The well-dressed man rose silently from his seat and walked to the front of the room.
With a somber look on his face, he adjusted the microphone, gazed out at those gathered, and said:
“Charles Araujo was someone who it would seem did not live just one lifetime. He was unwilling to accept that his was to be a simple, one-dimensional life. He did not see life through the lens of ‘or’, but rather of ‘and’ – he always felt he could do it all if he wanted it bad enough. As a result, he was many things…”
That is the beginning of my obituary.
Or at least it’s similar to the one I hope someone will give for me when my time on earth is done. (BTW, if you’d like to see the whole thing, you can get a copy at the bottom of this article.)
I know thinking about our own mortality and how others may remember us is sobering. But it’s also a potent tool when it comes to finding clarity about our ultimate life purpose — when we’re trying to answer the question, “what is the purpose of life?”
What you just read is something I created as part of an exercise called The Obituary Test. It’s a tool I’ve used over the years to help me identify and ground myself in my purpose — and I’d like to share it with you.
But before I do, we need to start with an examination of why purpose even matters in the first place.
The Purpose of Purpose — and Why Finding Your Purpose is So Hard
As my wife, Laura, points out in another recent article for us, there’s plenty of talk about purpose, why it’s so important that you know yours, how to find it…yada yada yada.
Don’t get me wrong. Purpose is essential — it’s even one of the four core tenants of the MAPS philosophy and lifestyle.
The problem is that most of this purpose blather is just that — talk.
When people talk about purpose, it comes across as this almost mystical calling for your life (which I don’t believe in), but which has little practical purpose other than to make you feel bad if you don’t have your own rock-solid purpose figured out.
It is the lack of practicality that I think is the root of the problem. It’s easier to throw around important-sounding terms than it is to walk someone through a process that might actually do something.
The obituary test is a first step toward rising to that challenge.
And it’s a critical first step because, in my view, your purpose is simply a choice.
It’s not some magical thing you need to discover on some around-the-world quest. You don’t need to sequester yourself with some guru to explore your inner being and uncover your one true reason for existing. At least, not in my book.
This is your life, and you’re free to live it any way you’d like. But that’s just it — you get to choose how you’d like to live it.
Unfortunately, that’s a choice that most people never make, at least not in a mindful, deliberate way. Instead, life just starts happening to most of us and, before we know it, we’re wrapped up in a never-ending reactionary process.
Finding your purpose is simply you hitting the pause button, stepping off the hamster wheel for a few moments, and choosing what you want for the rest of your life. Starting right this second.
But let me tell you, that can be a scary moment as we face this wide-open expanse. Full of opportunity and promise, sure, but it can also leave you feeling small, unworthy, and unsure of what future you actually want.
And that’s where the obituary test comes in.
Using the Obituary Test as Your Starting Point
The essence of the obituary test is as simple as it sounds. You write your own obituary.
But writing those few short paragraphs may take you far longer than you expect. The reason is that when we force ourselves to boil down our life into just a few words, it rapidly begins to bring things into relief. The process forces you to honestly assess what matters to you, the things you want to accomplish, and the impact you want to have on others.
In the process, there is often a stark moment of reckoning when you realize how much time and energy you spend on things that are not important enough to make it into your self-written obituary.
I’ve done several of these over the years, as I have matured and as my purpose became more apparent.
The first time I did it, I remember staring at my word processor’s blinking cursor for what seemed like (and may have been) hours. I probably started, and then frustratingly backspaced over the whole thing, dozens of times. I had several platitude-filled gobbledygook versions describing some made-up person that definitely wasn’t even a future version of me.
That first one took me forever to complete as it forced me to boil myself down to my essence — not of who I was, but of who I wanted to be.
When I was done, however, I wasn’t very pleased with what I found.
This is the part that all those self-help gurus don’t tell you. Going through this process is powerful, but mostly because it forces you to confront the disconnect between the life you want to live and the life you’re actually living on a day-to-day basis — what Laura calls micro-activations in her piece.
Going through this process that first time — and in the subsequent versions over the years — helped crystalize the things and people that are truly important in my life. They are important because I am choosing them to be — and that’s why they are my purpose.
Where to Next?
“What is the purpose of life?” is one of those philosophical questions that feels luxurious to ponder. Is there a point? Is there meaning in this human existence?
I’ll leave those existential questions to the philosophers, but I think there is a much more practical and real question that we all need to be asking ourselves: “What is the purpose of my life?”
Answering this question is essential because we risk giving up our right to choose the life we want to live without doing so. Yes, we all have to deal with the circumstances into which we are born or which are thrust upon us, but the question and the power of that choice remains.
At The MAPS Institute, we believe so strongly in the power of purpose — in this choice — that we have made it a central part of our philosophy. We think it is essential to finding and creating a life in balance because, without it, we are rudderless in a world of choppy seas. It’s also why we have built it in as a foundational element of our forthcoming program, The Focus Factor (and will probably include it in most of our future programs as well). I hope you embrace your choice and find the obituary test a helpful tool to help you decide what life you want to live.
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