How to Find Your Life Purpose: An Unconventional Approach
By Leo Babauta
Let’s say you’re feeling unmotivated, unsure of yourself, aimless, can’t find your passion, directionless, not clear on what your purpose in life is.
You’re in good company — most people are in the same boat.
Now, there about a million things online telling you how to find your passion in life, and that’s a good thing. It’s a search worth undergoing.
I’m not going to give you a fool-proof method, or a 5-step method, nor share my passion manifesto with you today.
I’m going to give you a one-step method.
However, that one step is a doozy.
The One Step to Finding Your Purpose
It’s simply this: learn to get outside your personal bubble.
Your personal bubble is the small world you live in (we all have one), where you are the center of the universe. You are concerned with your wellbeing, with not wanting to look bad, with succeeding in life, with your personal pleasure (good food, good music, good sex, etc.).
This is the bubble we all live in most of the time, and people who say they don’t are trying to prove something.
When someone tells you you look fat, this only hurts because you’re in your personal bubble. You take that statement (a colleague who says you look fat) and believe that it’s about you, and feel the pain or embarrassment of how the statement affects you. It matters a lot, because in your bubble, what matters most is how everything affects you personally.
I’m the same way, and so is everyone else.
Some other problems caused by this personal bubble:
In our bubble, we’re concerned with our pleasure and comfort, and try not to be uncomfortable. This is why we don’t exercise, why we don’t only eat healthy food.
This fear of being uncomfortable is also why we get anxious at the thought of meeting strangers. It hampers our social lives, our love lives.
Because we don’t want to look bad, we are afraid of failing. So we don’t tackle tough things.
We procrastinate because of this fear of failing, this fear of discomfort.
When someone does or says something, we relate that event with how it affect us, and this can cause anger or pain or irritation.
We expect people to try to give us what we want, and when they don’t, we get frustrated or angry.
Actually, pretty much all our problems are caused by this bubble.
Including the difficulty in finding our life purpose. But more on that in a minute — I ask for your patience here, because this is important.
What Happens When We Get Out of the Bubble
If we can learn to get outside this personal bubble, and see things from a less self-centered approach, we can see some amazing things:
When someone says or does something, it’s not really about us — it’s about pain or fear or confusion they’re feeling, or a desire they have. Not us.
When we have an urge for temporary pleasure (TV, social media, junk food, porn), we can see that this urge is a simple passing physical sensation, and not the center of the universe.
We can start to see that our personal desires are actually pretty trivial, and that there’s more to life than trying to meet our pleasures and shy from our discomfort. There’s more than our little fears. Including: the pain and suffering of other people, and compassion for them. Compassion for all living beings. Wanting to make the world better.
We can tie our daily actions, like learning about how our minds and bodies and habits work, or getting healthy, or creating something, not only to our personal satisfaction and success (trivial things) but to how they help others, how they make the lives of others better, how they might lessen the suffering of others.
We become less self-centered, and begin to have a wider view. Everything changes, from letting go of fear and anger and procrastination, to changing our habits and finding work that matters.
How does this relate to finding our life purpose? Let’s explore that.
The Wider View, and Our Life Purpose
Once we get out of the bubble, and see things with a wider view, we can start a journey along a path like this:
We can start to see the needs of others, and feel for their suffering.
We then work to make their lives better, and lessen their suffering.
Even if we aren’t good at that, we can learn skills that help us to be better at it. It’s the intention that matters.
As we go about our daily work, we can tie our actions to this greater purpose. Learning to program or become healthy (for example) isn’t just for our betterment, but for the betterment of others, even in a small way. This gives us motivation on a moment-to-moment basis. When we lose motivation, we need to get back out of our bubble, shed our concern for our discomfort and fears, and tie ourselves to a bigger purpose.
In this path, it doesn’t matter what specific actions you take or skills you learn to make people’s lives better. What career you choose is not important — what matters is the bigger purpose. You can always change your career and learn new skills later, as you learn other ways to fulfill this purpose. You’ll learn over time.
What matters is becoming bigger than yourself. Once you do, you learn that you have a purpose in life.
How to Get Out of the Bubble
Sounds great, but getting outside this personal bubble isn’t as easy as just saying, “Let it be so.” It takes work.
First, you must see when you’re stuck in the bubble. Whenever you’re angry, frustrated, irritated, fearful, anxious, procrastinating, feeling hurt, wishing people would be different … you’re in the bubble. These are signs. You are at the center of your universe, and everything is relating to you and your feelings. When you can’t stick to habits, or have a hard time with a diet, you’re in the bubble. Your momentary pleasure is what matters in this bubble. Outside the bubble, they’re just little events (sensations of desire, urges) that can be let go of.
Second, when you notice that you’re in the bubble, expand your mind and heart. See the bigger picture. Feel what others must be feeling. Try to understand rather than condemning. See how little and petty your concerns and fears have been. Realize that if others treat you badly, it’s not about you, but about their suffering.
Third, wish others well. Genuinely want their happiness, just as you want your own happiness. See their suffering and wish for it to end or lessen.
Fourth, see how you can help. How can you lessen the suffering of others? Sometimes it’s just by paying attention, just listening. Other times you just need to be there, just lend a hand. You don’t need to go around solving everyone’s problems — they probably don’t want that. Just be there for them. And see if you can make people’s lives better — create something to make them smile. Make one little part of their world — a cup of tea, an article of clothing you’ve sewn — be a little space of goodness.
Repeat this process multiple times a day, and you’ll get better at it.
You’ll learn to be bigger than yourself. You’ll learn that the life we’ve been given is a gift, and we must make the most of it, and not waste a second. You’ll learn that there is nothing more fulfilling than making the lives of others a little better.