Finding Your Life's Purpose

“The tragedy of life doesn’t lie in not reaching your goal. The tragedy lies in having no goal to reach.”
Benjamin Mays, 1895-1984, educator and minister

When you look in the mirror, do you see a purposeful, productive, satisfied human being looking back? Or do you see someone who is caught in the grind, trying to survive, living on auto pilot, and not having much fun in the process?

How long has it been since you opened your eyes in the morning with a sense of anticipation? And even excitement?

If you haven’t felt that sense of purpose, passion, wonder, and expectancy for some time, it’s time that you did.

Unfortunately, too many people are somewhat unclear or totally clueless when it comes to their “purpose” in life. Their only “purpose” seems to be in getting more of the goodies in life by taking things away from others. That’s why the Stella Awards are given out each year … to point out the most outlandish “gimme gimme” verdicts during the previous twelve months in the U.S.

For example, in 2006 there was a tie for fifth place. Kathleen Robertson of Austin, Texas, was awarded $80,000 by a jury after breaking her ankle tripping over a toddler who was running inside a furniture store. The store owners were understandably surprised by the verdict, considering the running toddler was Ms. Robertson’s son.

Also in 5th place was Carl Truman, 19, of Los Angeles, who won $74,000 plus medical expenses when his neighbor ran over his hand with a Honda Accord. Truman apparently didn’t notice there was someone at the wheel of the car when he was trying to steal his neighbor’s hubcaps.

But let’s get you started on this whole topic of purpose right now by pointing out 3 baby steps you can take towards a big purpose.

=> 1. Stop making excuses.

You can find a thousand excuses for not figuring out your purpose, and once you do figure it out, you can find another thousand excuses for not living your life ON purpose.

Stop waiting… Until your car or home is paid off… Until you get a new car or home… Until your kids leave the house… Until you go back to school… Until you finish school… Until you clean the house… Until you organize the garage… Until you clean off your desk… Until you lose 10 pounds… Until you gain 10 pounds… Until you get married… Until you get a divorce… Until you have kids… Until the kids go to school… Until you retire… Until summer… Until spring… Until winter… Until fall… Until you die.

There’s no better time than right now to figure out your purpose and then live your life and do your work ON purpose. There’s no better time than right now to be happy. That’s what Gloria finally figured out.

One day her niece Paula walked into the bakery and asked, “Can I get a dozen oatmeal cookies to go?” Coming out from behind the counter, Aunt Gloria hugged Paula and said, “Why, you can have anything you want.”

Paula continued, “Mom called and told me that you were starting your own business, so I decided to come home for the weekend to check things out for myself. And I got to tell you this place looks great! We always said you should have a pastry business with the way you like to bake.”

Gloria said, “I’ll let you in on a little secret. I’ve always wanted to have my own bakery, but for years I talked myself out of it. I convinced myself that I wasn’t smart enough to run my own business. I also thought I didn’t have enough money and that my family obligations were more important than chasing a silly dream. But after 30 years, I still had the same dream and had run out of excuses. So I said why not?”

Gloria finished with this insight, “You want to know something else? LIVING your dream is a whole lot more exciting than just dreaming about it.”

She’s right. LIVING and WORKING on purpose is a lot more exciting than merely dreaming about it. So quit making excuses and figure out your purpose. Listen to my MP3 on “SETTING YOUR SAIL: How To Define Your Purpose And Live Your Dreams.” It’s powerful and effective.

And then…

=> 2. Get out and help somebody.

A meaningful purpose … a motivating purpose … a fulfilling purpose almost always has something to do with helping other people … whether that be your coworkers, your customers, your friends, your family members, or anybody else. A healthy, sustaining purpose is directed outward and not focused inward.

Louis Pasteur’s work was driven by such a purpose. As a French scientist, he lived at a time when thousands of people died of rabies each year; so he worked day and night on a vaccine that could save them. Just as he was about to begin experimenting on himself, a nine-year-old boy called Joseph Meister was bitten by a rabid dog. The boy’s mother begged Pasteur to experiment on her son. Pasteur injected him for ten days, and the boy lived. Decades later, of all the things Pasteur could have had etched on his tombstone, he only asked for three words: “JOSEPH MEISTER LIVED!”

Pasteur went out and helped somebody … and that gave him more satisfaction than anything else in life. And the same thing is true of you and me. Every time we go out and help somebody, every time we live our lives on purpose, we feel better and do better.

Marge Jetton discovered that. For 77 years she identified herself as a doctor’s wife and found meaning in the work she did to support her husband. As a nurse, their partnership was magical, but it all ended abruptly the morning she found James on the bathroom floor of their California home, the victim of a fatal fall.

Marge grieved for a few months, then regrouped and got back to the business of living. She started volunteering, worked as a fundraiser for a gospel radio program, and delivered used magazines to elderly hospital patients. “I realized the world wasn’t going to come to me, so I went back out into the world,” Marge recalls. “I reconnected with old friends and felt satisfaction from helping the community. I guess you could say that I recharged my purpose batteries.”

That was five years ago. Today, at 104, Marge says she owes her can-do vitality to her faith and her fervid belief that as long as she’s around, she can make a difference.

Again, the same is true for you and me and everybody else. And remember, no excuses. As Helen Keller, the famous deaf and blind author and lecturer, said back in the mid 1900’s, “I am only one; but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something. I will not refuse to do the something I can do.”

Finally, to get more purpose in your life…

=> 3. Change your focus from “having” to “being.”

In other words, people mistakenly think if HAVE more money, a bigger house, a better car, and so on, they will be able to DO what they want to do, and then they’ll BE happy.

This HAVING-DOING-BEING sequence sounds logical, but it rarely works in practice because most people never seem to HAVE enough. As a Roper poll discovered, the people who earn around $30,000 annually believe they need $60,000 to get the things that will make them happy. But those who earn $60,000 each year said they need $125,000. And so it went … ad infinitum.

So what’s the alternative? Reverse the sequence. Identify your purpose … what fulfills you, what kind of work excites you, and what feels meaningful to you. When you DO that kind of work, whatever you HAVE seems to enough, and you’ll BE happy.

Likewise, if you supervise people who seem perpetually dissatisfied with how much they’re “getting,” you’re probably dealing with people who are focused on HAVING more. And more than likely … they’re not DOING work that satisfies them. Rather than simply give them more stuff, ask them what kind of work they would find most fulfilling. And if it all possible, allow them to do more of that kind of work more often.

Few things will make a bigger difference in your life and in your work than having a clearly defined purpose. And you can start the defining process by taking these three steps.

Action:  List 3 things you can and will do this week to help somebody else.