You can tell when someone is living life on purpose or simply drifting. The person drifting along presents themselves differently, talks differently, and perceives the world differently. Not because they are a bad person. But because something seems to be missing—and that something is what makes the difference between a life of good intentions and a lasting legacy.
I get to observe this firsthand at Southeastern. While I’m proud of all our students, there are definitely those who stand out from day one. These students didn’t come because Mom or Dad told them this was what they would be doing the next four years of their lives. They are at Southeastern because it’s a decision they made–a choice to step in a direction with intention and conviction.
It’s easier when you’re young to live life with boldness and courage. You have very little to lose. As you get older, you stop believing anything is possible and change is within reach. Maybe it’s an energy thing. Or maybe it’s because you’ve hit the wall so many times you know what it feels like for things to not work out as planned. Either way, the older you get, the more difficult it seems to grab onto your purpose if you haven't already.
THE BENEFITS OF NOT KNOWING WHAT YOU DON’T KNOW
This is why I love being around babies and toddlers. Don’t get me wrong. I’m glad my wife and I are beyond that stage of life. But babies and toddlers don’t know what they don’t know. Think about all the things that happen the first two years of life. You learn how to put yourself to sleep, roll over, crawl, walk, eat, and talk. It never occurs to a baby or toddler they can’t do what they want to do.
They don’t roll over for the first time because they know it is a growth milestone outline by their doctor. They roll over because they are curious about what will happen if they try that. And they also are likely trying to get to where they want to be or get their hands on something that interests them.
I’m not sure what happens as you get older, but you stop just doing something because you believe it is the right thing to do and start thinking about whether or not you should, could, or even if it’s best. And worse, you sometimes even choose not to do something or try something for fear about how others might perceive you or you don’t want to leave someone out.
I believe this is why leaders hit their ceiling—organizations, too. It's just too easy to explain away why you can't, shouldn't, or couldn't do something instead of reaching toward the possibility of what is within reach. This is why purpose makes all the difference.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO LIVE LIFE ON PURPOSE?
It doesn't mean you have all the answers, already know how things are going to turn out, or somehow have a magic crystal ball that tells you what to do next. It doesn't mean you have more certainty about the future than others around you. And it doesn't mean you have a secret map that will guide you to some buried treasure no one else knows about.
It does mean you tap into a power that is already within you. It’s the part of you that allows you to dream big dreams and find ways to take steps toward those dreams—even if they are little ones. It does mean you have the stamina to push through the pain of setbacks and obstacles because you know you are driving toward something that is bigger than the wall you are looking at right now. And it does mean that you believe your life is bigger than a title, paycheck, or job.
HOW DO I KNOW IF I’M LIVING LIFE ON PURPOSE?
I believe you will know you know. There is something about living in alignment with the best part of ourselves that releases a confidence that can’t be explained. I don’t mean arrogance or overinflated ego. I mean a sense that you know your life is more than just being a cog in a wheel waiting for retirement to come around.
You can detect if someone is living on purpose or not by observing how they approach life, assessing their level of curiosity about the world and others, and watching them make bold decisions that result in unanticipated experiences. This can be true whether you're five, fifteen, or fifty. People who live life on purpose are driving toward something they can’t yet see but know is real.
WHAT CAN I DO TO START DISCOVERING MY PURPOSE?
The most important thing you can do is realize that without purpose, you will drift. It doesn’t matter how smart, connected, or successful you become. It will never be enough, and you will feel like nothing in the world will satisfy your hunger for something more. That’s part of how you were designed.
The next thing is to begin to implement a discipline of self-learning and personal reflection. I recommend daily journaling for 30 days. Write down what you observed in yourself, others, what you accomplished, what you liked, and the pressing questions that are on your mind. You don’t have to write a novel. Even just a few bullet points will do. The point is to make a record of your thinking and actions which will give you a profound insight into yourself and will give you clues about your purpose in life.
The last thing is to find a mentor. Look around for someone who lives life on purpose. Invite them for coffee, lunch, or dinner. It doesn’t have to be a long-term commitment. Just ask them questions, listen, and let them ask you questions. Even one hour spent with someone who understands purpose can help you see the purpose that already exists within you.
Purpose provides context for your life. It helps you develop a criterion by which you can use to make critical decisions. It gives you focus when you aren’t sure what to say yes to and what to say no to. And it gives you confidence that the things you choose to do today are leading you somewhere meaningful and significant.
Living life on purpose won’t just change you. It will also impact the people around you. Purpose will transform the way you see the world, the people in your life, and how you approach each and every day. Those who experience the abundant life are those who are determined and unwavering in their commitment to live life on purpose.
REFLECT: Do you live life on purpose, or are you simply drifting along? If so, how did you discover your purpose? Are you helping someone else find theirs? If not, what steps are you willing to take to discover that purpose today?