The top 10 mistakes people make when pursuing purpose
The idea of “purpose” has become almost mystical. People have a general sense they were born for something, but they don’t know what it is or how to manifest it.
Finding their purpose feels like a mystery. Living their purpose feels too hard and scary.
To demystify purpose and help you conquer these hurdles, consider the most common mistakes people make when trying to find and live their purpose:
1. Not trusting themselves
In his classic, Self-Reliance, Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote,
“A man should learn to detect and watch that gleam of light which flashes across his mind from within, more than the lustre of the firmament of bards and sages. Yet he dismisses without notice his thought, because it is his.”
We’re constantly looking for answers and solutions outside ourselves. We ask everyone what they think we should do except for ourselves. We think we’re not smart enough, not talented enough, not experienced enough, not whatever enough to make confident decisions for ourselves.
You are the expert on your purpose. Mentors and other people can guide, but ultimately, trusting yourself above everything else is the surest path the purpose.
You have all the answers and solutions inside yourself. Look inside and trust yourself.
Book recommendation: Self-Reliance by Ralph Waldo Emerson
2. Failing to see and address the underlying false belief that drives them to purpose in the first place
Because no one else can do what you do quite like you do it, the unspoken promise of purpose is that you’ll do something so valuable and important that the world will beat a path to your door.
The search for purpose, therefore, is ultimately a search to feel valuable and valued. People who feel valuable and valued don’t ask the question, “What is my purpose?”
If you’re asking that question, you don’t feel valuable and valued. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be asking it.
What you’re really searching for is the feeling that you are valuable. You want to know you are enough to your bones.
The universal false belief that drives people to purpose is, “I’m not enough.”
Every one of us has this gaping “not enough wound,” a hole in our souls that makes us feel fundamentally and constantly broken, inadequate, unworthy.
This “not enough wound” drives us to do things that aren’t aligned with our Authentic Purpose. We seek fame and fortune.
But the ego’s craving for “enoughness” is an insatiable, bottomless well. No accomplishment, achievement, praise, recognition, position, or status will ever satiate that desire.
The only way you can ever feel like you’re enough is to get in tune with your deepest, truest spiritual self and KNOW you are enough. Home is right here, right now.
Book recommendation: Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach
3. Being unaware of their talents, gifts, and what gets them in “flow”
For many people, it simply comes down to a basic lack of self-awareness. They simply don’t know what they’re good at, what makes them happy, what gets them in flow.
Every purpose-seeker must go on a quest for self-awareness. This means reading books, taking as many aptitude and personality tests as you can find, and exposing yourself to a wide variety of experiences.
Book recommendation: Finding Your Element: How to Discover Your Talents and Passions and Transform Your Life by Ken Robinson
4. Being too afraid and unwilling to experiment
The best way to discover who you are and what you love is to experiment with lots of things. You’re looking for the things that interest you and that you enjoy, and the things that don’t interest you and that you don’t enjoy.
If you don’t know what your purpose is, then do something — anything — and see where it leads and what you learn from it.
Book recommendation: What To Do When It’s Your Turn by Seth Godin
5. Waiting for God to tell them what to do
People believe that purpose is some pre-determined destiny written in the stars. So they sit around waiting for God to tell them what to do. If they don’t feel “inspired” by God, they don’t act.
The word “purpose” comes from the Old English “propose,” meaning forth, and “pose,” meaning to put. It is to put forth an intention. The Anglo-French purpos meant “intention, aim, goal.”
We keep asking God to tell us what to do. And His most common response is, “I’ve already given you everything you need. What do YOU propose to do with your gifts?”
Purpose isn’t a destiny we find. It’s an intention we create and pursue.
Book recommendation: A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose by Eckhart Tolle
6. Believing purpose is grand, conspicuous, world-changing
Purpose is you doing what you love in way that creates value for others. Period. If it makes you rich and famous, great. If it doesn’t, fame and fortune pale in comparison to doing the simple thing that you love.
Will living your purpose “change the world”? Sure. But that’s not the point. Purpose is found in the intrinsic joy of the thing, not in any external byproducts, results, or rewards.
There are thousands of teachers, for example, who will never receive much worldly praise or recognition, but who are engrossed in their purpose. Mothers rarely get the recognition they deserve, yet they fulfill the most honorable role of humanity.
Book recommendation: Let Your Life Speak: Finding the Voice of Vocation by Parker J. Palmer
7. Believing purpose is an ultimate destination
Thinking of purpose as a journey/destination makes purpose a pursuit. When you pursue purpose, you never catch it — it’s always just beyond your grasp.
The search for purpose is really the search for deep and abiding happiness. The only way to be happy is to live in the present moment. Thinking of purpose in terms of a journey and/or destination is fundamentally outside the present moment. It is fantasizing about the future.
All you have is now, this present moment. What is your purpose? What you are doing now. Until you change what you’re doing. Then, that becomes your purpose.
Think of purpose not like a mountain you climb, but as an endless river you flow with. It twists and bends from moment to moment and there is no ultimate destination.
Your purpose evolves as you evolve. The very basis of your life is change.
Live in the present moment. Savor each moment. This moment is your purpose, and it’s all you ever have. There is no “arriving.”
Book recommendation: The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle
8. Failing to focus on the most important things
As a purpose coach, I see this over and over again: People can’t get their purpose off the ground because they get easily distracted by trivial, tangential things.
They don’t buckle down and do the hard and serious work that will lead to real progress. They flit from one irrelevant detail to the next. They engage in busy work, but they’re rarely truly productive.
To truly live purpose requires laser focus. You must learn to identify the most important things, and then execute on them ruthlessly.
This requires the discipline of weekly “goal-getters.”
Book recommendation: The One Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Thing Behind Extraordinary Results by Gary Keller
9. Quitting too soon (not committing to mastery)
I’m sure you’ve heard the classic true story told by Napoleon Hill in Think and Grow Rich of the man who bought a gold mine, dug for years, then quit when he couldn’t find anything. He sold the mine to a man who analyzed the veins of the mine, and continued digging the shaft. He discovered gold literally three feet from where the first man had started.
This is a common occurrence with purpose — people don’t focus and hone their skills to achieve mastery. This is a minimum of a ten-year commitment to a craft.
You have to become an expert at something in order to live your purpose to the fullest.
Book recommendation: Mastery by Robert Greene
10. Not quitting soon enough
Many times, persevering is exactly the wrong thing to do. There are so many things that, no matter how much effort you give, are just never going to work.
There’s an art to learning when to quit and move on to something else. And this art can only be learned through experimentation. The more things you try, the more wisdom you acquire in this regard.
Book recommendation: The Dip: A Little Book that Teaches You When to Quit and When to Stick by Seth Godin