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Finding Your Life's Purpose
Who We Are and Why We're Here
Why are you here?
Do you know for sure?
For just a few minutes let’s pick a fight with conventional thinking, which says the answer is complicated (if it’s knowable at all). But what if your purpose—why you are alive—is right under your nose, hidden in plain sight, and you can know it with certainty?
This is my starting point, and my direct experience too over the course of twenty-plus years of working with people from all walks of life.
I’ve discovered the search for purpose reveals itself in two simple questions that drive all of our seeking, doing, and our relentless pursuit of meaning.
Let’s call them Ultimate Questions.
The questions are:
Who am I?
Why am I here?
I’ve lived nearly 50 years on this blue pearl hurtling through space, and I’ve never met anyone who isn’t asking these Questions. Usually, the second one—Why am I here?—is the most common, but the questions are really two sides of the same coin. More on that in a minute.
But first let’s explore what we mean by purpose.
Most people are under the impression that purpose is a what—a job, a calling, something important to be done or accomplished before we die.
If we find the right thing to do in life, we’re told, then our life will matter. We will have an identity that makes sense and we’ll know who we are. We will finally be happy.
That’s how it’s supposed to work. Except that it doesn’t. It never has and we all know it. It’s why you can have all the things and still be desperately adrift, feeling like life is meaningless.
I’ve worked with celebrities, billionaires, humanitarians and philanthropists, spiritual seekers who have punched out from modern society to sit on a mountainside, and many others who are the kind of people we’re told we should aspire to be if we want to live the Good Life.
In nearly every case, by the time I meet them each feels profoundly unhappy or empty. They feel like life has let them down, that they don’t matter or belong despite getting all of the things—money, relationships, influence, etc.—that we’re supposed to want, do, and be. Inevitably they ask, “What gives? Why am I here? What am I meant to do?”
Somewhere along the line they became walking cliches. They’re like the guy who spent his life climbing the proverbial ladder only to realize it had been leaning against the wrong wall the whole time.
We hear these stories and think, “Well, yeah. None of those things work.” Exactly. Cliches exist for a reason. They’re shorthand for truths we all know on a deeper level. We just have the tendency to believe they apply to Others and not to us. But to everyone else we are Others.
Everywhere we look there is evidence that purpose isn’t a what. It isn’t a vocation, mission, or calling. It isn’t even any act of service, however beautiful and good, you offer the world. I’ve met just as many disillusioned spiritual seekers as I have executives.
These are all byproducts of purpose, expressions of it. Confusing these things for purpose is like mistaking a musical instrument for the song that comes through it. The instrument is the medium, not the song. You can play the same song with almost any instrument. The what is the means.
So for a moment let’s experiment and reframe purpose. Let’s play with the idea and look at it through another lens.
Consider the mighty, elegant cheetah.
What is the purpose of a cheetah? Isn’t it simply to be itself? You might say the purpose of a cheetah is cheetah-ing. Its existence is a verb, not a noun.
A cheetah isn’t a doing. It’s being.
But even to say it is cheetah-ing isn’t totally right either because cheetahs don’t speak English or care what silly humans call them.
They also, as far as we know, don’t ponder or question their existence in the order of things like we do. They aren’t trying to be themselves, nor are they trying to be an elephant (because elephants get more respect) or a lion (because, come on, lions).
They do not wonder what they should be, or try to be themselves, because they are it.
Neither can you try to be yourself. You are yourself without effort. You cannot be anyone or anything other. You can only try to be what you are not.
Because Who you are is why you are here.
Who you are is your purpose.
You are a verb. So am I. You might say I am Kevin-ing or human-ing.
Ultimately, purpose is a way of being.
It is being in truth in every moment.
By in truth I mean the equivalent of cheetah-ing. It’s you being authentically, radically, naturally you. To know your Self is to know your purpose. If you do not know your purpose, it’s because you do not know your Self.
Our only problem si that we do not know ourselves—our True Self—because we’re all suffering from a recurring case of mistaken identity thanks to our upbringing and conditioning.
We’re all trying to be what we are not, and along the way we have become strangers to ourselves. It works for awhile and makes us productive workers and consumers until we realize, usually in Mid-Life, that we’ve been had. Then one of two things happens: we either double down and try to find meaning through more stuff, better sex, or a different job, or we begin to ask dangerous questions.
If all of this sounds a bit squishy and impractical, chew on these ideas and see for yourself whether or not they ring true. Don’t take my word for it. You must become disillusioned enough with the old world to set off across the deep waters of these Ultimate Questions.
Who are you really? Find out. Burn the ships that have brought you this far on the beach and venture into that uncharted wilderness. Find the answer to that question and you will have discovered the real treasure.
This concept is at the heart of all the world’s myths. Joseph Campbell pointed to this in his description of the Hero’s Journey, though a great many people miss what he’s really pointing to.
The Hero’s Journey isn’t about the hero slaying the dragon, defeating the coming onslaught of barbarians or Orcs, finding the treasure, or saving her people. These are all results of the journey, and very important ones, but they are not the point.
The hero realizing and becoming/being their True Self is.
It’s Luke Skywalker realizing he’s a Jedi (and always was). Or Daenerys Targaryen becoming the Queen of Dragons. Or Thomas Anderson becoming Neo and defeating the Matrix from within.
Like every other hero, who you are is why you’re here. They are the same. But you must stop trying to be who you are not and plunge deeply into your own life.
What does that look like? How do you find more meaningful work or a better partner? I can’t tell you and neither can anyone else. This isn’t about self-improvement or transformation in a weekend. You won’t ultimately find the answer in any book, at any conference, or from a guru.
All of the spiritual traditions agree on this one thing: freedom and joy comes at the cost of who we think we are and, more importantly, who we think others think we are. When you get out of your own way, purpose becomes clear.
How do you get out of your own way? There are many tools. Others have sketched maps along the way that offer clues and waypoints. That’s the work I’ve devoted myself to through my writing, coaching and hosting visionary experiences and rites of passage. I explore first for myself and make maps to share. To me, it’s the only thing worth doing.
Ultimately, the path forward for all of us is the way of unlearning. Over the next few months I’ll be sharing the maps I’ve been sketching of my own journey. If they are helpful, great. If they aren’t, just as well. This is an endless exploration, like heading East. No one ever arrives at a place called East. It is simply that way. If you listen closely you’ll hear a Voice inviting you to keeping walking. I hope you do.
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