I interviewed a group of men recently and asked them a simple question. What’s the most important thing in your life that you don’t have? The number one response from almost every man was that he wanted to live with more purpose in life. These men wanted to make a difference, to feel alive, to be courageous and be part of something bigger than themselves. They wanted more identity and meaning to what they were doing with their lives.
Purpose is a much over-hyped word. It’s used as a collective term for so much that it can become meaningless as a result. A few years ago I similarly connected to this need to get more out of life. Like many men, it was in response to a deep feeling that something was lacking. I identified “purpose” as the missing ingredient. Once I knew my purpose, I thought, I could tick it off the list and everything would be ok again.
“Find your purpose”
During this time I’d read articles about “finding” your purpose (I even wrote one). This concept frustrated me and made it harder to find, not easier. Finding my purpose suggested that purpose existed outside of myself. Building orphanages and saving elephants in Africa were what I felt I should be doing. The pressure of not being enough lead to a feeling of distance from connecting to it and that I may never find it. Ultimately, I stalled as things continued much as they had for years.
What I later realised was that purpose isn’t a goal to achieve or place to get to in life. Purpose is a place to come from in who you are and how you live your life.
This is a new lens we can try on, through which we can perceive purpose in a new way. Through this lens, we realise that living a purposeful life is about who we are being, not what we are doing.
I reflected on what the men had told me and how I began living a life of purpose. There were many things that helped me and I’ve compiled a list of what I found.
I hope you can apply some of these to your life.
1. Find your community
“People working together in a strong community with a shared goal and a common purpose can make the impossible possible” Tom Vilsack
Surround yourself with great people that inspire you. I joined a men’s programme with other men who were living lives of purpose. This inspired me greatly and it’s no surprise that I eventually found my path. If you don’t know what to do then go find people who are living lives of purpose. Support them in their purpose to help inspire you to find yours.
In your tribe you’ll find teachers and mentors who will advise and guide you. It won’t always be immediately clear who they are as they don’t appear like you’d expect (just look at Yoda in Star Wars). Look at your life and notice who these people are. If there are none then go and seek them out.
Passionate and purposeful lives are born out of inspiring communities. Human beings are social creatures and it’s in community that we grow the most. Therefore, it’s important for us to find our community. Build it if necessary, as we will never live a purposeful life alone.
2. Contribute to others
“We rise by lifting others” Robert Ingersoll
A study in 2013 found that 96% of participants experienced an increased sense of purpose from helping others. Helping others improves our relationships by creating connection. This connection comes from within ourselves which helps give our lives a sense of meaning. It encourages us to seek fulfilment by connecting to something within and not outside of ourselves. What we value changes when we start to focus more on what we can give as opposed to what we can get.
A life of purpose comes from giving. The more we help others the better we feel. The better we feel the more we are able to impact others. The more we impact others the more confidence we feel and our path to a purposeful life opens up to us.
3. Do the deep inner work
“Your greatest gifts come from your deepest wounds” [Many citations]
I remember my grandpa many years ago telling a story of how he taught my mum to drive. He jokingly shared that the whole time he had one hand on the handbrake and the other hand on the door handle.
This is how many of us live our lives. We lack commitment as we look for escape routes and apply the brake when things get tough. Living a purposeful life is about being free to explore and be who we really are. In order to do that we must look inwards at the parts of ourselves that resist the future we desire. We all have resistance and self-sabotaging tendencies. To avoid this investigation is to stay in denial which leads to us remaining where we are.
To face the resistance is to go deep into what is holding us back so we can express a more true version of ourselves in our lives. We are all wearing masks that hold us back. To live a purposeful life requires us to look at our masks, go deep and the work we’ve been avoiding.
4. Face your fears
“The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek” Joseph Campbell
Fear will always be there. It provides a valuable survival instinct from times when we needed it to stay alive. That instinct is still there and it can run on overdrive if we don’t see it for what it is. There is a distinction between fear itself and our relationship to fear. We can observe fear and see it for what it is. Our relationship with fear has more impact on our lives than the fear itself.
Living a purposeful life often requires us to step into fear. That’s because our fears exist outside of our comfort zone and it’s here that we grow the most and will actualize our true potential.
There was a project in New York that asked people what they regretted most in life. The most recurring word was “not”.
“I regret not leaving my job”
“Not following my dreams”
“Not allowing myself to be happy”
The gap between where you are and the purposeful life you desire, is fear. The quicker you embrace the fear as a friend, the quicker you can start living the life you always dreamt of.
5. Practice patience
“Patience isn’t simply the ability to wait – it’s how we behave while we’re waiting” Joyce Meyer
The best things in life take time. There is no rush to get to where you think you need to get to. You’re just where you need to be right now. Everything that is happening to you now is absolutely necessary for what you will do tomorrow. Unfortunately, you’ll likely only realise this tomorrow. The sooner you realise it the sooner you can slow down and enjoy the journey.
Imagine I gave you everything you ever wanted right now. The successful business, the money, the family and kids. Whatever it is you desire, it’s all yours right now. Chances are you haven’t developed anything like the skills necessary to prosper in that life. You’re learning those skills now to prepare yourself for when the day comes.
This is why lottery winners have such a high rate of unhappiness when they win their millions. They get everything too soon and haven’t learnt the valuable lessons for how to manage the huge responsibility they have taken on.
6. Know your values, strengths and passions
“Know thyself and all will be revealed” Pamela Theresa Loertscher
There is a sweet spot in life when we align our values, our strengths and our passions. Something magical happens at this crossover point when we start living from this deeper, more purposeful place.
To do this you need to start raising your awareness of what these are. What is it you value more than anything. Family? If so why are you working so late all the time? Be honest with yourself. Maybe security is more important right now and your work is providing money to secure your future.
What are your strengths? Why would people come to you for advice? What’s effortless for you? If you were in a team, what would you be in charge of because you’re so much better at it than everyone else?
When we start to align our values and our strengths we can start to live from this place in our lives. Then when we apply this to something we’re passionate about, great things happen.
When you do start living a purposeful life, chances are you won’t even notice it. That’s because you’ll be too busy living the life, rather than wondering what to do about it.
What next? Here are some resources to help you with your journey towards living a more purposeful life.
The Inspiring Men Programme is a six month deep dive into your purpose and what it means to be a man
More blogs related to purpose
Keep checking out the site for new content as I’ll be writing more about purpose.
I hope this post was helpful. Do you recognise any of these signs? Which ones did I miss? Let me know in the comments and please share this post with a friend if you enjoyed it.
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