Lack of purpose and direction in a man's life can be a subtly painful experience. It often occurs as a dull ache in the early stages of adulthood transforming into a deeper anguish in later years. Not making choices that are aligned and connected to those values which imbue our lives with intention and depth can lead us to depression, an inability to focus, and serious relationship problems. It’s this kind of disorienting absence of meaning that can eventually push a man into a ‘midlife crisis’ experience.
As humans we all have an inherent need to feel like we were put on Earth to do something valuable. To make a positive contribution. To have an experience of being more than just a meat-body, and a head on a stick; going through the motions of what we need to do to put food on the table and keep a shelter over our heads. The absence of purpose, in particular for men, can make our lives feel somewhat hollow and shallow. It is a drive towards something that is connected to our hearts that evokes from within a man, not just the will to survive, but the will to live. To truly live, in a fulfilled sensory experience, requires a man to generate the will to face difficulty with both tenacity and openness. Because one truth to life is that it’s full of difficulty. Inevitably, we will all be confronted with varying degrees of adversity at different stages of our lives. When the challenges that are put in front of us don't seem to have any deeper meaning behind them, it can make it hard to summon the drive to move forward. Recognizing that it is those challenging circumstances which are actually an opportunity to develop a relationship to one's deeper self and one’s purpose, is key. Many men will divert away from the uncomfortable feelings that arise in these challenges by turning to addictive habits, things like: pornography, alcohol and video games have a way of temporarily numbing or soothing away the anxiety that is provoked. The challenge is these vices create a vicious cycle. It goes like this; the thing we need to look at is in front of us, we get triggered into anxiety, we "check-out" or disassociate from the present moment because we don't like what's coming up within us. And then because we have avoided doing the work we need to do, the issue will rise up again. Ultimately because a man is unable to face the things he is afraid of, and not growing, he will develop or maintain a sense of shame and low self-worth, and he can easily fall into a depressed state from here.
Not having a clear sense of direction also makes it difficult to keep our minds focused. It's a knowing on both a mental and emotional level that creates the necessary fuel to stay on task. A man may have a sense of mission in completing a goal at work, which can grant him a small sense of purpose, but if this is disconnected from his heart and values it will fail to give him the fire to be steady and consistent. We live in a world full of potential distractions. The allure of beeps, buzzes, and alerts from the outer world is strong. If the strength of our determination is not more powerful than the seduction of these attention grabbers, we will plunge into the shallow depths of having our attention fractured around meaningless activities.
When a man is out of touch with his purpose it will be difficult for people to trust him - in particular an intimate partner. The feminine is very keenly aware of how connected we are emotionally to our values, and to the present situation. Purpose is like a stake in the ground; an energetic declaration of I know what I'm here for, what's important to me, and saying: “I'm not going to allow frivolous things to stand in the way of it”. That declarative energy is something that we embody from an inner clarity.
When someone gets the sense that we know what we are about and that we have clear boundaries around it they will be able to relax into trusting us. There is a solidity and a stability in the presence of a man that knows why he is here. This affects our ability to engage and inspire our lovers, potential clients, or investors. This is the essence of masculine energy. On the contrary, self-doubt and indecisiveness are read in our body language, tone of voice and even the words we choose. When we lack an inner knowing of why we are here, we will appear in our relationships as unsafe and unstable and this will also cause us to react in the same vein, because we will lack the grounded trust in ourselves that supports us in tempering our own emotional reactions.
Finding and living one’s purpose is not an easy track. Both the seeking of it (which is a purpose in itself), and then the execution of it, will change us on a very deep level. It’s the necessary alchemy that transforms us into becoming the men we need to be to actually do what we are here to do. As a man begins this journey, in particular at a later stage in life it can be easy to fall into regret about all the time that was lost and to beat oneself up over it. Don’t do that! It’s so important to hold yourself with both compassion and discipline. It is rarely a linear road to follow. Purpose is not something to be chased frenetically, moreso tracked and hunted and allowed to emerge, under the right conditions. It will require an investment of time, space, support, seeking guidance, likely some money and a powerful dedication. That dedication piece is crucial, because if you’re just doing it for yourself then you likely won’t do it. It’s important to consider the lives you will affect by living as a man of purpose.
There are some very specific tools that will help you. These are tools that can be repeatedly applied throughout the process, any time you find yourself descending into doubt or uncertainty.
Spend Time Alone Doing Nothing
As mentioned above, we can become consumed by all kinds of ways of distracting ourselves. We must be willing to create a moratorium for periods of time around these distraction based activities otherwise our time and energy will get eaten up, this requires setting clear containers and boundaries around dedicated time to do nothing. For more on this see my article: ‘Why Every Man Needs Time Alone’.
Empty space in a man’s schedule can be confronting, in particular if you're the Type-A personality, we have been conditioned with this idea of masculinity that has to be always doing, and yes, the doing of action and direction are masculine qualities. Yet, if they are not rooted in beingness that is steeped in awareness, then our doing will lack that depth of meaning. It will likely be just used to fill the space because we are uncomfortable with sitting with ourselves. Oftentimes the things we can take on as men in our doing are coming from a place of inadequacy and needing to prove ourselves, (to the world, our parents, our spouses). The importance of being able to relax into these spaces of non-doing, is that it allows for the deeper parts of us to emerge. It makes rooms for the faint voice of our inner guidance to be heard above the noise of our typical thought patterns. It gives us the room to process the emotional content that has been kept at bay from all of the activity, influence, and excess stimulation of our modern lives. As men who have been highly conditioned to suppress our emotions many of us are quite disconnected from this realm of the human experience. We’re fed reasons to perceive our emotions as weak, and to not honour them. Given the room to fully allow, feel, and express our emotions opens up a deeper understanding of who we are at a more fundamental level.
Get feedback from people you trust
We cannot see ourselves clearly, that’s true to human nature. Take the visual experience for an example, things appear differently as we perceive them; with different perspectives and vantage points, based around our own subjection of our senses. Feedback is the number one tool to uncover both our blind spots and our gifts. Reflection of someone else’s vantage point of our behaviour is one of those gifts. Our blindspots are essentially the parts of us that are unconscious to ourselves, and this is completely natural to the human experience, many of us fall into habitual behaviors that have been running on auto-pilot since they were programmed into us at a young age. A great amount of these are coping mechanisms or ways that we managed to survive the emotional, psychological, and physical terrain of our upbringing. These unconscious habits are the primary things that stand in the way of us accessing the new behaviors that will inevitably lead us to fulfill our purpose. Getting feedback starts the process of making the unconscious conscious to us.
Many of us are also unaware of our gifts or the value we are bringing to the people in our world. The gifts that we touch others with in a positive way are intrinsically linked to our purpose. Often we can be so focused on what’s wrong with us that we fail to see what we’re doing right; how we are already serving others, naturally, the value we bring to someone else’s life in our very nature and way of being. We all have unique genius skills that, by some stroke of grace and genetics, we arrive into this world with. These inherent gifts also evolve from the positive side of our survival mechanisms. With the right intention and inquiry we can do the work to start to separate the wheat from the chaff, or our gifts from our wounds - See my article ‘Finding The Gift In Your Wound’, by really taking in this feedback from people we trust. The new expanded sense of self-awareness of how we are impacting the world around us will also integrate over time as a kind of heightened sensitivity and empathy. Being more aware on this level allows us to be more intentional about tracking our relationship to our purpose as it evolves.
Track The Recurring Themes In Your Life
You can do this by journaling. We are all on, as Joseph Campbell called it, “a hero’s journey”, our lives are like a great mystery that, with some intentional effort, we can begin to unravel our unique mythological story from. How we perceive our own world. It is quite common for certain patterns to emerge from the unfolding of our lives, many of those patterns being painful lessons that keep returning to us because they still remain unresolved within our psyches. We can choose to turn away from our problems as a means to escape them or we can turn toward them with curiosity. It’s this kind of unconditional curiosity that allows for the truth to integrate within our consciousness. When we can start to see and accept that where we came from, even the darkest things we have done or experienced were only there to get our attention. That darkness then becomes the fodder for cultivating our light. What we shine our flashlight of awareness on. For connecting in with our true essence and wholeness which includes both the most difficult and the most inspiring parts of life; both our dark and our light.
Face The Things You Most Fear
“The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek. It is by going down into the abyss that we recover the treasures of life. Where you stumble, there lies your treasure. The very cave you are afraid to enter turns out to be the source of what you are looking for. The damned thing in the cave that was so dreaded has become the center. You find the jewel, and it draws you off. In loving the spiritual, you cannot despise the earthly.”
This other piece by mythologist Joseph Campbell, speaks to doing the work of integrating our shadows. Quite often the things we are most afraid of are within us. Even if that is expressed in some kind of outward action, like public speaking or skydiving. What we are actually afraid of is not the experience itself but the emotions that the experience incites within us. There exists a tremendous amount of energy in the things we fear the most, in the act of looking directly into the face of the things we fear the most we get to harvest that energy that is otherwise put off in avoiding doing what we know we need to do. Our fears often point to an unlived potential within us.
In effect they are emotional signals designed to harness our attention towards that which would support the awakening of that potential. The practice of facing our fears as external events can be softened by first imagining those scenarios that trigger something in us, and then visualizing as if the worst possible outcome occurred. What if... we died? Everyone laughed at us? Or we wet our pants? If we can look at these imagined possibilities while regulating our nervous system response, we can train ourselves to prepare for the worst on a mental and emotional level. Being called to any purpose will ask of you to do things that push you towards the edges of your fear. You can’t live your purpose by identifying with the part of you that is afraid. You must lean into anxiety that paralyzes you and learn to move through it, learn to love yourself through these states, because of these states.
This isn’t to say we should never heed to our fears, they are designed to protect us and help us survive. The task is to discern between the fear that is genuinely there to keep us out of harm's way, and the irrational fears our minds are using to craft an imaginary scenario that is not likely to occur.
Be Willing To Fail
Your willingness to fail is in direct proportion to your commitment to succeed at anything; the trap of perfectionism is the stickiest place a man can be. The perfectionist is attached to safety and certainty, his sense of value is deeply tied up with getting it right. He will use getting it right as a mental scapegoat to convince himself not to engage in anything outside of his comfort zones.
In order to live our purpose we must be willing to fail at living our purpose; purpose is not an ego-driven venture, it is soul-driven. The humiliation that comes from getting it wrong is a necessary ingredient to being able to hold our purpose humbly in service of something larger than us, we must be so hungry for it that we will continue to get back up again every time we get knocked off course, every time we fail. It’s important to reframe our mindset to constructively ask the question: ‘What can I learn from this?’. In contrast to allowing ourselves to become victimized by the stories the inner critic makes up about it.
In the humility and vulnerability, comes a receptivity. Together these galvanize an inner ecology that invites growth and wisdom. Within the school of life we become refined as the deeper version of ourselves. Every failure chisels away at the parts of us; beliefs, mindsets, habits that are obstructing the pathway to our purpose, which is essentially within us.
The truth is purpose rarely arrives in some neatly packaged epiphany. It's a wrestling match to try to pin it down. And even when we think we do, it will often slip out and morph into a new form. A purpose is a calling that speaks in the language of the soul. A subtle language that speaks in symbols, patterns, dreams, desires and serendipitous events. That calling requires listening as a practice and learning to interpret artfully that command from the soul into a form that maintains the essence of what wants to be delivered through us. This is no easy task and requires an incredible amount of practice, patience, and discipline.
It also requires the right kind of support. Purpose is not born in a vacuum, because purpose is not about us, or for us, it is not up to us alone to figure it out. It’s about being part of something larger than us, it’s about service and contribution as much as it is about personal fulfillment. Pay attention to what the world has been asking from you and what your relationships are showing you about yourself.
This is all feedback. Be willing to invest in structures or mentors that are intentionally there to help you uncover your purpose.
And, don’t ever buy into the myth that once you identify your purpose that the sky will open up and everything in your life will magically fall into place. Purpose is designed to work you and shape you into who you need to be to manifest it. Sometimes you will have to slog it through the mud. This doesn't mean you're off track! Patience means being able to even sit in the mud and wait for it. It’s important to remember that the lotus flower blooms from the mud. The lotus flower being a symbol of both rebirth and a great awakening.