious commitment; some people may not understand your decisions or your actions, other areas of your life will inevitably receive less attention as a result, there will be plenty of times when you’ll wish you’d opted for a simpler life.
But even with all those cards stacked against you, you’ll also get to experience some of the most humbling, beautiful moments in life that remind you why you must never let go of your purpose…
My most recent moment was a few mornings ago, when I got into some friendly banter with a car valet after complimenting him on his fine looking top hat “So what do you do with yourself?” he said, “I run a charity called Live More Awesome that supports mental health”. The witty banter stopped. “So what made you decide to do that, have you been through a bit of depression yourself have you?”… “Totally, it’s why I do what I do”. “So how did you get through it?” he asked… I started to talk about some of the things I did that helped me when he cut me off, “… well because the thing is, what would you recommend to someone who’s girlfriend committed suicide, and the only way he’s been able to deal with it is to drink himself to sleep every night for the past two years?”.
I looked this man in the eye and, suddenly I could see all the hurt and pain he had been hiding behind those eyes for two years. “I am so sorry to hear that. I can imagine how painful that must be, I almost lost someone I really loved a few years back but for whatever reasons, things turned out a different way.” I packed a few things in the car, and then turned around and gave this stranger an all-embracing hug. And in that moment I felt some of the pain he was carrying start to dissipate. It felt like this was one of the first times in a long while that this man had really opened up to someone about what he had been going through.
And in that little moment of realness for me, every single challenge I have experienced choosing to follow my purpose also started to melt away and I was re-reminded why I’m living my purpose.
As we drove off I imagined John the taxi driver I met some months back, sitting at his sisters children’s graduation, cheering and clapping, catching a telling smile of accomplishment from his nephew or niece through the crowd, and wondered if in that moment, all those years spent following his purpose have been worth it?
My guess is yes.
So what ever your purpose might be, invest a lifetime searching for it, and when you find it let it destroy life as you know it, in the most challenging yet most beautifully fulfilling way possible.
p.s. For those of you who are thinking about changing things up in search of a more meaning, my amazing friend Alex Echols recently co-authored a book called – The Two-Week Notice: How to Discover Your Passion, Quit Your Job + Impact Our World. If you’re looking for some inspiration, it’s worth a read.