Growing Our Human Potential

Living Life “On Purpose” Part 1

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Let’s begin with a quote that was a huge inspiration for developing my own life’s purpose.

This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap; the being a force of Nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy. ― George Bernard Shaw

This captures the essence of what I want my life to be about, what I would refer to as a “life purpose”. This led to a major decision in my thirties when I decided to hang up my corporate title and role for sake of a backpack and a mission to volunteer around the world. A lot went into this decision. You can view a recording of a presentation I delivered on this experience (click here). Yes, I was fortunate to be able to leave a job, but I believe that if we allow ourselves to be guided with respect to our life, that a “larger force” will help pave the way.

What was key for me at this time was my mentor, who was dealing with cancer, worked with me to understand what I wanted out of life. I was clueless and had simply adopted what society, my parents, and others told me what was important. During this time a friend called me and asked if I wanted to take advantage of significant flight discounts to travel to Europe. I did and returned knowing that I HAD to see and experience more of the world, in order to understand what life was all about. When I stood back I was able to see how life guided me, and once I felt the inspiration, opportunities developed.

The trick is to be ready, willing and able. My life changed as a result of my adventure which was the foundation for understanding key elements of my own life’s purpose. Once again, another quote hugely resonated with me as it related to understanding my life’s purpose at that time.

Often I feel I go to some distant region of the world to be reminded of who I really am. There is no mystery about why this should be so. Stripped of your ordinary surroundings, your friends, your daily routines, your refrigerator full of your food, your closet full of your clothes — with all this taken away, you are forced into direct experience. Such direct experience inevitably makes you aware of who it is that is having the experience. That’s not always comfortable, but it is always invigorating.

Michael Crichton – “Travels”

My life’s purpose would change over time, however, core elements of this vision would remain. For example, once I returned from my travels and volunteering, I realized that I wanted to settle down and raise a family. It was on the day that my son was born, and I held him in my arms, that my life’s purpose changed. I had done a lot personal work to overcome the hellish experience associated with my own family of origin. It was  time to break the cycle of dysfunctional families that characterized several prior generations in my family. I would provide love and support for my children which became my life purpose. 

Living life on purpose is not just about having a life’s purpose. It is also about learning to live each moment on purpose. Everything we do has a purpose, a reason. This is a powerful way of understanding your motivation to act/behave in certain ways. This type of purpose I would refer to as “conscious living” Conscious living is the ability to step back at any moment and answer the question why am I doing this so to understand your true intention.  This requires your ability to be completely honest with yourself which is hard to do. This requires a willingness to take responsibility for your own life and actions while letting go of our tendency to be the victim by “complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.” Let me share a couple of examples.

I was an avid volunteer in my late twenties and thirties. I volunteered as an EMT on a volunteer ambulance service, as a counselor in a children’s oncology camp, in hospice care, and more. When I was asked at one point why I volunteered, I quickly responded saying, “to help others.” But my response did not satisfy me. I wanted to understand what my motivation really was. I am a huge fan of counseling, particularly once I found a great counselor that understand me for who I was. I often used these sessions to delve into my “self-discovery events”. Just like discovering the root cause of a problem, the best way to understand your motivation is to keep asking the question “Why?” after each statement made.

My first response to why I volunteered was to help others. My counselor asked me why. It took a few rounds of this, along with some reflection, to realize that my true motivation was based on two key factors. The first was realizing a common denominator of my volunteer activies was death and dying. Since my Mom had died when I was fourteen, I was fearful of death. These volunteer activities put me close to death where I would grapple with the key questions that came from this (e.g. “Why do we die?” and, “What is after death?”). This led to a whole new aspect of my growth. I wrote a number of posts regarding what I had learned.

The second factor was that I wanted to be happy, and that volunteering made me happy. It was while reading a book on Mother Teresa that I realized that some of us are drawn to helping others because it makes us feel good. This is characterized by my closing paragraph in my book, Discovering Michael: An Inspriational Guide to Personal Growth and Self-Discovery.

The benefit of personal growth and self-discovery is that we become better human beings with the strength to endure and carry on, and then we may experience something magical when we begin
to reach out to others. We discover a feeling that is so rewarding and fulfilling: that fact that we can make a difference. Here is to your willingness to begin with making a difference with yourself!

It created a feeling of joy to help others that I realized no other event or experience could come close to! This also helped me to realize that my own definition of happiness had to include helping others which is one of the key charactertistics of my life’s purpose. This was also fundamental to my career choice as an educator and leader. It was all about helping others grow and being an inspiration to others who were struggling. Conscious living helped me to really understand myself along with providing the appropriate checks and balances to ensure that I was keeping to my purpose. 

I used this same process to look at myself in the mirror relating to “negative” feelings or actions I made in order to understand the motivation behind these. At one point I found myself very frustrated that I did not receive the promotion I was seeking. Very quickly I assumed the victim role and blamed the system and others for not giving me the promotion. Feeling the victim is very easy to do. It feels better to blame others for our “grievances and ailments” than it is to take a rational perspective to the situation. I chose the higher road and decided to look within. 

As I spoke about my feelings related to not receiving the promotion, I began to listen to what I was saying. A common response was, “I deserved this.” As I reflected on this, I realized that this related to one of my core issues in life which related to a feeling of unworthiness. Despite years of working on this in counseling, these core issues can rear their ugly head throughout our life. The key in these cases is to be conscious or aware of these tendencies so to own them and then deal with them in a healthy manner. The words that my father uttered repeatedly, that “I will never amount to anything” continue to challenge me in this life.

Once I realized this, I would dust off my affirmations and recite them to myself along with setting aside my negative emotions. It was at this point that I could more rationally seek an understanding of why I was not chosen. The reason provided actually made sense since the person chosen was better qualified. I used this experience to create my own individual development plan to develop these competencies which would later result in receiving a promotion!

Returning to our life’s purpose, this has a deeper context. The word “purpose” in this case would require that we first define what “happiness,” “success,” and, “motivation” means uniquely to each of us. This is hard to do since we are bombarded in our lives with what we SHOULD do to be happy. Growing up, the definition of success meant to get a college education followed by a job with a big company, get married, raise children, live in a nice house, and live happily ever after. Well, it was not long before I realized that even with all of these things, people were still stressed and unhappy. In my case I realized that I was continually trying to live up to other’s expectations of me, rather than what I expected of myself! First I had to understand what I expected of myself based on what I wanted in my life.

Let’s first put some definition to some key words related to this conversation.

A personal vision is a compilation of words, visuals and statements that describe who and what we want to be in this life. For example, in my case the words that describe my personal vision are: “To Love, Share, Teach and Heal through God’s Love In My Heart. To Be Enlightened.” It was as the expression states, “you know it when you see it.” This represented the essence of my being, who I am, and would be the guiding light to whatever I chose to do with my life. Being this person would result in me feeling great about me being me. I try to be this person all of the time, no matter what the circumstances. An example of this was the years working in a manufacturing setting. For many this was a monotonous job and routine. For me, it was an opportunity to live up to my personal vision. How you ask?

Every day when I arrived I spent a few minutes in the car to prepare myself mentally for the day, letting go of whatever problems I had at home or wherever. My goal was to enter the facility focusing on the employees and my team members. Once I entered the facility, I made it a point to smile and say hi to everyone, taking time to connect and genuinely hear their responses to how they were doing. I would stop and listen to them if they wanted to talk, and show great empathy. I would make it a point to follow up with them if needed. Years later, upon receiving that “great promotion” I referred to above, I had a going away party in the cafeteria. So many employees came up to me and shared their version of the appreciation they felt that I would connect with them as a person rather than as an “operator.” I was in tears as I heard this over and over, realizing that it was not only the stellar job I did, but moreso how I went about my work which included caring about my fellow employees! This is how in part, I was living on purpose! 

Over the years I received notes from these employees. Below are a couple of examples. They not only felt awesome to receive, but also validated that I was living my life on purpose! 

In the years that we worked together at Bose, I always knew there was something very special about you. I’m not talking about talent, exceptional expertise in your area, or your ability to put together excellent training. I see now what that was. It was your heart. That, my friend, is the best quality about you. You have lived a full life – excelling professionally and always caring more for others than for yourself. You have, and continue to, bless others.

It’s not often we meet people in both our professional and personal lives that have truly gone deep to find their inner selves. You would be one of those people, and for that, you should be very proud for both the courage, perseverance and results.

When you understand your purpose overall and apply it, you feel as if you are living with a sense of purpose that helps to override the tough and challenging times. Validations such as the ones above come along periodically and help you to feel on top of the world. It is my conclusion that there are no feelings better than loving someone unconditionally and helping others in a genuine and caring way. Further validations from my volunteer hospice work, came from those who were on their death bed, and reminded me each day that it was these efforts that had the most meaning as they reflected on the worth and value of their life. What we think is important during life  (e.g. money, status, ego, materialism) does not even rank in their reflections. They were only a means to the end, not the end itself. (see my Post, Your Final Performance Appraisal).  

Part 2 will utilize my own story to share the evolution of creating my life’s purpose. 

About Michael

Michael is an award winning author, speaker, facilitator and coach on the topics of Career Coaching, Leadership, Personal Growth & Self-Discovery. Check out “Discovering Michael: An Inspirational Guide to Personal Growth & Self-Discovery” You can also view my latest development book on Leadership, “Leadership From The Inside Out: Building Your Leadership Foundation” which utilizes the concepts covered in this Framework to develop great leaders. Visit my website for more information including links to my YouTube Channel, “The Ripple Effect”, Podcasts and more. You can contact Michael at

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