Top 10 Ways to Live a Purpose-Filled Life

[Edit: I wrote this post before I heard about Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Life. Shortly afterward I found out about it and so I wanted to share a link to his book here. I’ve been listening to it on CD in the car. It’s a great book and it may change your life. 09/13/2009]

1. Don’t Assume

I wasn’t being very purposeful when I went to open a door that didn’t budge and ran right into it or when I went to push a shovel down into the ground and hurt my foot when it hit a rock. In both cases I was assuming the door and the shovel would act as they always had. The door would open with little effort and the shovel would slide neatly into the earth. It made me wonder, “What else am I assuming about my life?” This leads us to number 2.

2. Ask Why

Ask yourself why you’re doing the things you are doing. Why do you live where you live and work where you work? Why are you friends with your friends? There may be good reason, but there may also not be. If you haven’t asked yourself “Why,” before, start asking and start living a purpose-filled life. There should be a reason for everything you do. This leads us to number 3.

3. Give Reasons

What is the reason you are doing what you are doing? This is different then asking yourself, “Why.” For example, if you answered the question above about why you live where you live, the answer may have been, “Because it’s near where I work, there are good schools here, and it’s where I’ve always lived.” Those are all reasons, which then need analyzed, kind of like playing the 5 Why’s Game. If you’ve never played it, its simply the act of asking yourself, “Why,” four more times after the initial first, “Why.” In this way, you can find out the reason you are doing things. Lets use the response to the question as the first answer in the 5 Why’s Game.

  1. Why do you live where you live? Because it’s near where I work, there are good schools here, and it’s where I’ve always lived.
  2. Why? I don’t like a long commute, I have kids, and my family is here.
  3. Why? I have never had to drive very far to work, because I wanted them, because that is where they moved to.
  4. Why? I have never looked for jobs farther away, because my parents had them, because they found a better job here.
  5. Why? Because I’m comfortable with the job I have, because their parents had them, because this place used to be growing.

The game doesn’t have to have three threads in it like this one did, but it gives us a glimpse into how you might then ask yourself a new question, “My relatives left their relatives and came here when this place was growing. Is there any value in staying or should I keep looking outside of where I am comfortable for my children’s sake?” This is the kind of dialogue that knowing the reasons behind something can generate.

4. Take Ownership

Have someone or something to tie you to this earth. This is a reason for your being. For some it is a job. For others it is their children or partner. It could be all of these things, but if you don’t have anything to build, fix, keep, protect, or improve, then you will find yourself drifting far from living a purpose-filled life. Have you ever left a job or wanted to leave your job because you felt like you weren’t needed or because you had no stake in the outcome of the business? Either you didn’t take ownership or you were not allowed to take ownership and so you withered or are withering.

5. Exact Standards

Set thresholds to avoid slippery slopes and compromises that you might make along the way. If you decide that you want to live a certain way, and you start to slip away from that life, what are the consequences of that? Draw a line in the sand and declare in writing what you stand for. Create a mission statement if you have to. This can guide your life just as it guides businesses everyday.

6. Create Procedures

A purposeful life is predictable, but has the ability to change. You may expect one thing, but if it doesn’t happen, you implement the contingency plan. You know the procedure because you created it. You are prepared. This is the difference between assuming and predicting. Predictions contain contingencies whereas assuming does not. If I go to open a door by pushing on it and assume it will open, but it doesn’t – I may hurt myself when I run into it. If I go to open a door expecting it to open, but with the contingency that it might not, I will be prepared for it not opening and be able to protect myself.

7. Have Faith

Believe in something greater than yourself. The universe is too big, never mind the relative enormity of the Earth, for our brains to live purposefully if we truly believe that there is no more to this life than what we can see and feel with our own eyes and ears. Your spirit, whether you believe you have one or not, will be crushed over time.

8. Love Some

Love someone or something. Be passionate. This is like ownership, but you can’t own another human being or the acts like gardening, playing in a band, or eating chocolate. Nothing drives the human spirit like the power of love. It is cliché to say, but true nonetheless.

9. Leave Behind

Live your life so as to leave something behind. In 100 years will anyone know you had ever existed? Some people write books. Some people’s legacy is their children. This is a matter of faith and procedure as you will not know what lies ahead after you are gone, but you are preparing for it. Pass on knowledge, help the downtrodden, pay it forward. These are the things that lead to a purpose-filled life.

10. Be Purposeful

Be intentional, exacting, reasonable, or whatever words you can think of that relate to being purposeful. If you want your life to have a purpose, if you want to leave a legacy, if you want to love more, learn more, and live more, be purposeful in all that you do. Live a purpose-filled life.