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The Power of a Purpose-Driven Life

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The Power of a Purpose-Driven Life

There are many cliches about the importance of purpose, and of living a purpose-driven life. Here’s my take on it.

 

Purpose is the primary fuel of ambition. Purpose creates a destination.

We can only become fully engaged in life when we feel that we are doing something that really matters. 

Purpose is what inspires us, lights us up, and floats our boats.

Washington Irving—the famous author, historian and essayist—said, “Great minds have purposes, others have wishes. Little minds are tamed and subdued by misfortune, but great minds rise above it.” 

The search for purpose and meaning is one of the most powerful and lasting themes in every culture since the dawn of time. You’ll find it in Homer’s Odyssey, and it has inspired some of the greatest spiritual figures in history: Jesus, Buddha, Moses, Mohammad.

You’ll even find it in modern culture in movies like Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, which re-tells the story of Perceval’s search for the Holy Grail through the daring character of Indiana Jones, as well as the timeless Star Wars saga, in which Luke Skywalker confronts his deepest fears by facing and vanquishing Darth Vader and the Empire.

It’s no coincidence that these movies—which modernize the legendary virtues of the hero’s journey, the search for meaning and the triumph of good over evil—are among the most popular and successful of all time.

“There is one quality we must possess to win,” said Napoleon Hill, author of one of the best-selling books of all time, Think and Grow Rich, “and that is definiteness of purpose, the knowledge of what one wants, and a burning desire to possess it.” 

For an extraordinary example of the power of purpose, let’s look to one of the greatest military geniuses of all time: Alexander the Great.

For a time, Alexander was an almost inhuman force, alive with unbridled and unmatched purpose. While many in his position would’ve been content with a life of kingly hedonism, Alexander was cut from a different cloth. He pawned off everything he owned to finance what he truly cared about: his vision of a glorious destiny and immortality.

But perhaps more impressively, he conducted himself with equilibrium, restraint, and benevolence startlingly uncharacteristic of a conqueror. He lived in a time where men of his ilk were expected to indulge in mindless slaughter and degradation of the people they subdued, but he not only discouraged it, he forbade it.

One year before his death, however, his quest required an advance from Persia to India to conquer what was left of the known world. When Alexander announced this to his soldiers, they mutinied. They were exhausted and longed to return to their families.

Despite inspired, moving speeches, Alexander couldn’t convince them to continue, so he released them from duty and relegated himself to the role of administrator of his empire—a post he loathed. Months later, Plutarch wrote that the king “lost his spirits, and grew diffident of the protection and assistance of the gods, and suspicious of his friends.”

Ironically, during this time of ennui, Alexander suffered his worst losses. Intrigues led to the execution of his great friends and loyal generals Philotas and Parmenio. He killed his brave and loyal officer, Cleitus, over drunken slurs. Alexander sank into a deep depression, almost driving him to suicide, and sowed much discontent amongst his people that had come to love him dearly.

Alexander’s plight didn’t stop there. His best friend and general Hephaestion died a mysterious death, rumored to be from poisoning. The loss sent Alexander into an irrevocable rage that cost thousands of Persians their lives and led to his further self-deification as well as his increased adoption of Persian customs, which many Greeks despised.

Finally, Alexander—a man who had defied death so regularly and against such odds that his enemies had declared him invincible—lost his life to an unexplainable fever that began after a night of heavy drinking. The morality of Alexander’s ambitious purpose notwithstanding, it’s very clear that once he had lost it, he rapidly lost everything.

If we are to succeed in our endeavors toward greatness, we must learn and apply this final lesson of Alexander’s to our journeys. Simply put: If purpose dies, the entire adventure quickly folds.

But what is a purpose, exactly? The dictionary defines it as follows:

“The reason why something is done or why something exists. It is something set up as an object or an end to be attained; an intention.”

Where the goal is the what, the purpose is the all-important why.

Purpose gives goals meaning. When the intention to make something happen is weak—when you’re just not feeling the “fire”—it’s not going to happen. People that ignore purpose don’t go very far in life. Nobody can love what they don’t feel in their hearts. The will to go on expires, soon or later.

How excited are you to get to work in the morning? How much do you enjoy what you do for its own sake rather than what it gets you? And how accountable do you hold yourself to a deeply held set of goals? These are the questions of purpose all adventurous souls must ask themselves.

If your answers to these questions are enthusiastic, then chances are you’re bringing a strong sense of purpose to your pursuits. If your answers to these questions are anything less, chances are you’re just going through the motions.

The former path breeds persistence and grit, which lead to opportunities and successes thereafter. The latter breeds indifference and lethargy, which can’t handle even the pettiest of pressures.

Imagine that you’re out at sea on a boat, voyaging to a far-off destination. Your boat springs a leak, which immediately becomes your priority. You jump down and start bailing water to prevent going under, but forget that nobody is left to navigate the ship. One day, after doing nothing but bailing water for who knows how long, you poke your head over the bow and wonder where the heck you are and how you got there.

This is the purposeless life. People can become so preoccupied with just staying afloat that they fail to realize that nobody is at the helm.

Unfortunately, clarifying purpose takes time—quiet, uninterrupted time—which is something many of us feel we don’t have. We rush from one obligation to another without a “50,000 foot” view of where we’re going. It may seem self-indulgent to stop and reflect on questions of meaning and purpose, but your journey will demand it. 

When Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg, and David Geffen started DreamWorks, their purpose was to entertain and delight people. Profits were second to that. They went through some tough times, coming close to bankruptcy twice. But they persevered in large part due to their dedication to the studio’s vision and reason for being. Today, DreamWorks is one of the largest film studios in the world.

Nobody can force a purpose on you—you must choose it of your own free will. There are so many ways to help people in the world, but you need to find your way—the way that makes you want to close your browser right now and get into action.

As Howard Thurman said, you must find what makes you come alive. 

So, before beginning any adventure—before choosing any particular path—don’t forget to ask yourself why: Why are you doing this? Why is it exciting? Why does it really matter?

When you’ve addressed these questions with true convictions, you know you’ve unlocked your purpose. This is the wellspring of any strong drive to succeed.

 

What’s your take on a purpose-driven life? Let me know in the comments below!

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I'm Mike and I'm the creator of Muscle for Life and Legion Athletics, and I believe that EVERYONE can achieve the body of their dreams.

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  • Mike

    Spot on Mike. The best life is lived with passion and energy directed in helping yourself and others in a unique way. Your gut lets you know if you are where you should be or not. When you are in the right place, you will organize your challenges and see them as opportunities to get closer to where you want to go or what you desire to accomplish. The world defined “successes” can often fool a person away from their personal destiny. Money alone will not satisfy the soul on a daily basis. I would make the case that you can be pretty successful overall if you work diligently at what you love, serving others.

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks Mike! I totally agree.

      I’ve known plenty of people with plenty of money but who were completely miserable, doing work they hated.

  • J Tan

    Hey Mike, I really like how you state the importance of the purpose driven life because it really shows what drove you to work out and blog as much as you do. If possible, it would be great to hear your own personal examples of how you overcame your own challenges and found your purpose!

    • Abhijit

      I second J Tan – would like to hear some inspiring stories from your life.

      • Michael Matthews

        Thanks for the suggestion–duly noted! I will definitely include this in future posts!

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks so much!

      Funny you bring up my story–I intentionally left it out as I guess I’m just not one to talk about about myself much. But I can definitely share it in a future post on the subject!

      • J Tan

        Haha yea, nothing as inspiring as a personal story!

        • Michael Matthews

          True!

  • Guy M

    Absolutely fantastic article. Most probably because it seems so relevant to my life right now. When everything seems to be going wrong its hard to find a purpose again… especially if you are reliant on outside forces to enable your dreams.

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks so much Guy!

      I totally understand. What’s always been successful for me is to refuse to be the victim and meet adversity and troubles with 1) the attitude that I can change things for the better and 2) HUGE output of effort. I don’t waste time moping or overthinking–I just get into a high level of action and push everything as hard as I can, and things seem to work out well in the end.

  • Chris Galanos

    Mike, have you read The Purpose-Driven Life by Rick Warren? It’s no wonder it has become the best selling hardback non-fiction book in history and the second-most translated book in the world, after the Bible. People are searching for purpose, but I’ve found that it’s impossible to find our ultimate purpose until we consider the purpose for which we’ve been created.

    A doctor once wrote this, “God’s purpose was for the nations to seek after Him and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him—though he is not far from any one of us.”

    Thanks for the insightful post!
    Chris

    • Michael Matthews

      No I haven’t! Wow, I’m surprised I haven’t heard of it. I’ll have to check it out!

      Thanks for the comment!

  • Laura

    You’re such a great writer! Thank you for your time in writing and sharing this.

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks Laura!

  • Tim

    Great article Matthew. I can definitely relate to this scenario. I have been at my engineering job for four years now and realized that it’s not something I want to do for the rest of my life.

    My passion for fitness led me to recently start a fitness blog. Although it hasn’t really taken off yet, it makes me feel good that I have something going on that I’m passionate about. I hope that one day I will be able to work and make money full time from helping other people get in shape.

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks Tim! That’s great on your blog. Give me a link!

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  • Amir

    Hi mike! inspiring blog post. I usually never take time to comment. But i felt that i have to ask you one thing. I just wonder based from your experience if it possible to lose a purpose. And if its possible to be able to ‘remind’ yourself about the meaning and get it back

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks! Absolutely. Everyone has experienced that before. What has always helped me in recovering “fire” for a purpose is to get going on it, no matter how small the initial steps are. Too much thinking and not enough doings takes the wind out of anyone’s sails…

  • Glenn Cook

    I have found that, much like goals, sometimes it is good to have your purpose written down. It also helps to write down & prominently display things that motivate or inspire you to remain true to it.

    • Michael Matthews

      Agreed!

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  • Bradley thomas Finkeldei

    Thanks for a great article. I found this resource helpful too.

    http://www.howtofindyourpurposeinlife.com

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