How do you stick with something – anything – long enough to make an impact? How do you find the energy and optimism; that tenuous thread of reason to drive you forward another day, knowing there will be hundreds, maybe thousands to follow?
The only way I know is through purpose.
I’ve tried many things in my 40+ years of entrepreneurship, and while some tactics are good for getting up and over a hill, scaling the 14 peaks demands purpose.
But what is ‘purpose’, and why does it matter? Is it the same as finding your ‘passion’, or setting a goal? Does it need to be a grand mission or a call to arms?
No, it isn’t. And no, it doesn’t. But it must be personal, and it must go beyond you.
A goal is a sprint. It might be a three-month sprint or a three-year sprint; it might even be disguised as a marathon, but it remains a fixed objective with a finite outcome. I’ve had lots of goals over the years – from the shiny new Honda motorcycle I purchased at 14 by cleaning toilets for $3 an hour; to a handful of properties acquired through years of 16-hour days (working by day, renovating by night).
A goal might be to earn your Master’s, join a prestigious law firm, marry your true love and start a family, or accumulate $1m in index funds. It might be to retire and travel the country.
Likewise, you might have a passion for say, nutrition, children’s education and human rights, or maybe photography, motor racing and rock climbing.
A goal can give you a target, and passion can provide the fuel. But both have their limits.
‘Purpose’ is an entirely different beast. It has no clear end, so unlike a goal that might sustain you till you claim your prize, purpose can propel you forward – often in unseen ways – for decades. It may not fill you with excitement or passion all the time, but like an undercurrent in an otherwise smooth river, it runs deeper than passions or goals.
The Greatest Source of Purpose
Personally, I believe there’s no greater purpose in life than the bond you develop with your children. Done well, it can sustain you for a lifetime. That’s because your impact begins with them but then it radiates outward to the lives they touch – possibly for generations.
For example, my dad made a point of being around for me – not just in the same vicinity, but present. We spent endless nights playing cards, doing experiments and sitting around the fire, chatting. On weekends, he’d teach me how to drive, take me on long walks along Mt Martha beach looking for driftwood; or we’d go gold prospecting, camping or motorbike riding. Throughout my childhood, he was my best friend. In many ways, he still is.
So no matter how he feels about the things he’s accomplished elsewhere in his life, my father can hold his head high and know that he fulfilled a noble and lifelong enterprise in the 52-year-old speaking to you now. And his legacy continues on through the things I’ve shared and passed onto my kids, and to people just like you.
Okay, so then what if you don’t have kids, or your nest was vacated years ago? Well, there’s still hope.
Just recently, one of the amazing people in my ‘inner circle’ prompted an email from me that addresses this. I’m sure he won’t mind me sharing it here, even though it was my personal advice to him. Here’s what I suggested:
First, jettison all the shit you don’t need in your life (including some people). It’ll clear space in your head and restore a sense of control. Most of all, it’ll encourage you to think about the stuff (and the people) that truly matter. Here’s a post about that.
Next, do something that helps someone else – either locally or online – without expecting anything in return. It doesn’t matter what it is, but do something. Starting my first blog was a new beginning for me. That was five years ago, and I’ve poured my heart and soul into writing and talking about my failures and lessons ever since.
As a result, my life now has an extra thick layer of meaning and purpose, so that when I go to bed at night, I feel I’ve helped to make the world a better place. Here’s a post about the myth of generosity.
Finally, and I know some of you won’t agree with me, but I don’t believe you were wrought by a divine power with a grand vision to fulfil. You were simply lucky, a fluke, like all of us. We could have been cows in a field, or someone’s pet, or bacteria, but we’re not. We’re bloody humans! Woo-hoo!
When you understand this, the question becomes, how will I enjoy this? Because, once you accept that there are no gold stars, statues or memorials at the end (all of which are soon forgotten, anyway), you have to decide what you’ll do to warrant this good fortune. Hint: it can be anything you like, but points one and two are good places to start.
You see, purpose isn’t complicated. It can, and should, be simple. I’d argue, the simpler the better. All it needs to be is personal and meaningful to you.
Contribute ideas to something you care about. Share what you’re learning (or un-learning). Help younger folk skirt some of life’s traps. Teach a course, share something beautiful, empathise, help people laugh. Make someone realise they’re not a complete f*ck-up and that you get them.
It’s a cliche, I know, but principles never change. They’re boring like that, but that’s also what’s so great – you can count on them.
Find something you care about and build your purpose from it. And remember, you’ll be dead before you know it, so make it fun, and do it on purpose.
P.S. Thank you to everyone who wrote back regarding my interview with Matthew Kimberley. The winners of his brilliant book, Get a F*cking Grip, are Tina, Andrew, Paul and Anthony (plus one for his daughter, Jorjah). I appreciate every one of you more than you might realise.
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Step 2: Create a life.
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