“The successful warrior is the average man, with laser-like focus.”
“Do not let your fire go out, spark by irreplaceable spark, in the hopeless swamps of the approximate, the not-quite, the not-yet, the not-at-all.”
“Without knowing the force of words, it is impossible to know men.”
Clarity. It is the key to enjoying life and gaining influence.
Really, the only way to live the life you want is to focus it. And the only way to focus your life is to determine its purpose. Nothing else matters until you do so. Nothing. Until you figure out what you want and how you are going to get it- you are merely floating. Floating down a river that is directed by the desires and actions of everyone and everything else around you.
Once you reach a certain point in life, once you achieve a certain level of self-awareness, you really only have two options: figure out the overall purpose to your life and start to fulfill it, or create a fog around your life to avoid the pain of not knowing its purpose. People fog up their lives in a variety of ways, most commonly by either evading reality or by stuffing their reality with meaningless tasks. Evading reality can be accomplished through blunt means such as drugs or excessive amounts of booze, or it can be accomplished more subtly through apathy and pretending that nothing matters…there are no absolutes…there is no purpose to life. This way of living is very tempting because escaping reality allows you to escape responsibility and accountability. However, the simple fact is that you are responsible for deciding your own destiny and only you are accountable to whether or not you fulfill it.
Similarly, people obscure their lives by cramming their days full of inconsequential tasks and aimless activities. Thanks to information overload in every aspect of our lives, it is incredibly easy to use busyness as a buffer between us and our most important pursuits. We have to constantly remind ourselves that it is not enough to merely be involved in an activity- the type of activity matters and so does the purpose or product of the activity. The truth is that busyness is worse than passively evading reality because aimless activity wastes our most valuable resources (e.g. time, energy, money) and often further complicates our lives. Lao Tzu said it best: “Doing nothing is better than being busy doing nothing”. Busyness is not industry; it is merely a tool for procrastination and for avoiding purposeful action. Enjoying life is impossible when every day is packed full of meaningless routine.
On the other hand, some people have not figured out their life’s purpose simply because they have not had enough experiences yet. Most of life is a process of experimentation- trail and error. As we grow up, we are exposed to different subjects and experiences, first through our parents’ teachings, then through school and extracurricular activities, and finally, through our chosen careers and occupations. Some of these experiments fail and some of them succeed, teaching us how to enjoy life. The intention of all of this trial and error is to expand our perspectives so that we will be able to, one day, decide on a purpose for our lives. The problem is that most people continue experimenting but never start deciding. Of course you will continue to learn and adapt throughout your entire life, but once you have reached a certain level of self-awareness, you must take hold of the reigns. If you don’t, someone or something else will. The most difficult part of this process is that you will have to start directing your life before you are fully ready- you will have to map out your mission though parts of the campaign remain uncertain.
The very first thing you need to do in order to focus your life is generate a desire. Without desire, you might as well stay in bed and count the texture dots on the ceiling. By desire, I do not mean getting something to eat, buying a new outfit or asking someone out on a date- those are merely wants. I am talking about deeply rooted desires that define you as a person and will help you find new ways to enjoy life. Realize that these kinds of desires do not just drop into your lap. The will to have something phenomenal, to do something great, or to be someone you consider important, does not find you. You have to find it. You have to decide it. You have to create it. As I wrote above, a substantial amount of living and experimentation will have to occur, and will continue to occur, in order to determine your exact purpose. The goal here is to put something concrete down on paper. To create a declaration of your destiny- your own personal mission statement. This mission statement is simply a few sentences that empower and clarify your life- intimate inspiration tied to your overall purpose. To figure out your personal mission statement, get a pen and a pad of paper, go somewhere completely alone, clear your mind and take the following 3 steps:
Step 1: Engage your emotions and identify your inspiration.
It is important that you do this step alone- a place where you can completely block out any feelings of guilt, insecurity or embarrassment. Try to appreciate that other people’s expectations can negatively influence you even when you are being vulnerable only to yourself. Once you are alone, start reflecting on the times in your life when you felt the most inspired. When did you feel maximally empowered? When did you feel as though you were enjoying life the most? Now, consider what initiated those feelings and write them down. Was it a certain movie or part of a movie, a particular book or an excerpt from a book, an article, a painting, a picture, a quote, a lifestyle blog, a website, a sermon, a speech, a performance, an activity, a conversation? Write down everything that comes to your mind and create a giant list. Don’t worry about spelling or mechanics and don’t Google or research any information. If you can’t recall the source from memory- its not connected to you strongly enough for this list. Here is an example of a list I made in 2010 before this lifestyle blog existed:
Next, look at the list and try to determine what all of these sources have in common. What words or short phrases could you use to describe them? Write down the words that come into your mind as your bring these experiences together. To start, look for emotionally charged words in the original list you created, then read and re-read your list until you can come up with additional words. Try to identify a dozen words or short phrases that make you come alive on the inside. Choose words that trigger an intensely positive emotional response- words that rouse your soul and inspire immediate action. Do not settle for lukewarm words. Instead of writing the word ‘determined’ write ‘unstoppable’, instead of the word ‘strong’ use ‘invincible‘, exchange ‘interested’ for ‘extremely enthralled’, change ‘motivated’ to ‘incredibly amped’, ‘unique’ to ‘exotic’, ‘quick’ to ‘explosive’, ‘joyful’ to ‘exuberant’, ‘honesty’ to ‘absolute integrity’, ‘family-oriented’ to ‘dedicated to my loved ones’, ‘secure’ to ‘centered’, etc. Use a dictionary or thesaurus to help you create a consolidated list of invigorating words. Here is mine as an example:
Step 2: Rationally map out the life that you prize.
For this step, disengage your emotions and try to think about your life as levelheadedly as possible- black and white. Think about your role in life as it stands now. In other words, try to pin down a description of your current place in the world as you currently see it. Are you a recent college graduate in an entry-level sales position in New York trying to reach this quarter’s numbers while saving for your wedding in 6 months and taking creative writing classes at night? If so, write down, “I am a recent college graduate in an entry level sales position…” Are you a struggling entrepreneur working to launch your first product while waiting tables, learning to speak Italian and trying to buy your first house? Write it down. Consider your most recent accomplishments and the things in your life that you are currently pursuing. Ask yourself the following: What do I spend most of my time doing each day? What is my life built around right now? Write a few sentences that encapsulate these accomplishments and pursuits.
Now, picture the life you prize. Picture it in detail. What is different between your picture and what you wrote down? Re-read the sentences you just wrote and think about how you could change them to describe the life you prize. What words do you need to remove and what words do you need to add. Again, for this part, focus on the ways in which you want to make your life significant, not just ways to enjoy life. For example, the first sentence from above could be changed to: “I am a happily married company Vice President and published author with two healthy children writing my 4th novel and enjoying life”. The second sentence could be changed to, “I am a successful business owner and world traveler that is fluent in 3 languages and has paid off his first house and has started a travel lifestyle blog”. Try to make these sentences as succinct as possible without leaving out anything you strongly desire to be, to do or to have. The goal is to transform your life as you see it now into the life that you want to have, on paper.
Importantly, do not use the words “I will be” or in any way tie these sentences to some specific, yet distant, point in time. For instance, do not write “I will be a happily married company Vice President in 10 years…” The first reason not to do this is that you are creating a mission statement, not an action item list. If your life was a hardcover book, this statement would be the summary on the inside flap, not the titles of individual chapters. Once completed, you will be able to build your specific, short-term goals and daily to-do lists around this statement. The second reason not to include categorical time points is that most people grossly overexaggerate how long it will take them to fulfill a desire. We subconsciously do this out of a fear of failure. Its simple, the more time you give yourself to reach a goal- the larger the buffer between you and the point at which you can either reach it or fail to reach it. So instead of looking to fulfill these desires in 10 years, 5 years, 1 year or even 1 month- be as unrealistic as possible and assume complete victory. In other words, act as if you have already fulfilled them. Your transformed sentences apply to you as soon as you have finished writing them. This is the whole purpose behind a personal mission statement- to see yourself every day already as the person you want to be. Here is the 2010 description of my life as it stood (top paragraph) and the revised description based on the life that I desired (bottom paragraph):
The final step is to tie your emotions to this mission so that it resonates deeply inside of you. At this point you should have two things; first, you should have a list of about a dozen words or short phrases that concentrate your own personal sources of empowerment. These words should trigger a passionate emotional response in you when you read them. If you do not feel intensely inspired after re-reading them, start over. Second, you should have written down a couple of longer sentences that shrewdly summarize exactly who you want to be, what you want to have accomplished, and what you want to be working towards at the pinnacle of your life (i.e. the life you prize from your current perspective). These secondary sentences will be the backbone of your personal mission statement. The goal now is to hang your empowering words and phrases on this backbone. It is time to merge the soulful with the practical and tie them together as tightly as possible.
The following is an illustration using one of the above backbone sentences: “I am a successful business owner and world traveler that is fluent in 3 languages and has paid off his first house and has started a travel lifestyle blog” becomes…“I am a centered and confident business owner who travels extensively, connecting with exotic cultures by speaking numerous different languages and contributing to a wildly successful travel lifestyle blog. I explosively climbed out of debt and paid off my house in record time and am extremely dedicated to my loved ones.”
Notice the difference between the original sentence and its emotionally charged counterpart. In the end, you should have a galvanizing personal mission statement that is no more than one paragraph in length. If you followed the above steps on paper and created your own personal mission statement- be proud of yourself. It takes a great deal of initiative and courage to be able to sit down and write out an inspiring mission for your life. If you have not taken the above steps yet, fight the voices in your head telling you that you don’t have time, or that you will never fulfill your dreams, or that you are being corny, melodramatic or unrealistic. Ignore all of the vagueness, ambiguity, obscurity, and negativity that haters young and old have infected you with since birth and get your purpose down on paper. Here is the statement I generated from my lists:
The sooner you declare your destiny the better. You can always adjust it later. Realize that it is impossible to figure out your entire life beforehand and nothing you create will be exactly perfect forever. The key is to act before you are fully ready. Once you have your personal mission statement in hand, you can start building your life around it.