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How to Actually Find Your Purpose
A roadmap for when you feel lost.
When I was in my late teens and early 20s, I thought that I was very important.
I thought the world — my world — revolved around me, and that if I said and did things people would automatically care about them. I thought that existing was enough to make my life meaningful to both myself and other people.
I don’t know if it was really a “big ego”, but I definitely had a misplaced sense of importance.
I had the mindset of a puppy.
Like a puppy, I thought that just because I existed, people would give me attention.
Long story short, this isn’t how it works. It took a few years for me to realize that people don’t validate your life just because you exist. You are a valid human because you exist and deserve human rights, but that’s pretty much all you get from existing.
Everything else in your life, you kind of have to earn.
Meaning is one of those things, but you can’t find it the way that you’ve been told.
My favorite book from this year so far.
The best book I’ve read this year is Siddhartha, by Herman Hesse.
It’s funny to me that I’d love a book like this, especially since once upon a time, I wrote a whole article about how much I despise Buddhism. But nonetheless, it seems to me the concepts taught in Buddhist philosophy are pure when the need for complicit behavior is removed.
Siddhartha does a great job of communicating this idea.
“Seeking means: having a goal. But finding means: being free, being open, having no goal.” — Herman Hesse
The book analyzes different ways that people look to justify their existence, and ultimately it comes to the realization that all pursuits distract us from what from finding bliss and happiness in our lives. One of the central points of the book is that misery is caused by attachment. Another central point is that you read about meaning, you have to find it for yourself.
So, here’s where we have a bit of a dilemma:
In order to find your purpose, you have to stop seeking your purpose. In order to live a life that is full of purpose, you have to abandon the pursuit of a purposeful life.
So what the hell are you supposed to do with your time?
You have to do something that’s sort of valuable.
This is where the Japanese concept of ikigai comes into play.
Ikigai is the absence of anxiety, social contortion, and suffering. Ikigai is pleasure, purpose, freedom, and financial stability. Ikigai is everything you need, but if you seek it, you will never find it.
And let’s be honest — ikigai sounds a little too good to be true.
That’s why we have to break it down.
I’ll use myself as an example so that maybe you can follow my lead.
First — What do you love?
I love 2 things wholeheartedly: I love Jiu-Jitsu and I love writing.
This is an easy question to answer because it is pleasure derived.
When I say “love”, I mean that these are things that I will still try to do sick, injured, burned out, and exhausted. I find myself writing and studying Jiu-Jitsu first thing in the morning and the last thing before bed. Writing and practicing Jiu-Jitsu are not “work” for me.
Unrelated to Jiu-Jitsu and writing, I also love eating pizza, watching movies, reading books, riding around on my skateboard, and playing the guitar badly.
Second — What are you good at?
I’m not good at the guitar or skateboarding. They’re just fun things for me.
On the other hand, I’m really good at eating pizza.
I’m lucky that I am pretty good at the 2 things I love most, but also, you don’t need to be world-class at what you love in order to find your ikigai.
I’m good at writing and Jiu-Jitsu, but there are people who are worse than me who have made more money and lived happy lives doing the things I do.
This is because of the next 2 aspects of the ikigai.
Third — Does the world need it?
The world needs storytellers more than ever.
Writing isn’t dead the way my professors in college made it seem, it’s just on the internet now. Writing is on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, and in people’s email accounts. Writing is everywhere, and there’s never been a more valuable time to be a writer.
In a world full of fake news, propaganda, and social media bullshit, people go crazy for honest storytellers.
This is why people like Joe Rogan have managed to build such massive audiences.
Fourth and finally — Can you get paid for it?
At the end of the day, you need to be able to eat.
This is the hardest part of ikigai, especially for creatives, artists, and athletes.
I wish I was passionate about accounting or selling widgets, but unfortunately, here we are. My pursuit of my ikigai has forced me to get creative with ways that I can monetize what I’m doing.
When you stop seeing this as “a necessary evil”, it will cause you much less headache.
Tying ikigai with Siddhartha.
It might seem like we have contradictory messages between ikigai and the Herman Hesse novel I mentioned above, but I believe that ikigai picks up where Siddhartha fails to deliver.
Siddhartha’s concept of “abandoning pursuit altogether” is great for alleviating suffering, but the harsh reality is that the world needs more than just 8 billion ascetics at this point. We need people who can help.
We don’t need to abstain from pleasure in the name of spirituality, we need to make the world a better place for everyone, regardless of what they believe.
That’s why I believe the best approach is to have your cake and eat it too. The best approach is awareness.
Your ikigai is supposed to be the thing that makes your life meaningful, but if you become too obsessed with the idea of living a meaningful life, your life will have no meaning. You have to live a meaningful life in accordance with your ikigai — which requires a tremendous amount of self-awareness, and then you also have to know when to scale back on the “seeking and pursuing” so that you can live a more peaceful existence.
If you pursue something and get too lost in it, you might miss the peace you can find in it.
The pursuit of ikigai paired with the freedom of non-attachment is how you actually find your purpose.
Too much pursuit in your life can make you so anxious that achievement is impossible.
Not enough pursuit makes you so lazy that achievement is impossible.
What the greatest performers in their fields do best is that they balance attachment to their goals with the flow that comes from not seeking. They hustle and they grind, but they also rest and assess. A meaningful life has periods of sprint and hard work paired with periods of non-attachment and rest.
It’s not so much “work hard play hard” as it is “work hard and then chill the heck out”.
Periods of hustle and passion filled with pockets of peace.
That’s how you really find a purpose.