I was 17 when I decided my purpose.
I didn’t look for it. I didn’t ask for it. I decided it.
The day I decided wasn’t special. I didn’t set aside time to consider how I could craft my purpose. It just felt right.
I set goals to get there. I created processes to get there. I experimented, I learned, and I built.
Two years later, I live that purpose every day: to create tools to help individuals flourish.
This post right here. This is one of those tools.
Value proposition: Learn how to live your best life every single day.
What’s your purpose?
For my 19th birthday, I brought together my friends to do a period of life-reflection. I asked 10 questions designed to help people live a life more aligned with their vision.
Without vision, we fall to the default path. We say “yes” to everything people ask for us. We tend to view purpose as something we add to our life. And maybe it is. But it’s true function is to help us say no.
In Essentialism, Greg McKeown explains the life of the essentialist — the person who chooses what to pursue and pursues it with vigor:
The way of the Essentialist means living by design, not by default. Instead of making choices reactively, the Essentialist deliberately distinguishes the vital few from the trivial many, eliminates the nonessentials, and then removes obstacles so the essential things have clear, smooth passage.
We once lived in an age of scarcity in which it was wise to take any opportunity, consume any entertainment, do anything available. For those in the developed world, this is no longer the case.
What used to be a scarcity problem has become an abundance problem. There’s too much to do, consume, and be.
The winners are not those who set tens of goals, they are those who set a few. With so much distraction, it’s those who can keep focused that rise to the top.
If you’re searching for your purpose, stop. Choose it.
Humans are largely terrible at achieving their goals.
Each year, billions of people set ambitious goals only to fail them within a month. Despite this incredible giving-up rate, we never look at ourselves in the mirror and ask “Why isn’t this working?”
Giving Up vs Failure
Most people don’t fail at achieving their goals.
Failure implies that you did everything in your control but due to forces outside of your control, it didn’t pan out.
Giving up implies that you stopped doing. You stopped putting in the work to make meaningful progress towards the goal.
Both the failure and the giver-upper can have the same goal. While they both set out to get to the same place, they fell short. But they’re different — because on January 1st of the next-year, the giver-upper forgot their goal but the failure gets up and goes back to work.
The Goal Doesn’t Matter
Read as many articles about how to set goals, how to reach them, etc. It’s all meaningless. The goal does not matter.
One person sets a goal to run 1,000 miles. Another sets a goal to run 500.
They both run 500. One reached their goal and the other didn’t. They did the same work. The goal doesn’t matter.
No matter the goal, it’s the systems that matter. It’s the daily actions. A goal is a statement of what you plan to do. A system is what you actually do.
The difference between a goal-setter and system-creator is that the goal-setter is still at the starting line trying to create a SMART goal while the system-creator is already half way towards the finish line.
The Power of Systems
Write every day.
That’s the system I set 10 months ago. The goal? Become a clear thinker and earn $100 a week through my writing.
Like most goals (and sometimes even systems), I forgot about them. I’m far from perfect. While there was no point at which I chose to give up, I slowly faded away.
But the habit stuck. While I wasn’t publishing as often as I wanted to, I was writing every day. Sometimes it was just about my day; other times, it was about an idea I had been working on.
This past October, I started publishing again.
This past month, I made over $200 a week through my writing. Was it the goal? No. It was the system.
Because even when I had forgotten my dream, the system stuck. I kept writing.
In Ryan Holiday’s piece on success as a lagging indicator, he articulates how results are caused by the months of work before:
When a day’s writing goes well, it’s got little to do with that day at all. It’s actually a lagging indicator of hours and hours spent researching and thinking. Every passage and page has a prologue titled preparation.
Systems drive change. Systems drive results.
You didn’t reach your goal. You stuck to your systems.
Systematizing the Good Life
So, where do goals fit in?
Goals are directional indicators. If your vision is how you want to shape the world and your systems are your engine, your goals keep you going in the right direction.
Great goals are aligned with your vision. Great systems are aligned with your goals.
With this clarity, you can start systematizing the good life — cultivating your dreams in your every day life.
You have your vision, let’s create your goals.
Goals must be measurable. If there was any wisdom SMART goals contain, it’s this: you should be able to compare your progress to where you’re aiming for.
This idea’s a little more contrarian but even more true: goals should be unattainable. A great goal is infinite — you will forever be going in its direction. Setting a measure is simply to make sure you’re on the right path. But that path? It never ends.
The only time I think you shouldn’t set an unattainable goal is if you have defined an “enough” that you’re trying to reach. For example, you want to make $5000 and once you get it, you’re satisfied. In that case, part of the goal itself is to stop pursuing it once you have enough. That’s a worthy effort and deserves an end.
Once you have your goals, it’s time to create the systems.
Systems are made up of actions that are in your control. They are the daily, weekly, and monthly actions you take to get closer to your goal.
The systematized good life in action
One of my goals was to make $2500 from digital products I create this year. The system behind that is made up of the following habits:
- Record and evaluate a problem every day
- Solve one of those problems every week.
- Create a MVP for one of those solutions every other week
I wrote more about this system here.