He who has a why to live can bear almost any how. – Friedrich Nietzsche
Published by Elephant Journal
I regularly challenge others and myself on the question of purpose. Are we born for a reason or do we come to this physical world just for an earthly experience? I’ve read and written a lot on purpose, vision and authenticity, and I thought I knew pretty much everything about each of these topics.
However after listening to Patrick Awuah, the founder and president of Ashesi University on how he came to live his purpose, I paused and pondered about this new perspective on purpose. There was now a clarity that I lacked before.
Purpose is not something you magically find in an aha moment after a deep meditation session, or in a remote cave or at the top of some unpronounceable mountain peak. On the contrary, we must live our lives striving towards it, crafting it with the skills we’ve developed and the passions that have been growing in us.
There are four elements that guide us in developing our purpose:
1) An Interest that is ready to be cultivated into a passion
“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”–Howard Thurman
We discover a minute strand of our purpose, in something that interests us or in an opportunity that presents itself to us. Our interest could be something that we enjoyed when young, like playing the guitar, it could be something that our friends and family know we are so good at, that they can’t imagine us doing anything else. Or our interest could also be something that we love so much so that while working on it we could lose ourselves in it. Even talking about it gives us a deep sense of satisfaction and contentment.
A passion is not something we are born with but rather starts as an interest and is then cultivated over our lifetime through diligence and dedication. An interest that is not backed by passion is likely to fade away easily. We feel it as our heart throbs giving us the signals that we are following our passion. We feel alive thinking about it; we feel alive when practicing it; we feel alive when talking about and finally when doing it.
I never wrote when I was younger but I’ve always loved solitude, reading and had an insatiable curiosity about people and the world. I’ve developed that interest into writing and now I have a genuine passion for writing.
2) Declaration of Purpose
“A musician must make music, an artist must paint, a poet must write, if he is to be ultimately at peace with himself. What a man can be, he must be”― Abraham H. Maslow
A sense of purpose means we believe in doing something greater than ourselves. Our end goal is to serve humanity in one way or another. It’s not just about simply giving money to the poor but rather by being proactive in trying to solve the problems that we face in our world.
There are many venture capitalists and more money than start-ups and yet very few survive after six months. There are more than 150 million blogs on the net and yet only few make a difference to our lives. Most people are content with living average inauthentic lives, happy to remain in their comfort zones and not wanting to risk making a difference.
There is a long list of unsolved problems in our world, problems that many of us can actually solve. The question is to ask ourselves, how can we solve a particular problem. Where would we be needed most and how can we serve others with the skill sets that we have and with the opportunities we’ve had?
I love to share everything I learn and the experiences that I have had. I’ve found that through writing, many people in my community listen to me and are eager to learn. Everyone wants to become a better person and it was through other people’s writings and teachings that I’ve been completely transformed as a person.
3) Getting into action
“Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it!”- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
This is when we banish our fears and doubts and get our hands and feet dirty. We put our plan into action. At this stage, we need a lot of support so that we take that leap of faith. It’s also a good time to raise our self-esteem by polishing our skills, getting a coach to guide us and asking our family and friends for their support and help. There is no turning back now and the exhilaration and energy of starting something new will usually carry us through.
I make it a habit to journal for thirty minutes every day first thing in the morning and write at least a thousand words. I’ve enrolled in many writing classes and all this continual practice and putting myself out there is paying dividend as I’m getting published regularly.
4) Faith and Perseverance
“To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary. To one without faith, no explanation is possible.”― Thomas Aquinas
This is the most difficult stage as the novelty of the project wears out, and the excitement of the first few months fades into a long slow march towards our end goal. Problems and critics arise quickly, and we find ourselves in the midst of self-doubts and renewed fears we thought we had extinguished.
We need to build systems, disciplines and rituals that allow us to practice the skill sets we’ve developed. We also need to put in the long hard hours whether that means completing a novel or establishing a start-up. It is now that we try and fail, try again and fail again and keep trying till we succeed with faith acting as the light at the end of the tunnel.
No matter how disciplined or motivated we are, without this certainty of faith then we would give up and quit. Hope gives us a deep sense of knowing that we were born for this purpose and that we are the only ones who can solve the problem.
There are times when doubts creep in and I have an existential crisis about me as a writer. I ask myself how can an entrepreneur become an author who can make a difference in this world. However, I persevere because there is a light within me that shines brightly—It is built on hope and tells me I am a writer.
Let’s stop waiting for the universe to gift us our purpose and rather arm ourselves with skillsets that have been born out of interests.
Let’s cultivate these interests into passions and use the opportunities we have in front of us to declare our purpose and take action towards it.