“He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.” ~ Friedrich Nietzsche
I regularly challenge others and myself on the meaning of purpose.
Are we born for a reason or do we come to this physical world just for an earthly experience? I’ve read and written a lot on purpose, vision and authenticity, and I thought I knew pretty much everything about each of these topics.
However, after listening to Patrick Awuah, the founder and president of Ashesi University, on how he came to live his purpose, I paused and pondered about this new perspective on purpose. I now had a clarity that I lacked before.
In December 2015, Fortune Magazine named Awuah among the world’s 50 greatest leaders. He is a great example of living with a purpose, as he quit his prestigious engineering job at Microsoft to set up Ashesi University in Ghana, his home country. Also in 2015, he received the prestigious MacArthur Fellowship, also known as the “Genius Grant,” for his incredible work.
Purpose is not something you magically find in an aha moment after a deep meditation session, in a remote cave or at the top of some unpronounceable mountain peak. On the contrary, we must live our lives striving toward it—crafting it with the skills we’ve developed and the passions that have been growing in us.
There are four elements that guide us in cultivating our purpose:
1) Have an interest that is ready to be cultivated into a passion.
“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” ~ Howard Thurman
We discover a minute strand of our purpose in something that interests us or in an opportunity that presents itself to us.
Our interest could be something that we enjoyed when we were young, like playing the guitar. Or it could be something that our friends and family know we are good at—they can’t imagine us doing anything else. Or our interest could be something that we love so much that, while working on it, we could lose ourselves in it.
A passion is not something we are born with—rather, it starts as an interest and is then cultivated over our lifetime through diligence and dedication. An interest that is not backed by passion is likely to fade away.
We feel it as our heart throbs, giving us the signals that we are following our passion. We feel alive thinking about it, we feel alive practicing it, we feel alive when talking about it and, finally, when doing it.
For instance, I never wrote when I was younger, but I’ve always loved solitude and reading, and had an insatiable curiosity about people and the world. I’ve developed that interest into writing, and now have a genuine passion for it.
2) Have a declaration of purpose.
“A musician must make music, an artist must paint, a poet must write, if he is to be ultimately at peace with himself. What a man can be, he must be.” ~ Abraham H. Maslow
A sense of purpose means we believe in doing something greater than ourselves. Our end goal is to serve humanity in one way or another. It’s not just about simply giving money to the poor—it’s about being proactive in trying to solve the problems that we face in our world.
There are many venture capitalists and more money than start-ups, yet very few survive after six months.
There are more than 150 million blogs on the Net, yet only a few make a difference to our lives.
Most people are content with living average, inauthentic lives, happy to remain in their comfort zones and not wanting to risk making a difference.
There is a long list of unsolved problems in our world, problems that many of us can actually solve. The questions to ask ourselves are: How can we solve a particular problem? Where would we be needed most? How can we serve others with the skill sets that we have and with the opportunities we’ve had?
I love to share everything I learn and the experiences that I’ve had. I’ve found that, through writing, many people in my community listen to me and are eager to learn. Everyone wants to become a better person, and it was through other people’s writings and teachings that I’ve been completely transformed as a person.
3) Take action.
“Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it!” ~ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
This is when we banish our fears and doubts and get our hands and feet dirty. We put our plan into action. At this stage, we need a lot of support so we take that leap of faith.
It’s also a good time to raise our self-esteem by polishing our skills, getting a coach to guide us and asking our family and friends for their support and help. There is no turning back now and the exhilaration and energy of starting something new will usually carry us through.
For example, I make it a habit to journal for 30 minutes every day first thing in the morning and write at least a thousand words. I’ve also enrolled in many writing classes. All this continual practice and putting myself out there is paying dividends, as I’m getting published regularly.
4) Have faith and perseverance.
“To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary. To one without faith, no explanation is possible.” ~ Thomas Aquinas
This is the most difficult stage—the novelty of the project wears out and the excitement of the first few months fades into a long, slow march toward our end goal. Problems and critics arise quickly, and we find ourselves in the midst of self-doubt and renewed fears we thought we had extinguished.
To prevent this, we need to build systems, disciplines and rituals that allow us to practice the skill sets we’ve developed. We also need to put in the long, hard hours—whether that means completing a novel or establishing a start-up. It is now that we try and fail, try again and fail again, and keep trying till we succeed, with faith acting as the light at the end of the tunnel.
No matter how disciplined or motivated we are, without this certainty of faith, we would likely give up and quit. Hope gives us a deep sense of knowing that we were born for this purpose and that we are the only ones who can solve the problem.
There are times when doubts creep in and I have an existential crisis about me as a writer—I ask myself how an entrepreneur can become an author who can make a difference in this world. However, I persevere, because there is a light within me that shines brightly—it is built on hope and tells me I am a writer.
Let’s stop waiting for the Universe to gift us our purpose and, rather, arm ourselves with skill sets that have been born out of interests.
Let’s cultivate these interests into passions and use the opportunities we have in front of us to declare our purpose and take action towards it.
Author: Mo Issa
Apprentice Editor: Natalia Lusinski; Editor: Emily Bartran