Here is a question I get asked all the time and especially after one of my talks, “Professor Rao, how do I find my purpose? How do I find meaning in my life?”
What is the purpose of life? How would you respond if someone asked you this at a cocktail party?
Many would say something like “The purpose of life is to serve others. To make sure that we are making the world a ‘better’ place in some small way.”
Many also feel that the purpose of life is to become rich or famous or rich and famous, that the winner is the person who has the most and the most expensive toys. They feel this way but don’t say it because it seems crass.
And everybody wants to do ‘this’. I bet you do also. That you have not done ‘this’ causes you much anguish and you regularly resolve to strive till you achieve ‘this’. There are thousands, millions, of books, workshops, courses, webinars, programs and systems designed to help you get ‘this’. Nobody, but nobody, questions that ‘this’ is a good thing. That it is worth devoting your entire life to. It is possible, even likely, that you, personally, believe that achieving ‘this’ is the best way to spend your life.
You are dead wrong.
Your pursuit of ‘this’ is keeping you from finding what you seek. In fact, it is such a veil that it prevents you from even recognizing what it is that you really want.
What is the ‘this’ that is leading you astray?
It is your fixed belief that you should ‘achieve your full potential.’ You feel that you have accomplished only a fraction of your capability. And you desperately want to make that fraction larger.
This belief is always tied to some external metric. If you are a poet, you want to be a ‘better’ and ‘more successful’ poet. More people should know about you and buy the volumes of verse you put out. If you are a venture capitalist, you need to fund more companies and bigger companies and companies that become unicorns and then justify their valuations many times over.
Many wise, supposedly wise, gurus tell you to continue to strive along these lines. Are you a professor? Strive to be the best professor you can be. Are you a tennis player? Practice, practice, practice till you are at the highest level possible for someone of your physical ability. And, certainly, train to improve your physical ability.
This is the road to perdition. It keeps you unhappy and perennially dis-satisfied.
You job is to be. Just to be.
It is not to be the best professor or venture capitalist or poet or tennis player you can be.
These are all sobriquets bestowed by others. And others can be fickle.
In his time John Calhoun was a respected politician, sharp legal thinker and Vice President of the United States. Today he is decried as a racist bigot. Tomorrow? Who knows? He may not even be remembered in a footnote.
In his excellent book Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals, Oliver Burkeman points out that, if you live to be eighty, you have approximately 4000 weeks. Don’t waste them on working harder or getting more done or spending time on what others consider important.
Don’t be productive and efficient. Don’t try to be happy. You won’t succeed.
Just release the happiness that is already in you and is your true nature. That will take care of the rest of your life. Maybe you will become the best ‘something’ in the world. Maybe you won’t.
It does not matter. What matters is that your joy is here, now and always present.