Choose a Life Purpose (Any Purpose Will Do)
The lesson of this post can be condensed into ten words: having a life purpose is better than not having one. When you have some sort of compass point to refer to as you go through life, you tend to feel better. Being able to point to something you’re working towards also helps.
I’ll use that phrase—life purpose—but you can also think of it as a mission statement, guiding value, or whatever you prefer.
What should yours be? I’ll give you some suggestions and examples, but the best advice is “don’t overthink it.”
Simply choose something—anything. Tell yourself that you can change it any time you want. (You probably won’t end up changing it too often, but by giving yourself permission to do so, you won’t feel as much pressure in choosing something.)
Even if your life purpose seems somewhat generic, merely choosing a sentence or phrase can help. While it’s usually better to have specific goals that can be measured, something as overarching as a life purpose can be expressed more generally.
“He made everything better for everyone.”
One of my favorite phrases came from a newspaper headline I saw the day after Bill Russell died.
Russell was an early basketball star, chosen second in the 1956 draft. He played throughout the 1960s, leading the league in rebounds and setting an example in more ways than one.
It wasn’t just his basketball skills that stood out. Russell was also a civil rights activist, speaking out forcefully against the discrimination that Black Americans regularly experienced. Barack Obama later awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
I confess I didn’t know much about Russell until after his death, and it was the headline in the paper that stopped me in my tracks as I was walking out of a 7-Eleven store. “He made everything better for everyone,” it read, and I thought about that statement for days.
I loved the idea of spending as much time as possible on making something better for someone wherever I could.
I even added the phrase to my work diary, so that I’d think about it each day as I reviewed my projects.
That phrase—“He made everything better for everyone”—is the perfect example of a life purpose.
It’s not overly wordy, like a corporate mission statement. It leaves the expression open to many different interpretations, while still providing clarity.
If this was your life purpose (and feel free to use it for yourself; I don’t think Bill Russell owns the copyright), it could give you comfort when you make choices and decide on priorities.
Here are a few other examples:
- “She loved, always.”
- “To improve the quality of life of my patients.”
- “To live without resentment.”
- “Find the strength to do both.”
- “Be the person I needed when I was a child.”
- “To learn at least one new thing each day.”
- “To help as many elderly people as possible.”
All of these pass the same test as Bill Russell’s phrase. Each one is broad and open to interpretation, yet clear enough to provide guidance. They’re also easy enough to refer to when you’re feeling anxious about the future.
If your life purpose is “To learn at least one new thing each day,” there’s a built-in next step, as well as a pretty obvious way to measure your life.
At the end of the day, you could simply ask yourself: “Well, did you learn something today? And what will you learn tomorrow?”
My choice: “There is another way.”
As much as I liked the Bill Russell phrase (“He made everything better for everyone”), I wanted to find something different for myself. I settled on four words: There is another way.
This concept is a clear through-line for my life. It has served me well time and time again. I was never the smartest student, but I learned to work hard and look for alternative paths when I got stuck.
It also connects to my individual goals—what I hope to do for myself—as well as my overall wish to help people live unconventionally, in whatever way is best for them.
When I feel frustrated or discouraged, I return to this concept. Maybe the best answer is to try something different, I tell myself. What have I not considered?
Remember, having a life purpose (anything!) is better than not having one. I went with “There is another way” because it felt most true to myself.
What about you? Choose something today, without overthinking it.
You can always update it if you change your mind—and until then, being able to point to a grounding principle may help you feel better.