The sandbox of purpose
“So what’s your biggest fear about living your purpose?” I ask.
I’m guiding a coaching client through an exercise called “clear a path through the ego,” which helps people find and deal with ego blocks that keep them from living purpose.
He answers, “I really want people to think I’m impressive and amazing and life-changing and super-super-helpful to them in unique ways. My business ideas wouldn’t fulfill that, so I don’t build them.
“I’m afraid of what people will think — that I’ll just be normal or not that impressive. That people won’t care, won’t see me as amazing, like a unique little snowflake that creates miracles.
“Worst case scenario: I put something out and people give negative comments, or just fundamentally I feel like I’m not really helping people or that people don’t really value what I’m doing that much.”
“So state that as a core constraint,” I say.
He sums up: “I will only do the business if I can see that it is really helping people, really impressing them, really making them happy. I’ll stop if it doesn’t appear to really do that or if I get tons of negative comments and feedback.”
He feels really stuck and frustrated, like something is fundamentally wrong with him because he can’t figure out the core problem.
I say, “This is actually really simple. What it comes down to is that you’re wanting purpose to fill the ‘not enough’ hole in your soul.
“When you say you want to be ‘super helpful,’ to people, the reality is that you don’t really care about them. What you really want is for them to think you’re amazing. It has nothing to do with them, and everything to do with you.
“You want your purpose to make you feel like you’re enough, once and for all. This is classic ‘not enough wound’ self-sabotage.
“And I’m not saying that’s a bad thing — I just want you to have clarity.
“Authentic Purpose isn’t about ‘changing the world.’ In fact, if you set out on a venture in order to ‘change the world,’ I can guarantee you’re not living Authentic Purpose. You’re living from ego-purpose. You don’t actually care about changing the world — you care about the world seeing you as amazing.
“Authentic Purpose comes down to simply this: What makes you truly, deeply engaged, happy, and ‘in flow’?
“The best visual image I can think to give you is this: Purpose is a kid playing in a sandbox.
“Watch a kid playing in a sandbox. See how engaged he is. No sense of time. No destination he’s trying to get to. Nothing to prove to anyone. No, ‘I’ll be happy when this castle is complete’ — the act of building the castle is the joy in and of itself. He’s just thoroughly engrossed in his play, with no self-consciousness whatsoever.
“That’s where you want to be with your purpose: a kid playing in a sandbox. And if people pay you to play in a sandbox, that’s just a bonus.
“It comes down to this: I can tell if you’re living Authentic Purpose or not based on one simple litmus test: Are you trying to ‘be somebody’?
“Because when we try to ‘be somebody,’ it means we’re acting from ‘not enoughness,’ and that’s when everything goes wrong.
“We accept the wrong opportunities because they feed our ego. We don’t follow the right paths because they don’t seem important, conspicuous, or ‘sexy’ — the ego craves the limelight.
“We take the wrong risks because of the payoff to ego, such as praise, status, etc. Or we don’t take the right risks because of the threat to ego.
“We compromise our values and standards. We go into debt. We jump from one opportunity to the next instead of sticking through with the right opportunity.
“We sacrifice true freedom for false security. We compare ourselves to everyone else, we judge others, we compete with each other.
“So stop trying to be somebody. Stop trying to be important — you’re already important, and there’s no accomplishment, achievement, or any amount of money that can make you feel that way. Stop trying to change the world.
“Just be that kid playing in the sandbox. There’s no ‘purpose hierarchy’ that says one purpose is more valuable than another. It’s just that different things make different people happy.
“And we create the most value for others when we’re in our element, at our happiest.
“LeBron James is a kid in a sandbox on the basketball court. J.K. Rowling is a kid in a sandbox while she writes. John Lennon was a kid in a sandbox while playing guitar and singing. Steve Jobs was a kid in a sandbox at Apple. Oprah Winfrey is a kid in a sandbox as a talk show host.
“Is playing basketball world-changing? Or writing stories? Or singing and entertaining?
“Not really. And yet, they totally are, right? We love watching great athletes play sports. We love reading stories. We love watching great entertainers. That’s deeply meaningful stuff — and yet all those people are just kids playing in a sandbox!
“And by the way, great humanitarians have also been just kids playing in a sandbox. Mother Teresa was a kid in a sandbox in the streets of Calcutta. Jessica Jackley was a kid playing in a sandbox when she built Kiva.
“I’ll leave you with this quote from Howard Thurman:
‘Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.’”