How To Find A Life Purpose That Will Put A Dent In The Universe

In my 33 years of working life, I’ve sought jobs that made a difference. This post from Stubblebine describes how he found to do that. It took him 32 years to discover it .

A simple three-step method that anyone can use to build the life they want, have fun and make a giant impact on the world.

“Do you want to sell sugar water for the rest of your life, or do you want to come with me and change the world?” ~ noted dent-maker Steve Jobs

This question of life purpose frustrates a lot of people.Coaches call it the hardest goal to coach for.Purpose sounds like a great thing to have, but nobody knows where to get it.

One way to find your life purpose is to be born lucky.I had lunch with one of those people recently.She is a world-famous chef and Food Network host. She told me she knew she wanted to be a chef from the time she was 12. So all of her life choices were directed toward cooking.She just knew. That’s the born lucky method.
This chef compared her innate sense of purpose to her children who were struggling to pick a college major.Her children didn’t know what they wanted to do with their lives, so all the available majors looked both equally good and equally bad at the same time.
The problem with not having a purpose is that even if you make a choice to go in one direction, you won’t have any way to know if it was the right choice.So you end up doubting yourself.If this feels familiar, then this post is for you.
 So, how do you find your purpose if you don’t already know it?The answer is experience.You certainly won’t find your purpose while sitting on the sofa.
It took me decades to find a life purpose.But I didn’t know there was a system, so my journey took a lot longer than it should have.In high school, I fell in love with programming. You could call that lucky. At least it led to a series of jobs. But those jobs were each successively unsatisfying.
Falling in love with programming was one leg of purpose — what format will your work take?When I graduated college with a computer science degree I took the highest paying job I could find.That job was to do trivial web work for a large corporation (MasterCard).It was easy to see that this wasn’t my life purpose because the work wasn’t challenging. I knew I loved programming, so I couldn’t stomach not being challenged.
After MasterCard, I moved to the most interesting place that would hire me. That was a media company focused on tech called O’Reilly.During this time (which was before Stack Overflow), all programmers kept a small bookshelf of O’Reilly books on their desk.Practically everyone who mattered in tech came through the O’Reilly community as either a writer or a speaker.But O’Reilly was at core a book company and everyone interesting seemed to be working for elite software companies.
So I left to work for a startup, Odeo. This was finally what I’d consider hard work. We were early adopters of emerging technologies and practices (Rails/Agile) so it felt like I was finally on the cutting edge.But aside from one side project, Odeo didn’t work.And that was frustrating for me because I started to look back on all my other work. A lot of it never launched or launched and then was abandoned or launched and nobody used it.Odeo started to clue me in to the second leg of purpose — what result do you want to see?

“We’re here to put a dent in the universe.” ~ Steve Jobs nailed it.

I need to see impact. You might need money or craftsmanship. However you define it — there’s an ideal result that you’re looking for from your purpose.So I left to start my own company.I was completely unprepared.All I knew how to do was write code and manage other people who could write code. I had zero exposure to product design, marketing, sales or support.

But I started a company anyway (CrowdVine).I worked on that company for four years. The first three years were grim. It’s hard to bootstrap a company, and you don’t ever have enough money or resources.My mantra during that phase was, “Don’t fail.”
In year four, after many pivots, we finally got profitable. And with profitability came leisure — nearly all of the work was done by people I had hired.A lot of people would have been happy with that outcome. I hated it.I don’t actually like leisure. That’s the flip side of the earlier lesson about impact. I’m just wired to need to be working on something with a purpose.The company’s customers were conferences. I like, but don’t love conferences. And I couldn’t see myself becoming the world’s expert in running conferences.
So I realized the third leg was passion: what topic are you passionate about?
That led to reflection and eventually to I was 32 years old when I started working on projects in the human performance space.I look back and see that I’ve always been interested in human performance.That’s why I watch sports. That’s why I follow tech and business news. That’s even why I watch shows like Project Runway.It’s also how I approach work— always trying to emulate the habits of elite programmers.All three pieces just fit: passion, format, and result.But it’s a personal fit and it took me years of experience to find it.
So you can either be like my friend, the chef, who was born knowing.Or you can be like me, drifting through life until I had found all the pieces.

The steps are pretty easy.What is your life purpose? That’s too big of a question.However, the individual pieces are small enough for you to answer today.

#1. Passion.

What interests you?Look for a theme that runs through a large part of your life.I made an inventory of all hobbies and genres of media consumption. Human performance ran through almost every interest from Dungeons and Dragons to Athletics to Programming.Now, passion may be even too strong of a word. Many people have noted that mastery increases passion. Just start by finding an interest that’s been consistent for more than ten years.If you can just find an authentic interest and work on it, odds are that you will develop deep passion.

#2. Result

What is the end game? Is it money to support your family? Is it to make beautiful things? Is it to put a dent in the universe and become a legendary contributor to humanity?There isn’t a universal answer — you have to find out for yourself.For me, it’s positive impact. I can’t just make money. I need to know that the world is better for my work.

#3. Format

What type of work do you like?For me, it’s technology.For you it may be writing or talking to people or organizing.

That’s it. Just three easy steps.The one thing I’d highlight though is that purpose is so innate that you do need to experiment.You won’t know for sure unless you experience it. Purpose is not an academic exercise.So, just to be clear because I say all the time that is my life’s work., it took me 32 years to discover my life purpose:Use technology to push the boundaries of human performance.

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