Purpose. A word which my dictionary defines as ‘The reason for which something exists or is done, made, used, etc.’
In my 20s, I never thought about who I was, why I was born and to what purpose I was designed to accomplish during my allocated lifespan on this planet. Really, why focus on such a profound and irrelevant question? Why not walk the well-trodden path? This path, as I was made to understand, by my teachers and society at large, was to WIN!
The pressure to win starts early. From elementary school, A-students were rewarded with lots of praise and attention, while the ‘D, E and F’ students – like me – received frowns instead of smiles. Our anxious helicopter Asian parents would make us attend remedial classes because we just had to catch up – otherwise we would lose out and be doomed to live a sad life.
The need to win and excel at everything crosses over from the classroom into adult life. I used to think that to be a successful woman, I’ll have to model myself on women who have great careers and money; women with glamourous lifestyles and great marriages.
But Reality bit. I’ve had career highs and lows. I’ve had great and not-so-great relationships that didn’t lead to a white wedding dress and huge diamond ring. I’ve lived through times when I was flushed with cash and times when I was broke. Experiencing the ups and downs of my own life journey, I discovered two important truths:
- Striving for perfection according other people’s standards leads to more failure, depression, broken relationships and loss.
- Designing one’s own path through life according to our deepest values, passions, unique skills, talents and interests ultimately leads to the type of success that’s more satisfying, longer lasting and authentic.
Striving for Success – a Recipe for Disaster
Strivers are never satisfied because they need to win at all costs. Competition keeps them going – looking over their shoulders at what their rivals are doing and endlessly comparing themselves against a benchmark of accolades, fame and fortune.
The problem is, after they achieve the high of winning, they want more and more. Winning becomes an addiction and an end in itself and they will go to unscrupulous lengths to do so, before spinning out of control.
Former world cycling champion Lance Armstrong gained fame and fortune after winning the Tour de France and several major cycling championships. His winning scores stunned many people – he seemed to possess superhuman strength after beating cancer.
It was only much later that the truth emerged: Armstrong had been cheating by taking banned performance enhancing drugs. The stories of how he managed to escape detection horrified all his fans and the cycling fraternity. He was stripped of all his titles and discredited overnight.
Armstrong isn’t alone. He is joined by other strivers – bankers, entrepreneurs, mortgage lenders, athletes, finance and sales professionals and even the person you’re married to! They are identified by their inability to talk about anything else except their goals, money and achievements.
Of course, not every goal-oriented person is out of control and cheats like Armstrong. However, there’s a fine line between focusing on your goals and worshiping them slavishly.
Strivers tend to follow a ‘life-or-death’ philosophy that makes them very vulnerable if things don’t work out as planned. We hear of former child stars and athletes self-destructing on drugs, alcohol and suicide after they experience a career turn for the worse.
Without results, fame and fortune, Strivers feel they are nothing. Theirs is a totally self-absorbed, spiritually and emotionally empty existence.
Finding the Right ‘Click’
‘Two roads diverge in the wood and I – I took the one less travelled by, and that has made all the difference’ – Robert Frost
Truly successful people don’t strive for rewards, fame and fortune as their end game. They don’t look over their shoulders or worry about what their rivals or competitors are doing.
Their motivation comes from within. They are driven by a sense of mission – the desire to express something deep inside themselves; to follow an idea, interest and passion; to create and contribute.
Apple is a leading brand today – all because founder Steve Jobs chose the road less travelled. As a youth, he followed his artistic interests by studying typography while learning about computers. Later, these twin interests became the philosophy behind Apple – a brand known for its beauty and technical brilliance.
Oprah Winfrey did not become a media mogul overnight. She spent years working in regional radio stations in the US where she interviewed thousands of women and discovered a passion for wanting to educate, inspire and mentor them – a calling that led to her record breaking Oprah Winfrey Show.
How we find our true calling depends on how willing we are to follow our inner voices. Whether we do so or not, we all know instinctively what we are good at. We can sense our feeling of excitement and energy whenever we are doing or working at something that aligns with our passion and who we really are.
In his book Mastery, bestselling author Robert Greene likens this feeling to a ‘click’- a sharp moment of clarity when we realise that we have arrived at the right fit – when we are following our unique design and doing what we are called to do.
Greene himself experienced this ‘click’. Lacking confidence to follow his true passion to become a writer, he bounced around 80 different jobs before a chance encounter with a publisher convinced him to write again.
Like Greene, it took me three decades (not 80 jobs!) to discover my calling as a life coach.
I’ve always loved to express myself through writing, public speaking, art and painting. I love to talk to people, understand and connect with their personal stories of joy and pain, hopes and dreams. A few people have also complimented me on my creativity and communication skills.
Yet, I downplayed and dismissed the real me – choosing instead to chase after money and recognition as a financial adviser. Ironically, I wanted to earn lots of money so that I’ll have more time to write, travel, read and paint – not realising that I was working in a field that was the wrong fit for me. I was always striving to land the next big financial sales contract. I had no time to create or write or build authentic relationships.
However, it was my experiences as a financial adviser that eventually led me to discover my true calling as a life coach. As I became more miserable, I realised that I simply wasn’t happy chasing sales targets – I wanted to make a difference in my clients’ lives.
Like Sherlock Holmes following the clues, your purpose and calling will reveal themselves gradually, as long as you keep searching and not settling. Eventually, even your wrong career turns, mishaps and detours will lead to that defining Aha moment – that ‘click’ when everything falls into place.
When that happens, doors will open. Success – on your terms – will flow naturally without you ever having to strive for it!