Climbing the REAL mountain of purpose
Over the past several months I’ve been quietly yet feverishly building something big and exciting behind the scenes. (To learn what it is, click here.)
It’s a complex project. There are tons of moving parts, so many little decisions that need to be made along the way. It integrates several software systems that I have to learn, which is not my strength.
And I’ll tell you, it has been incredibly difficult. I’m frustrated. I’m confused. I’m scared I’m not going to get it right. Above all, I’m just tired.
I’m tired of the endless struggle of entrepreneurship.
I’m tired of making decisions.
I’m tired of making critical mistakes time and time again.
I’m tired of my weaknesses.
I’m tired of my emotional baggage constantly holding me hostage.
I’m tired of my blind spots.
I’m tired of my ceilings of limitations.
Can you relate?
Do you ever get sick of trying to figure things out? Do you ever feel aggravated by your lack of progress? Does it sometimes seem like you’re going to be stuck forever?
This purpose thing is a big deal. It’s hard. It’s a lifelong struggle. We feel weak and inadequate more often than not. We constantly question ourselves. We usually feel lonely. It shoves us out of our comfort zone. It forces us to confront and wrestle with our demons.
And it’s very easy to give up.
But there’s a secret to never giving up on climbing our mountain of purpose. It’s to understand this: The real mountain we’re always climbing is never outside of us, but rather always inside of us.
Purpose, properly understood, is not really about growing in a career, creating a product, or building a business. It’s not about creating a following. It’s not about stopping injustice or righting societal wrongs.
Purpose is less about what you accomplish in the world and more about who you become in the process. It’s less about you building your purpose and more about your purpose building you.
THIS is why purpose matters. Yes, the suffering that we could alleviate by living our purpose matters, too. But our ability to alleviate suffering is directly proportional to our level of consciousness. To fully live our purpose, our primary focus must be on raising our own consciousness and developing ourselves, rather than fixing anything out in the world.
Purpose is not an outward journey of worldly achievement. It is an inward journey of personal development.
Living purpose matters not because of anything you do in the world, but because of who you become by doing it.
A the famous mountaineer Sir Edmund Hillary put it,
”It is not the mountains we conquer, but ourselves.”
The terrifying mountain inside us
Understanding this, we see the real mountain we’re climbing when we choose into purpose. That mountain is ourself. More specifically, it is our:
- Greatest fears (failure, rejection, not fitting in, etc.)
- Deepest wounds (the deep, dark, primal childhood stuff that terrifies us to face)
- Shame, rage, aggression, jealousy, pride, greed, lust, etc.
- False and limiting beliefs about ourselves and others
- Emotional triggers (reacting in self-limiting ways out of pain, fear, defensiveness)
- Blind spots
This stuff is no fun to deal with, this purpose mountain is no picnic to climb. To reach the top, it will take everything we have to give. It will stretch us to our breaking point. It will punish us beyond what we believe we’re capable of enduring.
But here’s the thing: It’s much easier to climb the mountain of purpose when we understand the real mountain we have to climb.
Simply seeing the real mountain we’re climbing reveals that it’s not actually as big and scary as we thought.
Yes, the inner work is scary. But having clarity that that is our primary work to do makes it seem much more doable than climbing the mountains of unknowns we build in our mind (“I don’t know how to build a website/create a product/sell/build a business/connect with the right people/speak in public,” etc.).
All that external business/career stuff? We figure that out as we go. The inner work gives us the vision, strength, and guidance we need to navigate the outer journey.
When we see this bigger picture, the outer frustrations are diminished in context. We shift from seeing them as annoying obstacles to seeing them as valuable opportunities. Then, instead of getting frustrated by them, we open our heart to them and explore what they have to teach us.
(In my case, for example, I see that the problem is not software glitches, but rather my impatience and attachment to results. If I had more patience and if I were not attached to results, software glitches would not be a problem at all — they would just be a part of the journey. THAT’S the problem I have to fix, not the software glitches.)
Inner traits and disciplines (grit, determination, tenacity, resourcefulness, stillness, presence, equanimity) matter far more to our long-term success than developed skills and learned behaviors (persuasion, business models, online marketing, public speaking accounting).
Knowing how to face the feeling of rejection is infinitely more important than knowing how to structure a business offer. Cultivating the ability to get up and start again each time we fail matters far more than our ability to market and sell. Mastering the ability to stay mindful and present in the midst of chaos serves us far more than being a master of building an online following.
When we master our inside work, our outside results are just a matter of time.
The real reason why people quit climbing
Knowing the real mountain of purpose is inside ourselves, we now know the real reason why people quit climbing it.
We don’t quit because of flawed business models, poor marketing strategies, unforeseen market shifts, brutal competition, or anything else outside ourselves.
We quit because we’re trying to escape the distressing feelings created by external circumstances (fear, confusion, frustration, shame, loneliness, rejection, feeling stupid/incapable, feeling weak and helpless, etc.)
When we quit, we’re never trying to escape something outside of ourselves; it’s always inside of ourselves.
And understanding this is the secret to never quitting the pursuit of our purpose. It’s a simple shift in clarity that makes a big difference.
Yes, we have to deal with external circumstances. We must take practical action and make daily decisions. But as we do so, we can realize that the only reason any of it matters is for the growth and development of our soul.
And in this realization, we stop seeing external circumstances as the cause of any problem. Instead, we see that any distress we experience has nothing to do with anything going on outside of ourselves. Rather, it’s revealing something going on inside ourselves.
As I write this, I realize that this past week has been tough, not because of the glitches I struggled with, but rather because of the feelings of weakness, inadequacy, and fear I experienced as a result.
And that clarity is extremely helpful because now I can actually solve the problem.
If I believe the problem is a software glitch, then there’s no possibly way to ever escape that problem — because there will always be software glitches.
But seeing that I’m really trying to escape the feelings, I know what must be done — I must simply see that there never was a problem. Like all feelings, feeling weak and helpless is just a temporary experience that comes and goes.
Understanding this, I now have nothing to escape. And when I have nothing to escape, I have no reason to quit. And when I have no reason to quit, the fulfillment of my purpose is guaranteed — it’s just a matter of time.
See you on the trail up the mountain?