Are you frustrated by the demands of the modern world?
Sometimes I look at my to-do list and despair. So much of what we need to get done each day seems meaningless. But we keep doing it because it pushes our lives just a bit further.
The problem is that productivity without a higher purpose is just busy work.
The first time I encountered productivity gurus, I was flunking an important college class for my major. Planners? Deep work? Pomodoros? It seemed like manna from heaven at the time.
I put their advice into action and turned my life around.
But when the semester ended and I was faced with the long summer, I felt empty. I spent days with nothing to do and I realized that the short-term goal of passing a college class wasn’t the achievement I thought it was.
In the absence of my to-do list, there was no meaning in my life. I still had no direction except mere survival. And at that moment I had no reason to fight for anything.
So I didn’t.
Those With Purpose
I didn’t grow up in a religious family. The next fall, I had a literature class and many of the students brought their Bibles to each meeting.
No, they weren’t trying to convert anyone. Most of them had left the faith of their childhoods but would flip through pages and point out literary allusions like it was a game – and I didn’t know any of the rules.
To say I was wowed by their familiarity with a text the internet told me nobody had ever read was an understatement. I didn’t realize that spirituality was a thing people actually did.
I still kept tabs on the productivity gurus and I began to notice their affinity for Buddhism and meditation. Nothing spiritual at the time resonated with me, so I completely ignored it up until that point, but I couldn’t help but wonder how it gave them such peace and direction.
My goals seemed to meander, but their goals seemed to fit something bigger. It was frustrating that I couldn’t do the same without the “woo woo” stuff.
Looking Beyond the Self
It took me a few more years before I looked into any spiritual path. Even though I could see that spirituality helped others, I didn’t think I needed it.
I thought I was happy living for my mortal goals. Nothing else mattered but pleasing my ego and seeking pleasure in whatever way was easiest.
Can you see the problem?
Productivity is focused on getting things done, but if you don’t ask why things must get done, you’re probably going to end up doing the wrong things for the wrong reasons. However, that why still can’t be defined by mortal goals.
Want to go to college? Why? Is it to get a good job? Why does that specific job matter?
It’s not enough to have a goal. It’s not even enough to have a lifetime ambition. You need a higher purpose because your life should be achieving something beyond the scope of your personal experience.
Otherwise, you don’t matter. And you’ll feel it.
I felt it.
You Must Live Your Identity
Finding your higher purpose isn’t easy. By definition, it’s bigger than anything you may have imagined for yourself before and might seem impossible when you get started. A personal goal can always be changed, but a higher purpose is destiny.
And people are uncomfortable with things that can’t be changed.
Where productivity advice often, but not always, fails is that it pushes people to think in measurable achievements. But as Jeff Haden outlines in his book, The Motivation Myth (this is an affiliate link that supports me if you make a purchase), people find it easier to act on their identities than on their goals.
A higher purpose isn’t an ambition you try to manifest, but the awakening of the person you essentially are. A higher purpose isn’t to teach others but to be a teacher.
Don’t Try to Be a Perfectionist
I started looking into spirituality casually midway through college and in earnest during grad school. The modern world and all its materialism had its appeal to me. And so had my goals.
I didn’t want to be one of those people addicted to pop culture and instant gratification. They didn’t even look happy.
But I still wanted my life to matter.
There were a lot of things I tried, but I don’t think a particular spiritual practice is the answer to finding your higher purpose. Rather, the pursuit of your spiritual truth is what reveals this path to you.
Probably because it can’t be found in the physical world. All you have to do is look beyond yourself and towards something higher and then your purpose will be reflected back to you.
Once that happens, your life changes forever.
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