How to Find Your Major Definite Purpose in Life

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The Daily Laws" by Robert Greene. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What did you enjoy as a child? What makes you different? What do you care about most?

In The Daily Laws, Robert Greene argues that we lead our lives guided by false beliefs. He discusses how you can break free from false notions of success and happiness by identifying your unique life purpose and pursuing mastery in your field.

Read more for Greene’s advice on how to discover your purpose and an exercise to help you implement Greene’s ideas.

How to Discover Your Purpose

Greene writes that you can reconnect with reality and live with more clarity by dedicating yourself to your unique purpose. He explains how to discover your purpose by exploring three aspects of yourself.

Your purpose is a task or skill that you’re naturally drawn to do. When you dedicate yourself to your unique purpose, you’ll free yourself from unimportant distractions and find a direction in life that will bring you true happiness.

(Shortform note: In Flow, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi argues that there are four stages to developing your life’s purpose. The first step in pursuing your unique purpose is to meet your basic needs of survival. Second, Csikszentmihalyi encourages you to seek communities, whether it’s making meaningful connections with your family or a local club. In the third stage, you can begin to differentiate yourself and focus on identifying your personal values and strengths. Finally, Csikszentmihalyi suggests you return your focus to your communities and how you can contribute value with your unique abilities.)

So, what is your life purpose? Greene says that chances are, you already know it—deep down you’ve always liked certain things more than others. Some of us devote ourselves to art while others tinker with mathematical puzzles because these activities naturally energize and excite us. Greene argues that, when you learn to shape your unique interests into a life purpose, you can make your greatest personal impact in the world.

(Shortform note: In Minimalism, Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus argue that there are four main obstacles that prevent us from discovering and pursuing our life’s purpose: our sense of identity, status, money, and need for certainty. You might value one of these so much that it gets in the way of pursuing your true calling. For example, you might associate your identity with your current job or fear losing the status of your current position. You might struggle with these obstacles because of the false beliefs about success and happiness, which Greene describes.)

To develop your unique purpose, Greene offers three suggestions:

1. Reflect on your childhood passions. As children, we weren’t driven by external concerns such as reputation or financial status. Consider asking your parents, grandparents, or former neighbors about what you loved to do as a kid. Likely, you’ll realize that some of your childhood passions still resonate with you today.

(Shortform note: In The Success Principles, Jack Canfield explains why we pursue our authentic desires as children: Our wants were simpler and easier to get. For example, we might want to play with a toy or eat our favorite snack. However, as adults, we want more complex things, so, for simplicity’s sake, we sometimes default to saying that we don’t have a preference when we really do. To rediscover your genuine wants, Canfield suggests you practice recognizing your personal preferences in every situation, no matter how inconsequential it seems. For instance, when deciding whether to meet a friend for lunch or dinner, you might be tempted to say that you don’t have a preference. However, force yourself to determine which one you prefer and state it.)

2. Identify what makes you different. Beyond your childhood passions, consider all of the ways you’re unique—your personality, experiences, desires, and tastes. According to Greene, these traits are valuable simply because no one else has them.

(Shortform note: While it’s important to discover your unique interests and strengths, other experts point out that it’s more valuable to choose a path and take action. In The Defining Decade, Meg Jay says focusing too much on being unique can hold you back if you try to do everything unconventionally and refuse to try things that don’t align with your personal interests. Instead, she suggests you prioritize taking action and committing to a path, trusting that you’ll find ways to express your individuality no matter what you do.)

3. Develop your unique beliefs. Greene urges you to form values and opinions that aren’t influenced by others. When you’re clear on what you care about, you won’t confuse the pursuits you’re passionate about with those society deems valuable. To commit to your beliefs, Greene advises you to deliberately rebel against any false beliefs that hold you back. For example, if you have a strong desire to be liked, take pride in defying that desire and embracing your individuality.

(Shortform note:  When you identify your true beliefs, you can reach what Gay Hendricks calls the zone of geniusthe highest level of happiness and achievement. In The Big Leap, Hendricks explains that chasing society’s standards of success can make you look successful and trick you into feeling comfortable. However, you’ll end up feeling unfulfilled. Hendricks writes that when you get a clear idea of your truly unique values, as Greene suggests, you can enter your genius zone, reach your fullest potential, and achieve maximum happiness. Rebelling against false beliefs might be a way to gain such a clear idea of what you truly value.)

Exercise: Identify Your Unique Purpose

According to Greene, having a unique purpose allows you to reconnect with reality by directing you toward what truly matters. Reflect on your passions and interests to find your purpose.

  • Think back to your childhood. What natural interests did you have? Are you interested in the same things now?
  • Reflect on your personality traits, background, experiences, and personal tastes. How does the unique combination of these make you different from other people?
  • According to Greene, you should form and stick to your own values and beliefs to help clarify your life’s purpose. List three to five beliefs you have that others might find unusual or even disagree with.
  • Based on your answers, what do you think your unique purpose is? How can you prioritize or pursue this purpose in your daily life?
Discover Your Purpose: 3 Ways to Turn Your Interests Into Impact

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Robert Greene's "The Daily Laws" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full The Daily Laws summary:

  • Why our beliefs tend to leave us feeling unhappy and unfulfilled
  • How to attune yourself to the reality of how the world really works
  • How to manage your emotions and develop rationality

Elizabeth Whitworth

Elizabeth has a lifelong love of books. She devours nonfiction, especially in the areas of history, theology, and philosophy. A switch to audiobooks has kindled her enjoyment of well-narrated fiction, particularly Victorian and early 20th-century works. She appreciates idea-driven books—and a classic murder mystery now and then. Elizabeth has a blog and is writing a book about the beginning and the end of suffering.

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