Want to be happier? Stop Trying to Find Your Life Purpose Now
Do you ever stop and wonder how to find your calling or your life purpose? You’re not alone.
Our generation (my generation, aka Millennials) has become obsessed with chasing after what we call our true calling or our life purpose. And it’s making all of us damn crazy, depressed and confused! I’m certainly not the only one who has felt unsettled, like something’s missing from my life, a little unfulfilled for reasons I can’t explain.
I have a happy, damn-near perfect life with family and friends who love me – so WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME?! I feel like I’ve got some #firstworldproblem here. And I do. Trust me when I say people my age in developing countries or countries plagued by war are not consumed by searching for their life purpose. Unfortunately, they’re more concerned with meeting their basic needs like food, safety and shelter than fulfilling their life purpose – for the most part.
Honestly, this is a pretty modern, “rich” people problem to have (disclaimer: I am not rich so don’t come to me begging for money…, but compared to people my age from previous time periods we’ll say that I am). My life is so great, what could possibly be wrong? What’s wrong is I’ve been chasing some abstract notion of my life’s true calling or life purpose when there isn’t one to be found. There just isn’t. It doesn’t exist, so everyone, please stop looking! Trust me, you’ll be so much happier you did.
Throughout time there have always been people who were searching for their life purpose, their true calling, or soul searching, etc., but they’ve mostly been outliers. For most of history people have been focused on the bottom 3 tiers of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (if we want to get all psychological). But now that most modern populations meet the bottom 2-3 tiers quite easily, the top 2 tiers become the ones we have started to strive for. And these tiers are much harder to fulfill. This is why I think so many people in the Millennial generation are finding themselves unhappy and unfulfilled – we are striving to meet needs that are much harder to fulfill than food, safety and even love.
Our generation is struggling with these feelings of discontentment and disappointment because in general we’ve all been told our whole lives that we can do anything we want, be anything we want if we just work hard enough, go to college and find that “dream” job (as long as it follows the normal path that your parents and mainstream society envisions – which only adds to the pressure of finding a dream job that fits both your passion and your parents’ and peers’ expectations…).
But for many of us, we have no idea what that dream job is. And I’ve talked to people older than 50, my moms included, and they too don’t know what their dream job is. They’re still looking for it. I don’t want to be 50 and still looking for my life purpose. Do you?
Our parents saw how much the world was changing as we were growing up, they see how much opportunity exists out there now, how much more there is to achieve than what they had at our age and they want us to have it all. It’s not their fault that they want better for us but all of that talk growing up about how we can do anything, be anything, turned out to be a little daunting for us. There is SO much opportunity that it’s scary. In the pre-industrial world, there were at most 2,000 different trades. Nowadays there are estimated to be half a million. Ahh, so many possibilities!
What happens when we have so many choices?
Here’s what I think happens to most of us when there are too many choices: we might get overwhelmed and avoid making any decision at all, we might become afraid of failing and either avoid making a choice or choose the safest path, or we might get lazy and choose the easiest, safe path. None are paths that will lead to a sense of fulfillment or happiness – and that’s what we’re all after, right!?
We’re trying to find our life purpose but it feels like there are too many choices and too many chances to “choose wrongly.”
1) The Paradox of Choice
When presented with too many choices, we often become anxious and choose not to choose at all. Ask a psychologist, it’s a real problem. Or ask Seth Godin, one of my favorite thought leaders and authors on creativity and entrepreneurism. Seriously, go read any of his books. It will change your life.
I recently watched an interview between him and Marie Forleo and right at the beginning she asks him to explain something he recently wrote on his blog which was “I’m not sure that anyone has a calling.”
In the interview he explains that finding your passion or your life purpose is utter nonsense. That no divine angel came down and told Van Gogh he would be an impressionistic painter and that if Steve Jobs had been born 20 years earlier or later he would’ve done something completely different than what he did. There’s no true “life purpose” there’s just us making a decision about something we are interested in and seeing where things go from there.
He says “This isn’t about waiting for the right answer, because there is no right answer. There are challenges we can sign up for and emotions we can experience.” If we wait around for the right answer we’ll be waiting around forever.
Right on the money Seth! Too often we become paralyzed by all the possibilities and options and we just wait for the right one to come along, which will never happen.
2) Fear of failure
You know what’s also scary about having so many fucking choices, opportunities and chances to succeed? FAILING. How can we deal with failing in a world with so many opportunities and where anything is supposed to be possible if we just work hard enough? What does it say about us if we fail in a world like that? In reality, it doesn’t say anything about us, except that we are brave for trying and probably that much smarter after failing and learning something new, but it doesn’t feel like we would be perceived that way does it? There’s a big stigma around failing in our society and nobody wants to be perceived as a loser. No body wants to fail in a world where anything is possible.
“The fear of failure kills creativity and intelligence. The only thing it produces is conformity.”
― Anup Kochhar,
For me, failure has always been something I’ve struggled with and avoided at all costs. It took me over a year to break up with my first boyfriend (hopefully he’s not reading this!) because I couldn’t deal with the fact that something I had put 4 years of my life into wasn’t a success. I struggled with telling people that we had broken up because I viewed it as a failure on my part. That’s when I realized I had an issue with failure.
I had never failed at anything that “badly” before in my life. I had over a 4.0 in high school, I was a great athlete, won matches for my tennis team when it was down to the wire, gotten into my dream college. It may sound like I was just that good at everything but in reality it was because I avoided anything that I wasn’t good at or that I knew was risky. I was a good kid, I was safe, I always took the road most traveled, I conformed. I didn’t take risks and I didn’t put myself out there as much as I should’ve. It’s something I look back on and wish I’d had a chance to do it differently.
We find our passions through new experiences, from challenging ourselves and being vulnerable. Trying new things, failing, learning, it’s all a part of learning what you like and don’t like and that’s how you find things you’re passionate and care deeply about. This is how you can live a life of fulfillment – finding and doing the things that you feel passionate about.
If the endless possibilities don’t paralyze you or scare you shitless by fear of failing, then you might just be damn lazy. In this case, all you might need is a good kick in the ass to get on the right path. Often people just stay on the path they’re on because it’s easy and it would be too much work to jump ship and try something new.
Robert Brault, author of Round Up the Usual Subjects, said “We are kept from our goal not by obstacles but by a clear path to a lesser goal.”
We’ve all probably experienced this before. Choosing something because it was easier or the path was clearly already defined for us, but what we really wanted was a bit harder to get to. That needs to stop, now! Only if you want to be happy, and you do want to be happy, don’t you? Stop being lazy and go after what you want.
We need to stop chasing this elusive life purpose or true calling. Instead, we need to be focused on what’s right in front of us: the experiences, choices and decisions we can choose to participate in today, at this moment, in this present time. These choices are what make up our reality.
We are a culmination of the choices we make every single day. Don’t let too many choices paralyze you.
These every day experiences are where we find happiness, life and learnings. These experiences are where we find things that we like and don’t like, things that we feel connected or disconnected to. We need to start acting today and making decisions today based on everything we encounter TODAY. We must stop waiting for the “right” moment or the “right” opportunity because trust me, it will never come. Or at least it will never be presented that way like some glowing orb or beam of light shining down from above.
What Is Your Life Purpose?
Instead of seeing our life purpose as some ultimate dream or experience that will plop into our laps if we wait for it, we need to see our life purpose as experiencing life, choosing new experiences and exploring what we like and don’t like in this world. Stop waiting, stop searching and just start living and choosing. The things you experience that excite you are your life purpose.
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Related Post: What’s Blocking Your Happiness: Self-Awareness