Five keys for crossing the desert of purpose

by | April 30, 2018

In my last article I gave you an overview of the hero’s journey, which is an archetype for finding and living purpose.

The aspiring hero receives a call. She accepts it and commits. Eventually, she hits the desert — the long and lonely slog of commitment, hard work, and sacrifice before the ultimate payoff. This is where most people quit pursuing their purpose.

Here are the keys for crossing the desert of purpose and fulfilling your personal hero’s journey:

Key #1: Learn when to quit, and quit early

First, understand that quitting is not necessarily a bad thing — and in many cases is the exact right thing to do. In fact, learning when to quit is one of the most important purpose skills you can learn.

More on that in this article, as well as Seth Godin’s fantastic book, The Dip: A Little Book that Teaches You When to Quit and When to Stick.

Key #2: Experiment and create mini-wins

I coach a woman who has invested $50,000 in building a coaching business and hasn’t earned much money at all so far. In the middle of her desert, she’s justifiably discouraged.

In situations like this, all you can do is experiment. Try new things — as much as you can do within your budget. Get creative. Claw your way to progress. Do whatever you can to create mini-wins, no matter how seemingly insignificant. Celebrate your progress to keep your spirits up.

What you’re looking for here isn’t “success,” per se, but simply little breakthroughs that help you see things in a new light and carry you to the next level. Your ultimate success will not come from one big break, but rather a series of small breaks that compound into dramatic progress over time.

Key #3: Lean on mentors

Few things will make a greater difference in your purpose journey than finding and submitting to the right mentors.

Mentors are guides and pathfinders. They know the way because they have been where you want to go. You still have to do the work, but they can keep you on the right path. Most importantly, they can point out blind spots and pitfalls, thus saving you time, money, effort, and heartache.

Nothing has made more of a difference in my life than my mentors. I have invested over $200,000 on mentors and coaches. I always have a coach or mentor, and I always search out the best mentors.

There’s simply no better way to discover shortcuts, save time, money, and frustration, and accelerate your progress. The fastest, easiest, least painful way to get where you want to go is to be guided by someone who has already been there.

You can’t fully live your purpose without engaging with mentors. It’s impossible. Find anyone living their purpose and I guarantee they had a mentor.

Oprah Winfrey was mentored by author and poet Maya Angelou.
Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg was mentored by Steve Jobs.
Singer-songwriter Bob Dylan was mentored by musician Woody Guthrie.
Mother Teresa was mentored by Father Michael van der Peet.
To launch Virgin Atlantic, Richard Branson was mentored by British airline entrepreneur Sir Freddie Laker.

The old adage, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear,” is true here. You attract the right mentors to you based on your commitment. So commit and keep moving forward, and the right mentors will appear on your path.

But you also must be willing to submit to the right mentor when you find him or her. More on that in this article.

Key #4: Find oases in the desert

Finding your oases really comes down to conscious and consistent self-care. This can be as simple as taking regular time for rest and relaxation. It can be daily meditation to calm your mind.

The best oases that I know of are seminars and events that rejuvenate you, teach you new principles, introduce you to new people.

Another tip is to create a standard morning routine that builds your knowledge, hones your skills, and rejuvenates your energy. This can include reading, meditation or other spiritual practices, exercise, etc.

Key #5: Remember it’s all just a game

In all your struggles and striving, fumbling and bumbling, don’t forget to see the bigger picture: It’s all just a game and it’s all just for fun.

Yes, what makes for a fun game is playing it seriously. Still, in a cosmic sense, none of it really matters except that you find happiness in this life and do what you can to alleviate the suffering of others.

It doesn’t matter if you invest thousands of dollars and lose it all and never regain it. It doesn’t matter if you never make very much money. Money is just an idea in our heads anyway.

It doesn’t matter if you start something and it fails. It’s all just about your personal growth anyway.

It doesn’t matter whether or not you “win” the game as defined by traditional measures of “success.” It only matters that you play the game to the best of your ability — because the game of purpose is what creates human meaning, and in living a life of meaning we discover peace, happiness, and fulfillment.

You know you’re living your purpose when you know you’re playing the game you love to play, regardless of whether your win or lose.

We get discouraged in the desert when we get attached to results or expectations. But seeing the bigger picture of the game helps us release those attachments and simply enjoy the journey.

When we do what we love long enough and in a way that creates value for other people, success is inevitable.

(For more tools to cross your purpose desert, click here to download my free toolkit now.)

Three types of challenges in the desert

What compounds the difficulty of the desert is that while you’re in it, you will encounter three predictable types of challenges: tests, traps, and trials.

Tests are external challenges. They are the natural obstacles we encounter when trying to accomplish anything significant — running out of money, getting sued, natural disasters, etc.

Traps are internal weaknesses — a lack of discipline, pride, envy, etc. Traps are particularly challenging when they are blind spots we don’t see. The good news is that, if we stay committed, the process naturally reveals our blind spots.

Trials can be external or internal challenges that usually cannot be overcome, but must simply be endured. This could be a serious illness or other health issue, it could be someone close to you dying, or perhaps some sort of accident.

Here are some tips for overcoming tests, traps, and trials.

The tip for tests is simply to expect them.

The level, depth, and intensity of the test depends on the size of the goal. The bigger your goal, the more opposition you can expect. This advice is particularly important for idealists, who often expect that, because they’re on a noble task, their efforts should be blessed. But reality doesn’t work this way.

To overcome traps, or our internal weaknesses, the tip is to recontextualize them from personal weaknesses into external temptations.

If you internalize traps as personal weaknesses, they feel like a part of you over which you have no control. It’s just who you are.

When you see traps as temptations, you externalize them and turn them from traps into tests. This gives you power to overcome them because you no longer see them as something impossible to control.

To overcome trials, the first key is to consciously choose gratitude. No matter how deep and dark a trial is, we can always find reasons to be grateful.

And secondly, find all the positive lessons you’re learning as a result of your trial. Trials don’t have to be endured with pain and sorrow. You can choose to have a positive attitude in spite of them. A positive attitude doesn’t make them disappear, but it does make them much easier to endure.

Crossing the desert isn’t a lot of fun, but it’s incredibly rewarding — not because of what you accomplish, but because of who you become in the process.

(For more tools to cross your purpose desert, click here to download my free toolkit now.)


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