The Four Purposes of Life

"Never make the mistake of thinking that your birth number defines you as a person or limits your choices in the world."

- The Four Purposes of Life, page 115

As we move through this fast-paced world, every now and again it’s nice to slow down and to read something that’s not only about leaders, career and personal development, but also about stopping to reflect on what’s most important to us in our lives.

Dan Millman’s book helps you do just that. The author of at least 18 books, including the classic The Way of The Peaceful Warrior, reminds us of the importance of finding direction in a constantly changing world.

When I first started reading this book, I wasn’t sure how a book like this was going to help me in my career or professional life. But as I delved deeper into understanding what Millman calls “The Four Purposes of Life” (special emphasis on “The”), it became clear that what’s good for your inner world can do nothing but positive things for your outer world (including your career and your relationships).

Millman builds in content and elements from his previous books to explain his journey of getting to this place.

So what are The Four Purposes of Life?

  1. Learning life’s lessons – Centered around the notion that Earth is a school and our daily life is our classroom. The challenges that we face bring learning, growth, and perspective.
  2. Finding your career and calling – Dives deep into the importance of self-knowledge when making important life choices.
  3. Discovering your life path – This section helps us identify our strengths and become aware of the challenges we face, highlighting a deeper mission we’re here to fulfill.
  4. Attending to this arising moment – Ultimately, this comes down to learning how to become more present by practicing the other three more intentionally.

The Golden Egg

Golden Egg: The biggest takeaway from the book

Your Calling vs. Your Career

"Choose the best option available now. Meanwhile, stay open to new opportunities until you find a career or a calling you are ready to commit to for a significant period of time."
- The Four Purposes of Life, page 50

Depending on what generation you grew up in, you likely were told one of two things when it came to career advice. Maybe you were told “Get a good paying job that has security” (or something along those lines) or “Just follow your passion; Do what makes you happy”. These kind of statements illustrate the difference between a “career” and a “calling”. As Millman puts it, a career refers to a service you perform, trading your time, effort, energy, knowledge, experience or skills for income and benefits. A calling, on the other hand, refers to a personal interest, attraction, drive or passion that is usually (but not always) of a higher order. We might refer to it as purpose.

For some of us, we’ve always sought out having a career: that position within a company that provides us with income, value, benefits and acknowledgement for hard work and effort. For others, we’ve chased after our calling and have delayed what some people might see as the steps you take in adulthood in favour of service, passion, or some other form of innate satisfaction.

But it’s not always just one or the other. It can be both. It can also be one or the other. What Millman helps us understand is that there’s no one way for anyone, there’s one the way for you.

Through story-telling and sharing personal experiences, we come to understand that the balance between our career, calling and our relationships (family for example) will always be changing. What’s important to practice is reevaluating and fine-tuning our approach as these things change. It reminds me of when I first became a father. I had a strong calling and was starting to get comfortable in my career. All of a sudden, as a new father, I felt unbalanced. I felt, in some ways, that I had lost my calling and it had been replaced by my responsibilities as a parent. It was only later that I started to understand that, perhaps, my new calling was being a father.

At the core of understanding this is self-awareness and self-knowledge. Millman illustrates that the better we can understand ourselves, the better we can steer ourselves in the direction we are meant to head in our lives.

Gem #1

An actionable way to implement the BIG takeaway (Golden Egg) into your life

Deciding to decide

"Most of us view a decision as a mental process and conclusion – but in fact, no decision becomes real until one acts on it."
- The Four Purposes of Life, page 73

How’s that for a truth-bomb?

Everyday we are making decisions. At least that’s what we tell ourselves. Millman points out that even if we choose or decide the next step or the direction we want to go, no progress is actually made until we actually take action.

The next step, after we’ve both decided and act on that decision, is to stay committed to the choice we’ve made. Millman suggests that when we second-guess ourselves, it’s a form of self-abuse. To be committed to the decisions we make is to work through the challenges that come with that choice; to persist, march forward, and keep faith in ourselves and the course of our actions.

And with that persistence comes wisdom.

Gem #2

An actionable way to implement the BIG takeaway (Golden Egg) into your life

Leadership is a personal set of qualities

"No matter what role you play at work or at home, you influence people around you – you teach and lead by example – because people notice what you do."
- The Four Purposes of Life, page 78

We have the ability to be both leaders and novices in any given situation. When we face a new task, or a new responsibility, we experience what Millman calls “entry-level challenges”. We approach this with the beginners mind.

That, in Millman’s experience, is a quality of good leadership. Leadership is less about a position you hold as much as it is about a personal set of qualities that you develop.

Those qualities include committing to excellence, inspiring by example, offering support when and where needed, motivating others by pointing out a higher purpose, and encouraging collaboration rather than competition.

Ultimately, as a leader, it’s about having the ability to empower others. To focus on what’s right, not who’s right.

This books was filled with inspiring stories of real people, thoughtful and convincing anecdotes, and deep insight into what it means to live a purposeful life. Though it was a relatively short read, the way that Millman positioned these four purposes as not just four of many purposes but the four purposes has changed the way I’ve viewed living a life filled with purpose. He’s inspired me, as a reader, to reflect more, serve more and want to be more for both myself and those around me.

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Matt Tod

ABOUT Matt Tod

Matt Tod is an international speaker, leadership facilitator, published writer and is passionate about helping people reach their full potential. Matt is the former Executive Director of Youth Programs for the Institute for Health and Human Potential and the current Director of Training & Development for North America’s largest youth-run Charity and Educational partner, Free The Children the innovative social enterprise, Me to We...
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