Your Life’s Purpose is More Obvious Than You Think
It all starts with these three questions
With slippery hands gently clutched around my knees, back curled over ninety-degrees, face looking down into the scalding cement pavement, I focused on catching my breath and wiping off the ovular drops of sweat that were relay-racing from the top of my forehead down into my eyes and congregating just above my top lip.
I straightened out, put my hands over my head to give my lungs some expansion room, let out a booming exhale and turned up the volume on the little voice that was offering words of wisdom inside my ears.
That’s when I heard a phrase that completely shook my perception of all the work I had been doing in my own life and the lives of others. Stop trying to find your passion.
I took my phone out of my damp pocket, wiped off the screen with the one remaining dry spot on my shirt, and I pressed the fifteen second rewind button to ensure my ears did not deceive me. But I heard it again.
Stop trying to find your passion.
The Starving Artist
These words were spoken by Elizabeth Gilbert, acclaimed author of Eat, Pray, Love, during a session of Oprah’s SuperSoul Conversations at UCLA.
Liz Gilbert is somebody who accurately portrays the story of the starving artist, waiting tables into her thirties, struggling to write the next great American novel. One day people fell in love with her work and she became a tremendous success. Now she lives happily ever after.
For years, Liz told that story on stage, driving home the message of how through everything, she never stopped writing, she never stopped pursuing her passion. For years, people welcomed her message with open arms. For years, she truly believed that this was the formula for creative freedom. Until one day, that all shattered right in her face.
The prolific author flew to the other side of the world to give a speech in Australia, where just like any other talk she ever gave, she would speak about her journey, and her incessant belief that in writing Eat, Pray, Love, she was following her passion to be a writer.
After Liz delivered this speech however, she was surprised to receive a letter from a disgruntled fan that read something like this (and I am paraphrasing here from the podcast episode I listened to):
I came to your talk so invigorated and ready to change my view of the world and my place within it. I sat in my chair, and I listened. And I listened. And I listened. I listened to you drag on about how you have to find your passion, and you have to do what you love, and you have to make that your one thing. And the worst part is, you spoke about it all as if it were the easiest thing to do in this world!
Well, Liz, I am a very intelligent woman, I have multiple degrees, I am traditionally successful, however you want to define that word, and I am confident enough to say that if there were something in my life that was so abundantly clear, that I was so enthralled by, something that you describe as a passion, then I am positive I would be smart enough to know what it was!
But I do not have one. I do not have a passion.
And, you know what, Liz, walking away from your speech, it was actually the worst I have ever felt, because I felt like there was something wrong with me for not being able to understand the feeling that you were talking about on stage.
Searching for this passion has caused me more stress and anxiety than anything else in my life.
Sorry for this rant, I am sure you are a very nice person and didn’t mean to personally offend me!
Thanks, and have a great night!
With a stinging message like this, Liz Gilbert decided to reevaluate what passion meant to her, and what it should mean in people’s lives — because she couldn’t help but agree.
Often times, people feel stressed about finding their passion, and when they can’t unlock it, it causes severe pain and anguish. With that in mind, she changed her stance.
‘Stop trying to follow your passion. Instead, explore your curiosity.’
How then, do you explore your curiosity? Ultimately, it all comes down to these three questions.
1. What kinds of articles, videos or people grasp my attention?
Exploring your curiosity is about a simple head tilt. That’s all it is. What topic do you hear about that moves your chin one inch to the side, makes your eyes squint, and tilts your head ever so slightly?
What type of content reels you in so close to the screen or page that you are millimeters from banging your head?
This is curiosity. When something gives you this feeling, that you just want to lean in a little bit closer, dive a little bit deeper, learn a little bit more, this is when you have found something that truly piques your interest.
2. What would I like to do more of?
This comes from an asset-based approach. Rather than focusing on what you are missing or what you don’t have, focus on what you do have.
Maybe your purpose is something that you are already doing, but you can’t fully unleash it because you don’t have the time or the resources.
If you think about everything you do in your life, and you ask yourself, ‘what do I want to do more of?’ then you will begin to realise what it is that needs to be implemented into your day-to-day life.
3. If I had zero preparation for a 30-minute assessment in which all I had to do was talk about one topic, what topic would I choose?
This is my favorite question of all. Think long and hard about this one, because this question truly reveals what comes most naturally to you.
What energizes you? What ignites your fire? What can you talk about for hours and hours while losing track of time? What do you talk about with your friends that you don’t even think about as a passion or purpose?
Once you can answer this question, you are on the right track to discovering purpose.
In my own tortuous expedition to find my purpose, I have allowed my curiosities to guide me in every which way.
I have bargained in flea markets in China. I have taken swing dancing classes with seasoned professionals. I have worked with food delivery startups, and I have created a food delivery company of my own. I have written a book, given a TEDx Talk, coached founders and students and mid-level executives.
Exploring your curiosities not only allows you to realise what you want to do in your life, but it also reveals what you don’t want to do. With a heightened sense of self-awareness and intentional evaluation, you will steadily realize your ultimate identity.
I have discovered in my own life that for me, my purpose is about three concepts rather than any specific thing that I do.
- Add value to others without expecting anything in return.
- Build and grow something from the ground up.
- Focus on creating and maintaining relationships.
My purpose is so much more about my why than my actual what. So long as I am pursuing something that satisfies these three key principles, I feel that I’m living a life of meaning.
As I listened to Elizabeth Gilbert speak about this highly unconventional concept, a freeing feeling came over my body. I stopped panting, the sweat droplets began to disappear, I put my right foot in front of my left, and I continued on my run.
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