Start Here: 3 Minute Read
“Why would you live homeless for a year?”
Because I dream of a world that redefines success as a life of purpose.
We all want purpose. We all want to get up in the morning motivated and free from worry. We all want to know we’re making a difference in the world. We all want to give and receive love. We all want the conviction that says, "I don’t care, I’m doing this, even if it kills me."
Purpose is the ongoing process of these three ingredients:
● Self-abandonment in the pursuit of higher goals
● Living within a community of unconditional love
● Carrying out a deep internal conversation with an external guide
Sadly we are taught much more about success, which is the ongoing process of these three competing ingredients:
● Self-absorption and self-help: We're consumed with our education, our careers, and our safety. We're consumed with our money and the economic opportunities it provides. Consequently, we’re intolerant of anyone who threatens our ability to get what we want.
● Loneliness: The former surgeon general, Vivek Murthy, says isolation is America's biggest health risk. (1) The mind registers isolation as physical pain. It’s linked to heart disease and decreased life expectancy. Even when we spend time with people, too often it’s motivated by what we can get from them.
● Self-guided, society-driven plans for our lives: We must get a certain kind of education and job. We must get a certain kind of house in a certain kind of neighborhood, and own a certain kind of car. For some people success mandates marriage and children by a certain age. For other people success mandates not marrying, or postponing kids until a certain age. Invariably it looks forward to retiring with a certain amount of money. When we fail at these objectives, we start to identify as a "failure"—and society reinforces this self-assessment.
When we pursue purpose we do the things our hearts yearn for. Like starting that business to help single moms. Like writing that book you believe can make a difference. Like accepting the deepest parts of yourself. Like having more time to spend with people you love.
When we pursue success we waste our lives. We become paralyzed with worry and stress and fear. We have a feeling of meaninglessness. We live isolated and lonely. We let the plans of others and culture dictate our lives.
Purpose and success are lenses through which we see the world and live. Because they are matters of the heart they can even appear the same. But they are not the same. They have competing motives. They result in conflicting outcomes. Purpose leads through death but ends in life. Success promises life but ends in death.
We all, including myself, have bought into success to varying degrees. We all have an internal struggle. We all—like Plato said—drive a chariot with two horses, each running in opposing directions.
I voluntarily lived homeless for a year because it was one of many possible ways to love purpose more than success. Through it I found a way to let go of my clinging self, which allowed me to focus on a project of helping others. I found a community that facilitated love and human connection. I engaged in a deep internal conversation with an external guide.
Success will try to drown you with the reasons we can’t put purpose first. Reasons like being “responsible”, “practical”, or “planning for retirement.” Reasons like approval from friends and family and dating apps. There’s a time and place for these things, but that time and place is never ahead of purpose.
The deepest desires of our hearts are to live lives of purpose, come what may. Our hearts know that purpose, not success, will set us free.
It’s time to put purpose first. It’s time to declare war on success.
Let’s do this.
Endnotes: (1) Work and the Loneliness Epidemic, Vivek Murthy, HBR, 2017. <https://hbr.org/cover-story/2017/09/work-and-the-loneliness-epidemic>