A Simple Rule for Finding Purpose in Life

Where I live, in Asia, a day is 24 hours.

I spend 8 hours sleeping. Or at least, 8 hours in bed. I like it when I sleep. Sleep is important. We tend to forget it, but sleep is one of the most important physical need. The other one is sex. No, just kidding, it’s food. Without sleep and food, there’s no energy and there’s no growth. But I digress.

When I’ve finished sleeping, there’s still 16 hours to go. As we know now since 2 sentences ago, food is important too. So I spend on average 3 hours eating per day. Sometimes it’s more, sometimes it’s a little bit less. I like to eat also, and because I have to eat anyway, I make sure that I enjoy the moment.

Now I’m about 13 hours more to go.

There’s actually a real notion of filling up a day.

So my important point here is: what do you fill up your day with?

THE RULE (THE EASY PART)

The rule itself is simple and easy. It is so simple and easy and obvious that you might feel scammed for having clicked somewhere and landed here.

Here it is, the rule for finding purpose in life:

Day after day, do more and more of the things you enjoy and value doing, and do less and less of the things that you don’t enjoy and don’t value doing.

That’s it. Please throw the tomatoes.

I know there’s a lot to argue in this. I’ve been through it too:

  • We’re adults, not kids, we can’t just do only what we want!!!!
  • We have responsibilities!!!
  • Life sucks!!!
  • This is so childish!!!
  • We can’t be so selfish!!!
  • Life is not a fairytale!!!

That’s normal, it’s human nature. But the rule works, at least for me.

I always thought that I just had to sit there and wait and BOOM, genius, the idea of my life would popup. Or that I would travel to a place, see something, meet someone and BAM, I would get my purpose for life. This never happened. And I’ve travelled a lot, seen and a lot, and met a lot.

What worked though was just this: fill up my days more and more with things I really enjoyed doing and valued, while not doing things I didn’t enjoy and didn’t value.

THE RESULT (THE OTHER EASY PART)

This is my experience, but this has also been backed up by research on self-esteem, happiness, confidence, and all the others. So here we go.

The more you’re going to do things that you value and enjoy doing, the more you’ll be content with yourself. The more you’ll be content with yourself, the clearer your head will be and the more creative you will be too. The more you’ll be creative, the easier it will be to find solutions to your life problems. (Because if you believe in a problem-free life, sorry to disappoint: that, is the fairytale.)

But all of these are just byproducts of your actions, of what you do. Happiness doesn’t come by itself, purpose doesn’t come by itself, confidence doesn’t come by itself. Your actions, guided by your values, are what bring them on.

Once you follow the rule, there’s a big chance you end up where I am now: the only thing left is… your job. Aka the way you make money. Aka how you sustain yourself. Sounds the same, but it’s not.

Because here’s the beauty of the rule: all you have to do now is just look back at all the things that you’re enjoying doing, and find a way to sustain yourself doing them. This requires work and creativity, but it’s controllable and it’s much easier to do when you’re content and relaxed than when you’re anxious and frustrated doing things that are meaningless to you.

TROUBLESHOOTING (THE HARD PART)

If I didn’t screw it up, you got the rule and the result pretty easily. Now the troubleshooting is not hard in itself. It’s just harder than the first 2 parts because it will require deeper reflection and action from you.

So.

1. What if you don’t know what you like?

There might be 2 reasons for that.

The first one is that you’re not connected with yourself. You live in the eyes of others, and instead of listening to what you think and feel, you just tend to agree with others. You don’t want to rock the boat. But the problem is that, as you’ve discovered, you don’t know what you want, you don’t what you like, and therefore you can’t be fulfilled.

You have several ways to deal with that, for example:

  • You can keep asking yourself how you feel about anything in your life. Do you like where you’re living? Do you like the food you eat? Do you value doing sport? Which weather do you enjoy?
  • You can make a list of things you hate. For example I hate working for others, so I know I value entrepreneurship. I hate sitting in front of the computer for the whole day, so I know I value moving and using my body.
  • You can ask yourself black-and-white questions. Life is not black and white, but asking this kind of questions can guide you to where you want to stand. For example: would you rather make a lot of money and be unhappy, or make enough to sustain yourself but love what you’re doing? If you pick the first you definitely value stability more, but if you pick the second you might care about significance, variety or connection. Would you rather live in the countryside or in the city? Maybe you need both, who knows? You’re the only one to know.

The second reason might be because you’re not doing enough. So go be curious. Try new things. Start with one new thing per week. Take classes. And you can’t judge as long as you haven’t tried. Eat that broccoli before saying it’s disgusting. This is for you, build your world of things you love and value. The more you have the better, you’ll start making connections here and there later.

2. What if you don’t know how to make money out of what you like doing?

Well, this one is on you. Brainstorm, write ideas, start implementing, get some feedbacks. Rinse and repeat. Take your ideas from the pile of things you love doing. The more things you have, the more combination you can end up with.

Personally here is a couple of things that I love doing and that I value greatly: health, sleep, learning, reading, writing, speaking different languages, hiking, rock climbing, cooking, eating, psychology, helping, relaxing, communicating.

I mixed that for 2 minutes and here’s what I find: I can make money teaching people how to cook healthy food, I can teach French or Cantonese, I can be a hiking or rock climbing guide, I can get paid for sleep studies, I can get paid to read books and give feedbacks, I can get paid to taste new foods. There’s a lot to do. Just take your own ideas and start mixing, it’s fun and it opens a lot of opportunities for you to work on.

3. What if you think you’ll never be able to sustain yourself doing these things?

That’s just fear talking. First thing you want to do is check how much you really need to sustain yourself. We easily believe that we need that much money, that much big house, and to own this and that. But by being more conscious, you can cut your expenses like crazy, once you know what you really like and value.

Personally I need a ceiling, and good food. My house doesn’t need to be big, but I need a comfortable kitchen to cook. I need a bathtub because this is where I read and relax before sleeping. I need a shower, a big bed and a table to be able to put my laptop and write. That’s it. I can move my body and socialize outside.

CONNECTING THE DOTS

In case you’ve been in the coma for the past 10 years, here is the wonderful commencement speech given by Steve Jobs in 2005 at Stanford:

Got the part where he’s talking about connecting the dots? This is exactly what the rule is about.

You can’t connect the dots looking forward, you can only connect them looking backwards. — Steve Jobs

You can’t sit there, wait, and expect to find your purpose. You can’t even think there’s gonna be only one purpose for your whole life, this is a myth. You can’t find your purpose looking at your future.

But what you can do now is having a lot of things that you truly value and truly enjoy doing, and find a way to make your life around that.

And it will mean find a way to monetize these things. And it’s even probably going to change over time.

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