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What Is Your Purpose?

Saturday, June 10th, 2006 by Steve Pavlina

Download MP3: purpose.mp3

In this podcast, we're going to discuss the topic of purpose. Do we have a built-in purpose for our lives? Is it something we find, is it something we discover? Is it something that's been pre programmed into us? Is there a reason that we exist, and part of our goal in life is to find it? Or is life inherently without a purpose, and we have the option to give it one, by choice?

I think that the answers to these questions may actually be unknown to a certain degree, so I'm going to give you a different way of approaching this topic. Instead of having to deal with the question of "Does life have a built-in purpose or not?", I actually don't think the answers to those questions, are as important as the answers to some different questions. The other way of approaching this topic is looking at it from the standpoint of—instead of—do we have a purpose or don't we? Is to look at it from an experiential standpoint. What is it like to live with a purpose?versus, Was is it like to live without one?

So, my approach is to try both and to see which one produces the better results. Is one alternative more empowering than the other? For much of my life, I believed we didn't have a purpose. We could choose what we wanted to do, we could choose to have a purpose—is what I thought—but I didn't really feel like I had one at the time. I though you know, you go through life, you make a living, you earn some money, you have a family, you have some kids and you retire and so on. Sort of following the socially, conditioned patterned for existence—which doesn't really have much of a purpose at all—there's really not much meaning there. But another alternative—something I got into years later— was to think, well, what if I decided on a purpose for my life? I didn't know if it was something I was necessarily discovering, that had been preordained for me ; or if it was something I was choosing. But, I came up with a little process for going about it—such that whatever purpose I ended up finding would make sense.

It would make sense from many different standpoints—and I'll explain what those standpoints are a little later in this podcast. Now, ultimately it does come down to choice, because even if you believe that there is a great purpose for your life—that has been predetermined—I still think it's a choice to believe that. Whether or not it may be actually true. So, as I see it, you can choose to have a purpose, or you can choose not to—because even if you do have a purpose—you can choose to align yourself with it, or you can choose to ignore it. Now, I'll tell you that from my personal experience—and this is true for me—that living with a purpose is far, far better. It takes life to a whole different level, that I could never achieve without having a very clear purpose.

So, first of all, I'm going to give you two steps in finding your purpose—and then I'm going to tell you; why you might want to do this—what the specific benefits of having a purpose, and centering your life around it, will be.

Now, for finding your purpose, the two steps are—first you need to find your general purpose, and secondly—you need to find your specific purpose. I'll explain what those are. First, with your general purpose—last year on my website, on the blog—I posted an exercise about how to find your life purpose in about twenty minutes. Now twenty minutes was an estimate. I found that some people who go through that exercise get it in ten minutes—but one person emailed me and told me it took him twenty days—so there's quite a wide range of how long this exercise will take. Don't take the twenty minutes too literally, for many people, it is about that much, it is a matter of minutes; for other people it takes much longer. What I find is that it really depends on your openness to the process, how close you are to being aligned with your purpose already—in other words how far away from your current manner of living—your purpose is. but, also how much resistance you have to the idea of finding a purpose. The more resistant you are, the longer it takes. The more you're open to it, and embracing of it, the more you want to find the purpose—the faster it tends to happen.

Now, your general purpose is just a simple statement, often just one line. the short version of my general purpose is simply; that my purpose is to grow, and to help other people grow. By grow, I mean as in consciousness and awareness. So, my purpose is, essentially, to help people become more conscious and aware. It's very simple to state that, however, the general purpose itself—while it's a guiding principal for your life—it's very difficult to go from there and turn it into action directly; because, it's by definition general, it's too vague. However it does have some impact on your life. For example, my general purpose affects how I write. The fact that my goal is to help people grow—not to get them to agree with me—means that I tend to write in such a way—that I'm trying to get people to think, I'm trying to get people to react to what I write. so, that affects the way I right about certain topics, because my goal is to get people to think and grow, whether they agree with me or not. So, I don't write with the goal of persuading people, I write with the goal of challenging people.

So, even though the purpose is very general, it does trickle down into affecting how I work. But to really have that purpose drive my actions, it needs to be much more specific. So, your specific purpose, is how you're going to live your general purpose, how you're going to fulfill your general purpose in the physical world. Your general purpose may not change much—by the way—but your specific purpose has a lot more flexibility. It brings your general purpose down to earth, so to speak. So, my specific purpose right now, is basically to share awareness raising ideas, with as many people as I can. That includes writing articles, creating pod casts, giving speeches and so on. The general purpose you could think of as my message, and the specific purpose is, how, specifically I'm going to express that message. So, the general purpose is the what, the specific purpose is the how.

Now a specific purpose, like I said can change, so I can switch from writing articles to writing books. I can switch from creating podcast to having a radio show. There's all different ways I can go about fulfilling this purpose. The general purpose of growing and helping other people grow—is likely to be constant for a very long time throughout my life. Now, how do you get your general purpose down, to a specific purpose? I think the key is you have to ask four specific questions. You're basically taking this general purpose statement, and projecting down into teh physical world. The general purpose is really just an idea, but you've got to make that idea concrete. So here are the four questions you ask—and they're really easy to remember if you think about them in terms of the four parts of your being—body, mind, heart, and spirit.

So, starting with the body: OK, what is the body? It's your physical body, it has physical survival needs. So part of your purpose has to address that, it has to address the needs of your body. Which really is the question—What do I need to do? You need to eat, you need to pay your bills, you need to have a place to live, you need to survive. So, your specific purpose has to address your survival needs, it has to answer the question—what do I need to do? How much money do I need to make? So if your specific purpose can't meet your survival needs, it's not good enough. So notice that your general purpose may not address survival at all, but your specific purpose, had better address survival. It's very important.

The second question comes from the mind. Your mind is your skills, your talent, your knowledge. So this question is, What can I do? What can you do to fulfill your purpose? What is within your ability to do, what are you capable of? This is where you have to get really practical, really down to earth. Your general purpose may be, sort of, this pie-in- the-sky idea. Ir's wonderful to want to grow, and to help other people grow ; but how, exactly, are you going to do that? What are you capable of doing? So, for example, in my case—I'm capable of writing articles, I'm capable of creating a website, I'm capable of buying pod casting equipment and recording a podcast; like this one. That is within my capabilities—and something outside of my capabilities, well, then my capability is I could learn it, I could learn how to do it.

So, when you want to take your general purpose down to a specific purpose, you have to address—how exactly are you going to do that, what can you do? If you have a specific purpose that is impossible for you to do, or at least extremely impractical or unlikely—you don't have a very good specific purpose, it's not down to earth enough. Now, at the same time, you might have to learn something new, your general purpose may be so expansive that you're not really capable of getting close to fulfilling it. so in that case. your specific purpose—in that case—becomes, what skills can I develop? What talents can I develop?

You're going to have some natural inborn talents, but you can also have learn able talents throughout your life. Like, throughout my life I've always been a fast learner, and so being able to use that as leverage to develop the skills I need, has been very useful to me. I wasn't born knowing how to write article, I wasn't born knowing how to create websites—but that's something I've been able to learn along the way. So you can expand your skills, you can use certain of your talents to create other talents, in the direction of your general purpose—and that's how you make your purpose more specific.

The third question to ask, comes from your heart, your desires, your passion. The question there is—What do I want to do? What do you really want to do? So, as you answer this question—you're really thinking about your dreams, your aspirations. Forgetting about survival, forgetting about what your capabilities are for the moment—and just think about, what you would really love to do. This is how you take your general purpose down to a level where you really—it not only makes sense intellectually—but now you feel it, now emotionally; you're really driven to do this.

See, I love to grow. It's a very easy projection from my general purpose, because I love to grow and I love to help other people grow. I love it when I get these, 'aha' insights and just something just clicks in my brain—just clicks(snapping), like that - and I think wow, I've learned something ; life is going to take a little twist now, because of what I've learned. Similarly, when I see other people go through these changes and these experiences ; and they have these 'aha' moments where it just clicks—that's really exciting and rewarding to me, to be able to see that ; and to be to help people do that.

So, emotionally that's something that I'm very, very passionate about ; and because of that passion, it drives me to take action.So, that's how my general purpose by itself—to grow and to help other people grow—when it becomes that specific purpose ; it drives me to do other things. It drives me to write articles, to create a podcast and so on. It drives me to contribute ; and speaking of contribution ; it brings us to our last question—which comes from spirit.

This is your connection with your higher self, this is your sense of 'what life means to you'—and it's not really a religious question; it's not even necessarily a spiritual one. It's more of a question of conscience—and the question here is, What do I do, what should I do? What do you feel you should do with your life? Based on your values and beliefs, based on what you hold most sacred. What is the best life, you could really live?

How are you going to contribute? What difference are you going to make? Whether you feel you should be living your life, largely for yourself, or as a contribution for others. For me—in terms of this question, what should I do?—certain things arise like service, service is probably the most important part of my should. i think that I really need to do something to make a difference in the world; I really need to do something that serves other people. It's not so much that I need to do it, it's that I feel I should do it. I feel that, really in order to a live a life, that I would feel good about; I must make a difference in other people's lives—I must make a positive difference.I want my life to have a net, positive affect on the planet, that's very, very important to me. So, that is what takes my general purpose—which is centered around growth—and really puts it in the direction of service. The direction of finding a way, to not only grow myself; but also to help other people grow.

So, when you connect these four questions together, basically what you get are these overlapping circles. You have the circle for your body, which is all the ways you could possibly meet your needs—getting a job, starting a new business, and so on—all the different ways you could possibly meet your survival needs. Then, with your mind you have all the things you're good at—all the things you're capable of doing, and all the things you could become good at. Then, with your heart, you have a different circle—you have the, what do I want to do? You have the desire. What are the desires, what are all the things you'd love to do in your life? Then with your spirit you have, what should you do? You have that conscience, you have that—what do you feel is really important for you to be doing with your life? What matters to you.

Every one of those circles will have different things in it. But, by working on these circles enough, you can find the area where they all overlap—where all four of them overlap. That may take some massaging, that may take some moving of the circles, that may take some expanding of the circles. For example, in the case of the body—what do you need to do, you may need to reduce your material needs; or change them. You may need to expand your talents in the case of mind—educate yourself, develop new skills. In terms of, what do you want to do—you may need to experiment and explore a little bit, to find out what that really is—to find out what you do really like to do and love to do.

Find ways to like other things even, that you may never have tried. For the spirit area, in terms of what your conscience says—again, that's something that might require a bit of exploration and especially introspection. The heart exploration tends to be external, in that you go out into the world and try all these things to find out what you really enjoy. Whereas the spiritual exploration tends to be internal and introspective. For example, you might do some journaling to think about, really, what your conscience tells you- you should be doing with your life.

So, a well formed specific purpose needs to address all four of these areas. If you're out of balance in your life, then you don't have a well formed purpose. For example, if you're not able to make a living, then your body—your physical—is unbalanced, you're not meeting your needs. If you're doing work that you're not good at, then your mind part is imbalanced. If you're doing twork that you don't enjoy, then your heart part is unbalanced. If you're doing work that runs against what your conscience is telling you—about what you're feeling, intuitively should be doing—then your spirit is unbalanced.

So, once you have a balanced specific purpose, beyond this point is when you start breaking it down to specific goals, projects and actions—and then actually completing those actions. The purpose itself, acts more like a compass than a destination then. It gives a direction to your life—but it isn't something you ever finish—it isn't a destination that you arrive at, it sin't something you complete. Really what you're doing by choosing a purpose, is you're deciding what kind of life you want to live—right now in the present.Your purpose gives your present moments a certain quality, and I found that the quality it brings—makes life much better, than if I don't have an overall purpose at all.

What is this quality that it brings? What are the benefits? How is life better with a purpose? There are actually quite a number of ways that I find it improves life. First of all, it creates a lot more passion. By centering my life around a specific purpose, I find that I'm constantly excited, I'm constantly happy, I'm enthusiastic about life. I feel wonderful—around the clock—I just feel really, really good. I feel very motivated to do what I'm doing.

Secondly, I find that the purpose gives me more energy. Every morning now, I'm getting up at 4:15 a.m.—I head to the gym at 4:30 a.m., and exercise—then I come back and I meditate and have breakfast ; and get started on my work day. For some people this would be overkill—this would be like, oh my God, getting up at 4:15 in the morning, that's insane, that stressful; you must be a workaholic—it doesn't feel that way at all to me though. It's something that I want to do—I don't have to get up early, I can sleep in late if I want to. No one's forcing me to do it, I don't have to be at work at a certain time; I work for myself. But, I enjoy what I get to do everyday—so much—that I just don't want to lie in bed any longer than I have to.

When the alarm goes off, I'm just waking up and I'm raring to go. I can't wait to go exercise, I can't wait to get started on my day. I wake up feeling excited,I'm not groggy and tired— that energy boost I believe really comes from my purpose—because before I chose this purpose, I was not like that at all; I didn't have that. The alarm would go off, and I'd be like, why should I bother to get up, what's the point? Might as well sleep in. See, when you have a purpose—then getting up and starting your day becomes far, far more motivating; then staying in bed and sleeping longer.

Thirdly, feeling inspired. With a purpose I always find that I have plenty of ideas to write about. It's like a hydra, whenever I write one article, two more ideas grow in it's place. So, you might think, you might have the scarcity model- where you think, there's only so many ideas I can generate, there's only so much I can write about, there's only so much I can talk about, there's' only so much I can contribute—then I'm spent—I'm burned out. With a purpose, it's just the opposite—because a purpose is like a fuel, it just constantly keeps fueling—in constantly keeps refilling you, in terms of inspiration. It keeps inspiring you.I can't even imagine what it would be like to have writer's block. It feels more like I have writer's diarrhea, with all the ideas that just keep coming.

Next, more freedom. Working on my purpose fulfills all my material needs. Why? Because I addressed, as part of my specific purpose, the body. What do I need to do? How am I going to create a purpose that allows me to make a living? So, it's been, it's already been addressed. I'm making a living, fulfilling this purpose.So, I'm free in the sense that I can do what I believe is right, and be guided by my conscience—without having to compromise because I'm worried about survival. My survival needs are built into my purpose, those have been addressed in advance. Does this make sense? I think this is a very key element of having a congruent purpose, one that addresses your survival needs too.

I know a lot of people are in work situations right now, in careers, where they're meeting their survival needs—doing what they feel they need to do—but it's fulfilling them. It's not meeting their heart needs and their spirit needs especially. It's not something they deeply, deeply desire to do. It's not something they're totally passionate about and wake up excited to do each day. It's not something that resonates with their conscience. They have this feeling that there's something better they should be doing, and when you have a purpose that really resonates with you—you will not have the feeling that there's something better you should be doing. You will have the feeling that this is exactly what you should be doing, what you're doing right now. So, the purpose gives you the freedom to be able to live that way, to not have to compromise.

The next benefit—this is one of the most important one's for me—is focus. My life is centered around this theme of growth, and it's a theme I rally enjoy. so, I'm naturally drawn to keep taking action in a fairly consistent direction. In the direction of this purpose. why? Because, it's something I desire, it's got that heart need filled. This keeps me from getting derailed and finding myself in a place I don't want to be.

See, if you find yourself surrounded by circumstances you don't want—realize you attracted those circumstances, you created them—by your decisions. Had you made different decisions, you would be in a different place right now. So, if you want to leave that situation behind, then you need to start making different choices—but you also have to be consistant about it, otherwise you'll just go round in circles.

A clear purpose is what helps you get moving in a pretty straight line form where you are to where you want to go. It keeps you progressing. So this ability to focus, is bestowed by the purpose. Why? Because the purpose, by it's very nature, is a direction, it's a compass. It allows you to make better decisions, because whenever you have to make a big decison in your life—you're thinking about it in, is this taking me in the direction of my purpose, or is this taking my away from it? I just think— is this going to help me grow, or help other people grow, or both? or, Is it moving away from that? So, that becomes a guiding principal for my life, and it keeps me focused.Consequently, life tends to get better and better and better. Results tend to improve along the way, because of this consistency, created by the focus.

The next benefit, self esteem. When you're working from your talents, doing what you love to do, making a positive difference in the world and meeting all your material needs at the same time—what's the natural consequence? The natural consequence is that you're going to feel terrific. About yourself especially, your self esteem is going to be sky high—and self esteem is recognized as an extremely critical component for success. Because, when you feel great, you'll be motivated to take action. You'll interact with other people from a place of confidence and certainty. When you feel lousy though, you'll tend to procrastinate—and when you interact with other people from that state of feeling lousy—you'll just meet resistance; because they'll sense, oh, this person's not going anywhere, they're not committed. I'm not going to help them at all.

So, having this high self esteem, really helps to improve the quality of your life—I believe. It's again a by product of working on your purpose; where it's balanced in those four key areas. Next, i think another benefit of purpose is less fear. It reduces the amount of fear you'll experience, because of the self esteem boost you'll get—you'll be far less vulnerable to any negativity other people may direct towards you. For example, I receive lot of feedback every day. The majority of it is very positive. Some of it though is highly critical. Internally I view all of it is positive, because any feedback at all, means people are thinking as a result of what I'm doing. Sometimes I write articles, where I know a lot of people are going to disagree with me—but I also know that if they read it, it's going to make them think—which means it's going to make them grow. Now I never make false statements just to get a reaction out of people, I honestly believe what I'm writing about, that's very important to me. But, I'm not afraid to write about some of my more controversial beliefs, just because they might get a negative reaction. I don't feel compelled to write about things where I know I will get a positive reaction, just for the ego boost.

My purpose helps me stay focused on the topics that are likely to help people grow, that are likely to make people think—consequently the feedback I receive also helps me think. So this is the process by which I fulfill my purpose of growing and helping other people to grow. I think you'll find that as you create your own purpose, it reduces your vulnerability to criticism. It reduces the effect other people's negativity will have on you, you'll be more resilient.

Another benefit of purpose is contribution. Having a purpose means that you're making a difference in the world. It not only affects your life, but it affects the lives of other people. Since I started writing about personal development, for an example—I've received thousands of personal emails and letters, about how my work has affected people. Quite a large volume of feedback. people have told me that my work has influenced them to make a lot of different changes in their lives.

People have started new businesses, or they switched jobs to be something more fulfilling to them. People have made major improvements to their level of physical fitness. Some people have pursued new relationships. It's all good. So, I love seeing that clear evidence that I'm making a difference. I'm not just helping people think about making changes, I'm actually helping them get real results. Now, the reason that I'm telling you this, is so that you can imagine what you're own life might be like—when you center it around a purpose, that genuinely helps people.

Imagine what it would do for your self esteem, to know that you're absolutely doing some real good here on this planet. How could you possibly be depressed, if that's your daily existence. So, contribution is a really key aspect of purpose, and that's one that gets derived from the spirit aspect. The, what should you do, question. When you live each day knowing that you're living up to what your conscience tells you should be doing with your life, it's wonderful—it's really wonderful. It tremendously increases teh quality fo your life.

The last benefit—which is sort of a net result of how all these things combine together—I find is that life gets easier. See, it's easier to meet your survival needs, when you're doing what you love. When your motivation and your self-esteem are really high, you'll be driven to take action—because you want to. You'll feel motivated to do it, and you'll enjoy it. Consequently, if you go about it intelligently—and you find a way to generate income from your purpose—you should be able to do very well financially, if you want to.

The key is, to make sure that you set things up so that you're able to receive a fair exchange for the value you're giving to others. If you aren't able to generate sufficient income from your purpose, they you have an imbalance in those four areas. Obviously your aren't meeting your needs, so that means the body part is imbalanced, but you probably have a imbalance in one of the other three areas that's contributing to that. For example, is your talent too low for what you're doing? That would mean that the mind part is imbalanced. So, in that situation you would need to build your skills more, or develop some new skills—to be able to do what you want to do.

Another possibility is that you're feeling unmotivated, you just don't want to put much effort into your purpose. In that situation, the heart is imbalanced. So, you need to dig deeper to find something you truly, truly love to do. Something you're really passionate bout- something you would do even for free. do you feel like you're doing what you should be doing? If that's not the case, then the spirit part is imbalanced—and you need to listen to your inner voice to discover what you really feel should be doing, what is your conscience telling you?

When you find your real purpose, you know you're doing exactly what you're supposed to be doing. Without a doubt, if you have to ask the question—is this really what I should be doing?—and you really aren't quite sure, then it's not. The your conscience is telling you something else and you need to listen to that. See, when all four of these areas are balanced, life is wonderful. But an imbalance in one area, will tend to throw the whole system out of whack. It's kind of a situation of either all four or nothing. It's hard to stay motivated and inspired, if you can't pay your bills. So, keep reworking that big picture—from a top down perspective—until all the pieces fit together in a way that works. This is a solvable problem, but it may take some time to get it just right.

i hope you're encouraged to choose a purpose for your life, and to center your life around that purpose. Don't spend your whole life just working on survival, believe me—you can do much better than that. With the right purpose, you can be doing what you love, doing what you're really good at, making a positive difference in the world, and making a great living from it. Don't settle for just one, don't settle for just survival. Don't settle for doing what you love to do and being dead broke, and having trouble meeting your needs. Don't settle for doing what your conscience tells you, and being miserable.

Now, if you want extra help with this process, be sure to read the show notes that accompany this podcast, because I'll include some new, additional resources that will help you. So until next time, live consciously.