Can Someone Help Me Live Out My Purpose, Please?
Tips for living it out once you've found it. (Or, even if you're still finding it.)
“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.”
- Howard Thurman
Last week, we talked about finding our purpose. This week, let’s see what we can do with what we’ve found. Some key tips are to stay curious, know when to say no, and know when to say yes.
Once you’ve identified the core purpose of your life, the ways to spend your time which bring you the most fulfillment while adding the most value to those around you, it’s critical to relentlessly pursue that purpose. Especially for those of us who are students, we have so much to learn about what there is to do in the world; there are entire career paths we haven’t even heard of, simply because we haven’t had time to look for them. Seek out newsletters, podcasts, authors which align with your purpose (hence why I spend a lot of my time reading emails about nerdy agriculture things, listening to podcasts on Stoic philosophy, and studying Bible teachers) and learn more about how you can apply those ideas to your daily life. Don’t get caught up in the trap of failing to focus because you think you have to learn it all, though (it’s a trap I fall into, and often). Instead, focus your curiosity on a few areas at a time and be acutely aware of opportunity cost. See the next point for more on that.
As mentioned a few times before in this newsletter, everything we say “yes” to means saying “no” to something else. Be very cautious about the new roles and tasks you take on, especially if you’re saying yes out of guilt. This is a difficult skill to learn, but trust me—as a recovering “yes” addict—it’s possible. Last semester, I was asked to be on a search committee for a new administrator at my university. I had less than a day to decide. Had this happened a year prior, I would have immediately said “yes” because I felt like I had to. Instead, I said “let me think about it.” I went home, looked over my calendar for the next several months, and thought about what would have to come off my plate in order to add the search committee to it: I’d either give less than my best to my other extracurriculars, or I’d have to sacrifice my health by sleeping less and skipping the gym. It’s not looking like a good idea to say “yes,” but I have one more thing to consider: what is the potential value I could add to the committee? Based on what I knew about the process, it didn’t appear to have a lot of value-adding potential for someone in my position. Beyond that, it would likely be more valuable to someone else. (Here is where I noticed a selfish angle to my tendency to say “yes” to opportunities: more times than I’d like to admit, I arrogantly assumed I was the best person for the job, or that I deserved it. It’s one thing to be aware of your own strengths and what roles suit you best; it’s another to assume because you were asked first that you’re superior. Yet again, sometimes saying “yes” is actually a selfish move.) All these things considered, I politely said no.
If you want to level up beyond saying “I’m sorry, I won’t be able to commit to that right now,” try not apologizing for saying “no.” This doesn’t mean behaving rudely or with arrogance; it’s as simple as saying “Thanks for thinking of me, but I won’t be able to commit to that right now.” I’m still pretty bad at this one, but after reading about it in a Ryan Holiday book the other day, I’m committed to learning to say “no” politely, but confidently.
All this talk about saying no can feel negative, but here’s the fun part: every time we say “no” somewhere, we’re saying a better “yes” somewhere else. “Yes” to a new opportunity within our purpose, “yes” to something we’re already doing and can do better, or “yes” to more sleep and better health. Did you find a cool conference to go to from your curious exploration of an area of interest? Go for it! Did someone ask you to lead a project because they know you love bringing people together to achieve a goal? You’ll have the bandwidth to say yes because you said no to ten little things that don’t matter anyway. Interested in training for a 5K or trying out a powerlifting meet? Go for it. Living out our purpose can be challenging, but it can also be a lot of fun once we learn to weed out the nonessentials and have time and energy for what makes us come alive.
I’ve got so much more to learn about my purpose and how to live it out, and I’m looking forward to it. Come to think of it, I consider “finding my purpose” to be part of my purpose; I look at decisions through several lenses, and one of them is “will this give me a chance to identify more of what I’m meant to do with my life?” It’s a cool way to live life, pursuing a deeper knowledge of who I was created to be. Try it out with me, will you?
Before you go
The idea of saying a better “yes” is heavily influenced by a Lysa TerKeurst book I read the year after I graduated high school. You can buy The Best Yes here.
If you have interests similar to mine (agriculture, philosophy, culture and politics, leadership, and faith), I’ve got some book, podcast, and newsletter recommendations. I’m working on a future post to round up some of the highlights from the last year but don’t hesitate to shoot @miriamrosah a DM on Twitter or Instagram for some personalized suggestions.