Finding purpose

What do you live for?

It’s a simple question. But it’s one of the most difficult to answer.

From my experience, many of us find meaning but few have purpose.

Purpose is the belief or reason we have for living. It’s different from meaning. Meaning is about the significance or feeling of significance for something or someone or belief.

For example, a purpose could be someone living to care for their family. Their meaning is sensed when they are able to help a sibling, daughter, or parent.

Usually I hear and read more about meaning but not so much purpose. But the latter gets down to the roots, into the guts of life, into our souls. It’s the foundation upon which we all stand.

Purpose is the reason for our existence.

What is more important than that?

And if we leave it undefined, we are setting ourselves on shaky ground.

In college, this question haunted me. I had no idea what my purpose was. And living without one caused me to fall into a depression. Motivation was wrested from me and all I wanted to do was watch Disney movies in my dorm room (which I did: there’s nothing like a college guy watching Little Mermaid on a Saturday night, alone in his room, crying and singing along with Ariel).

I was lonely, angsty, and angry. All my life I had dealt with the trauma of my dad’s death and other difficulties in my life.

And I felt rootless, restless (and sang Disney songs).

Soon thereafter, I became a Christian. Jesus became my purpose, my reason for living. And that belief has sustained me, and still does.

Now, I know that not all of you believe as I do. And my point isn’t to bludgeon you with my beliefs but to press you to consider your own purpose.

I think that many of us can go all our lives without knowing what we’re really living for.

And that robs us. It makes life emptier, less fulfilling. And I don’t want that for you. I know what it feels like.

But that needn’t be the case. There is purpose in the world for you.

Seek it. It’s there.


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Overcoming one of our greatest obstacles: ourselves

Our lives are determined not just by what we think but how we think.

Before I started writing I used to believe I couldn’t write. It probably had a lot to do with the fact that my high school papers, after being graded, had so much red ink on them that they looked like someone dragged a freshly killed animal over them. It was traumatic for me. And add the fact that I grew up in an immigrant family where English was a third language and Dr. Seuss wasn’t read to me, I thought I was doomed to be a poor wordsmith.

That frame of mind followed me all the way through college, into my career, and got worse when I started a creative agency, and reached all the way into my midlife.

But I was wrong.

See, in the cradle of our minds we nurture something that forms us all. It’s weened in the shadows of our psyche, hidden, growing into an idea or narrative that chokes our dreams and kills opportunities because we are often too afraid to challenge it.

This “how” we think is a framework of thinking that we all possess. They are the ideas that we have about ourselves and others and the world, that guide us.

They exist in the forms of memories, stories, experiences, phrases spoken to us in anger by loved ones, past failures, etc. And they hold incredible power of us.

Once I heard about puppies that someone was training and they used a gate to keep them in the kitchen. And one time, when the puppies were playing with the gate, testing the limits, it fell on them. And never again did they try to test that barrier. They were terrified of it even when they out grew it and towered over it; they dared not cross it.

We are those puppies. And we all have gates in our lives.

Even if we’ve outgrown them, they still feel like they tower over us and can hurt us, even if we can clearly see that all we need to do is jump a little and we would easily clear it. But, instead, the gate traps us.

But it’s not the gate that traps us but how we think of it.

You see, the puppies weren’t trapped by the physical gate. It was their idea of the gate that was trapping them.

The same was true of me: it wasn’t my bloodied high school papers and growing up immigrant that kept me from writing—no. It was my idea of myself that did that. And it held me back from doing what I enjoyed, loved, all because I was afraid of something I had outgrown.

What are your gates?

It can be anything. I’ve had friends who believed they couldn’t get married, or that they couldn’t be happy, or that they couldn’t get fit, or that God wouldn’t forgive them, or that the world is ending. Maybe you’re wondering if you can make it through this pandemic. There are endless options of the gates that imprison us.

To find out what they are, an exercise you can do it just to write down all of the things that you believe you can’t do but enjoy doing. Take time to slow down and really parse through your thoughts and beliefs about yourself and actually put them down either in your device or even on paper with a pen. Doing that will help you practice awareness. Wake yourself up to the way you see yourself. You don’t need to write Pulitzer Prize winning work. You just need to document your observations so that you can read it and reflect on the ideas and stories that are barricading you.

Also, you can’t do it alone. Often, we need help. For me, it was my wife and God. I felt like there was divine assistance that sparked my mind to see the possibilities, then my wife fanned the flame. There was a God given desire to write. And my wife had heard my musings and love for words and encouraged me.

“I can’t…” is too often said about this or that dream or possibility. But more often than not, it’s just a gate that fell on you when you were young.

It’s time to jump the gate.

Lots of love,

John


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Savoring life

Life is short; enjoy today.

This week an old friend’s wife died. It was sudden—tragic. She was young, around my age, too young to die. They likely had dreams of growing gray together, wrinkled, swinging on a creaky porch swing, talking about their grown kids and grandkids. Now that’s gone.

See, life can sucker punch you in the face. It can knock the wind out of you, and make you feel like you’re dying.

But that’s not my point. The point is to enjoy—no, savor—each day.

And I don’t mean to party hard and do something thrilling. I mean sip and take in the moments and the mundane things like embracing your spouse, telling your loved ones that you love them, eating a home cooked meal with family—the things we get to do everyday, but often take for granted because they are so normal. When placed against the finality of death, those are the things that matter most.

So let your palate of life absorb each and every flavor. Relish them. Feel satiated.

For life’s a delicious gift.

Give thanks.


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One of the best ways to deal with uncertainty

Uncertainty is everywhere. And the best thing we can do isn’t fight it, try to force things to happen—control. No.

Sometimes the best thing we can do is just do this—surrender.

That’s not the same as giving up. You’re not quitting. Absolutely not!

Surrendering is different. It’s not giving up; it’s giving in. And that’s an important distinction, especially in times like these.

It’s like quicksand. When you get stuck in it it’s terrifying and your temptation is to just fight and flail and twist and turn and writhe. The fear grips you and you want to gain control, but that only saps your strength and weakens you until you don’t have any energy to actually solve your problem.

Instead, when you’re in that situation, you need to relax. Make yourself light, and then you make slow and deliberate moves to get yourself out. It takes time, patience, and persistence.

We’re all in quicksand now.

We feel it. With a crazy political world, incredible divisions, an election year—a pandemic—looming possible school openings, quarantines, lockdowns, financial stress, and the list can go on, there’s just more to make us want to fight and flail and twist and turn and writhe, isn’t there? We want control but can never really get it, can we?

And we’re tired. We’re stressed, fatigued.

Stop trying to control and fight.

Instead, surrender. Don’t give up. Give in. Let your mind and body relax. Don’t worry about tomorrow. Think about today. Make a plan. Take deliberate and slow steps. Feed yourself. Feed your family. Find time to laugh and play. Create. Work. Find a way to survive.

Remember, you can’t control the quicksand: the political mayhem, people’s comments on Facebook, their ideologies, the economy. You can control yourself, your mindset, your prayer-life, your meditation practice, your routine, your actions.

Slow down. Let the future unfold. Persist. Go with the flow.

And, when you do, I believe, you’ll be free to find freedom.

You’ll even grow.

Love,

John


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When things get bad, go long

These days it’s easy to think that everything’s crap. But that’s wrong.

You need to go long.

See, the short-term is crappy. Yes, the pandemic is still here. It’s swelling. There’s a second wave. It’s looking ugly, uglier every day.

But, that’s shortsighted. You’ve got to look yonder. Over the horizon. Set your sights on the vista, farther ahead, further still.

I don’t mean distance, but time. Don’t measure life in days, or even months. Do it in years, far beyond the boundaries of immediate gratification.

We need to go long.

To “go long” is often a phrase used in investing. It means to buy an asset like a stock or index fund or something that appreciates—and you do this.

You hold on.

You don’t get out. You don’t sell. You don’t liquidate. You grip it tightly, knuckles whitened, even if life and fear and market gyrations and recessions scream at you to pull out. But no, you hunker down. Maybe you even double down. You’re in it to win it.

That’s what we need to do right now. We need to go long on life.

You need to invest yourself in something that will appreciate. And then, hold on. No matter what happens.

It can be in relationships, or a business, or your health, or spiritual wellbeing, or investing your money. Whatever it is, make sure it’s worthwhile and appreciates and pays dividends in joy and laughter and blessings and hope in the future.

And then, be patient and consistent, and you will see amazing payouts. Your investment will compound.

And you will be rich.


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You’re rich

Do you feel like you have something to prove? I do sometimes.

I feel that urge to let people know that I’m doing ok; I’m successful; I’ve done something; I’m special. But why?

Comparing ourselves to others is a killer. It kills our joys, our happiness, our richness.

But I hope you free yourself from that, friends. I hope you see that life is more than how much crap you can put into your homes, more than your titles, net worth and where you lie on the imaginary comparison chart you place yourself and others.

Just because you have a lot of money, homes, wealth, doesn’t mean you’re rich. Having a lot doesn’t mean you have healthy relationships, wellbeing, wellness, character. Often the best of life gets eroded by the pursuit of more.

See, the secret to happiness is contentment.

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t have dreams, or try to do better, or succeed. You should.

But when you start looking around and comparing yourself, or scrolling down your newsfeed and wondering what it would be like to be so and so, that’s the problem. You’re always one scroll away from feeling life poor.

You might have reached great heights and attained riches, but still feel poor. And the act of comparison is the fastest way to dive into that dingy hole of feeling impoverished.

Because there will alway be someone doing “better” than you. Whatever “better” means.

Instead you need to focus on your life and enjoy what you have. More than that, you can be grateful, or, even, celebrate where you are.

You decide how rich you feel. And when you know that, you won’t need to prove anything.

Your contentment is proof of how good you have it.


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You can survive this time

Sometimes authority is wrong. In America, it’s woefully wrong about the pandemic.

Everything is not ok. It’s not safe.

I’m not trying to be a fear-monger. I’m just telling you the truth.

I don’t want you to get sick. I don’t want you to spread this disease to your loved ones.

Look, our leaders are failing us. When leadership fails, we must lead ourselves.

When governments fail to use reason, data, wisdom, we must self-regulate.

We must stay informed and help, encourage, challenge, and bless each other.

I’m not saying this time is easy. No, it’s terrible. It kick-you-in-the-face challenging. It’s “unprecedented.”

We must use our minds, stay calm, and not rush into a world that no longer exists. It’s not safe.

But I have hope. I believe this will pass. It will be safe again. But it’s just not now.

In the meantime, practice caution, call friends and family, eat delicious food, read books, binge a show, learn a new skill, occupy your time with healthy, socially distanced activities.

And when you get through this, you’ll be stronger than ever.

Stay well, friends.

Love,

John


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Heal your wounds

The key to healing a wound is to move toward the pain.

You know the relational or financial or emotional problems that happen in life. They hurt us.

We’re wounded.

But if you don’t face the uncomfortable, even agonizing conversations you don’t want to have with your partner, friend, mother, it only makes the relationship harder, unhealthier.

Or if you don’t look at your finances as they are and really dig into them, that will only make your financial future grimmer, darker.

Maybe something in your past is haunting you. Some act you did or was done to you sits on your mind, heart, burdening you. And you want to ignore it, but it only weighs you down, like an anchor, drowning you.

The only way to heal is to move toward our fears, what pains us.

It’s like a cut.

My son runs around and often get scrapes and bleeds. When that happens, he knows the next thing we are going to do. We bring him into the bathroom and clean off the wound with soap and water. He screams, cries, hates it—all of it. But if we didn’t do that, he would only have bigger problems later, get an infection, or worse.

Likewise you need to push into the pain. Even after you grimace, maybe scream, you must press into the difficult conversation, make the terrible spreadsheet, talk to a therapist. You need to face the things that scare you.

And it will be like a surgeon taking a scalpel to an infection, cleansing you, healing you. It will keep you from greater pain.

It cuts, but it heals.

You’ll feel whole.


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A better tomorrow is a choice

Your past isn’t you; and your future is always being made in the present.

You’re walking potential. You’re becoming. You’re changing, growing, evolving.

That is, if you choose to be.

You’re not simply who everyone thinks you are. You’re not stuck. You’re not just you.

Decide to make new relationships, form new habits, develop new practices, and amazing things will happen.

Sure, it’s not easy. It’s uncomfortable, challenging, difficult.

But it’s not impossible. It’s within reach. Stretch for it.

And if you do, there is one thing that surely won’t happen. And it’s this.

Regret.

The pandemic isn’t over

It’s a matter of life or death. What is? This: Who you’re listening to. Don’t listen to the stories, the ideological frameworks, the politics, businesses, even your own urges.

Everyone has their agenda; campaigners want to win campaigns; businesses want your money; government officials want to be voted back in office; you just want everything to feel ok. They, and you, are all biased and want something from you. Don’t heed them.

This week we had a school official reach out to us to get our child to come to a meet and greet at his new school, to meet his new teacher, which would be incredible—if it weren’t for the virus ravaging our world population. And the school official emailed repeatedly, asking us to come into the classroom with other kids. Yes, it would be a smallish group, but still indoors with others. We asked if we could do it out of doors. She said no.

We didn’t listen to her.

You shouldn’t listen to them either.

You should listen to the data.

And the data is speaking loudly. It’s saying this.

The virus is alive and well.

And it’s dangerous.


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