zen habits : breathe

To Find Your Deeper Purpose, Listen

By Leo Babauta

I’ve found that if we can create a connection between our daily actions and our deeper purpose in life, then each day will be incredibly fulfilling.

Unfortunately most people haven’t found their “deeper purpose” in life, and many don’t even believe they have one. That’s OK, but if you’re one of those who would like to create a more fulfilling life, I have one word of advice for you.

Listen.

OK, I’ll have a few more words to add to that!

The way that I found my deeper purpose (and I’m still refining it every day) is by listening to what’s in my heart, as corny as that might sound. I listened to what I felt most deeply, what moved me, what made me feel shaky but in awe of life.

To listen, I had to stop letting myself be distracted. I had to create space to listen: shut off the Internet and all devices, not watch TV, get away from everything else, even for a little bit. I had to create silence and stillness, so that listening was even possible.

If you create this space, this silence … notice what you feel. It won’t be obvious what it means at first, but after listening for awhile, you’ll notice what you yearn for. What gives you joy, a sense of adventure, a sense of play. What creates pain and the wish to salve that pain. What you are afraid of, what fills you with doubt, what makes you want to run.

Eventually you’ll get an inkling: “Oh, I really love working with kids!” You won’t know what that means, but you’ll have a direction, and you’ll start to explore it. You’ll find a way to work with kids, and after awhile, if you keep listening, you’ll discover the parts of working with kids that moves you the most. You’ll hone in on that. You’ll refine, listen some more, and strip away the fat of that purpose, until it gets to its essence. You’ll find your gift to offer to the world.

And each step along the way, you’ll be walking the path of that purpose, exploring and discovering how to best offer your gift.

A Few Stories of Others Without a Purpose

Many people either know they haven’t found their purpose but don’t even start looking … or they have it in front of them but don’t recognize it, and don’t connect to it.

I’ve been working with people on this and here are a few examples … maybe you’ll connect with one of them.

  1. One woman is a family lawyer and she says she doesn’t have a “deeper purpose” in life, she just stays really busy doing her work, helping her clients, which she does enjoy. As I worked with her, it became clear that she was serving these clients in a powerful way. When they were facing the hardest times in their lives, she was there for them, guiding them when they felt lost. She stood for them when they were on their knees and had no hope. She made them feel safe when the world around them was collapsing. She had a powerful purpose, but she didn’t know how to see it. What she needed to do was ask herself what gift she was giving in the world (or ask friends who might see it better). Then feel deeply connected to that gift.
  2. I worked with a man who was a manager at a very busy service operation — he managed a large team and stayed busy from start to finish each day, putting out fires and keeping the team on track. He didn’t feel that there was a deeper purpose there. As we talked, it became clear that he was an incredibly competent leader, keeping his team motivated, staying fully focused in the middle of chaos, keeping a huge machine running so that others might relax, and doing it all with energy and a smile. This was a huge gift he was giving to each team member, to the people they served. Again, he needed to see this gift, and let himself connect to it and be moved by it.
  3. Another man felt he was a cog in a machine, on a team that didn’t do anything very worthwhile in the world. But this man showed up every day with a huge smile on his face, bringing energy and love and joy in every room he entered. He was very competent, constantly serving those around him. I told him to start looking for another job, but he should also recognize that no matter where he is, he bring his gift of energy, service, happiness and a brilliant smile to everyone he meets and works with. He still had some searching to do, but he should recognize and appreciate his gift.
  4. Another woman worked in finance, and honestly didn’t enjoy the work. She wanted to start her own company, create something beautiful in the world. She was excited to start out on this new adventure, but also filled with doubt and uncertainty about how to do it. I urged her to do it, as soon as she was able, because I was confident that she’d bring her energy and sense of adventurousness to the new venture. And she had a gift just waiting to be offered to the world.

Those are just a handful of examples, but the common threads are that 1) most people don’t recognize their own gift, and might need help from friends to see it, and 2) once you recognize that gift, you need to either find a way to offer it to the world, or if you’re already giving that gift, connect deeply with it on a daily basis so that you can be fulfilled by offering it.

My Purpose-Filled Journey

I started my current journey about a dozen years ago, in a dark place in my life, not feeling fulfilled, not happy with who I was, not knowing how to get out of my rut.

I started by just creating one change in my life (quitting smoking), which finally stuck after failing seven times, after I decided to pour my whole being into that one change. Then one change at a time, I started changing my whole life, pouring myself into each habit change.

Eventually, I was in a very different place in my life, and I started Zen Habits. I found that my gift was to share how I changed my life, and help others change theirs. Offer the inspiration of my story, the usefulness of the details of my change, and my compassion to others who were struggling in the same way.

Discovering this purpose was powerfully moving for me. I was energized, and poured myself into it.

A few years later, I discovered that I needed to help people find compassion for themselves. They were struggling with harshness and self-criticism. So I shifted, exploring self-compassion for myself and a way to share that with others. I went deeper into mindfulness and love. This was incredibly fulfilling.

Recently I’ve discovered the joy of working with people in person, and I’ve been discovering a new layer of my purpose, refining it even further. Now I’ve learned, by continually listening to my heart, that I want to:

This is my deeper purpose at the moment, according to what resonates inside of me. This is what I’m moved to do, my gift as I understand it.



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