The Man Without A Purpose

I’ve spent my years fascinated and captivated by purpose and how it drives people to achieve incredible things while feeling truly fulfilled in life. Several years ago I had a very vivid dream that I recall to this day. I thought I’d relay it…

I dreamt about a man, short and middle-aged, balding. Think Danny DeVito without the accent or comedic charm. By all accounts he was fairly dull and unexceptional. He had a pretty ordinary job where he never really climbed the ranks or made any impact, lived in an ordinary apartment and barely raised an eyebrow wherever he went. Overlooked and never truly considered someone exceptional, he bore a deep, intense frustration within him. He’d spent all of five decades and then some on this planet, day after day, hoping and desperately seeking a reason to exist, a purpose for being here. From his youngest days he just wanted to know why he was here, what he was meant to do to avoid living a life devoid of purpose and meaning. Yet he never discovered some remarkable talent that he could pour himself into and proudly proclaim his association with, something that resonated within him and made him feel that this would fulfill him. He found himself with more questions than answers and so he spent his days, always questioning, never finding an answer that brought the mulling questions to an end.

One thing made him different, although this one thing went either entirely unnoticed or felt like simply an annoying habit, it seemed. We all know very young children incessantly ask “Why?” as they discover and seek to understand the world around them. With this man, that urge to ask why was unyielding and never faded as he grew older. As a child, he’d ask his teachers why a mathematical problem had to be solved in just the way they specified…why not another way? He’d trouble the shopkeeper about why he arranged his goods in same banausic way he always did. As he grew older he almost unfailingly felt the urge to listen to people or watch them in their day to day lives and ask them why they did things the way they did. Never able to offer a suggestion or alternative, never seeming to contribute to a conversation or offer anything to better a situation. All he could do was ask why, without ever knowing why he was so compelled to do so.

He went through his days in this unexceptional fashion, until one fateful morning when he collapsed on a pavement while on the way to work. He lay there, sprawled out on the tarmac, clutching his chest and desperately gasping for air as pedestrians and cars carried on moving around him, oblivious to his panic as his world closed in on him and his vision faded. He reopened his eyes and found himself in a hall, cast entirely in white and almost luminous. He felt a presence behind him, turned around and in that very moment, feeling the power of the presence with him, he realized he had died. He cried out, a huge sense of loss and defeat overwhelming him. Year upon year was spent trying so hard to find a purpose so that he could live a life of significance, and now that chance was gone and here he was, with nothing to show for it.

“Why are you so sad?”, he was asked.
“I failed. I…tried so hard…I tried everything to just find out why I was even alive, to be of use to someone, anyone. And now I’m here. I’m so sorry. I failed.”
Instead of the judgment he was sure he’d feel in full force, he felt a warmth, and then, a smile. Almost as though this incredible presence was shaking His head, as one would to a child who sheepishly admitted to having done something wrong.
“Failed? No. You did everything exactly as you were supposed to. You fulfilled your purpose.”
The man was stunned.
“What…how? I spent my whole life doing nothing exceptional, being nobody exceptional. How could I possibly have done what I was meant to?”
In that moment he was shown glimpses of his life, from his earliest years all the way through to his last days.
“Do you remember that teacher you asked about the math problem and why it couldn’t be solved another way?”
“Yes…He shot me down and told me to do things the way I’m told and not ask questions.”
“Well, that man remembered you for years after you stood up and asked him that question. Thanks to you, he began to ask himself that same question, and he realized there is no good reason why it can’t or shouldn’t be done another way. It led him to wondering why he didn’t challenge himself in other aspects of his life as well. Finally he left his teaching career and became a well-respected and very passionate man who wrote several papers and taught many others to look beyond convention.”
The man was stunned. He only ever thought of that moment as another point in his life where he was rejected for questioning something.
“How about the shopkeeper you visited each afternoon? Remember how you asked him why he always arranged his goods in just that same way? He realized he’d become so set in his ways that everything stagnated in his life, not just his store’s sales. What you said sunk in, he took all of that to heart and decided to try things in a different way. Thanks to you his life changed as well.”
The man shook his head, stunned. He was shown many more moments from his life, each time with that same distinct, recurrence of him asking why and how it changed some part of the lives of those he spoke to.

“Remember this? That one night at that party where you felt like such an outcast? Remember standing there, listening to this scientist talking, telling everyone how he’s struggling to find a solution for the research he’d invested years and countless hours working on? How he felt he was so very close to finding the answer but somehow it kept eluding him?”
The man nodded slowly.
“Do you remember what you said to him?”
The man recalled that night. Everyone was nodding quietly as this highly educated scientist was explaining his life’s work, not really knowing what to say. Then he, in a moment of inexplicable compulsion, blurted out the only words he ever managed to find. Again, relative what the scientist had said, his response was along the lines of, ‘But why are you doing it like this? Why does it have to be done this way?’ He felt like a complete idiot as total silence descended upon the circle of people, moments after the words left his mouth. Fumbling with his hands in and out of his jacket pockets, he hung his head and escaped the crowd, and went back to his apartment. He spent the rest of the night staring at the ceiling, beating himself up about being such a failure.
“You never knew this, but your words were exactly what that man needed to hear. He went home that night and couldn’t get what you said out of his head. Those simple two questions you asked him gave him a renewed perspective on his problem and things fell into place that he never thought of before. He got back to work on his project and with time, discovered the solution to what he’d been working on for years. I’ll let you in on a secret. Some time after your life was over on earth, the research he was doing contributed to helping to cure cancer.”

By this stage the man felt completely overwhelmed.
“But I’m nobody. I…only ever asked questions.”, he replied, stuttering.

“Your purpose was to ask the questions that would change the way people thought about problems in their lives. Everyone has a purpose. It’s just that not everyone can know what that purpose is.
Do you know that if I ever told you what your purpose was in your life, you’d have tried to change everything? You would have tried so hard to find the right questions to ask at the right time, to the right people, that you would have entirely missed asking the right people at the right time.”

The man stood there, absolutely speechless.

“Purpose isn’t something you seek and have to find. It’s something you always have. Sometimes people fulfill their purpose just by living and expressing themselves sincerely. Not everyone has a purpose that is immediately visible to others or one that makes them known or loved on earth, but sometimes the most powerful purpose comes in the whispers of voices people can’t forget. Or, in your case, the questions.”

Why I chose to break away

I had barely even handed in my resignation at my last ever ‘job’ when friends and colleagues began eagerly asking me to write a blog about how to escape the rat race and become a successful entrepreneur. I decided then and there that I couldn’t really write about how you break away from an employee lifestyle and propel yourself into being an entrepreneurial genius, because I have yet to fully achieve this. Also, everyone’s experience and the factors that help them reach success, are very different.
So instead, here are my reasons for why I took that step, instead of how. These are my personal reasons but maybe they’ll get you thinking about your own, in turn.

I had three very solid reasons for needing (not just wanting) to leave permanent employment:

 

1. The time and effort I spent served no purpose. I was not feeling fulfilled or doing anything I could be proud of in the long run.

Purpose is a big thing for me, ask anyone who knows me and they’ll agree. So sitting in an office, churning out work at a rapid pace, all the while knowing that it serves no greater good to people, nagged me to the extent that I got angry at myself for even allowing my time to be spent in this way. I’ve left a few jobs for this very reason alone.

Excuse the flowery metaphor here but time is like a blank canvas, you can literally spend it in any way you choose to and make of it whatever you wish. Your first thought in reading this now is probably “No I can’t. I have to work. I have to look after the kids. I only have two or three hours to myself a day.” Yes, there will be repercussions if you suddenly don’t show up for work but this isn’t what I’m getting at. There are no constraints that physically force your body or mind into a box and shuts you down for 8 hours a day to ensure you get your sleep. There are no mandatory amount of hours in which you have to do things you don’t want to. You choose to be there for whatever reason, even if it is just because you need to make a living. Even if your job sucks, you choose to get up in the morning and show up at work, because of the end goal of wanting to survive another month. But is that really enough, in the grand scheme of things?

 

2. It was dangerous to my well-being on many levels.

After years of illness, introspection and plenty of unusual experiences, I’ve become extremely attuned to how and why my body reacts to external and internal influences. I don’t just become a bit tense and tired after months of putting energy into something that’s not right for me, I become physically ill. My immune levels take such a knock that I end up calling in sick every three weeks because I just can’t keep going. That’s the extent to which the wrong life path affects me.

Not only that but my mind was just not cut out for sitting in a little office, staring at a screen for 8-10 hours straight. Heck, none of us were designed for that. It’s just plain unhealthy and yet we’re all expected to perform at peak in a completely unnatural environment. Put me in a situation where I have a guaranteed income and an unchallenging environment and I become borderline morose. I lose all my ambition and feel all too cushy and lazy. For someone like me, the guarantee of a safety net is probably the worst possible thing at times. Because instead of leaping between buildings like Spiderman, you end up lying in the net as if you’re in a hammock on a island getaway. Cool as that might sound to some, I cannot stand myself being that lazy. You get to have a super lazy day once you’ve earned it through hard work, not just because it’s an option.

 

3. This job thing wasn’t in alignment with my life’s end goal.

I don’t know how other people plan their lives or even if they do. Some girls have only one end goal in mind for all their lives and that’s getting married and having a family of their own. Some highly ambitious and successful people have mastered the 5-year plan and 10-year plan thing. Me, I’ve always had only one thing in the back of my mind, constantly haunting me. As I’ve mentioned earlier, purpose is a big thing for me. What goes hand-in-hand with that is leaving a legacy. As a kid, I really never even thought about family and marriage too much. In my mind my partner, if I was fortunate enough to one day have one, would be ambitious and have a big heart and just like me, believe in his life serving the greater good at the end of the day.

My end goal is still leaving a legacy, making a change that is substantial enough to better the lives of others who might never have had an opportunity to do so under normal circumstances. I don’t have delusions of grandeur, I don’t expect to be the next Oprah or Mother Teresa, but I do believe we all have the potential to leave echoes of change in our lifetimes. And it’s that very awareness that always made me feel restless and entirely dissatisfied with sitting there, churning out words that nobody would care to think about after reading them. Even in this very moment, I do the work I do, not so much because I enjoy the heck out of it every minute, but because it is a stepping stone towards reaching the end goal. This is my means to an end, even though the two, from a distance, appear entirely unrelated. You’ll find that if you are passionate about what you believe in and want to do, a means to convergence will appear in time.
Those are the three great reasons for why I left. There are many others as well. Like how I have serious trouble with authority figures who don’t have respect for those they are meant to guide and nurture, who don’t step up with a leadership perspective but rather a selfish one. I also don’t believe any of us truly have time to waste. Every decision should be an active, conscious one, not that of a habitual drone. Other reasons are pretty obvious. I have flexible hours now. I get to work when my mind is at its peak instead of being forced to deliver on cue. I get to have an actual life now…one where I have the freedom to visit the people I love back at home, just as much as being able to have friends down the road to take my mind off work a bit and just laugh with.

 

The final reason, and one that always comes to mind lately, is accountability and pride. You can’t leave your job if you aren’t able to discipline yourself and be mature enough to take responsibility for when things go wrong. You need to be able to take ownership and deal with the consequences. The litmus test here? What’s your first reaction when something goes wrong at work – do you duck under the desk, blame someone else for what they failed to do, or do you accept that you screwed up and work towards fixing it? Everyone wants the fun parts of being self employed. They want the flexible hours, the ability to sleep in, to not answer to a boss. But very few are able to take accountability, in whole, for their own actions or inactions. There’s something very scary about standing and facing the world, uncovered and completely open to all it has to offer, and saying “Bring it on. I’m ready to give my all and be completely, solely, accountable for whatever happens next.” This is true not just in work but in life as a whole. You choose to either go to gym or not and accept, in the moment you make that decision, that you own the consequences and have no right to complain later on if you chose to take the easy way out. The sense of pride you develop as a result of successfully balancing out your life and achieving success on your own terms though, is beyond anything I can explain.

 

Of Purpose and Prosperity

I often wonder how people see themselves and their roles in the world. For me, living with purpose has always been paramount in life. Why live just for the sake of getting through the day, day after day? At the same time, however, why choose to become or do something more if you only seek to serve yourself in doing so?

Great people are those who seek a better life, who empower themselves, not for their own benefit, but so that they can help others in turn. The balance got messed up because we have a mentality of scarcity and competition, a lack of understanding and accepting that abundance of everything we need exists, if we only opened our hands and gave and accepted freely. instead we constantly scavenge like animals before the coming winter. At least animals know their limits, they will scavenge and store only until they have enough, then they’ll rest and live off what they’ve collected in the harsher months of the year. People, on the other hand, seem to have little ability to identify where and when they have reached the point of having enough. ‘More’ is the key word; we’re taught to always gather more than what we have, seek out bigger things to reinforce our validity in society. It becomes a mad race to keep accumulating things that depreciate faster than we’re able to obtain them, a crazy cycle where you’re not up to scratch if you can’t afford the latest car, fashion or phone. This is the life of a person without purpose, someone who so desperately needs to find fulfillment in something, anything, that they desperately grab onto anything tangible in the hopes that it will quell their thirst.

In my experience, the best people are those who can happily live with the very simplest things. They see things in perspective and know that no amount of money will bring them any closer to true satisfaction in life. Not the ones who live with very little because they have no choice, but those who, even if granted a million bucks all of a sudden, would not feel elevated above everyone else and act differently as a result. Purpose is a fascinating thing to me. I’ve seen what people who live with purpose are like and it never ceases to astonish and inspire me. They endure great obstacles and falls, yet they rise, again and again, sometimes even in spite of their own lack of faith in themselves. They are seemingly compelled by an invisible force that always drives them onward, pulls them back on their feet and keeps whispering in their ears, telling them they cannot quit. Purpose, even when you’re not entirely sure what yours is, has the power to make you push beyond every limit you thought you had.

Some people are so driven by their purpose that they cannot accept a life devoid of it, they will not compromise and settle for anything that deviates from the master plan they have in their heads. For those people, tremendous things happen. They are underdogs who become world leaders, high school dropouts who end up becoming Fortune 500 CEOs, seemingly unexceptional people who suddenly erupt and rise into something even they could not have conceived of.

I don’t know what the formula, cause or blueprint of a person with such intense purpose is. It’s been said that no great act was accomplished without some amount of madness, and you have to be or seem a bit insane to go beyond what others understand or are willing to do if you want to achieve something previously considered impossible. People with purpose understand that their cup will be filled, and once it starts running over, it’s time to start giving that abundance to the world around them, to let the waters cascade and fill other cups in turn. Living with a mentality of scarcity means you’ll always come off short. You’ll hold on so tight to what you have now, that there’s no room for anything more to be added. The tighter you clench your fists, white-knuckled as you clamber for what seems the few and only scraps to keep you alive, the harder it will be for anything else to enter your hands.

Purpose and passion go hand in hand, you’ll find that they are tied together and eventually join, even when the correlation doesn’t seem to be there at first. Whatever the case may be, if you can disconnect yourself from the mad rush to have ‘things’ and seek out something greater to live for, you’re bound to find the world treats you differently. And that’s not a bad thing at all.