I want to first talk about this word: contentment.
This can be an ambiguous term, often even wrongfully being interchanged with the word “happiness”. However, they are not the same, and before we can understand purpose, we must first understand this difference:
If you like what you’re doing, you are happy. If you love why you’re doing it, you are content. When we are happy, we are experiencing momentary joy; our brain is anticipating a rush of dopamine and serotonin during the course of an activity or a moment.
If we are deprived of such a rush, we will be deprived of said happiness. When we are content, on the other hand, we are mindful of the moment, fully accepting challenges that may arise.
Being content means being driven not solely by the prospect of joy, but by the longevity of purpose: which is to contribute to something bigger than ourselves. In other words, contentment transcends the mere need to experience pleasure, and places our value in the heart of a mission. Such a pursuit leaves us fulfilled even in the face of difficulties, because, as part of something larger, our burdens are dwarfed by the desire to maximize our potential and have an impact on others.
So, to be content, we must clearly identify this purpose thing: an idea or a mission that we can be part of, to which we can commit ourselves with such conviction. Yet, when we don’t feel like we’ve found it, we grow evermore frustrated because we don’t even know what we’re looking for, all we know is the void felt in its absence.
If all we know is this void, life becomes a cycle of just doing more things that simply make us happy in the moment. And so, we live our lives chasing highs, going from peak-to-peak and pleasure-to-pleasure, numbingly unenthused by what’s in between.
We’ve all been there. And if you’re still there, it’s okay. I know what you’re thinking: how do I find purpose? …Ready to have your mind blown?
If the path to contentment is purpose, then the secret to purpose is empathy. We have to first acknowledge that we are already part of something bigger than ourselves. It’s called the human race.
Once you recognize this, you see that you have something to learn from everybody. Yes, every single person. Realize that every conversation is like reading a book, supplementing your existing foundation with newly acquired knowledge or perspective.
By connecting with others and attempting to understand them, you will feel enthused to share your own thoughts, experiences & understandings with them. You will learn their stories and what they care about.
The cumulative effect of these conversations and connections induces mental stimulation. You see the world in a new way, you consider new perspectives, and you feel understood by those who have similar or opposing narratives. Do this frequently and you’ll be able to reflect on the nature of the conversations that move you most.
What conversations are you most passionate about? With whom are these conversations happening? What are you discussing that moves you? The answers here will point you to your purpose.
Acquire as much knowledge as possible in the areas you identify. Find ways to test your new knowledge, perspectives, and ideas in the real world. Have more conversations about things you care about, and master those things by becoming intimately familiar with each.
In time, you will identify opportunities and resources in the world that map to these passions, because now you actually know what to look for. By saying yes to new opportunities, you will better understand how you can apply your knowledge to add value, and you will soon be hunting opportunities to do things you love, ready to overcome every challenge as it pertains to your passions.
This is how you hack purpose. Not by trying to be happy, but by trying to find the bridge between what others have to share, and that which moves you most. If you pay attention and observe the ways in which you’re growing as a result of this process, and if you feel understood by even one person with whom you share a passion, contentment will follow. You will no longer live from peak-to-peak, but instead find yourself committed to conversations and opportunities that fill the gaps.
My early years were spent trying to prove to others how much I knew, because it was expression of intelligence that validated me alone. Today, I understand what others can teach me, because it is learning I value. As a result of this conscious shift, I have learned more from the people and the world around me than I did from hundreds of books in the decade prior. This state of empathy has allowed me to connect with people in several different industries, whom I can then share my skills with, adding value to their lives, and feeling fulfilled in the process.
This tactic—of dedication to constant personal growth—requires the participation of community. By listening to others and asking what I can learn from them, I can gain: explicit knowledge, a hard skill, or an implicit analysis of why others act as they do. Each piece, paired with my own experience, evolves me to the next version of myself, and allows me, by example, to live my purpose and bring others closer to theirs. Everybody is your teacher. Live that mantra, and you will live your purpose.