5 Great Achievers’ Paths to Purpose
Lately I can’t throw a rock without hitting someone who is absolutely crushing it.
This morning over my wife’s shoulder, I watched part of Mel Robbins’ Mindset Reset program, along with a quarter of a million other viewers. I hear she just landed her own TV show.
Over coffee, I opened up SUCCESS magazine and learned about David Beyer, the mindset coach. Wow, this guy knows what he’s talking about; it’s obvious he’s found his life’s mission.
Later, I dive into my YouTube feed for a quick diversion, but it, too, seems to want me to feel inadequate. I watch Elise Truow play licks on seven instruments and use a looper to create amazing music, live. Jim Gaffigan, at the top of his comedy game, makes spit cereal.
Everywhere I turn, I see someone who’s living his or her highest purpose.
Sure, it’s inspiring. And it thoroughly annoys the small and petty part of myself. What about me?
Full disclosure: I haven’t found my purpose yet. Telling you this makes me feel like I’ve just walked into a funeral completely naked.
Thankfully, I have a solid idea that, whatever it turns out that I was placed on this earth to do, it will involve writing, serving others and building businesses. But I haven’t quite found “it,” and it hurts to be 37 and still asking, “How do I just find my freakin’ calling already?”
Clues to Your Calling
My existential angst has driven me to insane lengths to find my purpose. Do you know anyone who’s completed the What Color Is Your Parachute? program, in full, three times? Now you do.
Today as I write this, it’s a national holiday, but instead of relaxing I’m up early to spend the day reviewing the past the months of my life, and to plan the next three, something I’ve done every quarter without fail since January 1, 2012. These are the habits of a crazy person, folks. And I don’t care! I’m determined to uncover my hidden, secret mission.
As someone who’s studied every angle of purpose, I can finally share with you the key to finding yours. Are you ready? Here it is:
There is no one path to purpose.
Every great achiever creates their own, and it looks unlike anyone else’s. If there is one thing that’s shared by top performers who are living their calling, it’s this: They did it their own way and they were willing to do the work to create their best life.
Here are five incredible achiever origin stories that will prove to you that there’s no formula. You must do it your way.
1. Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand
Since October 2017, at 37 years old, she’s been the world’s youngest female head of state and the fifth youngest overall. She’s enjoyed an astronomical 76% approval rating at home and accolades abroad for leading her country through a terrorist attack, and setting a global example on national security, mental health and indigenous relations.
Oh, and did I mention she had a baby and took maternity leave while in office? Talk about a leap forward for the status of women in the workplace.
Her Unusual Path to Purpose
Raised a Mormon in a small town best known for it’s Maori gang activity, among children with no shoes and nothing to eat for lunch, she started her political career right out of university, working for both New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark and British PM Tony Blair.
Her path is unusual for being so straightforward: She knew from a young age that her destiny lay in politics. Still, a large dose of luck brought her to where she is: Her party came second in the 2017 election, but with the help of the third party, formed a coalition government and she fell into the job.
2. Charles Bukowski, Author and Carouser
Dubbed by Time magazine the “Laureate of American Lowlife,” he was not exactly a fine example of a life well lived, but he sure did find his calling as a writer. When he wasn’t passed out in a gutter, Bukowski found time to pen thousands of poems, hundreds of short stories, six novels and more than 60 books over six decades.
In his lifetime and after his death, he was immortalized in the American psyche and the world’s. His life was portrayed in two films by both Mickey Rourke and Matt Dillon, and reference to his work appears in dozens of other movies, TV shows and music—Sean Penn and U2 have dedicated work to him.
His Unusual Path to Purpose
As a German immigrant child in the ‘20s and ‘30s, he was tormented by classmates, beat by his oft-unemployed father and lived in poverty. His illustrious career started in a pickle factory and ended with more than a decade as a grunt in the US Postal Service.
His life philosophy is etched into his tombstone: “Don’t Try.” Here’s a guy whose path couldn’t be more filled with potholes, but he pursued his writing despite the tribulations, and nobody can deny that he found what he was put on this earth to do.
3. David Goggins, Navy SEAL and Ultramarathon Champion
He’s been branded the Toughest Man Alive and has the record to prove it. As a Navy SEAL he’s one of a handful of humans to survive “Hell Week,” but this maniac did it three times. He also graduated from Army Ranger School and served in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
Despite his service record, he’s better known for his feats of fitness. He’s completed almost 50 ultramarathons, placing first eight times. What’s an ultramarathon, you ask? That’s when crazy people get together to run between 30 and 150 miles, sometimes for 24 hours straight. Crazy. Did I mention that Goggins held the world record for pull-ups for a while? 4,030 of them in 17 hours.
His Unusual Path to Purpose
No wonder this man is tough; he was born into a brutal life. His tyrant father had him working in the family roller disco from age 6, beating him and his mom and brother until they fled to a small Indiana town. Being the only black kid in Hickville, poor as dirt, David developed a stutter and his hair started falling out from toxic stress. He cheated his way through school and by his teen years could barely read.
In the late ‘90s, Goggins was an obese 300 pounds, exterminating cockroaches for a living. But he fixed his sights on becoming a SEAL and worked out with such violence that he lost 106 pounds in three months, and his life has become legend. Today he’s a motivational speaker and his book a best-seller.
4. Jane Jacobs, Activist and Urban Planner
One of history’s greatest urban planners had no formal training, but she saw the madness in building expressways instead of neighbourhoods, and through her activism, changed the way we build cities.
Her agitating attracted support from the Rockefeller Foundation that embarrassed the 1950s urban planning boys club. Her 1961 epic The Death and Life of American Cities remains some of the most influential required reading for urban planning students. Though she died in 2006, her name is still used as a rallying cry for people-first development.
Her Unusual Path to Purpose
In college, she studied geology, zoology, law, political science and economics, and dropped out without a degree or any kind of formal training in urban planning. She started her career as an unpaid assistant at a newspaper, then became a stenographer and found her stride as a freelance writer.
Following her passion into urban planning, she faced scorn from the male-dominated field, was labeled a housewife and called out for having no formal education. “Who is this crazy dame?!” the publisher of Fortune magazine asked, over her criticism of a popular urban renewal project.
5. Michael Singer, CEO
Of these five purpose stories, Michael’s is the most fascinating, and the best example of how finding your purpose is often more dumb luck than perfect plan. Man plans, God laughs, as they say.
Michael had a plan, and it was to hide out on his land in the forests of Alachua, Florida, and just bliss out, meditating every day. Then a woman came around and built a house next door, and that was the start of a spiritual meditation community that’s still thriving today. In the process of building a temple, people noticed that Mike was a builder, and boom, his construction company was born.
One day at Radio Shack, he fell in love with the TRS-80 computer, and he taught himself how to program. So well, in fact, that he created a piece of software called the Medical Manager to digitize medical records, which is now housed in the Smithsonian as software of national significance.
His company merged with WebMD, and he became the CEO of that billion-dollar company. Singer’s calling was undoubtedly to lead businesses. The Surrender Experiment is well worth the read if you’re feeling stuck.
His Unusual Path to Purpose
You can see how disjointed and random his path was, but what’s most fascinating is that he never set out to achieve any of his success. In fact, early in his life he made a decision reminiscent of Bukowski’s mantra, “Don’t Try.”
He reasoned that some unknowable force has kept the universe in perfect order for 14 billion years, and although he had desires and preferences, who was he to believe that his wants should be prioritized over this universal intelligence? He made a radical decision to surrender to it and simply do whatever work life placed in front of him.
It led him directly into his calling and to the heights of success.
Great stories, Mike, but how do they help me find my purpose?
There’s a literary magazine called The Paris Review that since 1953 has been interviewing top authors about their processes. I was surprised to read that none had a writing routine like the next. Some had to drink first, some had to sit in an office, some to surf news sites.
When I was starting out as a writer, it helped me a great deal to know that there’s no one formula for great work, but that you create your own.
I’ve come to see that it’s the same with our calling. Your path to purpose won’t look like anyone else’s.
So stop comparing yourself.
Related: What Is My Purpose in Life?
Photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash
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