Most people have no clue what they want to do in life. And this terrifies them.
In fact, questions about “finding your life purpose” are amongst the most common emails I get on a daily basis. Whenever I receive a question on the topic, I think back to this quote from Mark Manson:
“If you don’t have any idea what to do with yourself, what makes you think some jackass with a website would? I’m a writer, not a fortune teller.”— Mark Manson
I always loved this quote, because… it’s true. It hurts. It cuts as deep as a katana and makes you think: “Holy shit, I’m emailing this guy from some website to help me find a purpose in life… what’s wrong with me?”
As harsh as these words are, nothing is wrong with you for asking. As Mark further explained, life has no definitive answers most of the time. Everything in life is NOT knowing, and then still doing it.
He was right when he said that some jackass on some website can’t know what your life purpose is or should be. However, this jackass has some advice that will help you find it.
1. There is no “higher” purpose
Chances are that, in some way or form, you believe you were destined for a specific purpose in life… you just haven’t found it yet. Which is why this is the first, albeit the most painful truth you need to understand:
Just like everything else in life, it’s up to YOU to figure shit out for yourself.
Nobody is going to figure out your life purpose for you. Stop looking for “a sign” that you’re supposed to do something. Life is all about the choices you make; some are good, some are bad, but all of them ultimately have consequences.
This sounds cruel and it is. But the universe is indifferent. In the great scheme of things, you don’t really matter.
In a hundred years, nobody is going to give a shit about you whatsoever. They won’t care about the problems you used to have or whether or not you lived your life to the fullest. Even today, most people simply don’t care about you at all.
Whoah, whoah, put the knife down.
This isn’t a call to action for you to start cutting your own wrists. I’m not saying this to make you feel worthless, but to make you feel empowered.
Once you realize that you have the power to choose your own destiny, it’s liberating. You stop being bound by society, your heritage, or other people’s opinions. Once you realize that you don’t have to play into the roles you’ve been “destined” for, you can do absolutely anything you decide to. Sky’s the limit.
Women were “destined” to be inferior to men (in many countries, this is still the case). Africans were “destined” to be no more than slaves. In Western countries, you were probably “destined” to work a job you hate and marry too young.
Even worse, imagine if you found out that your entire life purpose was nothing more than to pass the fucking butter.
Rick from the show Rick and Morty embodies this notion to its fullest extent. In the show, there are infinite realities and infinite universes, so no matter what you choose to do, somewhere else you made the opposite choice. Hence, nothing you do ever really matters.
Most people would find this depressing, but Rick realizes how liberating it is. Since nothing really matters, you can do whatever the fuck you want. There are no limits or restrictions.
Fuck finding your destiny. Make your own.
2. Choose something permanent
A friend of my once told me a sad story about her grandfather.
For most of his life, he pushed himself to work 12 hours a day, slaving away at the job that wasn’t particularly interesting or meaningful. Yet, he never complained or regretted this decision. Then, once he retired, he realized that… he doesn’t know what he needs to do.
For most of his life, doing boring, repetitive tasks WAS his life purpose. In his mind, it’s what he needed to do and he did it. So when that was taken away from him, he was left with nothing. No reason to get out of the bed in the morning. No reason to justify doing something. No reason to care.
While in the past he was pleasant to be around, in his retirement he became an alcoholic. He spends most of his days drinking himself into oblivion and insulting everybody that crosses his path. It’s an unfortunate turn of events but what’s even worse is that many of us are headed in the exact same direction.
Whenever you tie yourself to something temporary, be it a job, a relationship, or a skillset, you will naturally feel depressed when these things are taken away. If your life purpose is tied to a specific person, your life will feel meaningless if that person changes, leaves you, or dies. If you’re an athlete who gets permanently injured and needs to retire, your life purpose will evaporate overnight.
Here’s an example: An athlete can say: “My life purpose is to push this ball around” or they can say “My life purpose is to help popularize this sport and make it better than before”.
In the first case, you can play for about a decade and you’re done. * POOF * Your life purpose is gone. In the second case, you can be a great player, then a coach, then an educator, then a commentator, a chairman, and so on. If your purpose is something broader, you can always find a way to contribute to it, way into your old age.
Your life purpose needs to be something that can NEVER end.
For me, my purpose is to find ways to maintain mental strength and help others do the same. And I can keep fulfilling this purpose until the day I die. The way I do it, however, will likely change drastically over time.
I’m not saying that you shouldn’t care about your job or your relationships or your surroundings. You should, but they shouldn’t be the ONLY thing you care about. What I’m saying is that you should care about something else even more.
If Batman lost all of his wealth, gadgets, and friends, and was left with nothing and no one, he would still have the same life purpose and he would still dedicate the same amount of time to it — just through different means.
You can throw me butt-naked in the jungle, and I’ll come out with a chinchilla coat, a leopard hat, and 10 pounds heavier.— Puff Daddy, Notorious (2009)
The same way, if my site disappears overnight, I would be devastated, sure, but my life purpose would remain unchanged. I will simply have to find another way of making it true.
Choose something permanent and your life purpose will never die.
3. You attach meaning to things
Did you know that today is my birthday? HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME!!
Well, it’s not really my birthday. But if it was, why would you have the need to congratulate me anyway? It’s just an anniversary of the day I was born. It’s not even something I accomplished myself. In fact, every single person around you has achieved the exact same thing (probably more times and better than you did).
Someone’s birthday matters because we as a society decide it matters.
Most of the things you care about are important simply because you decide they are important. TMZ might rave about which celebrity did what, where, and with who, but I could give a flying shitsticle about it.
All because I — that’s me, for myself — decided that that information holds no meaning for me.
Now, look at your own life. What do you already care about? Family, friends, possessions? Mark Manson talked about this subject in depth in his book The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck. Only instead of asking “what do you care about”, he asked “what do you give a fuck about”?
He posed that each of us has a very limited amount of “fucks” to give and that we should only give them to things that matter. And that’s true.
The things you own end up owning you.— Tyler Durden, Fight Club
Life purpose is essentially that one thing you care about the most. The peak of the mountain you climb for the rest of your life, in spite of every obstacle in your way. It is the ideal you’re striving towards, despite knowing you will never reach it.
Yet most of us decide to give our “fucks” to all of the little, temporary, and unimportant things. You give too much meaning to what strangers say to you, even though you’re never going to see them again. You care deeply about that guy in his sports car who cut you off, even though that incident holds no value in your life in general.
To find a life purpose that’s actually worth giving a “fuck” about, be more critical of the things you attach meaning to. But be proactive about it; consciously choose not to care about everyday bullshit that doesn’t matter, so you can spend more energy on things that actually do (like my birthday).
If everything in your life has meaning, then nothing does.
4. The goal of life isn’t happiness
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I hate self-help.
Yes, I know that my writings fall under the general umbrella of “self-help” but the majority of self-help content out there is straight up bullshit. I would know because when I was young and gullible, I ate that shit up and licked the plate.
But the more I started actually thinking about the advice I was implementing, the more I started seeing how ridiculous it really is. And it all comes down the underlying lie they constantly promote:
Self-help industry says that happiness is the ONLY thing that matters. It’s not.
In fact, most people around you convey this idea as well. It doesn’t matter what you do in life “as long as it makes you happy”. This is ridiculous.
Happiness is the easy emotion. It takes no effort. When you’re happy, you’re happy. The world is wonderful. The sun is shining, birds are chirping, and double rainbows are making you completely lose your shit out of excitement.
The thing is, we as humans totally suck at judging our emotions. Positive or negative, we think they will last longer and have a greater effect than they usually do. When you’re happy, you feel like you could never feel sad ever again. When you’re sad, you feel like nothing can ever put a smile on your face again.
Then a few hours later, your mood changes and so do your emotions. Who would’ve thought?
The same thing applies to happiness. When you’re happy, everything is awesome. But as soon as that feeling slips away, you’re left confused and sad that it’s gone. So you try finding a way to get that amazing feeling back once again.
It’s like a drug. The effects are temporary and you will do anything for another fix.
But most of life is not happiness. Most days are boring and unexceptional. For every happy moment, you will experience four moments of pain and agony. For every “honeymoon phase” you go through in a relationship that makes you feel extremely good, you will experience a fight or a breakup that will make you feel extremely bad.
If you just keep chasing happiness like a dog chases his own tale, you will keep spinning until you get dizzy and fall down in your own poop. Long-term happiness comes from accepting the negative parts of life. It comes from embracing pain and learning to become stronger as a result.
Self-help is becoming increasingly popular because many of us just want to be told: “You’re okay. There’s nothing you should change. You are destined for great things and you should feel good about that. And when you stop feeling good, buy my new book.”
Don’t chase happiness. Ultimately, it will leave you unhappy.
5. For the most part, you are not special
When searching for their life purpose, most people operate under the assumption that they are absolutely-drop-dead-not-another-one-like-me special.
Like, Once Upon a Time in Shaolin special.
While all of us are special in our own experiences and no two people go through two exact same lives, for the most part, you’re just like everybody else. You want to be liked. You want to be respected. You want your life to have meaning and you want your life purpose to be something unique to you.
So when I tell you that you’re just like everybody else, it hurts. If you’re just like everybody else, and you don’t like the lives most people lead than… should you hate your life? Should you curl up under the shower, clench your knees, and sit there for all eternity?
Of course not. Fuck you for giving up so easily.
Deep down, you know this. You go to school or work like a lot of people, or you sit on your ass all day, again like a lot of people. And while some of us are willing to climb mountains and discover new elements and make scientific breakthroughs and fight for human rights, most of us simply… live.
Every day, I get dozens of email from people who share their life stories and unique problems. Everybody is stuck in their own bubble and they don’t realize that… their problems are not unique. Of course, they’re not. People are people.
In fact, I bet my left testicle that the #1 thing that worries you in this moment falls under one of these five categories:
- Anxiety (overthinking, intrusive thoughts, paranoia)
- Being social (feeling shy, insecure, introverted, disrespected)
- Productivity (procrastination, discipline, focus, learning)
- Life purpose (finding meaning or passion, taking risks, stuck at a job you hate)
- Relationships (problems with friends, family, or romantic relationships)
How do I know this? Because I actually went through hundreds of emails I’ve gotten just over the last few months, then ranked them by popularity and how often they occur. At the very least, I know you’re struggling with #4.
Don’t assume you’re special just by existing. Become special through your actions.
6. You don’t know what you want
As of writing this, it’s been about four years since I started this website. Most of my days are currently spent writing about mindset and answering a bazillion emails a day from people looking for guidance.
Combine that with a shitload of business and marketing stuff, and you’ll understand why I’m usually stressed 24/7. And I love every second of it.
So how did I know this was supposed to be my “life purpose”?
Well… I didn’t. I had no fucking clue. If you hopped into your favorite time travel device, be it a phone booth, DeLorean, or a T.A.R.D.I.S., traveled back ten years, and told my 18-year old self that I’d make a living from a blog, he’d probably laugh in your face.
I know, what a little brat. You traveled all the way back in time and he just laughs in your face.
But the thing is, he’d laugh because I never even considered starting a blog until I was 22. When I started Mind of Steel back in 2014, it was from a computer at my University’s library in between classes. I was just writing some one-off articles thinking nobody would read them.
While I still shared useful tips on mental strength, I didn’t know how to write well and I didn’t know as much about the psychology behind what I was writing.
Over time I started getting readers, then more readers, then people started emailing me about serious issues, so I started learning psychology, taking courses, learning how to write, and so on. Fast forward a few years and here we are.
The point is: My “life purpose” has been evolving over time. And yours will too.
Before running this blog, I started an online project that failed. Before that, I held various jobs that I didn’t really like. Before that, I spent over 10 years trying to become a world-class animator and trying to develop my drawing skills.
As you grow as a person, your interests and values will change. And the more you change, the more your life purpose will change.
I’ve tried a whole bunch of stuff before I found something that I genuinely enjoy doing. Whenever I get an email from someone who used my advice to turn their life around, that feeling is worth all of the sleepless night hunched over my desk designing my site so that people would actually read it in the first place.
With all of the things I previously tried my hand at, at the core, I didn’t love it. I didn’t enjoy drawing all day or having a business-first mindset or playing sports until I literally couldn’t stand. Forget whether it was my “life purpose” — I simply did not enjoy it.
This is the same reason why I love Mark’s quote from the beginning. There is no “right answer”. There is no single life purpose you need to “figure out”. You can change or switch your life purpose at any point in life, as many times as you wish.
And chances are, you already know what you love doing more than anything. You’re just scared to give it a real shot.
“People say you have to have a lot of passion for what you’re doing and it’s totally true. The reason is that it’s so hard that, if you don’t, any rational person would give up. So if you don’t love it, if you’re not having fun doing it, you’re going to give up.”— Steve Jobs
Choose your life purpose wisely, but don’t worry if you fuck up. You can always choose again.
7. It’s okay to be clueless
Finally, you may be reading all of this and think to yourself: “But Phil, I still don’t have a fucking clue what to do or where to start!”
And guess what? That’s totally fine. Hell, this article was supposed to have only “6 painful truths” but here we are at #7. Things change.
It’s okay to not know what you want. None of us, including me, know what the fuck we’re doing most of the time. We just make choices and hope for the best. Sometimes things work out, sometimes they don’t.
If all this talk about how you’re not special and everything is meaningless has gotten your depressed, remember — life is not just happiness.
But it’s also not just pain as well.
So stop stressing so much about “finding your life purpose”. Just keep living. Find what you enjoy doing and do more of it. Choose to take a risk and change your life. Or choose to stay the same and appreciate what you have.
In the words of the legendary Rick Sanchez:
No matter what you choose, you’re finally gonna chill the fuck out.
In the end, that’s all you were probably looking for anyway.
P.S. If you think this article is “just what you needed to hear”, you will also like Mind of Steel Handbook.