HAVE YOU EVER PLAYED WITH THE IDEA OF QUITTING YOUR JOB TO START DOING SOMETHING THAT REALLY MATTERS TO YOU? HAVE YOU MET THIS SULTRY FEELING OF SENSELESSNESS WITHOUT KNOWING HOW TO GET AWAY FROM IT? HAVE YOU EVER ASKED YOURSELF WHAT YOUR LIFE PURPOSE MIGHT BE?
Disclosure: this isn’t one of these success stories where the author found her purpose and now tells you how you can find yours too. Actually, it’s the opposite: I’ve been lost for quite some time now. Searching. Trying out. Giving it a go. Changing direction. Starting over. But since being lost is part of the journey I figured that I was just in the right place to write about it. Because I’m in the exploration, I’m in it with you.
Here I'd like to share with you what I've found out so far: in order to find your life purpose you have to go get lost! You think that you can just continue to live your life the way it is now and that someday you’ll have a flush of intuition and know what your life purpose is? Sorry, no. That's not gonna happen. You can't skip the essential steps. And getting lost is one of them. But let's start from the beginning...
ASK YOURSELF: AM I LIVING ACCORDING TO MY LIFE PURPOSE?
How would you know? It’s quite easy: if you are living each day with excitement, energy and passion you are living true to your life purpose. If not, well baby, then we’ve still got some work to do.
Before we start it's helpful to demystify the definition of „life purpose“. Somehow „life purpose“ seems to be connected with the idea that we were all born with a secret purpose and that now it’s our cosmic mission to unveil it. That’s bullshit. We are on this earth for an uncertain amount of time and we can either spend that time doing things that matter to us, that make us happy and give us a sense of meaning. Or we can do things which we don’t really care about, that don’t matter to us, things that practically just kill our time. So instead of asking yourself „what is my life purpose?“ you might just ask yourself: „how can I spend the time that I have on this earth doing things that I care about?“
AND IN THE END IT’S NOT THE YEARS IN YOUR LIFE THAT COUNT. IT’S THE LIFE IN YOUR YEARS. – ABRAHAM LINCOLN
Are you ready for a little trip into your imagination?
Imagine that every moment of your life was being video recorded. That all the things you did, that all the ways you spent your time were being documented. And at the end of your life a museum was built to honor you – and the museum would show your life exactly how you lived it. The more time you dedicated towards something, the more space it would take up in the museum. If you spent most of your time doing a job that you didn’t like, if exercise was always a „to do“ but never became action due to lack of time then exactly this would be exposed in your museum. If you liked to spend time with family and friends but only invested very little time into these activities, then only a tiny section of your museum would show your loved ones. Now imagine how it would be to walk through your museum. What would you see? How would you feel? Is this how you would want your museum to look like? (You might want to close your eyes for a moment and take a virtual stroll through your museum).
How was the visit in YOUR museum? Enjoyable? Scary? Sad?
This thought experiment comes from John Streleckys’s book „The Big Five for Life“ (highly recommended)– and he’s made a beautiful video to illustrate it. As you’ve already guessed it all comes down to knowing your priorities and living according to them. And here comes the face plant:
YOUR PRIORITIES AREN’T WHAT YOU SAY THEY ARE. THEY ARE REVEALED BY HOW YOU LIVE.
That’s what the little story about the museum tells us. No matter how beautifully you can phrase your priorities, if you aren’t investing your time into actually living them, they are just empty words. Hot air. Fancy talk.
But the good news: no matter how old you are or how your life history has been, there’s still (plenty) of time in which you can start to live by your priorities. And thus create beautiful rooms in your museums, rooms filled with passion, laughter, purpose and meaning.
VALUES AND PRIORITIES
Wouldn’t that be wonderful, to live a life full of meaning? But how do you do that? Is it about living by your priorities? Or by your values?
Looking at the definitions it becomes clear what the difference is:
Values: A person’s principles or standards of behavior; one’s judgment of what is important in life. Examples
- Friendship etc.
Priority: A thing that is regarded as more important than another. Examples:
- Get a promotion
- Spend time with the family
- Have a cosy apartment
- Go out on saturday nights
As you can see, values are constant. They are not bound by time or circumstances. Values reflect what is essential to us, what we care about.
Priorities, however, identify importance bound by time. They reflect what is important RIGHT NOW and are usually much more short-term oriented.
Our priorities aren’t always aligned with our values. Imagine that HEALTH was a top value of yours, so you’d expect that exercising regularly, eating fresh and healthy food and spending time outdoors would be your priorities. But sometimes life’s circumstances don’t allow you to do what your values tell you to do. Sometimes we’re so busy working from dusk to dawn and trying to see friends that instead of boosting health we compromise it with fast food and too much beer.
ACTION EXPRESSES PRIORITIES – MAHATMA GANDHI
So what are your core values?
Take this blog as an invitation to find your five core values. You might do it by scanning through this list and writing out the values that appeal to you (or if you want a more complete one: click here).
And now look at the priorities by which you live your life. Not the ones that you’d like to live by. Look at a typical day and examine, whether the way you spend your day aligns with your values or not.
I’ll give you an example (this is my list of values and priorities from the time when I was working as an ER doctor in Switzerland)
- working in the hospital: 50 hours / week
- values involved: growth
- time spent with friends and family: not enough (5 hours/week)
- values involved: love, inspiration, gratitude
- time spent teaching yoga: 2 hours/week
- values involved inspiration, creativity, growth
- time spent taking yoga classes / doing self practice: 6 hours/week
- values involved: inspiration, gratitude
Looking at this list I noticed that I spent most of my time working (dah!) but that actually working in the hospital was the sole activity which only touched one of my core values – growth. I didn’t feel inspired by my work, I couldn’t be creative and unfortunately love and gratitude are very sparse in the hospital environment. It seemed that the life I lived wasn’t in accordance with my values. And that was a wake-up call.
What about you? Have you started your list yet? Taken out a pen and a paper? I know it seems like work, but believe me, it’s worth it. Do the list of the values. And then look at how you spend most of your time. Is this what you want your life to look like? Or are you, too, ready for a change?
YOUR LIFE DOESN’T GET BETTER BY CHANCE. IT GETS BETTER BY CHANGE. JIM ROHN
If you want your life to change, don’t wait for it to happen. Do something about it. NOW. This is the core message and also the most difficult one to understand.
There are about a million of reasons why you shouldn’t change:
- you already invested so much time into this career
- once you’ll get the promotion, everything will be better (really?)
- you don’t know what else you’d wanna do
- if you quit your job, you’ll feel lost
- it’s a big challenge financially
- what will your friends and or family think?
And so on. Yes, there are countless reasons not to. And there is only one reason to do it, anyway: To give your life a meaning.
COURAGE IS WHAT IT TAKES TO STAND UP AND SPEAK; COURAGE IS ALSO WHAT IT TAKES TO SIT DOWN AND LISTEN. WINSTON CHURCHILL
It won’t be easy to leave your fully functional (yet unsatisfactory) life behind. It might even scare the shit out of you. But that’s ok. It’s actually what courage is all about: being afraid and doing it anyways.
What feeling do you have in your belly while you read these lines? Do you think: sure thing, I can do this! Or do you feel hesitation, doubt and anxiety? Don’t worry, that’s a normal reaction to challenge. If you feel that you don’t yet have the courage to take the big step, start to build it up. Train your courage muscle. How? Here’s a beautiful article about how to conquer your fears, here’s one about training to be brave and another one with simple, practical steps.
My favorite tips for building courage?
- Always be a beginner at something: starting something new is a hard thing. It makes us feel clumsy and useless. But it also lets us reconnect with humility and courage. So go take that tango course you’ve never dared to sign up or start playing the piano or...
- Become authentic: show who you really are (and that surely needs a lot of courage!)
- Express what you feel, even if it makes you feel vulnerable
- Speak up for someone else when you’re witnessing unfairness – a noble way to build friendship and courage at once
- Let yourself be inspired: do you have courageous friend you can hang out with? Or have you been wanting to read the biography ofa courageous person (such as Nelson Mandelaor Mahatma Gandhi) for a long time? Courage is contageous, so surrounding yourself with courageous people (in person or in imagination) is the way to go!
- Dare to sit down and listen: adding a daily meditation practice allows youto not only know yourself better but to become a master of your mind (more about how to start to meditate here)
TWENTY YEARS FROM NOW YOU WILL BE MORE DISAPPOINTED BY THE THINGS THAT YOU DIDN'T DO THAN BY THE ONES YOU DID DO. SO THROW OFF THE BOWLINES. SAIL AWAY FROM THE SAFE HARBOR. CATCH THE TRADE WINDS IN YOUR SAILS. EXPLORE. DREAM. DISCOVER. - H. JACKSON BROWN
Believe me, I know what it feels like to fear change. Four years ago I was working as the chief of residents in a Swiss University Hospital and apparently, I had it all: a prestigious job, a good salary and a beautiful place to live in. My friends loved the adventurous medical stories and my bosses encouraged me to pursue an academic career. Yet, I wasn’t happy. I felt empty inside, I felt as if I was working towards a goal which I didn’t want to reach. Whenever I thought about leaving the routine people would tell me: Just stay there one more year to finish your speciality / What? You’re unhappy working as a doctor? But it’s such a beautiful job! / After all these years of hard work you just want to give up?
And yes, it felt scary. When I handed in my resignation letter my bosses didn’t understand why I would want to quit instead of pursuing my career. Yet I did it.
I moved to Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Once here – hell yes, I felt lost! I had no idea what to do with all the time that I suddenly had at my disposition. Everybody told me to enjoy my newly gained freedom but it was nearly suffocating me. I wished I could go back to work. But – luckily – my Swiss medical degree wasn’t valid in Argentina. So I had no choice but to sit it out. To teach yoga, something I had always been passionate about. To learn spanish. Still struggling, but slowly finding my way back to my values. Love, Growth, Inspiration, Creativity and Gratitude. Still not knowing whereto I was heading, but feeling much more authentic. And courageous.
you won’t change until changing becomes one of your priorities instead of one of your options – sonya parker
If there’s just one thing I learnt in the past months it’s that being lost is not an unnecessary misfortune but an essential step to finding your purpose. And even if you don’t know whereto you’re heading, even if you don’t have the slightest idea what you’ll do with your life from tomorrow onwards – if you have the financial means, quit what you’re doing. Right now. Give yourself a break. Go get lost! Because once you are floating in this vastness of possibilities, changing becomes a priority, and you can actually start to focus on what you want to do with your life. True magic REALLY only happens outside your comfort zone. So here’s my heartfelt advice: find out if you’re living the life of your dreams. And if not – do something about it. Gather the courage, take a deep breath, and then take the leap. Dive into the unknown, the birthplace of possibilities. It’s worth it.
Stay tuned for Part 2 where we’ll explore how to find back from being lost to a life full of passion, purpose and meaning.