Pay close attention, this story might be about you.
Once upon a time, there was a guy. This guy had it made. He was in his late twenties, he had a six-figure corporate job, he was well respected by his peers and subordinates and bosses at work, and he seemed passionate and friendly and outgoing and successful. He was living the corporate dream.
People saw his nice house with more bedrooms than inhabitants, his luxury car, his new gadgets, and his life of opulence and thought, I want to be like that guy. They saw all of those things—all of that superfluous stuff—and they just knew he was successful.
But he wasn’t successful at all. Maybe he was ostensibly successful—displaying his status symbols as if they were trophies—but he wasn’t actually successful. The people who envied his life didn’t see the other side, they didn’t see the life behind the curtain. He did a good job of masking his fear, his debt, his anxiety, his stress, his loneliness, his guilt, his depression. He displayed a impressive facade, revealing only what he thought the world wanted him to reveal.
A Life Without Happiness
Worst of all, he wasn’t happy with his life.
I know this story because I am that guy. Or at least I was that guy: Joshua Millburn, the unhappy young executive. And this is my story about why I quit my job to pursue my passions and live a meaningful life, and I’m going to show you how and why you should pursue your passions too, why you must live a meaningful life if you want to be happy.
This journey started because I was tired of not being happy, plain and simple. Yes, I had a “great” job by cultural standards. But working 70 to 80 hours per week for a corporation was not cutting it for me. Not that working for a company is inherently bad or evil or wrong, it’s not. In fact, I had a lot of mixed emotions about leaving my job. I love a lot of the people there, and there were a ton of things I enjoyed about the job itself: I enjoyed leading people, I enjoyed developing people and helping them see their true potential, and I got used to the comforts that the big salary afforded me.
But I was empty inside. I was not living a meaningful life, I was not fulfilled or satisfied, and I certainly was not free. That’s because I wasn’t doing what I really wanted to do. I wasn’t pursuing my passions. I wasn’t living my mission.
Instead, I made six figures per year but got further into debt every time I got a pay raise. I was trying to buy happiness. I was trying to fill the void with things, attempting to give meaning to that which has no meaning.
And over the course of a year—in late 2009 and early 2010—my life came crashing down in front of me. It was as if I had no power over my life as it collapsed before my eyes. In 2009 my mother fell victim to cancer and I watched her die slowly and painfully as she battled it. Shortly thereafter, my marriage crumbled and it was completely my fault. During that time, my job became mundane and what I once thought was my mission in life became void of any meaning. And to top it off, my fiction writing—my true passion—halted. It was around that time that I stopped caring about life, and my mental and physical health deteriorated. I was flying in ever-diminishing circles.
It’s sad that it took that series of life-altering events to wake me up, to make me take massive action to become more free, to find meaning in my life.
In 2010 I stumbled across the concepts minimalism and simplicity and unstoppable passion. More specifically, I stumbled across a handful of blogs that opened a door in my mind and changed my life and led me to today (N.B. prior to discovering these blogs, I never even read blogs and thought they were generally a waste of time). I first discovered Paid to Exist as well as Everett Bogue’s, Joshua Becker’s, and Leo Babauta’s blogs via Twitter; I was intrigued by their stories, which lead me to other interesting sites.
All of these people had different stories and different perspectives on living a more meaningful life, and yet their fundamental message was the same: the stuff in your life is not going to make you happy, and there is another way to live your life, a way in which you can grow as a person and contribute to others in a meaningful way, a way in which you can be happy and fulfilled and passionate and free.
The life that these people were living was the life that I wanted to live—not that I wanted their lives, but I wanted the freedom that their lifestyles afforded them—so I adopted the principals of minimalism and applied them to my life. I got rid of unnecessary things so I could focus on what’s important in my life, so I could focus on relationships and pursuing my passions and living a meaningful life.
So, What Can You Do?
Great question. I’m so glad you asked.
First, you must identify your passions. This one is easy for some people, and you might already know the answer. If you do, that’s great.
Me? My Passion? I would write fiction. Hell, I would write fiction until my eyes fell out and my fingers were bleeding on my keyboard. Sound passionate enough?
What about you? What is your passion? Do you want to start a business? Do you want to teach children? Do you want to start a blog? Do you want to write a novel? Do you want to become a scientist? Do you want to travel the world?
Second, you must identify your mission in life. This one’s a little more tricky and even a bit philosophical. Sometimes, if you’re very lucky, your mission is the same thing as your passion, but it’s OK if it’s different too (it’s different for me).
Another way to look at this is to ask yourself, “What is the meaning of my life?” OK, I’ll admit, this is an extremely complex and abstruse question. The good news is that I’ve spent years thinking about it and helping other people with this same question (I led a large group of people for a long time and helped them understand their goals; I have a decade leadership under by belt).
So let’s remove the complexities of this question. Regardless of the answer’s specificity, the answer always revolves around two things:
- Personal Growth
- Contributing to Other People.
In other words, the meaning of my life is to grow as an individual and to contribute to other people in a meaningful way. And the good news is that you get to decide how you’re going to do both.
Growth. I grow in several ways, most notably:
- Writing & Reading (mostly literary fiction) strengthens my mind and my craftsmanship, and it also strengthens my relationships because we have interesting topics to discuss.
- Exercise (daily) strengthens my overall physical and mental health.
- Relationships allow me to connect with others to get new ideas and learn more about myself through conversation.
Contribution. I contribute to others in several ways too:
- Charity & Community Outreach. I donate my time to charitable organizations, I also organize larger teams to participate at local community outreach events.
- Coaching and Mentoring. I help others when they are looking for direction.
- Writing. Great writing contributes to readers in a special way. Great writing can connect with another person on a level that other forms of entertainment are incapable of doing.
How about you? In what ways do you grow? In what ways do you contribute? How would you like to grow and contribute? Make a list and pick your top three in each category. Focus on those, they are your mission.
Liberating Yet Terrifying
Once you do this—once you discover your passion and mission—it’s eye opening. It’s liberating, but it’s also terrifying.
It’s liberating because everything changes for you. You feel new and excited and free. Now you have something to focus on, and your life has a purpose, it has a meaning.
It’s terrifying because you realize that the life you’ve been living has been total bullshit, you realize that you must change, because if you don’t change then you’re essentially dead.
This might sound like hyperbole or exaggeration, but I assure you it’s not. It’s the cold truth. You are either living a meaningful life or you are dead inside.
Burn The Boat
You’ve most likely heard that little old parable before, the one in which the warriors arrive on the island and burn their boats so they are forced to stay and fight because they have no other alternative. They must fight and win or die trying. There’s no turning back.
On February 28, 2011, I burned my boat. That was my last day at my big corporate job. March 1, 2011, was my first day of freedom, the first day of my real life, my new life. This year I will focus on my passion (primarily writing) and on my mission (growth and contribution). I will publish my first novel AS A DECADE FADES towards the end of the year (my passion). I will publish content on our site that helps people change their lives (my passion and mission). I will spend a lot more time contributing to others through charity and mentoring (my mission). And I will help you if you need my help.
Burning your boat is also terrifying. You begin to think things like, What am I going to do for money? and What if I end up broke, will I be homeless? and What if I’m not successful at pursuing my passions? and What if I’m making a terrible mistake?
You will probably think all of these things—and many other things—at some point in time. I did. It’s natural. We’ve been conditioned to think this way. You are going against the status quo, and there is going to be some push back for it. Your friends might think you’re insane, your co-workers won’t understand, your family might think you’re lazy. So what! Those things don’t mean anything if you’re not pursuing your passions, if you’re not happy. Plus the Paid to Exist folks already showed you how to talk about this with your loved ones.
Burning your boat means that you must be successful: you are leaving yourself no options other than success. Nothing to fall back on, no safety net. You will find a way to succeed.
This doesn’t mean that you can live the same lifestyle that you lived before though. The house with the two extra guest bedrooms isn’t going to cut it. The $600 car payment isn’t going to cut it. Continuously buying stuff isn’t going to cut it. You will have to drastically adjust your lifestyle if you want to pursue your passions.
But I don’t have enough money to change my life, you might say. Really? Everett Bogue did it with just $3,000. He also wrote the book (literally) on how to make money with a Minimalist Business while pursuing your passions.
But I have a family and kids to take care of, you might say. Well, Joshua Becker has a wife and two children, but he is living his mission and is living a minimalist lifestyle.
No matter what excuse you have, there is a way around it. You know it’s true.
Screw You, I Quit!
The “screw you” here is a bit more subtle than it sounds. I didn’t barrel into by boss’s office and yell “screw you, I quit!” In fact, I had no desire to do so. My former boss is an amazing guy, one who taught me a lot about life.
So, my “screw you” is not to my former job.
Instead, my “screw you” here is to my old lifestyle, to my old life, to a life without meaning. I’m not just quitting a job—the job is not the point here—I’m quitting the life that I lived, and I’m committed to living a meaningful life, one in which I do what I love.
And you can do it too.
I didn’t quit with some big savings account to live off of for a while (the life I was living didn’t allow me to build up some sort of huge nest egg). But I took Jonathan’s advice, and I have enough money to live off of for a few months as a safety net, because I will live a simple life with few expenses. And you can do the same thing. You can refuse to be a slave to your current circumstances and to live a more meaningful life. You can pursue you passions.
That’s what I’m doing starting today. I refuse to be a slave to culture expectations, ensnared by the trappings of money and power and status and perceived success. So, to my old life, I bid you farewell. Oh, and screw you, I quit!
About the Author: Joshua Millburn writes essays with Ryan Nicodemus about living a more meaningful life at The Minimalists. Hit the link to check out some of their essays. Follow on Twitter.
photo courtesy of r’eyes