I want to begin this blog by sharing a personal story. As an Adjunct Professor at the University of Virginia, I regularly teach one-credit courses for professional educators in the Northern Virginia area close to Washington, DC. I created courses I believed to be solid in content but, beyond that, courses I believed had the potential to be of great use to the students.
The long and short of it was that, for me, these courses took on much more importance than simply being a rewarding professional activity. They gave me an opportunity to express my passionate purpose—to make a significant, positive impact on these people’s lives.
With this purpose, I felt highly motivated to conduct the classes, great energy and enthusiasm doing so, and overjoyed for the opportunity. The excellent feedback I received, plus the high percentage of return enrollees, attested to my success.
Unfortunately, after years of bathing in the pleasures these classes provided me, I lost track of my original purpose for teaching them. I fell into the trap of seeing them as a diversion from my regular routine. And guess what? I lost my enthusiasm, my drive, and my energy. Predictably, my effectiveness plummeted, as did my pleasure and happiness in doing them.
At first I felt perplexed. But I quickly figured out the source of the problem. I had lost sight of the burning “why” I originally had to teach these classes. Once I redirected my attention to my original purpose, my enthusiasm rekindled, my effectiveness shot back up, and my happiness in doing them returned.
This experience taught me a lesson I intend to follow the rest of my life: If I live my passionate purpose each day, if will be hard not to feel vibrant and happy. If it works for me, it can also work for you.
Three Levels To Living
Think of there being three levels to living. Level One might be called reactionary. At this level, a person lives in the moment, but without higher-order goals or purpose. Depending on the quality of circumstances, this person will experience a greater or lesser degree of fun and pleasure.
Level Two is represented by the person who acts to attain highly valued goals. Examples include having a happy relationship, financial security, success in a career. People who live at this level open the door to satisfaction and happiness.
It is when people have a passionate purpose for their life that they live at Level Three. This occurs when a person develops the burning “why” behind what they do and then intentionally expresses this “why” throughout the fabric of his or her life. Those who live at this level experience deep fulfillment and even joy, on top of many moments of fun, pleasure, and happiness.
Mike Krzyzewski, head basketball coach at Duke University, is a great example. He has won three NCAA championships, coached the USA to two Olympic Gold Medals, and is the winningest coach in men's basketball history. You'd think he'd say his purpose is to win basketball games.
Wrong. Listen to what he says about his purpose. “I am not a basketball coach. I am a leader who coaches basketball. I have three goals for all my players—to make them a good student, a good citizen, and a good person.”
No wonder Coach K remains so driven and involved after decades in the pressure cooker of big time college basketball. He uses basketball to achieve a higher purpose — to mold boys into men. Win or lose, imagine the degree of satisfaction and fulfillment he must feel to live his life for this purpose.
Perhaps there is no better example of the powers of passionate purpose than Martin Luther King, Jr. Listen to his purpose contained in his immortal “I Have A Dream” speech delivered on August 28, 1963 on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC.
“Let us not wallow in the valley of despair. I say to you today, my friends, that in spite of the difficulties and frustrations of the moment, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal."
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood.
I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice and oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
I have a dream today.
I have a dream that one day the state of Alabama, whose governor's lips are presently dripping with the words of interposition and nullification, will be transformed into a situation where little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls and walk together as sisters and brothers.
I have a dream today.
I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be and revealed, all flesh shall see it together.
This is our hope. This is the faith with which I return to the South. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope.”
Wow! What a profound and powerful statement of a life's purpose. This purpose fueled Dr. King’s drive for racial equality and must have given him a joyful sense of leading a meaningful life.
Here's the lesson for all of us. It is next to impossible to not find happiness if we live a life of purpose. If we do, we:
• bring passion to each of our days.
• find each hour of our day important and meaningful.
• go to bed at night feeling satisfied and happy.
What About You?
At which of these levels do you live your life? If you are like most people, you live either at Level one or Two. Hopefully you have fun, enjoy your life, feel some degree of happiness and satisfaction. Good for you.
But, I promise, you can gain even higher levels of happiness and satisfaction than you’ve known. How? By actively creating and acting on your own personal, passionate purpose.
Determining your passionate purpose is an act of creation, not discovery. That is, you can determine on your own what is it that you decide your life's purpose to be. It’s a process, but, like me and untold numbers of others, you can do it with commitment and effort. As I go into in great detail in my forthcoming book The Happiness Handbook, you need to follow a three-step process.
Step One – Reflect on these questions. What is the central theme of your life? What do you or could you do that would provide you and others the most value, make the biggest contribution, have the most positive impact? About what are you most enthusiastic? What kind of person would I most like to be? Answering these questions gives you hints to your passionate purpose.
Step Two – Create Your Purpose. Sit down and write a brief statement that captures your passionate purpose. Note that this is not a list of goals, but the “why” behind the goals. For what it's worth, I share below my own passionate purpose.
“To make a significant, positive impact on the health, happiness, and prosperity of myself, my loved ones, and the people with whom I work by being excellent in living, teaching, and modeling the principles of effective and joyful living.”
Step Three – Live Your Purpose. The last step is to plan precisely how you will act out your passionate purpose within the major roles you play in life (e.g., husband/wife, parent, son, daughter, and friend, employee, etc.)
To be happy, you must work at it. There is nothing that will aid you more in your quest for happiness than to live each day by a passionate purpose created by you. I wish you Godspeed in this quest. Remember that you can email me at anytime and I will respond with the best coaching I can muster.
Until we communicate again, live healthy, happy, and with passion.
Russell Grieger, Ph.D. is the author of several self-help books, all designed to empower people to create a life they love to live. These include: Unrelenting Drive; Marriage On Purpose; and The Happiness Handbook (in preparation). You may contact Dr. Grieger for more information at firstname.lastname@example.org