The “x factor” of life purpose
A team of scientists had been working for years to develop a life purpose machine.
Their idea was this: You step inside a chamber. A technician plays with the settings to give you exactly what you need in order to find and live your purpose to the fullest.
When you step out of the machine, you’re transformed forever. Whatever you were lacking before, you now have in spades. You’re able to conquer your obstacles, get paid to do what you love, create the life of your dreams.
Need more tenacity? The purpose machine rewires your brain to become the most tenacious son-of-a-gun on the planet.
Lacking in confidence? Push a few buttons and, voilà, you strut through life like a king.
Feeling undisciplined? The purpose machine turns you into a discipline machine.
After years of research and development, trial and error, there was one challenge they couldn’t figure out: the machine could only give people one attribute.
With impatient investors beating at their door, they had to take the machine to market as it was. Which meant they had to decide what one attribute to give people.
Since they couldn’t program the machine to personalize it for individual users, they had to determine which one attribute would have the greatest impact across the board for everyone.
They had to find the “x factor” of purpose, the ONE variable that would have the most significant impact on people’s ability to find and live their purpose.
The team debated for weeks. They consulted with psychologists, performance experts, and success gurus. They filled whiteboards with lists of common attributes of success: ambition, willpower, patience, integrity, passion, optimism, self-confidence, self-reliance, cooperation, gratitude, humility, responsibility, growth mindset, adaptability.
But they couldn’t come to an agreement. The best they could do was narrow down their list to twenty attributes.
With pressure mounting, they were desperate for an answer. Finally, one of their consultants suggested that they bring in a renowned purpose guru.
The guru was contacted, a meeting was arranged. The guru walked into the conference room and read all their notes on the whiteboards and their final list of twenty attributes.
After reading, he looked up and said, “No. None of these are right. You’re missing one that is more important than all of these put together.”
The team leader blurted out impatiently, “Okay, so what is it?”
“The x factor of purpose,” the guru declared, “is this: being comfortable with uncertainty. Study the lives of successful people and they all have the attributes you’ve listed. But the thing is, most unsuccessful people have most of these attributes as well. But they don’t have that x factor.”
He continued, “The number one thing that holds people back from living their purpose is that they only try things when they feel a sense of certainty. It’s why most people want secure jobs and few people are entrepreneurs.
“Purpose is an evolutionary process that can only unfold to the degree that you are willing to experiment and take risks. If you experiment long enough and consistently enough, you discover new insights and experience breakthroughs.
“Give people the ability to be comfortable in the face of uncertainty and they will experiment, try new things, take risks. And as they do so, their purpose will emerge.”
It’s just a parable, of course. But if it were true and I was the guru, that would be my answer.
As spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle says,
“When you become comfortable with uncertainty, infinite possibilities open up in your life. It means fear is no longer a dominant factor in what you do and no longer prevents you from taking action to initiate change. The Roman philosopher Tacitus rightly observed that ‘the desire for safety stands against every great and noble enterprise.’ If uncertainty is unacceptable to you, it turns into fear. If it is perfectly acceptable, it turns into increased alivenesss, alertness, and creativity.”
When I started my first business in 2004, I had no idea how to do it. But within three months, I was earning more money in my business part time than I was in my full-time job. I quit my job and I’ve never had one since.
When I first started publishing online, I had no idea how to build a website, promote a blog, or build a list. But within a couple years, I had an email list of over 5,000 subscribers.
When I started real estate investing in 2006, I had never done it before and had no idea how to do it. But I figured it out and eventually my wife and I did about twenty deals and made a lot of money.
When I started my coaching business in 2015, I had no idea how to do it and I was scared to death. Although I’ve coached hundreds of people and have made a lot of money doing it, I still don’t really know how to build a coaching business. I struggle with figuring it out every day.
But I know I will figure it out, as I’ve done with dozens of ventures. And I know this because of one factor — my secret sauce of success.
I’m not more talented or smarter than anyone. I don’t think I’m particularly courageous or tenacious. I constantly struggle with self-doubt.
The one thing I have going for me, above all else, is that I’m simply comfortable with uncertainty.
So if it’s true that comfortability with uncertainty is the x factor of purpose, the question is, how can we cultivate it?
The answer is simple: Recognize that certainty doesn’t even exist in the first place. It’s an illusion. Which means that chasing it is an insane quest to nowhere.
As Helen Keller put it,
“Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.”
But let’s go deeper: The truth isn’t that certainty doesn’t exist, but rather the opposite —
uncertainty doesn’t exist. The real illusion is uncertainty.
Just because we don’t know what will happen to us doesn’t mean we’re not taken care of, or that we should be afraid. Just because we may experience pain doesn’t mean that our ultimate safety isn’t assured.
Imagine that your child is standing on a ledge five feet above you. She is blindfolded and can’t see you, but you can see her. You tell her to leap and you will catch her. In her mind, the outcome is uncertain. But you know better.
Likewise, the universe is always there to catch us. Just because we don’t know the outcome of any path doesn’t mean it’s uncertain.
The universe exists for us to evolve and progress. Everything that happens to us is for our benefit. We’re always taken care of. We never have any reason to be afraid. Our ultimate safety is never in question.
Which means this: Being comfortable with uncertainty is simply having faith. Faith that no matter what happens, no matter how much pain we have to endure, no matter how many times we fail, that all of it is ultimately for our benefit.
The ultimate end of the purpose journey — our growth and development — is never uncertain. We simply have to trust. And when we learn to trust, a whole new world of adventure opens up to us…