When I see articles or posts promising enlightenment in five easy steps or listing the ten definitive rules of entrepreneurship, I do what most reasonable people do. I run. As you might imagine, I am in great shape, since posts like these are as common as a country song with a bar stool. So, when I saw Adam Liepzig’s video, “How to Find Your Life Purpose in Five Minutes,” I was skeptical. I don’t even like to cook oatmeal in five minutes. I clicked anyway.
Liepzig poses five questions to the audience: (1) Who are you? (2) What do you love to do? (3) Who do you do it for? (4) What do those people want or need? (5) How do they change as a result of what you give them? He came to this insight after attending a college reunion in which he found that eighty percent of his classmates were miserable. The other twenty percent, seemingly less “successful,” were happy and well-adjusted. Why?
The first two questions are about you; the last three about others, he explains. And therein lies the secret: a life lived for and with others is a life of purpose, which is what we all want. This is what the twenty percent had figured out. And the way to attain purpose is deceptively easy, as Liepzig demonstrates by helping the audience answer the questions.
For instance, here are my answers: (1) Robert, (2) Make people laugh, (3) Readers, an audience, students, (4) A break from the grind of the world, (5) They become more human, less machine-like. What is interesting is that purpose in life can be achieved through any number of careers or jobs. It is not dependent upon the career, industry, or position you’re in. It’s about using that particular location in time and space to answer questions two through five, regardless of where you find yourself.
This is not new, of course. In fact, what led me to write about his video is its relationship to what Aristotle wrote in Nicomachean Ethics; namely, that the best life consists of acquiring wealth so that you can help others (no. 671). Aristotle also had the good sense to recognize humor (ludus) as necessary for human life (no. 866). He was smart that way and probably did stand-up at the Lyceum.
Aristotle…probably did stand-up at the Lyceum.
This concern for outward-directed purpose is also found in Ignatian discernment (e.g., What do you love to do? Are you good at it? Does it benefit others?) as well as throughout the Gospels. One of the most striking examples appears in Luke 6:27-36, when Jesus exhorts his disciples to go beyond the minimum and lead lives that are “extraordinary.” “Love your enemies,” he says (Lk 6:35), and if someone takes something from you, do not try to reclaim it (Lk 6:30).
As a teacher, I find it hard to get students–whether undergraduate or graduate–to understand this. They are concerned with making their way in the world with a splash, which, unfortunately, makes them ready candidates for Liepzig’s eighty percent pool. When faced with questions like Liepzig’s, they often respond with either cynicism or frustration. The former by those who are convinced that the “real world” does not operate like that, only academia; the latter by those who want to make a difference but feel as if they lack a plan of execution.
But I think Liepzig’s questions are eminently practical and doable. Answering his questions will help students–indeed, anyone at any age–make decisions that not only will save them from wasting time, but help them craft a very effective plan. “Besides,” I tell students. “Don’t be too worried about execution. Robespierre was concerned about execution. And look what happened to him.” I’m here all semester.