Confession: I never discovered my purpose.
I never did a workshop to find my purpose. I never read a book about my purpose. I didn’t even know I had a purpose.
I discovered my purpose by entering my purpose. And I had no idea at the time.
It happened one morning when I was crammed in a car of the Metro Orange Line on my way to my cubicle job. As I clutched the bar above my head and bumped into the tired people wobbling around me, I silently uttered a prayer. It went like this:
“You have GOT to be kidding me if you think I’m gonna do this for the rest of my life.”
Yeah. I know. Not much of a prayer. But if God was hanging out in that subway car, he seemed to understand me just fine.
Does that mean I woke up the next morning to UPS delivering me a box containing my shiny new purpose, complete with treasure map, golden key and parchment scroll of commandments?
It went more like this…
The next week, I wandered into a small bookstore where I found and bought an unlikely book that became kind of a catalyst for me through the coming years.
When I got promoted at my cubicle job the next month, I found the strength to quit.
Months after that, I moved away from the expensive city to a small town where the rent was crazy cheap.
Unlikely mentors found me, offered me help, and pointed me in the right (and yes, sometimes wrong) direction.
You get the idea.
My prayer was answered by an on-going series of nudges, rejections, half-open doors, and ideas. Plus, an odd mix of experts and gurus. My job was to simply begin listening and taking courageous steps that sometimes seemed foolish. (And sometimes were.)
So, these days, when someone asks me the age-old question “How do I discover my purpose?” I start by giving them my top three arguments against DISCOVERING your purpose:
1 — Discovering is a “big deal.”
Big deals don’t require any action on your part. That’s because when something’s a big deal, you’ll never have the right tools and you’ll never be ready. This is exactly why your ego loves big deals. It’s a convenient way to keep you from taking even the first imperfect action step. (Your ego hates imperfection.)
2 — Discovering your purpose implies that your purpose is outside of you.
It’s not. Your purpose is here now. It’s already within you.
3 — Discovering is an event.
The idea of “discovering” your purpose makes it a one-time “TA-DAH!” kind of thing. Fully equipped with all the perfect mystical special effects and lighting.
Your purpose is NOT an event. Your purpose is an unfolding. As you continue to move forward, your purpose becomes bigger and more impactful. (Besides, when you start out, you’re probably not ready to know the full extent of your purpose. It would only send you back to bed. WAY too much information.)
Once I have convinced people to stop trying to discover their purpose, I give them the steps for entering their purpose. They often glaze over because these steps are way too simple. I tell them to do them anyway.
1 — Settle for nothing.
Wanna hit the purpose fast-track?
The first place to start is to notice where you settle for stuff in your life.
Because purpose doesn’t “settle.” Purpose isn’t about “Oh well, I guess I’ll just get this crappy job because hey, it’s a bad economy.” Purpose is the opposite of settling. Each time I probe a little deeper in conversations with people who tell me they can’t find their purpose, I often discover that they have spent so many years “settling” that they’ve lost touch with even their smallest desires.
If this sounds like you, then begin by moving anything unlike purpose out of the way.
It’s almost impossible to recognize your own purpose when the bulk of your life is about settling for things.
2 — Notice what lights you up.
While you are cleaning up your world-view and no longer settling for stuff, begin noticing:
“What do I kinda like to do?”
Don’t start with discovering your purpose. Start instead with language that feels more playful.
What makes me happy? What delights me?
Why start with these kinds of questions? Because discovering your purpose is too high pressure.
If you haven’t been clear or if you’ve settled for many things in your life for many years — and suddenly you start demanding that you DISCOVER YOUR PURPOSE, you will want to hide in a dark corner. It’s too much pressure.
Start with delight. Begin with fun. Or “what makes me smile?” Give yourself that treat. And give yourself permission for the answer to be anything.
3 — Fire your ego.
What comes after you begin noticing what you love?
The ego, of course!
Nothing kills purpose faster than the statement “Yeah, but you’ll never be able to make money at it.” (The ego likes to bring up money first!)
My theory is that many people can’t ‘discover their purpose’ because no sooner have they discovered something they love than the ego speaks up. This voice works 24/7 — and its job is to have a job. It will work hard to convince you that you have no purpose. It’s much safer that way.
Face it. For every idea that “can’t make money,” there’s someone out there who proved that it can.
4 — Take the very next step.
The opposite of a “big deal” is a simple action step. Simple action steps create discoveries and big deals when you add them up. But for now, all you need to do is this:
Start each day by asking yourself, “What is the very next step I will take today?”
And then take it. This is the ultimate path to entering your purpose.
Let me be clear. Living with purpose IS a big deal. It’s a high-power choice to make and phenomenal path to follow. And you are meant to follow this path now. Allowing yourself to begin is the most important piece. The rest will unfold. Your job is to enter.