Evolving from Sense of Purpose to Presence: Savoring the “Now” More

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Evolving from Sense of Purpose to Presence: Savoring the "Now" More

I’ve always thought that an essential part of life included finding a sense of purpose. After all, if you didn’t add anything worthwhile to the world, was your life just a waste of time?

So that’s always been something I’ve had in the back of my mind and it certainly became a little more in the forefront of my thoughts once I retired early at the end of 2018.

Like most things though, I got wrapped up in our daily life and sometimes finding that sense of purpose got pushed aside repeatedly. I will say that selling everything you own and moving to a foreign country as a new adventure for a few years does tend to keep you pretty occupied.

But once we moved back to the U.S. last summer, all of those thoughts came rushing back. What are you doing with your life? Shouldn’t you be doing something for the greater good? Stop wasting time with the little things when there is so much more you could be doing for the world!

It hit me like a ton of bricks. I was lost, depressed, and without any calling at all in my mind. I wasn’t afraid to share those feelings and I talked about everything in my post, Rekindling the Eye of the Tiger – Escaping Mediocrity.

But the further I dove into trying to figure out what I need to be doing in this world, the more I started to wonder if maybe a sense of purpose isn’t truly one of life’s necessities. Maybe it’s more important to just savor “being” and tackle opportunities for a higher meaning along the way instead.

4 books on finding a sense of purpose

I was in a rough place shortly after we moved back from Panama and settled back in. As winter started approaching, I hit a funk that’s hard to describe. I felt so lost and depressed and didn’t know what had hit me. It took me quite a number of months to get out of that (which coincidentally was around the time spring started creeping in… hmm). I don’t want to be stuck in that horrible zone my mind was parked in ever again!

But during that time, I did my best to try to get back on track and attempt to figure out a sense of purpose in my life again. I did a lot of thinking, a lot of reading, and then a lot more thinking. Here are four books I read during this time in the hope of finding a purposeful existence…

Meditations: A New Translation

Meditations: A New Translation by Marcus Aurelius – I’ve heard a lot of folks talk about how Stoicism has made a profound impact on their life and figuring out their soul’s purpose. This book is supposed to be one to get you pointed in the right direction.

All I can say is that’s fantastic if it works for you, but this simply wasn’t my cup of tea.

The book started out somewhat interesting, but as it went on, I just lost interest.

This may be for others, but, this one barely gets 3 out of 5 stars from me.

The Happiness of Pursuit: Finding the Quest That Will Bring Purpose to Your Life

The Happiness of Pursuit: Finding the Quest That Will Bring Purpose to Your Life by Chris Guillebeau – I’m a guy who needs more substance and less philosophy. Chris’ book ended up fitting that bill pretty well.

In fact, that became the inspiration for my creation of a “next chapter” ideas matrix and bucket list. I wrote about that in my post, Creating Your Dream Life: The Ultimate Bucket List Blueprint. Get a copy of my template for this (along with a bunch of other goodies) just for jumping on my mailing list…

This book was good at getting some of the creative juices flowing in my mind… 4 out of 5 stars.

Man's Search for Meaning

Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl – With a title like this one, it has to hit the nail on the head, right? This sounded like exactly what I was looking for… except it wasn’t. There’s no doubt you could have caught me with a tear in my eye more than once while reading it – it’s utterly disgusting how cruel humanity can be. To read the struggles of someone in the Nazi camps like this is heart-wrenching.

That said, it wasn’t providing me with what I needed. Unquestionably, reading this makes you feel blessed with everything you have in life and it makes your problems seem almost inconsequential. But I still needed more – I needed something more tangible. Although his experience in the concentration camp should be a must-read, the second section on “logotherapy in a nutshell” lost my attention quickly… 3 out of 5 stars.

A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose

A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose by Eckhart Tolle – I started reading this book while next to Lisa in bed one night and after a few pages in, I looked at her and said, “I’m going to hate this book – I have a feeling it’s just going to be a bunch of hippie peace and love type of stuff.”

I’m excited to say that that thought changed almost immediately. This book captivated me and really helped change my mindset. I highlighted the crap out of the ebook on my Kindle Paperwhite and could probably share a thousand quotes with you, but here’s just one…

“You don’t have to wait for something “meaningful” to come into your life so that you can finally enjoy what you do. There is more meaning in joy than you will ever need. The “waiting to start living” syndrome is one of the most common delusions of the unconscious state. Expansion and positive change on the outer level is much more likely to come into your life if you can enjoy what you are doing already, instead of waiting for some change so that you can start enjoying what you do.”

A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose by Eckhart Tolle

It helped me to genuinely see that finding a sense of purpose isn’t about the past or the future, but about truly being present in the moment, which isn’t always the easiest thing to do.

4½ out of 5 stars. This is an excellent book to put on your reading list!

Focusing on me and my family

I’m glad I took the time to read these books because they did help me dig a little deeper into myself. That said, as I spent countless hours trying to figure out the direction in my life, I surprised myself by determining that instead, I should mostly be focusing on the here and now more.

Don’t get me wrong, the “now” has not been wasted on us! I’ve sincerely been in awe of everything we’ve done over the past handful of years. For just a regular Joe in the world, I’ve somehow managed to live an extraordinary life with my family.

So the problem isn’t with what we’ve been doing. The problem is with what I’ve been doing – and that’s trying to find something more in life that may or may not be there. I think a lot of folks out there have this desire for a sense of purpose – a way to make a difference on a grander scale.

Maybe that’ll happen someday, but letting it eat me up inside is the wrong approach.

Instead of worrying about what I’m not doing, I need to be focused on what I am doing.

And by that, I mean keeping the focus on my family. We’ve done some remarkable things over the years. As if early retirement isn’t enough, moving together to Panama to immerse ourselves in another culture for almost 3 years isn’t something a lot of folks can even comprehend. This was an amazing and eye-opening time for all of us.

We also spent a couple of nights in the jungle, which is something none of us could have envisioned years ago. How about when we became total A-list celebrities for our episode of House Hunters International… ok, B-list celebrities. No? Maybe C-list? D-list? Yikes! I’ll take it anyway!

We had a photo shoot for a feature in Kiplinger magazine. We’ve taken two crazy month-long+ road trips across the U.S. in 2020 and 2022. And now we’re about to move into an RV for around 9 months starting in the fall.

And these are just some of the cool things that we’ve been doing.

I think a lot of families might kill each other being together so much! We do have our moments for sure, but our adventures together have been a grand opportunity for us to explore the world together and create so many memories.

I try to soak in everything we do as we do it, too. I think Faith and I said the words “we live here” in awe and disbelief (in a good way!) more times than I can imagine while walking around in Boquete, Panama taking in the scenery and landscapes around us.

So the hope is to continue doing what you might call crazy ideas like what we’ve been doing. Instead of rolling my thoughts into trying to figure out life’s mission in my downtime though, I’m going to try to just realize that maybe this is my mission in life.

Maybe I’m not starting some huge charity organization, for example, but I am helping to give my daughter and wife something incredible – a life like no other.

Finding a sense of purpose along the way

That’s not to say that planning for the future isn’t important. And the only way to make things better in life is to continue to change and adapt as needed. I’ve become someone who thrives on changing for the better so that’s an essential component of my life.

So this isn’t me “throwing in the towel” and saying that ambition and drive are out the window – far from it. I still plan to continue learning as much as I can about different topics and fields that interest me and try new things that I find appealing.

But maybe that’s where my personal calling will come from – not from me attempting to seek something specific out.

For instance, lately, I’ve taken an interest in coding. I’m learning the Kotlin programming language with a desire to be able to create a couple of Android apps that have been sloshing their way around in my mind for a few years.

Maybe just exploring something that I’m enjoying like this bit of fun will inadvertently end up leading to something that instills more fulfillment in my quest for a sense of purpose. That could be from one or more of the apps helping others. It could be from connections I make along the way trying to build these apps. It could also be from the skill itself that I gain that might be useful for creating other useful apps for the world.

In other words, I’m starting to believe that my reason for being doesn’t necessarily need to be actively seeking out, well, my reason for being. I’m realizing that I need to continue focusing on the present as I’ve been doing – spending time with family and friends – and authentically being in the moment.

And then, as I continue to dabble in other pursuits that I find interesting, I just need to be aware of opportunities and answer the door if something worthwhile is knocking.

Worrying about what might be is not the answer. True happiness is found in stepping back and appreciating the present and all the moments it provides.

That’s how to live a happy life without fretting about finding a sense of purpose. The here and now needs to be the sense of purpose.

Plan well, take action, and live your best life!

Thanks for reading!!

— Jim

You know you wanna share this!!

26 thoughts on “Evolving from Sense of Purpose to Presence: Savoring the “Now” More”

  1. “Maybe just exploring something that I’m enjoying like this bit of fun will inadvertently end up leading to something that instills more fulfillment in my quest for a sense of purpose…”

    Spot on, Jim. That’s the single biggest piece of advice I give to anyone who will listen. Follow your curiosity, take the first step, and see where it leads. All the while, enjoy the now. Thanks for your transparency – it’s rare and valuable to us all.

  2. Wow Jim, what a perfect article. I’ve struggled with the “purpose” question for a while, even before I retired last year. Maybe for some people, “finding your purpose” and “finding the meaning of life” are similar concepts. Great things to aspire but are they achievable? I wonder if trying to achieve “Purpose” can quickly become an expectations problem, just like making more money will somehow make us happier. Let’s all have a great day and make the most of it. Thanks again for your contributions to the community!!

  3. Jim,
    I always look forward to seeing your posts and I think you are unique in your ability to just put out what you are seeing and feeling. That is all tough to do. Most of us prefer to keep a few secrets. I was a little shocked when you started talking about stoicism as a guiding philosophy. In my mind that is about the furthest you could possibly get from determining to have a happy life. I’m glad to see your conclusion on that.
    My recommendation is to read the book of Ecclesiastes. I know it is not popular to point to the Bible for anything in our world right now, but Solomon had a lot to say about finding meaning in life. He tried everything from massive building projects to hedonism and discovered that ultimately all things that men try to find purpose in life end up being meaningless (or vanity). Ultimately life goes on and life eventually ends. His conclusions are to find satisfaction in work and family on the physical plane and to search for God on the spiritual plane. It is a short book, but not an easy read. You really have to think if you want to understand what he is saying.

    1. Thanks, Darrell – I’ve actually read the Bible cover-to-cover a few times over the years. I won’t turn this into a religious discussion but I do find it completely fascinating. Your point about Solomon in Ecclesiastes makes me want to re-read that again to let it sink in some more… thanks!

  4. I tried to tell you….

    Glad to hear that you are getting there. It is a process….

    I recommend Tom Hodgkinson’s book How To Be Idle. He has a few others like How To Be Free (I need to read it myself). And what Darrell said above.

      1. That one is different than the book of the same title by Tom Hodgkinson. Try this one…

        The Freedom Manifesto: How to Free Yourself from Anxiety, Fear, Mortgages, Money, Guilt, Debt, Government, Boredom, Supermarkets, Bills, Melancholy, Pain, Depression, Work, and Waste Kindle Edition
        by Tom Hodgkinson (Author) Format: Kindle Edition

  5. Thoughtful points, I find myself in that mindset sometimes as well of, what am I meant to do? If i have some free time during the weekdays, I wonder what else I should be working on. Seeing people working hard all around me gives me that slight sense of guilt. Seeing work trucks, utility vans, and the like makes me think these people are out there every day making a tangible difference, how I maintain my goals but also do something like that?

    1. Life’s big conundrum, right? 🙂 I don’t feel any guilt while others are working, but I can see how you could experience that sometimes. My thought now is to just focus on the present, continue making and working on goals, and hopefully, making a difference will organically grow from there.

  6. Jim,
    Thanks for writing this, all makes sense and glad you are finding current meaning and purpose with your life; I retired in 2014 via a company RIF, so a surprise in life change but greatly appreciated in the end; one of the first books recommended to me was, “HOW TO RETIRE HAPPY, WILD, and FREE…”, by Ernie Zelinski; I have read a few books on the topic and it makes the most sense, currently reading it again. All the best in your life journey and where it takes you; /rank


    1. Sorry about the forced retirement but glad to hear it’s worked out well for you, Frank. Sometimes life’s curveballs turn out to be great opportunities!

      I’ve had Ernie’s book on my reading list for a while – I need to bump that up and check it out… thanks!!

  7. Great post Jim, and these are great books to consider, thanks for sharing. It’s hard to live in the ‘Now’ especially when there are sooooo many distractions, many of which are right at our fingertips. I find faith in God helps, and realizing how fortunate we are compared to so many people. I know that sounds cliche, and you’ve prolly heard it many times, but hearing about the 42 Y/O father with 3 kids who has stage 4 cancer, or the 15 year old boy recently killed in a car accident makes you really evaluate your sense of purpose in life.
    Can we do more? Sure! We all have that capacity, but life gets in the way. I think your connecting with people on this platform, is doing more. And maybe there is a mom or a dad of a 15 year old, that was just in a car accident and you provided them with a sense of encouragement for the moment. So, keep it up!

    1. Thanks, Jim – I probably should have thrown that in my post. I do get emails from readers thanking me and telling me how much a post or multiple posts have helped them in one way or another. It’s something that I don’t take lightly and that becomes encouragement for me as well. Helping others is so gratifying (I would guess you, like many other writers, feel the same on that).

  8. I think early retirement is hyped and over sold. I’ve been on it for a little over 3 years and am absolutely bored. I have developed a routine of exercising for about an hour to two hours a day. I then do household chores that take up another 2 hours a day. Then…there’s nothing else to do. Weekdays and weekends are all the same…there’s nothing to look forward to in the weekends anymore. I’m 53 now and I yearn for something else that would occupy my time. In the last 3 years, we traveled to Europe 4X, Asia 4 times, and go back and forth to our vacation home in Utah. Our adult kids are out of the house. I just feel like there’s got to be more in life than this. Just having enough money in the bank just isn’t the end all, be all. We all need a purpose to get up in the morning.

    1. Ouch, that’s tough to hear, CC. To each their own, but I still wouldn’t trade early retirement for the world, and I still feel like there’s not enough time in each day. There’s so much I can’t wait to try and so much of the world to explore. I’ve actually cut down on my time blogging (which I really enjoy) just to make room for other things. For me, early retirement has been a true blessing. That said, our daughter is still living at home and spending so much time with her is part of the day I look forward to every day.

      Maybe volunteer work, community involvement, or a part-time job might be something worthwhile?

    2. Will From Buffalo

      I look at it a little difference. The beauty in life is in its distractions. It is the muse(s) that keep us all moving forward. Not to sound overly deep (trust me, I am not lol)….but in the end, no one of us has a substantial impact on society and the human race. Even those in power, wealth or fame will have very little impact because they are more figure heads than true agents of change.

      So what’s is the point? The question we all ask and have been since man first thought of the question.

      Here is the sticky part…..no one knows the complete answer, I would argue we (collectively) don’t even know much of the answer…..but I think its a universal truth to know one of the first STEPS of “the answer”…..and that is very simply, keep waking up.

      Here is where I tie it together….

      What “pointless” thing are you waking up for…..for some it is “purpose” and for others it is “the moment” or zen. But who cares if both are pointless and not moving the needle of humanity? No one. So what is the difference….

      In my OPINION…..I simply think its time duration. Both are more similar than different except for duration.

      No one ever found purpose for just a day….and if they did….life was hard after. Purpose is a long term muse.

      The moment or zen is the lack of desiring a long term muse and focusing on short term muse(s).

      There is more to it of course…but both could have senses of giving, community, self indulgence and a host of other attributes. The main difference to me….duration.

      That said….I don’t think any 1 purpose should have both feet in 1 camp for too long. Very few can sustainably be filled by a single purpose forever…you need a break from that….a short term muse.

      Same for living in the moment.

      Its like having cash and equities. There are times where it makes sense to be MOSTLY in equities (98%+ very few can be 100% in equities forever….its just uncomfortable at some points in life like retirement or in times of great uncertainty. Same for the opposite….if you stay all in on cash (living in the moment) you may miss out on some “larger” opportunities or growth. However, you always have what you have….same as you always have a moment to appreciate until you don’t.

      Jim, I think you in point of life of uncertainty. Hope is getting older….not sure what the best place for her in a couple year 100% is….more family adventure…setting roots somewhere….where those roots are…..what you and your wife will do with your day for the next 40 years and so on. Makes sense to me to live in the moment a bit more until “life” answers those questions a little more for you. You can answer some of it…but there is a lot to figure out and when that happens thing just falls in place (aka life helps direct you).

      CC seems more settled and may benefit from a longer duration muse……id go hard into explore mode…..travel is only doing so much ….. volunteer….new career that is fun….go back to work for a bit for perspective…try new hobbies and make new friends.

      1. You’re right about the uncertainty – things have been changing with big swings in our lives (which is awesome and amazing but still challenging). We’ll continue to make the most of every day and find cool opportunities like our upcoming RV life for 9 months to make each moment even more valuable. That, I think, is probably the most important.

  9. Having a purpose is great, but not strictly necessary. Most of us just try to get through the day the best we can. I think that’s fine too. I just try to enjoy life while I can. My dad told me this is the good times. Raising your kids, working a bit, and spending time with family. We’ll look back fondly on this period later.

    1. In my heart, I get that and agree… the hard part for me has been getting my mind to agree with that. I’ve always felt like I need to somehow give back in a greater way. Hopefully, trying to be in the moment more will help my mind follow what my heart already knows. 🙂

  10. I’ve been reading your blog off/on for years as I’ve prepared for my own ER (now in year 2), and have always enjoyed it. But this post really hit home as it’s one I can really relate to. Personally I think the purpose/calling thing is a product of the more insane elements of our western culture of ego dominance, following the “success” formula, the “American dream” and its manifestation as “hustle evangelism”. It’s complete indoctrination and obsession with outer purpose, which mystics, sages, wise men and spiritual scholars have been telling humans for thousands of years, is a path to suffering. I like that Tolle resonated with you, as he did to me. New Earth is fantastic as is Power of Now. The description of Tolle’s breakthrough that shook me down to my foundation was his realization after he had the thought “I could no longer live with myself.” He was so enlightened by the realization of “I” and “the self” that he could no longer live with. Two entities!!! One the ego, the other spirit. Ego=outer life, which is created for you, not by you, by culture etc., And the real you, the witnessing presence…ie Spirit. BEING is spirit, enjoying the present moment and not obsessing over meaning, the past nor future like most people do. Since we are all a product of ego I have been focussed on how to fit my outer and inner lives together in harmony. I realize the inner must lead….but old habits die hard and one sometimes I get sucked into the “what am I doing with my life” thoughts. Be still. Quite the mind. Become conscious and realize that the desired states that all humans long for (peace, joy, love, happiness) are only ever available Now in the inner life. Some others that really resonate with me: Jed McKenna and Rupert Spira.

    1. Thanks, Jerry – I can see how struggling to find purpose could be a path to suffering as you mention… it already screwed with my mind plenty over the years. Time to focus on just being instead. I’ll check out Jed McKenna and Rupert Spira, too – thanks for the recommendations!

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