7 Crazy Questions That Help You Find Your Life Purpose
Most of us have no clue what we want to do with our lives. Even after we finish school. Even after we get a job. Even after we’re making money. Between ages 18 and 25, I changed career aspirations more often than I changed my underwear. And even after I had businesses, a private practice, and a wife, it wasn’t until I was 28 that I clearly defined why I was alive.
Chances are you’re more like I was and have no clue what your real life purpose was. Are you here to make money? To be in Love? To just take up space? It’s a struggle almost every adult goes through. “What do I want to do with my life?” “What am I passionate about?” “What makes my life matter?” I often receive emails from people in their 40s and 50s and even in their 80s who still have no clue why they were born.
Part of the problem is the concept of “life purpose” itself. The idea that we were each born for some higher purpose and it’s now our cosmic mission to find it eludes most people and thus they are fake and empty and superstitious and inconsistent, and……….. MISERABLE!
Here’s the truth. We exist on this earth for some undetermined period of time. During that time we do things. Some of these things are important. Some of them are unimportant. And those important things give our lives meaning and happiness. The unimportant ones basically just kill time. There is a formula to find what’s important. It works. I can help you discover it. But it’s worthless words and exercises of futility unless you’re will to get up and take action.
So when people say, “What should I do with my life?” or “What is my life purpose?” what they’re actually asking is: “What can I do with my time that is important?”
This is an infinitely better question to ask. It’s far more manageable and it takes away all of the mystic baggage that confuses you to a motionless stupor.
After some research, I have put together a series of questions to help you figure out for yourself what is important to you and what can add more meaning to your life.
These questions are by no means exhaustive or definitive. In fact, they’re a little bit ridiculous. But I made them that way because discovering purpose in our lives should be something that’s fun and interesting, and not a chore.
1. WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE FLAVOR OF CRAP SANDWICH AND DOES IT COME WITH AN OLIVE?
Ah, yes. The all-important question. What flavor of shit sandwich would you like to eat? Because here’s the sticky little truth about life that they don’t tell you at high school pep rallies:
Everything gets hard, some of the time.
Now, that probably sounds incredibly pessimistic and crass. You may be thinking, “Hey Dr. Keith, turn that frown upside down!” But I actually think this is a liberating idea.
Everything involves sacrifice and some sort of cost. Nothing is pleasurable or uplifting all of the time. So 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. If we can anticipate this and count as much of the cost ahead of time as possible, we tremendously increase our probability of success.
If you want to be a brilliant entrepreneur, but you can’t handle failure, then you’re not going to make it far. If you want to be a professional artist, but you aren’t willing to see your work rejected hundreds, if not thousands of times, then you’re done before you start. If you want to be a hotshot court lawyer, but can’t stand the 80-hour workweeks, then I’ve got bad news for you. You get the idea.
What unpleasant experiences are you able to handle? Are you able to stay up all night coding? Are you able to put off starting a family for 10 years? Are you able to have people laugh you off the stage over and over again until you get it right?
Which CRAP sandwich do you want to eat? Remember, we all get served one eventually.
In martial arts we have a saying: “Cry in training, laugh in battle”. Paying the price up front pays off in the end. An ounce of pain now or a ton of pain later. It’s always your decision.
2. WHAT IS TRUE ABOUT YOU TODAY THAT WOULD MAKE YOUR 8-YEAR-OLD SELF CRY?
When I was a child, I used to write stories. I used to sit in my room for hours by myself, writing away, about aliens, about superheroes, about great warriors, about my friends and family. Not because I wanted anyone to read it. Not because I wanted to impress my parents or teachers. But for the sheer joy of it.
And then, for some reason, I stopped. And I don’t remember why.
We all have a tendency to lose touch with what we loved as a child. Something about the social pressures of adolescence and professional pressures of young adulthood squeezes the passion out of us. We’re taught that the only reason to do something is if we’re somehow rewarded for it.
It wasn’t until I was in my mid-20s that I rediscovered how much I loved writing. And it wasn’t until I started my business that I remembered how much I enjoyed sharing my writing with others — something I did in my early teens, just for fun.
The funny thing though, is that if my 8-year-old self had asked my 20-year-old self, “Why don’t you write anymore?” and I replied, “Because I’m not good at it,” or “Because nobody would read what I write,” or “Because you can’t make money doing that,” not only would I have been completely wrong, but that 8-year-old boy version of myself would have probably started crying.
3. WHAT MAKES YOU FORGET TO EAT?
We’ve all had that experience where we get so wrapped up in something that minutes turn into hours and hours turn into “Holy Smoke, I forgot to have dinner.”
Supposedly, in his prime, Isaac Newton’s mother had to regularly come in and remind him to eat because he would go entire days so absorbed in his work that he would forget.
I used to be like that with Baseball and Karate. This probably wasn’t a bad thing. But, for many years it was kind of a problem for things like… Ah… School Work. I would look for every opportunity to instead of doing more urgent things like studying for an exam, or showering regularly, or speaking to other humans face-to-face.
It wasn’t until I gave up the that pursuit fulltime that I realized my passion wasn’t for the games themselves although I do love them. My passion is for improvement, being good at something and then getting better. The games themselves — the team, the cheers — they were cool, but I can easily live without them. It’s the competition — with others, but especially with myself — that I thrive on.
And when I applied that obsessiveness for improvement and self-competition to an coaching business and to my writing, well, things took off in a big way.
Maybe for you, it’s something else. Maybe it’s organizing things efficiently, or getting lost in a fantasy world, or teaching somebody something, or solving technical problems. Whatever it is, don’t just look at the activities that keep you up all night, but look at the cognitive principles behind those activities that enthrall you. Because they can easily be applied elsewhere.
4. HOW CAN YOU BETTER EMBARRASS YOURSELF?
Before you are able to be good at something and do something important, you must first suck at something and have no clue what you’re doing. That’s pretty obvious. And in order to suck at something and have no clue what you’re doing, you must embarrass yourself in some shape or form, often repeatedly. And most people try to avoid embarrassing themselves, namely because it sucks.
Ergo, due to the transitive property of awesomeness, if you avoid anything that could potentially embarrass you, then you will never end up doing something that feels important.
Yes, it seems that once again, it all comes back to vulnerability.
Right now, there’s something you want to do, something you think about doing, something you fantasize about doing, yet you don’t do it. You have your reasons, no doubt. And you repeat these reasons to yourself ad infinitum.
But what are those reasons? Because I can tell you right now that if those reasons are based on what others would think, then you’re screwing yourself over big time.
If your reasons are something like, “I can’t start a business because spending time with my kids is more important to me,” or “Playing Starcraft all day would probably interfere with my music, and music is more important to me,” then OK. Sounds good.
But if your reasons are, “My parents would hate it,” or “My friends would make fun of me,” or “If I failed, I’d look like an idiot,” then chances are, you’re actually avoiding something you truly care about because caring about that thing is what scares the hell out of you, not what mom thinks or what Timmy next door says.
Living a life avoiding embarrassment is akin to living a life with your head in the sand.
Great things are, by their very nature, unique and unconventional. Therefore, to achieve them, we must go against the herd mentality. And to do that is scary.
Embrace embarrassment. Feeling foolish is part of the path to achieving something important, something meaningful. The more a major life decision scares you, chances are the more you need to be doing it.
5. HOW ARE YOU GOING TO SAVE THE WORLD?
In case you haven’t seen the news lately, the world has a few problems. And by “a few problems,” what I really mean is, “everything is messed up and we’re all going to die… well, that’s what the media would have you believe anyway.”
I’ve harped on this before, and the research also bears it out, but to live a happy and healthy life, we must hold on to values that are greater than our own pleasure or satisfaction.
So pick a problem and start saving the world. There are plenty to choose from. Our screwed up education systems, economic development, domestic violence, mental health care, governmental corruption. I just saw an article this morning on sex trafficking in the US and it got me all riled up and wishing I could do something. It also ruined my breakfast.
Find a problem you care about and start solving it. Obviously, you’re not going to fix the world’s problems by yourself. But you can contribute and make a difference. And that feeling of making a difference is ultimately what’s most important for your own happiness and fulfillment.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. “Gee Keith, I read all of this horrible stuff and I get all pissed off too, but that doesn’t translate to action, much less a new career path.”
Is that a question??? It is!!! Well, Glad you asked… now lets do something about it.
6. GUN TO YOUR HEAD, IF YOU HAD TO LEAVE THE HOUSE, Your JOB, Your NORMAL ALL DAY, EVERY DAY, WHERE WOULD YOU GO AND WHAT WOULD YOU DO?
For many of us, the enemy is just old-fashioned complacency. We get into our routines. We distract ourselves. The couch is comfortable. The Doritos are cheesy. And nothing new happens.
This is a problem.
What most people don’t understand is that passion is the result of action, not the cause of it.
Discovering what you’re passionate about in life and what matters to you is a full-contact sport, a trial-and-error process. None of us know exactly how we feel about an activity until we actually do the activity.
So ask yourself, if someone put a gun to your head and forced you to leave your house every day for everything except for sleep, how would you choose to occupy yourself? And no, you can’t just go sit in a coffee shop and browse Facebook. You probably already do that. Let’s pretend there are no useless websites, no video games, no TV. You have to be outside of the house all day every day until it’s time to go to bed — where would you go and what would you do?
Sign up for a dance class? Join a book club? Go get another degree? Invent a new form of irrigation system that can save the thousands of children’s lives in rural Africa? Learn to hang glide?
What would you do with all of that time?
If it strikes your fancy, write down a few answers and then, you know, go out and actually do them. Bonus points if it involves embarrassing yourself.
7. IF YOU KNEW YOU WERE GOING TO DIE ONE YEAR FROM TODAY, WHAT WOULD YOU DO AND HOW WOULD YOU WANT TO BE REMEMBERED?
Most of us don’t like thinking about death. It freaks us out. But surprisingly, thinking about our own death has a lot of practical advantages. One of those advantages is that it forces us to zero in on what’s actually important in our lives and what’s just frivolous and distracting.
When I was in college, I used to walk around and ask people, “If you had a year to live, what would you do?” As you can imagine, I was a huge hit at parties. A lot of people gave vague and boring answers. A few drinks were nearly spit on me. But it did cause people to really think about their lives in a different way and re-evaluate what their priorities were.
This man’s headstone will read: “Here lies Greg. He watched every episode of ’24’… twice.”
What is your legacy going to be? What are the stories people are going to tell when you’re gone? What is your obituary going to say? Is there anything to say at all? If not, what would you like it to say? How can you start working towards that today?
And again, if you fantasize about your obituary saying a bunch of badass stuff that impresses a bunch of random other people, then again, you’re failing here.
When people feel like they have no sense of direction, no purpose in their life, it’s because they don’t know what’s important to them, they don’t know what their values are.
And when you don’t know what your values are, then you’re essentially taking on other people’s values and living other people’s priorities instead of your own. This is a one-way ticket to unhealthy relationships and eventual misery.
Discovering one’s “purpose” in life essentially boils down to finding those one or two things that are bigger than yourself, and bigger than those around you. And to find them you must get off your couch and act, and take the time to think beyond yourself, to think greater than yourself, and paradoxically, to imagine a world without yourself.
How Well Do You Really Know Yourself?
We all think we know ourselves well, but psychological studies show otherwise. In fact, most of us are somewhat deluded about ourselves. I can help you find your Transcendent Cause… You know… who you really are… What your purpose and calling are. Just fill out your name and email in the form below.