The One Habit You Must Cultivate If You Don’t Want to Waste Your Life
“Become who you are. It happens once in a lifetime.”
I know. When you think Jeff Goins, the first word that comes to mind is accounting. I get that a lot. 😉
But there I was, speaking to a group of a few hundred people, terrified they might to ask me a math question. My topic was on why finding your calling is essential to the journey of success, and someone asked me, “Is it better to focus on your strengths or pay attention to your weaknesses?”
My answer? Neither.
This is an important question, a question graduates are asking themselves right now. A question we all ask ourselves at some point in life. It is the constant question, the one we lose sleep over, the one that drives us to mid-life crises if we’re not careful: What should I do with my life?
Or, in the words of Mary Oliver:
Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?
I love that question. I love the implicit adventure in it. But I wonder if maybe this is the wrong place to start. Maybe not wasting your life doesn’t begin with doing but with being.
Three myths about finding your purpose
The way we answer this question is everything. It determines so much in life, including whether or not we will be successful at things that truly matter. Sadly, I hear so many people offering all kinds of conflicting and often unhelpful advice.
There are three big myths we see when it comes to offering well-meaning but usually bad advice on finding your purpose. And I’m tired of them. Here they are.
Myth #1: Skill is all you need.
Recently, we have been hearing experts say things like, “Get really good at something, and the world will reward you for that skill, and that’s all you need.”
But what happens when you get so good at something that people can’t ignore you and then it ends up not being the thing you want to do? Or you get great at a skill only to realize it conflicts with your values or vision for your life?
I meet people with stories like this all the time. They regret spending so much energy getting good at the wrong thing. It’s dangerous to focus on skill at the cost of what matters most to you. Greatness, in and of itself, does not give your life meaning.
Myth #2: Just chase your passion.
“Chase your passion and the money will follow.” We’ve all heard this before, right? But is it really true?
We all have to worry about money in some respect. We have bills to pay and responsibilities to keep. So this isn’t helpful, because one way or another money is a reality for all of us. And if we don’t think about it at all, the lack of money becomes an even greater burden.
Myth #3: Everything works out the way it’s supposed to.
Sometimes, we hear people say, “Don’t worry about it. If it’s meant to be, it’ll happen.” This is called fatalism, and it is a very dangerous belief.
Of course, it’s true that you don’t have to have everything figured out. Nobody does. But so often I see this used as an excuse to drift through life, to waste the precious days and months and years we have to make a difference.
You can’t plan your purpose, but you can’t drift through life, either. It takes intentionality to discover what you’re meant to do. So I say again, what do you plan to do with this life of yours? This is a big question, and it deserves a big answer.
So here goes: Don’t ask yourself, “What should I do with my life?” Instead, ask yourself, “Who am I, really, and how am I becoming more of that person?”
Don’t fear failure, fear this instead
So many of us worry about failure, when, in fact, what we should fear more than failure is succeeding at the wrong thing. This is a theme I’ve been hammering on lately and something we are covering in this summer’s book study I’m doing.
Focusing on what you’re good at or trying to improve your weaknesses will never answer the question, “What am I here for?” The world is full of answers to the question, “What should I do?” But only you can answer the question, “Who am I?”
So the best thing you can do, if you don’t want to waste your life, is to pay attention. Listen to your life. “See it for the fathomless mystery it is,” author and theologian Frederick Buechner once wrote. Why? Because every moment is a key moment. And the thing we should fear most of all is wasting so many of those moments that it adds up to a life of little consequence.
Your life is a mystery, and your job is to study it. Through prayer, meditation, or simple reflection, we all must become more self-aware. This is the only way we can stop letting life happen to us and become more active participants in it.
Living into a larger story
You and I are characters in a story that we do not understand. We were born into a narrative that is bigger than us. I believe this. It’s the only way I can make sense of the inexplicable joys and unbelievable tragedies in this life. It’s a mystery.
But when you start listening to your life, simply watching for important and recurring themes throughout those key moments, you start to not feel so lost. Things will begin to make sense — slowly at first and more quickly as momentum builds and clarity comes.
Things do not become perfectly clear. That’s a myth. But you see enough of the path to take the next step. We all want to wait for clarity before we act, but as I share again and again in The Art of Work:
The one habit you must cultivate if you don’t want to waste your life is self-awareness.
Become aware of who you really are. Listen to your life. Look for the things that resonate with who you are and avoid the things that do not represent the person you are and are becoming.
Don’t just be yourself, become your true self
Just be yourself is a cliche. I never had a completely clear picture of who I was. But deep down inside, I always had some idea of who I was supposed to be, a sense of destiny, I suppose.
I think we all have this, buried deep down in our souls somewhere. Maybe that sounds a little esoteric to you, but we all have moments when we are caught doing something that just doesn’t seem right for us.
Sometimes, it’s a slight discomfort or nagging feeling that this isn’t the thing we were meant for. Other times, it feels downright wrong. It’s very important, I think, that we learn how to listen to these urges and pay attention to these moments — if we don’t want to waste our lives. Otherwise, you just might miss the real calling on your life.
So, no. Don’t just complacently be yourself. Become your true self, the person you were meant to be, the one you won’t regret dedicating a lifetime of attention and sacrifice to.
We all want to know that we ran our race well and that it was, in fact, our race — not someone else’s. And it begins with this all-important decision to not settle for the status quo, pay close attention to what our lives are trying to tell us about ourselves, and choosing a state of constant growth.
If this resonates, I encourage you to join me and others for a summer book study on my book The Art of Work. It’s completely free. You don’t even need to pick up a book if you don’t want to.
We’ll be talking about purpose, creativity, and how to live the life you were meant to live. Last week was just the introduction (watch the video here). This week we will kick things off, talking about this very topic of listening to your life.
What does “become yourself” mean to you? Do you know who you are? Share in the comments.