Four Ways to Discover Purpose In Life

Four Ways to Discover Purpose In Life

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Today, perhaps in the most dynamic and prosperous time, an increasing number of people complain about a feeling of emptiness and meaninglessness in their lives. People don’t experience the vividness of being alive. They long for something meaningful. Something outside of the banal structure of modern life.

Let’s talk about boredom

“I’m bored” is a phrase that has gained quite a bit of traction lately. What is boredom, anyway? Boredom is a lack of stimulation in your brain. It is a state of just 'being'; when one is faced with their own self and own thoughts. Being or existing without stimulation is scary to many people. It is something similar to a prisoner locked up in solitary confinement. Chronic boredom can lead to psychological problems. So, most of us are always on a lookout for something that will generate a few endorphins in our brain.

Many of us turn to entertainment to trick our brain into believing we're doing something. We watch movies, sports, and play video games to relate to heroes on the screen. This relatedness allows us to experience the emotions of challenges and victories while sitting in the same position for hours. Every time our brain realizes it's been fooled, our self-perception diminishes further.

With purpose vs. with no purpose

Living your purpose makes you come alive. It electrifies your senses. The dullness and numbness disappear. Your energy expands to capacities you never thought possible. It pushes you to keep going. Friedrich Nietzsche said: “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.” Even in the harshest environment, a purposeful life can find fulfillment and contentment.

A life with no meaning is just existence. A dull, pointless waste of precious time. Lack of purpose might not be the sole reason for many suicides. But if people who took their own lives had something to live for, perhaps many tragedies would’ve been prevented.

The four types of purpose are not about a particular career path or activity. They dive deeper into the core of our existence. They’re applicable for as much for a modern person as for a caveman. They may overlap for some people, however one of them will probably define you the most.`

1. Leadership

To be a leader, you don’t necessarily have to be an alpha dog. However, you do have to have a vision that people are drawn to. You have to stand for something and believe in it with all your heart. You have to be ideological in some way. A leader is the one who transforms people’s minds.

Most people are not born to lead. They seek others to guide them. If you have passion and a vision for change and improvement, perhaps you should consider your life’s mission to go after your vision. To feel fulfilled from your leadership position, it has to serve others. A leader that uses his position for self indulgence will eventually feel empty and purposeless.

With time and persistence, you will gain supporters. If your vision resonates with many people, your influence will spread like wildfire.

Leadership story: Mohandas Gandhi

Mohandas Gandhi amongst followers

Mohandas Gandhi was born in 1869 into a political family in India. His father served as a chief minister of the Porbandar state. His mother, a very religious and selfless person, was his biggest role model. At that time, India was under the rule of the British Empire, which considered their subjects as inferior and deprived them of many rights.

Gandhi was a very shy and withdrawn person. After getting his law degree in London, his attempts at establishing a law practice back in India failed because he was psychologically unable to cross-examine witnesses. After some unsuccessful attempts, he had to settle for a low-paying work of drafting petitions.

At the age of 23, Mohandas moved to South Africa. During his 21 years in the new country, he developed his political views. Gandhi was a witness to a lot discrimination towards people of color, much of which was directed at him. He was not allowed to sit with Europeans in many places. If he didn’t obey, he was kicked out and even beaten. This attitude towards non-Europeans made him question the standing of colored people in the British Empire.

Gandhi returned to India in 1915. Upon returning to his homeland, he began developing his non-co-operation movement. Through his non-violent protests and political campaigns, Indians were finally able to gain their independence and dignity. In 1948, Gandhi was assassinated. More than two million people joined the five-mile long funeral procession that took over five hours. Today, Gandhi remains as one of the most iconic people in India. He used his leadership position not for his own sake, but for the sake of others.

2. Redemption

There is good in every person. Yes, we all make mistakes. Some mistakes are worse than others. Some people make mistakes that not only affect their lives but the lives of others. However, no matter how bad we messed up in the past, there’s always a chance for redemption.

I remember watching a speech by a man who committed murder at a young age. He was released from prison decades later. Legally, justice was served. However, to feel redeemed and liberated, the man devoted his life to doing good, and helping other troubled men transform their lives. He found peace even after taking another person’s life.

The man’s past mistake no longer defines him. He’s no longer labelled as a murderer. However, his mistake defines his mission and purpose in life. This complete reversal of his mind allowed him to gain purpose and feel redeemed.

Just ending your destructive behavior is not enough to feel redeemed. If your past mistakes continue haunting your, perhaps you should make it your life’s mission to confront them with energy of the same or greater strength. Use your mistakes and regrets to drive you to do good and find meaning in life.

Redemption story: Oskar Schindler

Oskar Schindler (center) with his Nazi friends

Oskar Schindler was by no means an ideal person. The man enjoyed excessive drinking and womanizing. When Hitler came to power, Oskar began to work as a spy for the Nazi military intelligence service. In 1939, when Germany invaded Poland, Schindler acquired a Jewish enamelware factory that he used to produce goods for the German army. Hiring Jews was initially not driven by some altruistic motives. It made financial sense. Jews were far less expensive than Polish workers.

As time went on, the opportunistic war-profiteering Nazi had a change of heart. Schindler used all his profits to hire more Jews, pay bribes, and buy luxury gifts for his Nazi friends to keep his employees from being executed. By the end of the war, Oskar Schindler spent all of his possession to save the lives of over 1,000 Jews.

In 1958, Schindler had to declare bankruptcy. He had to receive financial support from his former Jewish workers that he saved during the war. He died as a poor man at the age of 66. The grave of the former Nazi spy is located in the heart of Israel at Mount Zion Cemetery. In spite of losing all of his wealth, Schindler not for a moment regretted his mission.

The story was depicted in the 1993 movie Schindler’s List. The film won 7 Oscars and 83 other awards.

3. Triumph over adversity

Human spirit is much stronger than any challenge it’s faced with. It somehow finds a way to triumph as long as we don’t allow ourselves feel victimized by our circumstances.

If you’re given some bad cards in life, your standard for success might be lower, but the joy and satisfaction you receive from success may exceed of those with aces.

It’s all about the chemicals in the brain we receive from prevailing. If being the first person in your family to graduate from high school releases more endorphins than in someone who became another doctor in the family of doctors, who’s the happier person? Who experiences the greater progress in life?

Perhaps you have a physical disability. Perhaps you never had a good role model that taught you how to navigate the world. Or you’re surrounded by the wrong people. Maybe you wasted too many years of your life. Maybe you're not as smart as you would like to be. Take what you have and make the best out of it. Make it your life’s mission to triumph in spite of all the challenges. Be relentless.

Triumph over adversity story: Stephen Hawking

Stephen Hawking

Imagine finding out at the age of 21 that things will only go downhill from here. Stephen Hawking was diagnosed with a slow-progressing form of motor neurone disease, also known as ALS. His whole body was gradually becoming paralyzed.

A few years after the diagnosis, Stephen was put into a wheelchair due to his inability to walk. When he reached his thirties, Hawking’s speech was barely intelligible. To communicate, he chose letters on a spelling card by moving eyebrows.

Later, he received a computer program that vocalized the words he chose with his hand. In 2005, Hawking lost the use of his hand, and had to adapt. He began controlling his communication device with movements of his cheek muscles, with a rate of one word per minute.

Towards the end of his life, Stephen Hawking could no longer drive his wheelchair independently and often required a ventilator to assist with breathing. Hawking continued his work until the end of his life, never losing his drive and sense of humor. He died in 2018 at the age of 76, having had two wives, three children, and countless achievements. Not bad for a person with a locked-in syndrome.

Here are just some of his achievements:

  • 18 authored or co-authored books
  • 14 films and TV shows
  • At least 20 major awards
  • 13 honorary degrees
  • Discoveries in the fields of general relativity and quantum physics

Here is what Stephen Hawking said about his disability:

"My advice to other disabled people would be, concentrate on things your disability doesn't prevent you doing well, and don't regret the things it interferes with. Don't be disabled in spirit as well as physically."

"However bad life may seem, there is always something you can do and succeed at. Where there's life, there's hope."

Watch this video of another person with a locked-in syndrome.

4. Sacrifice

Living a life of sacrifice is a noble commitment. But it’s hard as hell. And not always rewarding. However, there is something about rejecting your own ego that gives joy and satisfaction. You become full of love. Other people’s mistreatment and lack of appreciation seem less impactful.

There are many things you can sacrifice: time, money, health, pleasure, etc.

Nurses that spend time with dying patients say that people that are attached to earthly things have a harder time dying. The ones that are not attached - experience complete peace. Sacrificing yourself allows you to completely let go of any attachment. Once your turn comes, you’ll be one happy dying fella.

Perhaps you have money but feel empty inside - become a giver. Perhaps you are a policeman, firefighter, or a soldier - use your position to help people. Volunteer to help in the community. Always be on the lookout to help other. Even a person with no possession can always give something - time, attention, and love. Focus your life on sacrificing yourself for others, and you will find joy and fulfillment in life.

Sacrifice story: My father

A good example of those who sacrifice themselves for the sake of others is our parents. My family immigrated from Ukraine to the US in 1999. Back then, things were really bad back in my homeland. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Ukraine’s economy was in shambles. People’s salaries were delayed by over half a year. When the salaries were finally paid, they could not even cover the basic survival needs.

My parents had four children. To provide for the family, my dad had to work his ass off on three different jobs. He didn’t care about his health. All he cared about was our well-being and our future. When we moved to the States, my father found a construction job. He travelled each day for a total of 6 hours. All for his kids. Till this day, he never cares about the money he makes. That’s sacrifice.

There are millions of other parents who make it their mission to make their children’s lives better than their own. Their children give them purpose. They push them beyond their limits.

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