What Must You Do?

There are a lot of things in life that you want, might, can, or should do. But none of them are incredibly important when compared to what you must do.

And it’s fucking terrifying scary. I’m not sure there is anything more scary than deliberately choosing a purpose for your life. (Except for maybe having children. That’s hard to top.)

So, what is this must?

It’s about how your deep passion intersects with the value you can most provide the world. It’s a mix between your unique strengths, innate passion, and the difference you can make. Unfortunately, it’s something many people never figure out.

And there are a whole host of reasons why:

  • It’s too scary
  • It’s too epic
  • It’s not practical
  • It’s hard
  • It’s confusing

But most of all, the biggest deterrent is due to the fact that there’s no easy to follow path to find what you must do. There is no course on Mission Finding 101.

Even still, it doesn’t change the fact that this question exists. And until you answer it, you will find little peace of mind. You’ll probably think that something is wrong with you if you can’t figure it out. Maybe you’re just not meant to have a purpose or vocation. Other people seem to be doing great finding their purpose, so why can’t you? And even the people that aren’t doing so well at it, they seem so “okay” with not finding it. They’ve settled and resigned. So why can’t you?

The truth is, not many people are really okay with not doing what makes them come alive. They may do a good job pretending they don’t care, but they do. And as for the people that have figured it out, it probably wasn’t easy for them. They probably made a lot of dumb mistakes and stumbled around before they found their path.

So the point is, it’s not easy. Don’t pretend that it is. The reasons you’re avoiding chasing down your dreams are perfectly valid. Let them be valid.

While we’re at it, it’s worth asking the question: Is there anything you really must do?

The short answer: No.

If your inner rebel balks at the idea of what you “must” do, that’s perfectly normal. It happens for me, too. Whenever I tell myself I should or must do something, I usually don’t do it. I know that, so I phrase the things that I’m going to do as wants or needs.

So must you really do anything? No, you mustn’t. No one is going to penalize you or deduct life points if you don’t. The purpose of rephrasing this question this way is that it gets down to the essential. What we must or “can’t not do” with our lives, when approached in the right way, helps us focus on the “the thing” that we’re meant to do. You know, like the core of who you are. Getting down to what we must do is about unfolding who we are. When we let who we are unfold and completely honor our highest potential, we find our greatest joy.

Now I’d like to tell you a little bit about my experience with this “oh my god terrifying” life question.

For a long time, I tried to pretend that this question wasn’t important. I tried to silence my heart, wondering why it had to be so difficult. Following a practical, worn path was so much more comfortable. It’s hard to not let the fear of uncertainty take control.

But despite my attempts to ignore the voice, it kept calling. Sometimes it would get quieter, but it was persistent nonetheless.

And it always came back to fear.

Fear of not being good enough.

Fear of never finding the right path.

Fear of not having something other people would value.

Fear of not living up to my potential.

Fear of never realizing my calling.

It’s backwards, but it seems that fear of not realizing your potential keeps you from doing anything to achieve it. It’s easier to live with the uncertainty than to try and come face to face with the fact that maybe, just maybe, you didn’t have what it takes.

But at some point you have to make a choice. You have to decide that it’s more important to do what you must (even if you don’t know what that is), than to let uncertainty rule your mind.

If you really want to be the ruler of your life, you have to make a promise to yourself that is perhaps one of the most important things you can do. You have to promise yourself that…

I’ll follow my heart, even if I’m stumbling down an unclear path, and listen to the signs that life gives me. I’ll trust that if I make the resolve to honor my potential, that eventually I will find my calling. Whether or not I fail, never find my path, or don’t live up to my potential, it’s not as important as knowing that I never tried.

When you decide that, it’s game-over. No more wondering if it will happen. It’s just a matter of time before it does.

To help you get more clear on the path you’d like to follow…

  • Create a personal manifesto. This guide by Gwen will help you create a tangible road map for what exactly you want to make out of your life. Look at the patterns that come up, and you’ll find some clues.

Once you have an idea of your path…

  • Step up and play a much bigger game. Once you’ve figured out what you must do, chances are you’re still probably playing it a bit safe. This guide and workbook will help you break out of your perceived limits and play a bigger game. I recently used this workbook from Dave and I found a ton of ways to step up my game and push past my perceived limits.

The only way to make the path clear is by wandering. Don’t set out with a purpose; simply follow whatever calls to you. Take the pressure off. You have time all the time in the world. This isn’t a race.

Whatever you do, don’t let not knowing keep you from doing what you must do. Whenever you take a step toward your dreams, the Universe takes ten. You’ll be surprised at how much the path will become clear when you simply decide to see it out to the end.

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Comment & Add Your Voice

Julius April 8, 2010 at 4:47 pm

I for one have my own set of small and big goals, and I consider achieving them as my purpose. I like the idea of wandering and not having a specific path or plan. Things tend to fall apart around us when we fail to follow these plans. but through wandering, we freely explore all possibilities, not worrying about too many factors.

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Dave Navarro April 8, 2010 at 5:34 pm

Jonathan –

I’m so glad that the workbooks were helpful for you. I think I might have to go through the Bigger Game one again myself. :-)

Keep up the good work over here & keep kickin’ ass!

Dave

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Flora April 8, 2010 at 5:37 pm

Oh, that is just beautiful Jonathan. Thank you.

AND it popped into my inbox just as I was writing one of those damn “about me” thingys that I *used to* play too safe on! LOL

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Anilia April 8, 2010 at 9:35 pm

I think the reason that settling on your purpose is so scary, is that your purpose may not ‘look’ like you thought it would. Or it might not fit a definition that other people have for you. You’ll have to explain to them, and most importantly, yourself, why this purpose is right for you, even though it doesn’t fall into a pre-conceived notion that was set for you. And that takes courage too…

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Lana - {Daring Clarity} April 8, 2010 at 11:46 pm

awesome, awesome, awesome post Jonathan! Making a choice and decision to keep going is really all it takes. It is scary to commit to something. Staying in a delusional state of – I don’t know what my purpose is and what I want – is much more comfortable. Lizard brain, how Seth Godin puts it, is trying to protect us from pain this way. I am commited to ignore it.

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DiscoveredJoys April 9, 2010 at 1:20 am

I’ve been been planning to write a particular book for some time, and have been searching and waiting for ‘the trigger’ to start writing and stop researching. I think I have been fearful that I didn’t know enough to do a good job (by the standards of ‘other people’.

Then I read this blog and POW!, lights flash, bells ring, and I get that ‘clench’ in my chest that shows what I have just experienced has deep emotional resonance within me. I’ve tasted many intellectual triggers, but it is this emotional one (for me) that has done the job!

Thank you very much. (Its my birthday, too!)

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Craig Thomas April 9, 2010 at 1:43 am

I agree – there’s nothing we really need to do. Nice links, I’ll check them out later on. Also, nice line –

“Whenever you take a step toward your dreams, the Universe takes ten.”

Made me smile. :)

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Jason April 9, 2010 at 3:47 am

“I’ll follow my heart, even if I’m stumbling down an unclear path, and listen to the signs that life gives me. I’ll trust that if I make the resolve to honor my potential, that eventually I will find my calling. Whether or not I fail, never find my path, or don’t live up to my potential, it’s not as important as knowing that I never tried.”

This quote speaks volumes to me.

I live my life by my own personal philosophy: “I will be satisfied knowing that, at any given moment, I did my best with what I at had at that time.”

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Nathan Hangen April 9, 2010 at 7:18 am

Jonathan,

As much as it scares me to live this way, I’ve learned that the more risk I take, the more I’m able to separate myself from the rest of the pack.

My greatest advice to any entrepreneur is to get comfortable being uncomfortable. It’s the road to freedom.

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Patty K April 9, 2010 at 7:40 am

A number of years ago I adopted the attitude that “anything I learn is forward progress” – whether it appears to lead somewhere or not. With this perspective, I said “yes” more often (and changed paths more often). I also invested a ton of time, effort and money in personal development.

I also paid attention to my inner compass, basically asking: “does this feel right?” over and over again. I’d try to keep what works and adjust what didn’t.

So I think you’ve nailed it: the wandering is essential. At least for those of us who weren’t born with a crystal clear sense of purpose.

Thanks for a thought provoking article.

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Boris April 10, 2010 at 7:17 am

Great post! The ultimate birthright and duty of everyone is fulfill his/her own potential. At the same time, anything we decide will provide us a lesson, so regardless of what we decide we will reach the destination. It is just that the path might be not so pleasing as we wanted…
All the best,
Boris

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Ian Coburn April 10, 2010 at 9:04 am

As usual, very insightful post that gets right to the heart of the issue. The idea of creating a road map is a good one because it enables you to be successful by giving you incremental steps to follow. When I did standup, a dream for many people and a pipe dream at that, 99% of the other acts failed to become full-time comedians or even start to get paying gigs because they focused only the final step. “I will be the next Robin Williams; the next Eddie Murphy.” Okay, how? I focused on the acts that were just ahead of me–he’s emceeing; how did he get there? What steps did he take? That’s how you progress; there is no big jump. I would add that while doing your road map, it is important to examine your policies/plans/acts, whatever terminology you use, as you go along to make sure they are working for you. If they are not working, quickly discard them and implement new ones. Too often people hang onto a policy that isn’t working because they want it to work; you can’t be married to your policies, no matter how much work you put into coming up with them.

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Island Girl April 11, 2010 at 5:42 am

Your posts are always such a source of inspiration to me. I especially enjoyed this one, for the resources and links which you sited. They provided me with hours of browsing and brainstorming. Just what I needed to “get back at it” with a renewed sense of determination !! Thanks :)

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Sue Oliver April 11, 2010 at 9:12 am

What a great message as I approach another entrepreneurial Monday, a far cry from my Corporate America Mondays. I used to know what Mondays entailed (almost spelled “entrailed”, LOL) and now they’re a wild open playing field – thrilling but scary at the same time.

Thanks for being a powerful, freeing voice for doing what we love!

Happy Passioneering, Sue

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grapkulec April 11, 2010 at 1:46 pm

I don’t know what I could do beside my daily work as software developer. currently I have my two weeks holiday absence from work and I didn’t do anything toward escaping 9 to 5 work day. I don’t think all of this internet, mobile way of thinking is suitable for me, in fact I find internet social networks anoying and useless. what could I do? develop next facebook or tweeter? that’s pathetic because it would be a copy and ripoff of today’s standards of communication. so what? next tax helper application? I just don’t see how could I escape my 9 to 5 workday treadmill routine only with use of my software development experience. and making software work is only thing I’m good at and I like as a profession.

so, any hints for a strayed soul like me?

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Eric April 12, 2010 at 7:39 pm

I could definitely relate to this post. I have been pursuing this question with focus since Christmas. I like your action statement and agree that I probably need to start taking some steps, even in an unclear direction. I have read in multiple sources where the words calling and courage go together which is probably why starting is so difficult. New to the blog, looking forward to checking our your resources. Thanks.

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Annabel Candy, Get In the Hot Spot April 12, 2010 at 7:48 pm

Spot on. Thank you. I’ve got a 10 week plan and I’m sticking to it. A guest post for you is close to the top of my list but one thing I’ve realised I have to do is stop commenting on blogs. I’m sooo naughty, I love reading them then I just can’t resist leaving a comment but what’s the point in a short one? And so it goes on:)

So no more comments here for a while but I will be reading, tweeting and writing for you. Keep at it:)I’m appreciating your outlook more everyday and have been doing a lot of thinking about your off beat, uncommon, counterintuitive, contrarian and unconventional ethos. It’s interesting me.

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Jerry Kolber April 13, 2010 at 3:23 am

Jonathan,
Another inspiring post, thank you. My sort-of-always-there-fear could be described as “I know what I should be doing, and what I’m good at, but shit what if I’m not good ENOUGH at it.” And then I think, what am I measuring against? There’s no “alternate me” in another universe that could have made different choices to compare outcomes. There’s just me, here, now, and all the stuff I did before is in the past, and the future is just as much as a ghost as that stuff.

Patty K, I love your attitude of ““anything I learn is forward progress” – and using your internal compass to see if something feels rights. Because ultimately the only place we can effect change in ourselves IS in the present moment – and the only time we can feel anything is in the present moment (just try to feel something in the past or future -all your really feeling is a present moment memory or present moment anticipation/fear).

Which means, practically, the more energy we can devote to paying attention to the present moment, and the more energy we can devote to being mindful of how the present moment tastes and feels, the more action we can take towards manifesting our true purpose.

There’s a lot of great stuff out there about how to reveal your true purpose to yourself. In the past I really enjoyed Covey’s Seven Habits (ignoring the “productivity” applications but diving deep into how he suggests thinking through your purpose) and currently daily meditation practice and fairly constant writing/journalling keep me focused on my true purpose, and also help a lot in dealing with fears and negative (and overly positive) thoughts.

Courage and bravery are two words that have fallen out of favor, but actually strike at the core of what you are talking about. We’ll never banish fear – it’s our friend, and it’s hear to stay. But courage is doing something difficult even in the face of fear, and it does sometimes require a huge leap of faith. And the huger (huger?) the leap required, the more likely it is your on the right path.

Love this, man, totally resonates: “But at some point you have to make a choice. You have to decide that it’s more important to do what you must (even if you don’t know what that is), than to let uncertainty rule your mind.”

The one element I’d mix in there is compassion – i.e. non-violence – which starts at home (with yourself). I’ve discovered that the most important place I can practice compassion and non-violence is in how I deal with all the voices/feelings in my head that try to “stop” me – that would much prefer I stay in my comfort zone rather than push every day to grow bigger.

Thanks for giving me a great wake-up call this morning JM.

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Richard | RichardShelmerdine.com April 13, 2010 at 8:09 am

You don’t have to do anything really. This can either be really liberating or terrifying. It’s often both at the same time. I’m a personal development expert and blogger and I will inspire many throughout my lifetime.

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Tony Teegarden April 13, 2010 at 12:46 pm

Jonathan,

“The only way to make the path clear is by wandering. Don’t set out with a purpose; simply follow whatever calls to you.”

Man this says it all to me as I’ve been “stumbling” into my purpose and my calling quite by accident lately. I noticed the minute I let got of all the possible judgments outside of myself (and within myself) I’ve played a much bigger game and had much more of an impact on others.

I never would have done this had I not started “wandering.”

Well said as always.

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PicsieChick April 13, 2010 at 2:00 pm

Great post, and such excellent timing!

I’ll be spending some time with the manifesto idea as I work on reconciling all the paths in my life right now. Where should most of my focus be aimed? I don’t know. But I am making forward progress on all of these paths in fits and starts. I still think that’s good. :-)

It will all come around in time.

Thanks again for such great inspiration!

Hugs and Butterflies,
~T~

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David Grove April 14, 2010 at 11:21 am

Finding our true path comes when we learn how to give our love and talent without wanting anything in return. The average person “gives” to feed thier ego – they desperately need some kind of “pay back”. When we let go of that selfish need we connect with the universe and our unique brand of love and talent becomes clear becouse there is no pressure to earn the pay back, we are totally free to express our creativity and love becouse there is no fear without the ego.

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CJ Kent April 15, 2010 at 12:29 pm

Jonathan,
Thank you for sharing this amazing insight into purpose. I’m at the point in life where I have to take a different course of action (leaving my day job) to manifest my purpose. I’ve also had to realize that its not all about me and my passion, but about how I can share it with the world. Its scary, but sooooo liberating!

Cjk

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Laura Lee Bloor April 15, 2010 at 3:04 pm

Thanks I needed this — especially the part about it not being a race. I’m moving forward, slowly, but at least I’m moving forward and in what I feel is the right (and scary) direction.

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Karen Sharp April 17, 2010 at 5:06 pm

Makes me think of a quote that a friend of mine has on her email signature:

“If you can see your path laid out in front of you step by step, you know it’s not your path. Your own path you make with every step you take.” ~Joseph Campbell

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rachel April 21, 2010 at 7:55 am

Thanks Jonathan. So many of your words ring true for me. I found your blog after a self development program and have occasionally come back to visit every now and again.
Every time I do, I feel inspired!
You’ll be happy to know that some of the things you said have lead me to quit my job, travel to the UK (next month! – something I’ve wanted to do for many years), and follow my dream – even though I’m not quite sure what it is yet.
All I know is that I want to feel passionate about my life and this is the first step to discovering it.
Like you said, fucking scary, but so fucking exciting!
Keep up the good work!!

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Adam Tait April 23, 2010 at 6:51 am

I just had my first child having been fearful for my whole life about being a father; I outright didn’t want children because of the fear. Piece of cake. Sure things have gone wrong. Sure there are sleepless nights. Still… piece of cake. Deliberately choosing a purpose for your life? Fucking terrifying. Still takes top spot.

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Jamie Pixon April 28, 2010 at 11:52 pm

So I go on this date about 3 months with a girl I met online (late 30s, cute, curvy, stylish). She seemed nice enough. We get talking and she mentions how she has this “list” of things to do – 50 things she wants to knock off in 2010. You know, swimming with dolphins, driving interstate, skydiving, go to the ballet, visting a winery, etc. She turns to me and says with this ever so subtle tone (half-way between self-righteous and condescending) —-> “So what do you do for fun?”

I don’t know why, but this post made me think about that moment.

To me it seemed as if this girl was all about what you want, might, can, or should do. Yet, to quote “but none of them are incredibly important when compared to what you must do.”

Doing things for the sake of doing something – just to feel content – is simply kidding yourself.

There are things YOU MUST DO IN LIFE and there are things people just do….most people just can’t or are unable to grasp this.

Crazy good post and compelling writing…..btw, I found you via the ViperChill forum.

Jamie

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bokra May 12, 2010 at 1:05 pm

Interesting!Thank you!I’m a newcomer here and going to be back later so as to read it more attentively-it’s too late now,sorry!Do you discuss such topics as MEANING OF LIFE here?It has become my concern after my son’s death…

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admin@technofreaky June 17, 2010 at 3:11 am

What a post “what must you do” and i really found out some key point here which can bring some stability in my lifestyle.

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