Finding Your Purpose in Life
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Below is a transcription of this video.
Today let’s talk about this idea of having a big magical purpose in life and why it’s a recipe for frustration.
In case you don’t know who I am, I’m Tripp Lanier. For over 12 years I’ve spent thousands of hours coaching folks to get out of the rat race, become an authority in their field, and make a great living doing the work they were put on this earth to do. And for more than a decade, I’ve hosted The New Man Podcast which has been downloaded millions of times and can be found on iTunes or Stitcher.
And for what I’m about to say, keep whatever works for you and discard the rest.
I don’t know how many times I’ve heard people says things like:
“I don’t know my purpose in life. Without this specific path or vision, my life is meaningless. And on top of that, this big purpose has to bring in lots of money to fund the lifestyle that I want.”
Let’s talk about how wacky this idea of the big life purpose thing is. In our mind it’s a theory that says there’s this glorious path we’re supposed to be on where everything is just going to click for us. If we know our big life purpose then we’re going to want to jump out of bed everyday to get to work, people are going to be kissing our ass left and right because what we’re doing is so amazing, and money’s just going to come pouring in. And if we really nail it, at the end of our life they’re going to erect statues in our honor or at the very least name a bridge after us.
And what we subconsciously believe, deep down, is that this all-encompassing path is set-it-and-forget-it. Meaning, that once we find our life’s purpose then we won’t have to think about what we’re doing or where we’re headed ever again. We’ll just do this thing and we’ll always be happy. Boom. No more uncertainty. Hit auto-pilot. Roll the credits. Done.
And while we’re waiting for this amazing life purpose to show up, 2 things happen:
One — We stay stuck in the bleachers, we don’t engage our life or work fully because we’ve told ourselves that what is happening right now isn’t really what our lives are all about. We keep our lives in limbo which means we’re wasting time we’ll never get back.
Two — We sit around feeling anxious, frustrated, and pissy because we think there’s something wrong with us or our lives because we’re missing this big, meaningful life vision that’s going to make everything magically amazing.
One of the reasons this belief is insane is because nothing in our lives is set-it-and-forget-it. And yet there are gobs of people out there walking around all pissy because they believe they’re missing out on this whole big life purpose magical lottery bonanza.
It’s another form of the victim mindset. It’s drama. It’s this idea that our big life purpose is going to reveal itself and we’ll be saved from the challenges and uncertainty of life. And if this amazing life purpose hasn’t shown up to rescue us, we use it to blame away our life’s challenges. Well this is total crap.
So does that mean that we’re screwed? That we’re doomed to a life of meaningless drudgery? I don’t believe so. Not by a long shot. I believe we just need to shift our focus away from this magical, fairy-tale vision or path to seeing ourselves as the creator of the experiences we ultimately want to have in this lifetime.
Let me explain: When I’m talking with a coaching client, and he’s doing his boo-hoo thing about not knowing his big life purpose, I like to ask him, “So how would you know that you were living your big magical life purpose?”
He’s been so focused on finding the thing — the profession, the vision, the story — that he’s lost touch with what he’s ultimately playing for which is the experience this thing would provide him.
Because he’s stuck trying to find the specific path or vision or profession he may pursue — feeding the starving children on Mars, curing cancer in puppies, carrying on the legacy of Hugh Hefner, whatever — we just steer around the blockage and go right to the heart of what he’s really playing for. And what he’s playing for are the experiences he’s imagining this path will allow him to feel.
I’ll keep asking him, “So what would being on that path actually feel like? In other words, even if you didn’t know what the path was, let’s imagine that you really nailed it. How do you imagine this work and life would make you feel as a result?”
And after some back and forth he’ll say something like, “Well, I would feel free. I wouldn’t have to prove anything to anyone. I wouldn’t be burdened by anyone or anything.”
Ok, great. What else?
“I would feel lit up and alive and passionate! I’d be fired up by the stuff I’m doing. I’d be anticipating the opportunities ahead.”
Awesome. What else?
“I would feel a deep sense of peace. When my head hits the pillow at night, I would feel peaceful knowing I was living my life fully.”
Excellent. Anything else?
“Well of course I would feel lots of love and connection. I would have great relationships with friends and family. I would know that the people in my life really loved me for who I am instead of what I’ve done or how much money I have. And I would know that they would still love and accept me even if I wasn’t successful or special.”
So let’s underline what we’ve got so far: Freedom, Aliveness, Peace, and Love. After having hundreds of these conversations with people from all walks of life, I believe that when we boil down all of the magical paths and personal visions and life purposes, they’re all pointing to the fact that we’re ultimately wanting some combination of these basic experiences. You could call it joy or thriving or flourishing or fulfillment. Whatever you like.
The paths to get there are all different, but on an essential level we’re all hoping that living our purpose — it doesn’t matter what the path or vision is — means we’ll ultimately feel free, alive, peaceful, and loved. These experiences are at the summit of the mountain. The life purpose ideas are all just different paths — theories really — for ways to get to the same place. In other words, these experiences are the end game. Period.
It’s true for the monk who spends years in meditation, the scientist who works 16 hours a day to develop a life saving formula, the woman who just wants to be a mom, the guy who wants to be a hall of fame athlete. No matter how spiritually enlightened or powerful or famous or rich or significant or special or safe or appreciated they may be, these life purpose ideas are all theories for ways to experience lasting freedom, aliveness, peace, and love.
And where we can get off track is when we fixated on the path — the vision, the theory — and lose track of the experiences. You see, these experiences are our inner guidance system. We can feel them right now, in real time. And experiences like frustration, depression, and anxiety let us know if we’re off track. We don’t have to wait until we’ve reached the top of the mountain to experience what we want. There are opportunities all around us — today — that we can use to cultivate these experiences.
And why is that important? Because most of us picked a path at some point in life, told ourselves that that’s the thing we’re “supposed to do” in order to feel fulfilled, and then we put our heads down. We bought a false hope that if we just follow the path then the experiences we most want will be delivered once we’ve reached a magical finish line.
And for many — too many — along the way we realized this whole thing might be BS. We started to suspect that the path we chose wasn’t actually helping us feel more free, alive, peaceful or loving. And many of us said, “Oh well, I can’t make a change now. It’s too damn risky.” And then we grabbed a roll of duct tape out of the garage and covered up the gauges on our dashboard, our inner guidance system. We did this by pouring ourselves another drink, losing weekends in front of the TV, logging into some porn, arguing about politics with other idiots on Facebook — whatever — we found ways to numb ourselves. We found ways to numb ourselves to the information our body was giving us — the anxiety, the low energy, the frustration that just seemed to be a pain in the ass.
But here’s the thing: this information wasn’t just a pain in the ass. It was our inner guidance system sending us a message saying, “Hey man! This path is not creating more freedom, aliveness, peace, and love! Course correct! Do something!” Instead of doing something about the glaring check engine light showing up on the dashboard, we found a way to put duct tape over it.
That’s what can happen when we become fixated on the path or we become rigid about the vision instead of letting the experiences be our guide. And it doesn’t matter how meaningful or impactful our work is. If we’re out of alignment, then we’re out of alignment.
This is how guys go there entire lives, create all kinds of wealth and fame and recognition, and still feel empty inside. This is why they feel caged in, unable to say or do what they truly believe. This is why they feel weighed down by the burden of their creation. Why they feel anxious. Why they doubt that they’re truly cared about by the people around them.
They focused on the path instead of the experiences hoping that the path would ultimately lead to those experiences. That was the theory. That was the idea. “If I just make this big thing happen then I’ll be fine. All our troubles will be over, dude.” But along the way they lost touch with what it was all about. They picked a direction and gave up their ability to steer.
They played it safe instead of being bold.
So if having some big vision or doing something meaningful or impactful or significant isn’t the purpose in life, then what is?
Look at the theories we create. What are they pointing to? I think it’s simple. It’s to cultivate these experiences of freedom, aliveness, peace, and love. It’s to experience deep joy. Which is easier said than done. After all, how many people do you know who are actually following their bliss as Joseph Campbell would say?
One reason this is so tough for folks to buy into is because many of us fear that having joy become the purpose in our lives will mean that we’ll become hedonists. That we’ll only do what has us feel good in the moment. But hedonism inherently means we run away from life’s challenges. And that robs us of the deep peace and freedom that comes from addressing our challenges head on. Avoiding life’s challenges breeds anxiety and powerlessness. That’s not joy. Scratch that idea.
Second, most of have focused so much on this path to imaginary fulfillment that we’ve lost touch with what actually has us feel free, alive, peaceful, and loved. Like any skill, if we don’t use it we lose it. We look in the rearview mirror trying to find joy in the things we did as kids, we may go through the motions, doing the activities that used to light us up, but they no longer deliver the desired experience. The game changes as we change. What fulfilled us as teens doesn’t necessarily work in our 20’s or 30’s or 40’s. This was certainly true for me after becoming a father.
And third, utilizing our inner guidance system means we’re always course correcting and challenging our choices. Just like how we steer a car or ride a bike, we’re always adjusting for greater freedom, aliveness, peace, and love. Life essentially becomes a giant experiment. Instead of eradicating uncertainty, this way of living challenges us to invite more. This ain’t gonna fly with that part of us that wants to go on auto-pilot, to set it and forget it.
And fourth, our egos really need to feel important. When we simplify the purpose of our lives to experience joy, our egos say, “Well what about me? What happens to me while you’re over there enjoying life? I need to be significant. I need to be special. I need to be adored. I need to be different.” And this ego trip will seduce us and have us make our lives way more complex and dramatic than they need to be. And let’s face it, if the folks who were really all that special — the rich, the famous, the powerful — were so much more joyful than the rest of us, then why are so many of them emotional shit shows? Money and fame and power are nice, but they’re not the end game. They’re not the recipe for lasting freedom, aliveness, peace, and love.
Now, there’s a lot more to this conversation, and we’re just scratching the surface here. I’ll be addressing this topic deeper in future videos. But in the meantime I’ll leave you with a simple exercise so you can test this idea out for yourself:
Take out a piece of paper and draw a line down the middle of the page. On the left side, at the top write “measurable outcomes.” And on the right side, write down “experiences.” Now for any challenge or unmet desire you may have write down, on the left side of the page, the outcome you think you want to have happen. Make it measurable like — it could be to have your romantic partner stop doing the thing that bothers the hell out of you, it could be to land a dream job, it could be to win the lottery, it could be to have your business partner acknowledge all of the sacrifices you’ve made. Whatever. Write them all down on that left side of the page. And then, on the right side of the page I want you to write down what experience or feeling you imagine that outcome will provide you. This can be difficult to do on your own and it may take some time to peel off the layers. Regardless, keep digging and find the words that describe the feeling that best fits for you.
“If my romantic partner changed then I would feel free from worrying about us breaking up.”
“If I landed my dream job I would feel excited and passionate.”
“If I won the lottery I could stop worrying about money and feel at peace.”
“If I my business partner took the time to appreciate my sacrifices I would feel appreciated.”
This is how we start to hone our inner guidance system. We harness that part of us that says, I want this thing, call it X. And we then tune into the experience we’re imagining it will provide. It’s in there. It’s underneath that measurable outcome. And once we are aware of that experience, then we can look around and say, “Ok, I’m wanting more freedom. Instead of needing my partner to change, what could I do to take responsibility and create this freedom for myself?”
This process helps us find direct ways to connect with the experiences we most want instead of playing the victim to the choices of others. This keeps us from playing the victim to some huge pie-in-the-sky theory that convinces us that something beyond our control is responsible for having these experiences.
This requires us to take full responsibility for ourselves. It requires us to be bold, to have grit and discipline and follow through. When we ask ourselves, “What will empower me to experience greater freedom, aliveness, peace, or freedom today?” We’re challenging ourselves to step into an experiment. Instead of set it and forget it, we try things without always knowing the outcome. We rebuild the skill of creating fulfillment instead of waiting for it to be delivered. We go through the dip and the suck of learning something new. We ask ourselves, what actually has me feel free, alive, peaceful, and loved? And we gather data along the way. We build on what works and we discard what does not. This is how we discover who we are. This is how we create alignment between our values and the world we live in.
This means living a life of purpose becomes a moment to moment practice as we get present to our choices: “Is this relationship empowering me to experience greater joy? Is this profession? This location? This way of eating? This way of dressing? If not, then what am I going to do about it?”
From this place we are giving all of our choices a unified purpose — a purpose that directly addresses the experiences of life that we want most. We create and adjust this as we go. There’s no more magical summit on the mountain. There’s nothing to wait for. There’s nothing coming to rescue us.
If we’re willing to be bold, then the experiences we most want in our lives are much closer than we can imagine. Here’s to you experiencing greater freedom, aliveness, peace, and love. Thanks for watching.