self improvement tips

Why Trying to Find Your Life’s Purpose Is a Waste of Time (and What to Do Instead)

Waiting to discover your purpose? That’s a stupid strategy.

Blogs, courses, and coaches all over the internet claim that we each have one perfect reason for existing. That we need to lock ourselves in a room until we find it. That once we do, everything will make sense and we can finally be fulfilled.

This type of thinking is a huge problem, and it needs to be addressed.

Here are three reasons why you should stop trying to find your purpose:

1. It’s a Myth

The biggest issue I have with the idea of a life purpose is that most people will never find it. At least not in the way they think.

Telling someone that there is only one perfect thing that they were put on this earth to do is like telling them that there is only one perfect person for them. And then asking them to fall in love before the first date.

There is no one perfect thing. There is only the best thing right now. You’ll drive yourself crazy trying to think on a scale any larger than that.

The idea of a purpose probably came about as the agnostic’s attempt at spirituality. One of the reasons that religion is so effective is because it has meaning and purpose built in. It’s comforting to think that we are here for a reason.

How do I know you are here for a reason? Because you are on earth. That should be reason enough.

When we tell people that they need a purpose in order to be fulfilled, it makes them feel empty until they have found it. That’s why it’s such a pervasive myth in the self improvement industry (and such an effective marketing tactic).

I felt incomplete for a long time because I didn’t know my purpose and I thought I should have one.

There are multiple studies showing that trying too hard to be happy can actually make us unhappy. I see the same thing happening with people trying to find their purpose. The searching just makes us feel worse.

That’s the opposite of what we want. Which brings me to my next point…

2. It’s Counterproductive

Even if there was one perfect thing for you, it would be counterproductive to spend time just thinking about it. If you are waiting for purpose to show up in your life, you are wasting your time.

When I look back at all of the time I spent trying to find my purpose, 100% of it would have been better spent taking action.

Purpose doesn’t just hit you over the head one day. You need to bring meaning to life. You need to put yourself out there.

The same is true of finding passion (a word I’m hearing more of lately as a substitute for purpose). In her post on finding passion, Marie Forleo says “Clarity comes from engagement, not thought”. I couldn’t agree more.

Self improvement shouldn’t stall progress.

The best way to understand yourself is to collect data. You do that by running experiments. Everything else is creative avoidance.

If you were trying to find your way through the woods, and you came to an intersection, what would you do? Would you sit down on a stump and look at the first 10 feet of each path?

No, you wouldn’t. You would choose the path that felt best and go down it, knowing that you could always change course once you got more information.

I’m not suggesting you stumble along blindly. But you do have to start walking. Most of us can intuitively sense when we are headed the wrong way.

3. It’s Static

The “one perfect thing” paradigm is incredibly limiting. Why? It doesn’t take into account the rest of the world.

Your path is going to change. You are going to change. What is required of you is going to change.

The stronger you stand behind a purpose, the more ridged you become. I’d rather be open and flexible.

This is especially important if you are young. Trying to think about your purpose as a 20 something is just plain ridiculous. But most people get scared, force it and end up boxing themselves in.

It’s almost impossible to create a mission statement broad enough to be applicable throughout your life. And even if you tried, it would be too watered down to be meaningful.

Some people say their purpose is to be fulfilled, keep evolving, or help others. But isn’t that everyone’s job? A statement like that doesn’t help us make any decisions.

I’m a big believer that if you should never criticize something unless 1) you’ve tried it; and 2) you can present a better alternative. So if you have a life purpose and it’s working for you, great. There are some people who know exactly what they want to do with their lives at 5 years old.

For the rest of us, I’d like to offer up a new paradigm:

The True North Framework

As a personal coach, one of the most common questions I get asked is, “Where do I go from here?”. Before I can answer that, I always have to ask, “Well, where are you now?”. A straight line is bounded by two points; you need to know both in order to determine a direction.

We all have periods of feeling confused, disoriented, and lost. When this happens, most people start thinking about goal setting. What they really should be doing is getting their bearings.

So, how do we get our bearings?

We figure out our True North. Every day we are faced with forks in the road. The True North framework is a decision making model that I developed out of my own frustrations trying to choose the best path.

Fair warning: The best path is not always the path of least resistance.

This three-step process will help you get in touch with your True North. It’s worked for my coaching clients who never quite resonated with the idea of a purpose. It is simple to figure out, it forces you to take action, and it is responsive to changing circumstances.

3 Steps to Finding Your True North

Step 1: Determine your strengths.

I’m not talking here about skills. You can learn a new skill fairly easily. I’m talking about character strengths like perseverance, perspective, and optimism.

Here are some questions to ask yourself:
·      What personal traits do I rely on to get me through a tough spot?
·      What about myself am I most proud of?
·      What do people tell me I am uniquely good at?

Step 2: Cultivate your passions.

Notice I didn’t say “follow your passion”. That tends to stress me out the same way that purpose does. Instead, write down a few activities, challenges, or topics that make you excited and apply your strengths to those areas.

Here are some questions to ask yourself:
·      What do I spend most of my time thinking about, reading about, or looking up on the internet?
·      What could I do every day of the week and never be paid for it?
·      What did I love to do when I was a kid (besides eating Lucky Charms)?

Step 3: Focus on providing value.

A compass is no good unless it takes into account your position in the world. If you learn to identify problems, you can use your strengths and excitement to solve them. Find ways to help people and the rest will take care of itself.

Here are some questions to ask yourself:
·      What do people come to me for already?
·      What have I struggled with and overcome in the past that others might learn from?
·      What challenges or frustrations do I have now that I could solve for myself (and later use to help others)?

Putting It All Together

Look back at your list and try to find some common threads. Figure out how to play to your strengths, do what excites you, and serve people in need. Then, take one step forward in line with your True North.

Easier said than done, right? If you feel stuck, go ahead and download my True North Toolkit. I’ve put together everything you need in order to get your bearings quickly.

It’s tempting to spend time thinking about why you are here, but it’s far more important to make your time here matter. In other words, become the reason.

Stop looking for a purpose to live and start living on purpose.

This is a guest post by Greg Faxon, writer and personal coach at gregfaxon.com. Greg helps people live deliberately so that they can get more out of life. Grab his free True North Toolkit and start walking a path that matters today.