There is no greater exhaustion than living dissatisfied. Here are 6 things that can distract you from your purpose.
I think it’s quite well chronicled that burnout is a devastating state to live in. When you’ve overexerted yourself physically, emotionally or spiritually, it can take quite a while to recover from it. In fact I know several people who never really have been the same since a stint with burnout. If you’re in that category I’ve been absolutely loving the writings of Carey Nieuwhof in this space – highly recommended.
But I think even more prevalent than this sort of exhaustion is the exhaustion that comes not from doing too much, but doing too little of what you should be doing. I believe all of us have a purpose to fulfil on this planet and I’m yet to meet a person who doesn’t have some sort of awareness that they were meant for more.
And it’s absolutely disheartening and frustrating when you’re not satisfied with your life. The work you do, the way you spend your time – it’s the type of tired that you can sleep 12 hours a night from and not recover.
The more people I talk to and in my own experiences, the truth is many of us do have a sense for what we should be doing. Once you’ve lived a few decades, you’ve inevitably had a run in with your calling in life. I would argue that the bigger issue is that we’re distracted.
Distractions can be innocent and they can seem fleeting, but when they’re present for a year or more it’s hard to get back on track with who you’re supposed to be.
Fast forward 5, 10, 20, 30 years, and you’re on your way to a midlife crisis or a sense of despair at the end of your life about all the things you could have or should have been, becoming just another statistic on a long list of regrets of the dying.
Here are 6 things that can distract you from your purpose in life that I’ve found and am very grateful for several authors highlighting these.
Hey, I absolutely love all things movies and gaming. Just look at how many times I write about movies, shows and games I like, like 10 Realistic Movies About Love (Well, Realistic-Ish), Amazing Shows From Japan: 15 of the Best Anime… Ever and Chrono Cross Is The Best Game Ever Made.
I think entertainment provides us with a great way to unwind from busy days, to give us temporary escape from our stresses, and it can be just a lot of fun.
But when you live for escape, or remain escaped, you can miss the person you were supposed to be. Check out this powerful quote from Stephen Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People:
“Too many vacations that last too long, too many movies, too much TV, too much video game playing — too much undisciplined leisure time in which a person continually takes the course of least resistance gradually wastes a life. It ensures that a person’s capacities stay dormant, that talents remain undeveloped, that the mind and spirit become lethargic and that the heart is unfulfilled.”
You could be dating someone you wanted to date, you could be meeting people who are keys to your future, you could be investing in others and building the organisations that will orchestrate change, and you could have the marriage and family you’ve always wanted.
But if all the time in the week after work and all the fruits of your labour are exclusively poured into entertainment alone, you allow something good in measure to distract you from your purpose.
#2: Fruitless busy work
Dr Henry Cloud’s brilliant book Necessary Endings makes a great observation that things can’t grow where other things already are. Zig Ziglar also highlighted the truth that all of us have the same 168 hours a week, and yet some will do amazing things with those hours, where others will do a whole lot of nothing.
Over the years I’ve had the opportunity to work with many ministry and business leaders who have wanted to make the most of those hours. Sitting down we would go through their timetable and see what was eating all their energy, time, and effort. Many times people just feel busy without giving any thought to what they’re actually doing, and sometimes it really just is that – a feeling of busy but not the reality. More thoughts on that in What I’m Too Busy Really Means and Are You Too Busy For A Relationship?
I wonder if you looked at your week to week if you would see anything that is really just wasting your time. Maybe it’s a commitment that you half-heartedly attend just because someone pressured you into it. Maybe it’s a job in a career you’ve had no passion for in 10 years. Maybe it’s meeting up with people who have no value for your time regularly spinning your wheels instead of contributing what you really want to.
I love what Dr John Maxwell says about people who come to him telling them they want to quit cause they’re done and don’t want to be there anymore. He says, “Good – if you don’t want to be here, I don’t want you to be either”. Passionless people are one of the great killers of any industry or workplace, and usually they end up dying themselves.
As Dr Henry highlights, sometimes it may even be a good thing that’s in the way of a better thing. You’ve been great with that group of 4 but there’s a group of 20 or 100 that would benefit from your help now.
Maybe you’ve got some relationships which the season has clearly changed for and now it’s time to readjust the sails. Maybe you’re still in a job you realised was a dead end 5 years ago but you’re still, doing a whole lot of not much, waiting for…. something.
This is probably a good exercise to do with a spouse, a mentor or a friend who’s got their life in order.
You’ve already got a full week – you just need to find out what it’s full of and how much that really matters through the lens of who you’re called to be.
But so many people use their spouse as their reason why they aren’t living out of their dreams.
Jesus said that anyone who sets their hand to the plow of doing the good work and looks back is unfit for the Kingdom. Even harsher is that he calls out one young man who steps back from his calling because he says he’s “taken a wife” and can’t continue.
I could not even count the hundreds of couples I’ve seen so passionate about life and kicking goals together who quickly pull out of every active commitment they have once they get married. Fast forward a few years and they aren’t full of energy or happiness – they’re exhausted from watching their dreams from a distance and full of mounting resentment towards the man or the woman they think stole their opportunity to make a difference from them.
But the reality is they didn’t stop you – you gave it up and used them as an excuse.
Marriage ironically wasn’t intended to distract you from your purpose. Scripture shows us that the call on Adam’s life was to look after a garden, but once he was paired up with Eve the instruction changed to subduing the entire earth. As Joseph Prince observed, this shows us marriage is intended to increase our domain.
Instead of complaining about what you think you can’t do anymore, why not ask what you could be doing together?
There’s a reason they call it a life partner – you could, should and can exist to help each other fulfil the great destiny and potential on each other’s lives.
You might be thinking that I’m about to make the easy observation that money can distract you from your purpose because of the stigma that exists in our world towards the rich, many of whom actually outdonate and out-influence most of us by a long shot.
Instead there’s a more practical side to finances and purpose that I think many people don’t actually think about properly.
I wrote a post a while ago that I’m very passionate about around the question Who’s Going To Pay For Your Dream? Many people haven’t actually thought about how much it’s going to cost to do what they want to do in life, and they also haven’t given any though to how much financial margin it requires to look after your family, pay your bills, buy a house, invest, and also have the means to pay for the life of influence and significance you want to have.
I am very grateful to the book The Richest Man Who Ever Lived by Stephen Stott who highlighted the great advice of King Solomon from the book of Ecclesiastes – plant your fields, then build your house.
In other words, get the means of production right before you go for the grand setup.
Additionally, I was really inspired to learn that pastors such as TD Jakes and Joseph Prince have given so much thought and effort to their own financial wellbeing that they do not take an active (or significant) salary from their ministries, meaning the most top-heavy position in the organisation does not have to be funded. What a freeing thing for their organisations to optimize their reach when their founders are not financially dependent or impediment to the ministry’s success, and for their families that they aren’t locked into a limited financial future because someone hadn’t thought of the impact it would have on them.
Many people instead want to build the massive ministry, the huge organisation, the influential program or the amazing relationship first before they’ve given any thought to how they’re going to fund it. And if you haven’t thought about it, the fear and the pressure of not knowing how you’re going to make ends meet along the way will certainly distract you from your purpose, as it has done for millions of people before you.
#5: Failing to keep it in front of you
I’m not the fastest or best at it but I’ve been a jogger over the last decade or so. And as with any sport or physical activity, you will go where your focus is. If I’m running down the hill of the local reserve and get distracted by something behind me or next to me, my body will try to go that way and I’ll end up stacking it.
The same is true of driving, swimming, playing tennis… and living. A lack of focus can distract you from your purpose just as much as anything else on this list.
Zig Ziglar said if you aim for nothing, you’ll hit it every time. And for many of us, we fail to keep anything significant in front of our eyes. We relegate our purpose and calling to oh yeah that thing that I got told about when I was 17 I guess or that really great insight those friends had into my life or that thing that used to make me come alive but haven’t ever done it again.
It has to always be in front of us, or we forget it.
The words of the prophet Habbakuk remind us the power of writing down the vision and making it plain to see. When it’s our focus, we’ll get it done.
#6: The romance in your mind
The truth about fulfilling your purpose is it’s a lot less romantic than we think it is. That’s why a lot of people make it to the place they were made to be and give up, because it “doesn’t feel how it should”. People do that with marriage, friendship, and other commitments as well, and it’s a separate conversation on the fact that feelings make great followers but terrible leaders.
Brian Houston in the book For This I Was Born spends a lot of the book honing in on this reality. When you’re fulfilling your purpose, it isn’t always applause and support and everyone loves you and the Reapers made you a birthday cake for your birthday Happy Birthday Commander Shepard and you’re the best and here’s 50 gold stars just for you being you.
No, fulfilling purpose often looks like a hard slog, fielding opposition, not being thanked and having to pay great personal costs to achieve. And doing that for 50+ years.
We’ve romanticised the fulfilled life as something grand and extravagant, and we completely undersell the power of consistent, ordinary, but repeated pursuit of who we’re meant to be.
You might never get paid money to be who you’re called to be. You might not get the platform you want. You might not get the applause or the acclaim or the position or the title that says you are who you are. Instead, promotion and influence is actually being who you’re called to be everywhere you go.
Positions, finances and promotion don’t go to people who aren’t making a difference and then suddenly have to. They go to people who have served faithfully in the dark and who have steadily built character, acumen, education and capability in a particular area. Those are the people who are then launched into the spotlight and asked to do all those things again, now with everyone watching them.
Look at Paul. Or Joseph. Or Jesus. The door didn’t always fling open – often they had to build their own.
I wonder if you allow romance to distract you from your purpose. Romance in the sense of this fairytale state of being that you’ll arrive in once you’ve made it in your purpose.
I’ve found in my own life that the sense of satisfaction is actually greater and more fulfilling when I’ve let go of romantic notions of grandeur and been able to fully embrace what’s in my hand right now. Not the people I want to reach one day, but the people I can and do today. The education I can leverage right now. The opportunities to help and lift my fellow man and woman that are always before me.
The Hebrew notion of work means to manifest who you really are. Here. Now. Not one day. But today. The world is waiting for you, my friend, to be who you were born to be.
There are so many things out there that can distract you from your purpose, but I thought I’d share some that I’ve had to overcome in my own life, as well as the things I see pop up as obstacles in the lives of a lot of people I’ve known who want to make a difference.
How about you? What are some things that you think distract you from your purpose?