Woodside, California

“To one with wisdom beyond your years, I would be interested to know more about the process you undertook to know what life’s work or endeavors might resonate with your inner being. Society stands at hand to fool or encourage one into traditional or expected pursuits.”

I received this comment from Tony Philpin in response to my last blog. It got me thinking. I don’t present myself as any kind of a guru, so please don’t take this as a definitive ‘how to find your life purpose’. It’s merely my attempt to summarize the very haphazard process that I went through over the course of several years.

As I see it, there are 3 strands to this enquiry – from the top down, they are:

1. Purpose: what is the point of being me?
2. Personality: what are my personal preferences and strengths?
3. Project or Profession: what will I do day-to-day to live out my purpose in a way that suits my personality?

I didn’t figure out my own personal 3xP in any methodical way. There was one formal ‘exercise’ that I did, which was to write 2 versions of my own obituary – imagining myself at the end of my life, I wrote down
a) how I would like to be remembered, and
b) how I was more likely to be remembered if I carried as I was.

At that stage of my life, about 7 years ago, there was a dramatic difference between the two. It was a major wake-up call that I needed to make some changes if I was going to end up with a life that could be proud of, rather than lying on my deathbed with a heart full of regrets. Now, I am pleased to say, I am much more on track for the obituary I want, having made a large number of incremental steps over the years, out of my old life and into a new.

You may find it easier to try and complete this sentence: “[insert own name] will be remembered for his/her outstanding contribution to mankind because…” or “[your] life was special because…”

Some other tips and hints, again based purely on my own experience and with all appropriate disclaimers:

– Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. I muddled around a lot, trying out various lifestyles only to find that they didn’t work for me. These experiments were not ‘failures’. Thomas Edison said: “I haven’t failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that don’t work.” Eliminating possibilities is all part of the learning process.

– It is an iterative process. I didn’t manage to find a purpose, then analyse my personality, then identify a suitable project. For me, it was a much more meandering process, with each of the 3xP informing the others, gradually over a period of time.

– Relax. There is no right or wrong answer. There were lots of other projects I could have taken on, other than ocean rowing, that would have been a good expression of my personal values. Ocean rowing just happened to tick more boxes than any of the others. But a time will come, when I am (even more) old and decrepit, when I will need to find a different pursuit.

– Listen to your heart as well as your head. When I had my ‘lightbulb moment’ – the flash of inspiration to go row an ocean – I was not especially trying to find the answer. Some people have their best brainwaves in the shower, when their subconscious has been mulling on a question overnight and suddenly out pops the answer. For me, the inspiration came while I was driving and in a similar alpha-wave mental state. I immediately knew it was perfect – it just took a bit longer for my heart to convince my head that rowing an ocean was do-able.

– Remember that a life purpose does not have to be a spectacular grand gesture. Your life purpose may be to clean public toilets. Somebody has to do it, and it may be the one thing that you find more satisfying than anything else. But whatever you choose to do, do it to the absolute best of your ability. Quality is the key. If you clean toilets, make sure they are the best, cleanest, most beautiful toilet facilities anyone has ever seen.

To quote Cyril Connolly: “We must select the illusion which appeals to our temperament and embrace it with passion, if we want to be happy.”

Or George Bernard Shaw: “Life is not about discovering yourself, it is about defining yourself.”

In other words, this is not so much about ‘discovering’ a life purpose. It is about deciding on a purpose, and committing wholeheartedly to it.

Well, that’s what I reckon anyway. Try it and see. What’s the worst that can happen?!

P.S. On a more mundane note: I went to see Brocade a couple of days ago. She is fine, and safely ensconced in a hangar in the East Bay, awaiting her chance to shine next year.

And today I treated myself. I rarely buy things, as I don’t need much in this life. But these two items seemed worth splashing out: a new pair of running shoes, and a TomTom sat nav kit for my truck. I will be doing a lot of running and a lot of driving over the coming months, and want to minimize my chances of getting injured and lost respectively.

[photo: random shot of my sister on the West Highland Way in Scotland last month – or maybe some reference to the road less travelled…]

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