This post is for my peers who feel like there is more to life than what our western society considers the norm. If that sentence turns you off, that’s fine. You don’t have to read anymore of what I have to say. I hope you have a fulfilled life.
If that sentence resonates with you, you are who I want to connect with. If you have the intuition that you’re alive because you have something to contribute to the world, but you can’t figure out what or how, this article is for you. Disclaimers:
- This is not a follow-your-passion rant; there are enough of those.
- I don’t know the formula for discovering life’s purpose; I’m only 21.
- This isn’t about me; this is about you.
I believe I can help you, because I’m in the same boat. I’ve found there are certain ways to help cure the feeling of uncertainty that exists when trying to answer the question: How am I going to leave this world better than when I came into it?
Before we delve into gaining clarity with this issue, I want to tell you a short story. This story explains why I’m passionate about intentional living. For those of you who don’t know me, this story aims to give you context. If you don’t care and only want the takeaways, you can skip to Adding substance to the soul.
A short story…
In January 2015, I decided I wanted to be a management consultant at a big firm. As a low 3.0 GPA marketing student from SDSU, this wouldn’t be easy. I created a plan and gave it a shot. One day, after a few months of executing my plan, I went hiking.
Surrounded by nature and removed from the online world, I accepted two realizations I spent my life avoiding:
- Our lives are finite.
- We don’t know how long we’re going to live.
I decided to stop wasting time, but my lust for becoming a consultant still dominated my desires. In August 2015, my perspective changed when I became more exposed to death.
I was at a national conference in a large room with thousands of people. We were paying our respects to members who recently passed away. One by one, a mournful voice amplified throughout the room reciting the full name and age of a recently passed friend. The list of deaths from people my age, and not far off, was long. Longer than I expected. This was an emotional experience that reaffirmed my value for time. My perspective changed.
In December 2015, I abandoned my desires of becoming a consultant by turning down an interview at a dream firm. Since then, I’ve experimented with other avenues and constantly revisit the lingering question: How am I going to leave this world better than when I came into it?
I don’t know what my answer is yet. The uncertainty is frustrating, and I can empathize with my peers who feel the same way. I know you’re out there, and I wrote this for you. These are the strategies that have helped me move forward in beginning to answer this question, and I hope they help you too.
Adding substance to the soul
You’re reading this now because you’re conscious of how significant your contribution is to the world. Unfortunately, you’re still unsure of how you’re going to help others and make this a better place.
As well-intentioned as you are, you’re frustrated. You’re frustrated because you value progression. So far, you’ve had little luck in figuring out what to do, and you’re yearning for progression in any area. This is where it can get dangerous, if you let it.
As the charismatic person you are, it’s easy to rely on destructive behaviors to function as your means of progression. For example, hitting the bars every weekend or wasting hours in front of the TV, etc. These behaviors add more confusion to the mix and lengthen the time it takes to identify your path.
Depending on your personality and values, these behaviors can provoke feelings of guilt. Guilt leads to negative self-talk, and negative self-talk destroys your confidence. Low confidence welcomes more destructive behaviors, and I say this from personal experience. It’s a vicious cycle. Consider leveraging these behavior patterns to celebrate wins; not to serve as your means of progression.
Think about shifting your focus to behavior patterns that will add substance to the soul. What I mean is behaviors that are physical or mental, challenging and consistent. The consistency principle is important because we value progression. The challenging principle is important because it justifies the importance of our behavior.
For example, exercising every morning offers a consistent opportunity to complete something challenging. You make it through a week of going every morning, and you take pride in your efforts. Your confidence builds, and your certainty of self becomes clearer. Sounds like a much better cycle, right?
When we’re lost in figuring out what to focus on, our self-doubt builds. By combating self-doubt and uncertainty through overcoming smaller challenges, we stay confident. When we’re confident, we think clearer. When we think clearer, we can begin to better answer the question of how we’re going to impact the world.
What’s your way to add substance to the soul?
Forget your 5-year plan
Let’s stop thinking long-term. When you pencil out your infamous 5-year or 10-year plan, you put a lot of pressure on yourself. The stakes are high, and there’s no room for error. Not wanting to screw it up, you become paralyzed.
You have the option of going left or right. Of working with your friend’s start up or the Fortune 50 company. Of traveling the world on a loan or joining the peace corps. You consider each avenue and the potential positives and negatives. You meet with mentors. You run SWOT analyses. You tell your friends, you tell your family.
What we don’t realize is that while we’re performing this analysis, we’re wasting time. We aren’t helping ourselves, and we aren’t helping others because we’re doing nothing. It’s comfortable doing nothing because there’s no risk. We can’t fail. That one afternoon of analysis turns into a week. That week turns into a month. That month turns into a lifetime.
Consider shifting your focus to the short-term. When we reposition the question from a long-term to a short-term perspective, we lighten our self-imposed burden. Ask yourself how you can help others today, or what work you can do to change the world this month. If we mess up, we’ll try something new tomorrow. Maybe next week, or next month. Maybe next quarter, or next year.
The key is this type of thinking puts us in a position to take action. You’re not going to change the world by thinking; you’re going to change the world by doing. This post is a prime example.
Did it work?
I’ve spent the last month in a constant state of self-doubt and paralysis. Do I go with option A or option B? Which one will help me get what I want out of life? Which one will provide the best way to impact the world? What type of impact am I even looking for?
I woke up this morning and decided the best way for me to help others and change the world was to get these thoughts published. But this isn’t about me; this is about you, remember?
When you’re searching inside yourself to uncover your life’s purpose, remember these two strategies. Don’t let your uncertainty hold you back, and find other challenges to overcome. By continuously winning, we keep our confidence high. When we’re confident, we’re better equipped to take action and commit instead of wasting time.
If you’ve read this far, chances are you can relate. I hope you’re better off now than you were before, thanks for taking the time to read this.
If you’ve read this far, please answer these two questions. I want to provide as much value to you as I can, and your answers will help.
- Did you find this post helpful? If yes, anything particular stand out? If not, how can I be better next time?
- What are some things your struggling with relating to living with purpose?
Send me a note with your answers! Email to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
I’m extremely passionate about intentional living. If you are too and have any questions, comments or suggestions, you can email me at: email@example.com.
If you disagree with my perspective and want to call me an ignorant millennial, you can email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article also appears on austinmdean.com and is published here with the permission of the author
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