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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 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 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 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 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!!