There's a popular Zen saying: "Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water." A life's purpose isn't some end goal, like "heal psoriasis," or "bake the perfect bagel." Our purpose manifests in the way we orient ourselves to experience. Do you dwell on the fragrance of the garden, or the annoyance of the lawn mower? Do you recall your rotten ex's insults, or value the wisdom you gained from that relationship?
Living your life's purpose happens when you begin choosing the state of mind that feels the most fundamentally correct for you. It's like being a guided missile. These missiles are programmed to notice when they're veering from the target, and course-correct. You may not realize it, but you're programmed the same way. When you leave the zone of your purpose, you feel negative sensations (muscle tension, low energy, illness) and emotions (sadness, anger, despair). Those are your signals that it's time to course-correct.
Consider today's schedule. Does each activity sound appealing and pleasing? Then you're on purpose. But if you feel heavy, revolted, or weak, use something I call the Three B's to correct your course: Either bag an uninspiring activity (folding the towels can wait); barter it (your spouse may be happy to grocery shop in exchange for a back rub); or better the activity by adding things you enjoy (play your favorite music at work). You'll still be chopping wood, carrying water, but with the presence and joy that lights up both you and the world.
3. It's too late to live on ego candy.
My client Gloria is a physician whose first words to me were, "I hate people, and I hate to touch them." When I asked why she'd chosen such a people-touching profession, she replied, "So I could say I'm a doctor."
This is what I call ego candy, and it encompasses anything we do purely for approval, admiration, or status. The ego's appetite for adulation is endless, its capacity to create genuine happiness nil. It's far too late to spend another minute starving your soul to feed your need for praise.
Think of something on your bucket list—something you'd like to experience but haven't yet—and answer the following true-or-false questions:
- I want to experience the activities involved in this goal, whether or not I achieve the milestones associated with it. (For Èexample, if the item is "run a marathon," would you enjoy the months of training as much as crossing the finish line?)
- I'd want to have this experience even if no one else would ever know I had.
- I feel no inferiority, jealousy, or competitiveness around people who have done this thing, and no superiority toward people who haven't.
- I'd be thrilled to do this even if everyone I know thought it was weird or stupid.
Next: How to deal with toxic people in your life