We Need A Paradigm Shift In Understanding Our Purpose On Earth. Here’s Why
“Humans don’t mind hardship. In fact, they thrive on it; what they mind is not feeling necessary. Modern society has perfected the art of making people not feel necessary.” — Sebastian Junger.
It’s been ten years since I attended my first ever ‘Personal Growth’ event. I went there searching for an elusive blueprint that would change the trajectory of my life — I went there to find my life’s purpose. I can’t say that I’ve found the reason I’m alive or that I actively live on purpose on a day-to-day basis. I’m still struggling with it after all these years.
I am, however, closer to knowing what I enjoy doing. I have also grown in self-awareness and have a better idea of what I need to do to improve myself and the environment around me.
Therefore, my struggle with finding my purpose all these years is not a problem with me per se. Instead, I think the issue lies with the way society has loaded the concept of purpose so heavily that it can be scary and have far too many contradictory ideas.
Adults start asking kids what they want to be when they grow up as soon as they enter school. Likewise, kids feel the pressure to clarify what career they want to spend the rest of their lives in as soon as they graduate from college.
We want purpose to be this magical mission that God has whispered in our ears. It’s like we must all have destinies to be fulfilled. But that thought alone is so heavy that it paralyses us and makes us go in circles for years on end.
We all have an inner desire to improve ourselves and the World, which is the precursor to our never-ending search for purpose.
True, our ego is usually at play. It demands that we must do something, become something, and save the world like a superhero. But also, where would we be as a society without our thirst to improve. Probably still in our caves.
Perhaps if we stopped asking ourselves and others what’s our purpose and instead asked:
“What can I do that makes me useful and necessary to both myself and my community?”
When the weight of the word purpose is lifted, it becomes easier to have a conversation with ourselves to find out how best we can walk on the path of our goal.
Below are some questions that have helped me in defining and constantly validating my usefulness:
1. What struggle or sacrifice are you willing to tolerate?
For every benefit, there is a cost. So, what are the things that you are willing to do to make you feel useful no matter how vulnerable you feel? Are you ready to go beyond your comfort zone to a place where you can easily fall, bottom out, and feel like a loser but then do it anyway?
If you want to be a doctor, prepare for a life where you work almost 20 hours a day, don’t get much sleep or free time.
If you want to be the most prominent sports star on the planet, then are you willing to sacrifice as Cristiano Ronaldo has since he was 18. He never has drunk alcohol or partied late at night; instead, he follows a strict training and eating regimen.
He keeps his body in excellent shape, working out 2–3 hours a day, including ice baths immediately after the game and several stretch routines, so he doesn’t get injured.
Today at 36, he is still one of the highest-earning footballers, playing at a high professional level when many of his peers retired five years ago. He is probably one of the wealthiest sports people alive. He has the most followers on Instagram, outstripping movies, and pop stars, and is one of the most decorated footballers of all time.
He figured out early on what to do to feel necessary to the world, and nothing was going to stop him.
2. What did you enjoy (love) doing as a kid?
Think hard and long as to what passions or interests occupied your time as a child. Everything was more straightforward then. We all did things as children that we loved and somehow lost touch with it.
Typically, our parents or society imposed so many rules and regulations on what we loved doing that it became too severe and restrictive for it to be fun anymore. Or as they dismissed our passion as too frivolous, we felt less than enough while doing it. For me, I was always curious about the world and the big questions of life. I was asking existential questions when I was ten, but unfortunately, no one guided me towards that path. So instead, I became a businessman like everyone around me did.
Perhaps, if I had studied literature, philosophy, and history, I would have been on the right path much earlier. However, I’m grateful that even at 43, I did find what I love doing — chasing my curiosity of the world which includes lots of reading, learning and then writing or talking about it.
3. What can you do in your little corner of the world that can make a difference?
The world has many problems, from our environment getting destroyed faster than we are doing anything to save it to more minor community problems like a lack of potable water in a poor African village.
Find a larger problem than you that you care about and start making a difference. And that feeling of being useful is what leads to the contentment we all seek.
Mother Theresa famously said: “If each of us would only sweep our own doorstep, the whole world would be clean”.
Whether that means creating a company that solves a local problem while giving some people a livelihood, or writing a book that can shift readers’ awareness, there is no right way of saving the world. We don’t all have to be Bill Gates and try eradicating Polio and Malaria from the world. We can all make a difference in our way.
I feel that all the ‘Personal Growth,’ self-help teachings, and awareness programs are focused on the 1st World — North America and Europe.
There is not enough of it in the developing worlds like Africa and the Middle East. Many in this region (where I’m from) still dismiss all personal growth as privileged and unnecessary information. Here, Personal Growth is seen as a luxury, and the only thing that truly matters is making money and putting food on the table. That can’t be further from the truth.
I genuinely believe that the more we grow in self-awareness throughout the world, the richer our whole world will be. What’s the point of having all the concentration of self-aware people in specific areas when the rest of the world hasn’t yet caught up?
When we lack direction and don’t feel useful and necessary in our lives, it’s because we don’t know what’s important to us. We haven’t clarified the values that feel important enough to us to propel us into action.
It is not about summiting Mount Kilimanjaro because it is ubiquitous, as shown by many on Instagram. It’s not about making money because we crave the big house, sports cars, and luxury holidays.
It’s about figuring out how we would like to spend our limited time in life being authentically useful and connected to the rest of the world.
What’s that thing that makes you feel useful and necessary in your small part of the World?