“Am I happy? Am I doing what I was put here to do?”
We’re often too busy — and too scared — to ask the question for fear of the answer lurking behind the curtain: we’ve invested years in an unfulfilling path.
Fear not. No path is irreversible and no investment wasted if it gets us to our authentic self in the end. The secret sauce, as we call it, is realizing that getting closer to your purpose is largely about trade-offs.
There are four major trade-offs we face when we start this exploration of meaning and purpose:
If we check in on how each trade-off is balanced in our lives every month, we’ll get closer and closer to living the meaningful lives we want for ourselves.
Let’s take a look at each one in more detail.
The established path — the one our parents, aunts, and teachers almost always lead us towards — is designed to give us all the security we think we need but little else. “Just follow the rules,” we’re told, and ’’you will make partner, have the white picket fence, 2.2 kids, dream spouse and weekends of bliss.” If following a safe route is that great, why are there so many sleepless nights, bouts of anxiety, and work-related stressors in our society?
In today’s world, comfort and security are not the only things that fulfill us. Exploration, community, the thrill of building something of your own, and the freedom that comes with stepping off the treadmill are also the means to a purposeful life, and they come with increasingly larger uncertainty.
Some people are more comfortable with uncertainty than others, but the good news is that anyone can increase their tolerance for dealing with it. Here is how:
Begin small. If the idea of leaving a stable job is paralyzing, begin with a smaller step. Start volunteering on the weekends or craft a small passion project where you can devote time after work.
Start running micro-experiments. Take action first (without over-analyzing). See how the world responds, adjust and proceed further with another small action. For example, if you’re stuck in corporate finance but have always wanted to be a pastry chef, bake two dozen cupcakes, take them to the neighborhood park on the weekend and see if people would buy your creation.
Build a community that can support you through your search and transition. No one can survive the tectonic shift of making a life and career change on their own.
“Beware of the barrenness of a busy life.” — Socrates
The only way to commit time to finding your purpose is to steal it from somewhere else. For most of us, figuring out how to find time to commit to this exploration can be more paralyzing than the search for purpose itself. We have lots of excuses as to why we can’t give up our commitments:
Whichever one resonates most with you, here are 3 easy ways to begin stealing time for yourself:
Our society’s long-established definitions of success — an MBA from an IVY league school, a six-figure salary, a lofty title — can come with baggage: stress, fewer deep friendships, and a gnawing feeling of a life lived on someone else’s terms. A participant in our programs once told us a story: by 33, she was working as a brand manager at a large corporation making more money than her family has ever seen. She had an MBA and a successful corporate future in front of her. And she has never been more miserable in her life, fighting fires at the office often until 11 pm and crying herself to sleep, day in and day out. She finally reached a point of burnout that allowed her to see: her life was no longer her own. She made a trade-off, forgoing her prestigious job, title, and salary and slowly building a new life on her own terms as a travel journalist.
Take a moment to answer these questions for yourself:
The first step is admitting that the perfect balance — between money and purpose, between home size and family size, between hours doing meaningful work and hours doing nothing — is always a moving target. As you move through the world and encounter different milestones, your priorities and required level of comfort will shift — and that is ok.
Here’s how we like to think about this at Project X:
What would your ‘money versus impact’ map look like?
Think about some of these questions to help you understand your comfort level and what you’re willing to give up in order to build a new lifestyle:
Each one of these questions involves a trade-off and only you can answer them for yourself.
Getting a good understanding of the different types of trade-offs we are — or are not — willing to make is a crucial step towards crafting our own vision of a meaningful life and creating lasting change. When we look deeply at each one, we will discover how many assumptions we take from society as “fact.” The reality is much more fluid than this. We can change the balance of critical success factors in our lives all the time. Get comfortable with your trade-offs and start crafting your version of a meaningful career and a life with our weekly TOP 10 Purposeful Jobs listing.