It’s possible to be achieving your goals; to be happy and successful in your career, but actually, unfulfilled. It’s also possible to be not achieving your goals; unhappy and unsuccessful in your career, yet fulfilled.
The difference depends on whether you are being authentic. That is, being true to who you really are.
Be true to Who you really are
If you are, and you have found meaning and purpose in your life, whatever adverse circumstances manifest on the outside as your life, you experience as bumps in the road. A road that is going somewhere and that you have chosen.
But if you’re not being true to who you really are, whatever manifests on the outside, however successful, will not be congruent with who you are inside. You may experience excitement; the trappings of success; looking good, but not fulfilment.
Now there’s being true to ‘yourself’ and being true to your ‘Self’ and it’s worth knowing the difference. One of them can lead to a life of outward success but inner disquiet; the other, outer disquiet, possibly, yet inner peace as you live your life on purpose and striving to achieve your vision.
It’s more than being true to your feelings
But “Know thyself and to thine own self be true.” is often mistaken to mean that you should be true to your feelings or know what you’re good at and do that. Aristotle seems to support this: “Where your talents and the needs of the world cross, there lies your vocation.”
But your feelings are ephemeral and subject to change and being true to them would render you fickle and unreliable – in your own eyes as well as others’.
Being true to what you’re good at - your talents - is seductive because it heralds a life of doing what comes easily to you and what you do well, and getting paid for it. But this strategy can leave you unfulfilled.
Imagine being bad at English but good at Maths, so choosing a career in Accountancy. As you announce this to friends, parents, and relatives, they all smile for in the eyes of the world you have a potentially ‘successful’ life ahead of you. You will have status, you’re good at numbers and you are likely to make money. And you do. You become successful, reach your goals, and get the house on the hill, yet feel that something is missing.
For when you chose your career, you sold out and responded to what your identity was good at, and to its strengths, rather than what You, your higher Self, are called to do with your life which, for you, might be hard to identify, and which might involve a lot more difficulty in application than deploying your maths. That is, it might be tough.
It’s about contributing to the greater good
Ultimately, however, through contributing to and serving the greater good, following your calling, even if difficult, will bring you deep satisfaction and fulfilment.
Frederick Buechner puts it this way: “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” He says nothing about your talents rather, that you identify what brings you joy and configure your life to do that.
In my experience, there is a distinction between going through your life playing to your strengths, and doing what you are called to do. If you want to experience ‘your deep gladness’ and be paid for it, rather than design your life around your strengths, identify what calls you and brings you joy, and then use your strengths in pursuit of that.
How do you identify your purpose, or calling? Viktor Frankl’s “Ask not what you want from life but what life wants from you.” gives you your context. I have used a combination of the following three methods to get at mine:
1. From Simon Sinek’s Find Your Why. Think through your life and identify about ten events that had a strong emotional impact on you. List these and relate at least five of them to a partner. The partner who, not being you, has perspective, identifies common themes. There will be one theme that stands out from the rest which will be your ‘Why’ and the others are likely to be your strengths. When I did this exercise, three incidents, seemingly innocuous, (so why did I remember them?) pointed at something: 1. A church minister saying to me when I was about 15, “You should be a minister.” 2. My uncle, a spiritual healer, saying to me when I was about 10, “You are always asking about this, you might be able to do it.” And then, 3. When I was attending the Landmark Worldwide Advanced Course and I witnessed a fellow participant being released from a life-long limiting belief he held unconsciously about himself, thinking to myself: “This is what my life is about.”
2. From Gary Keller’s The ONE Thing. List in sequence all of your employments to the present day including any that didn’t go as well as you’d hoped. For each job, identify an aspect of them that you loved. An easy way to do this is to divide a sheet of paper into three columns with the left column being the dates; the centre column being the job, and the right column being the aspect of the joy you loved. Finally, look down the right-hand column and identify themes. The strongest theme and the one that lights you up will be pointing you at your purpose. Personally, although fund management didn’t float my boat (not that I was necessarily aware of this at the time), I loved teaching portfolio construction at various institutions; loved teaching the juniors aspects of fund management and loved going into schools and talking about financial services.
3. From StevePavlina.com This, for me, was the simplest, most difficult, yet a very rewarding exercise. Give yourself some private, uninterrupted alone time. Sit down with paper and pen and answer the question: “What is the one true purpose of my life?” writing it down in a phrase, or at most, a sentence. Ponder it, consider it, contemplate it, and when you get a revised version, cross out your first response and write the revised version. Ponder it, consider it, contemplate it, and when you get a revised version, cross out the last response and write your revised version. Keep going until the one you write down brings tears to your eyes. Wow! What an exercise and one which gets you to the nub of who you are and why you exist. You should give yourself a good hour for this one, though you may not need it.
My own experience
In my own life I have bummed around, been an army officer, been involved in local politics, been a private client wealth manager running a team, none of which, ultimately, were it for me. Each of them involved teaching, leading, and coaching, which I loved however, and now I Teach Self-Mastery for people who lead.
My purpose (reason for being): To Teach Self-Mastery to Teach Self-Mastery; my mission (what you do that fulfils your purpose and you can get paid for): To Teach Self-Mastery to people who lead; my vision: All organisations led and staffed by conscious people who are free (of their minds’ limiting beliefs) to serve and contribute to the world.
These have each evolved and continue to evolve in the light of new insights. I now feel privileged to have a life where I get to pass on what’s been so beneficially passed to me.
When you are clear about your purpose, your life ceases to be about surviving life’s situations but rather about using them to achieve your purpose. They become just bumps on the road – a road that is going somewhere. And although my previous roles weren’t it for me, I use all those experiences now in pursuit of my purpose and mission.
Everything in the universe exists for a purpose. Your ultimate freedom is to choose yours.
By Christopher Jones-Warner
Recommended further reading:
Start with Why - Simon Sinek
Find Your Why - Simon Sinek
The ONE Thing - Gary Keller
Be Your Future Self Now - Dr Benjamin Hardy
The Big Leap - Dr Gay Hendricks
The Genius Zone - Dr Gay Hendricks
The Power of Intention - Dr Wayne Dyer
The Mystical Messiah - Alan Cohen
Unique Ability 2.0 - Catherine Nomura, Julia Waller, Shannon Waller
StevePavlina.com blog - ‘Why Does Purpose Matter?’ and more.