How I found my life's passion by asking myself these ridiculous questions.

'What's your favorite flavor of shit sandwich, and does it come with an olive?'

One day, when my brother was 18, he waltzed into the living room and proudly announced to my mother and me that one day he was going to be a senator.

My mom probably gave him the “That’s nice, dear,” treatment while I’m sure I was distracted by a bowl of Cheerios or something.

Photo via iStock.


But for 15 years, this purpose informed all my brother’s life decisions: what he studied in school, where he chose to live, who he connected with, and even what he did with many of his vacations and weekends.

And, now, after almost half a lifetime of work , he’s the chairman of a major political party in his city and the youngest judge in the state. In the next few years, he hopes to run for office for the first time.

Don’t get me wrong. My brother is a freak. This basically never happens.

Most of us have no clue what we want to do with our lives. Even after we finish school. Even after we get a job. Even after we’re making money. Between ages 18 and 25, I changed career aspirations more often than I changed my underwear. And even after I had a business, it wasn’t until I was 28 that I clearly defined what I wanted for my life.

Chances are you’re more like me and have no clue what you want to do. It’s a struggle almost every adult goes through: “What do I want to do with my life?” “What am I passionate about?” “What do I not suck at?” I often receive emails from people in their 40s and 50s who still have no clue what they want to do with themselves.

Part of the problem is the concept of “life purpose” itself. The idea that we were each born for some higher purpose and it’s now our cosmic mission to find it. This is the same kind of shaky logic used to justify things like spirit crystals or that your lucky number is 34 (but only on Tuesdays or during full moons).

Here’s the truth: We exist on this Earth for some undetermined period of time. During that time, we do things. Some of these things are important. Some of them are unimportant. And those important things give our lives meaning and happiness. The unimportant ones basically just kill time.

When people say, “What should I do with my life?” or “What is my life purpose?” what they’re actually asking is: “What can I do with my time that is important?”

This is an infinitely better question to ask. It’s far more manageable and it doesn’t have all the ridiculous baggage the “life purpose” question has. There’s no reason for you to be contemplating the cosmic significance of your life while sitting on your couch eating Doritos. Rather, you should be getting off your ass and discovering what feels important to you.

One of the most common email questions I get is people asking me what they should do with their lives, what their “life purpose” is. This is an impossible question for me to answer. After all, for all I know this person is really into knitting sweaters for kittens or filming gay bondage porn in their basement. I have no clue. Who am I to say what’s right or what’s important to them?

Photo via iStock.

After some research, I put together a series of questions to help people figure out for themselves what is important to them and what can add more meaning to their lives.

These questions are by no means exhaustive or definitive. In fact, they’re a little bit ridiculous. But I made them that way because discovering purpose in our lives should be something that’s fun and interesting, not a chore.

1. What's your favorite flavor of shit sandwich, and does it come with an olive?

Ah, yes. The all-important question. What flavor of shit sandwich would you like to eat? Because here’s the sticky little truth about life that they don’t tell you at high school pep rallies: Everything sucks, some of the time.

Now, that probably sounds incredibly pessimistic of me. And you may be thinking, “Hey, Mr. Manson, turn that frown upside-down.”

But I actually think this is a liberating idea.

Everything involves sacrifice. Everything includes some sort of cost. Nothing is pleasurable or uplifting all the time. So the question becomes: What struggle or sacrifice are you willing to tolerate? Ultimately, what determines our ability to stick with something we care about is our ability to handle the rough patches and ride out the inevitable rotten days.

If you want to be a brilliant tech entrepreneur but you can’t handle failure, then you’re not going to make it far. If you want to be a professional artist but you aren’t willing to see your work rejected hundreds — if not thousands — of times, then you’re done before you start. If you want to be a hotshot court lawyer but can’t stand the 80-hour work weeks, then I’ve got bad news for you.

What unpleasant experiences are you able to handle? Are you able to stay up all night coding? Are you able to have people laugh you off the stage over and over again until you get it right? Are you able to put off starting a family for 10 years?

What shit sandwich do you want to eat? Because we all get served one eventually. Might as well pick one with an olive.

2. What is true about you today that would make your 8-year-old self cry?

When I was a child, I used to write stories. I used to sit in my room for hours by myself writing away about aliens, superheroes, great warriors, my friends and family. Not because I wanted anyone to read it. Not because I wanted to impress my parents or teachers. But for the sheer joy of it.

And then, for some reason, I stopped. And I don’t remember why.

We all have a tendency to lose touch with what we loved as a child. Something about the social pressures of adolescence and professional pressures of young adulthood squeezes the passion out of us. We’re taught that the only reason to do something is if we’re rewarded for it in some way.

It wasn’t until I was in my mid-20s that I rediscovered how much I loved writing. And it wasn’t until I started my business that I remembered how much I enjoyed building websites — something I did in my early teens just for fun.

The funny thing, though, is that if my 8-year-old self had asked my 20-year-old self, “Why don’t you write anymore?” and I replied, “Because I’m not good at it” or “Because nobody would read what I write” or “Because you can’t make money doing that,” not only would I have been completely wrong, but that 8-year-old version of myself would have probably started crying.

3. What makes you forget to eat and poop?

We’ve all had that experience where we get so wrapped up in something that minutes turn into hours and hours turn into “Holy crap, I forgot to have dinner.”

Supposedly, in his prime, Isaac Newton’s mother had to regularly come in and remind him to eat because he would go entire days so absorbed in his work that he would forget.

I used to be like that with video games. This probably wasn’t a good thing. In fact, it was kind of a problem for many years. I would sit and play video games instead of doing more important things, like studying for an exam, showering regularly, or speaking to other humans face-to-face.

It wasn’t until I gave up the games that I realized my passion wasn’t for the games themselves (although I do love them): My passion is for improvement, being good at something and then trying to get better. The games themselves — the graphics, the stories — were cool, but I can easily live without them. It’s the competition — with others, but especially with myself — that I thrive on.

And when I applied that obsessiveness for improvement and self-competition to an internet business and to my writing, well, things took off in a big way.

Maybe for you, it’s something else. Maybe it’s organizing things efficiently or getting lost in a fantasy world or teaching somebody something or solving technical problems. Whatever it is, don’t just look at the activities that keep you up all night, but look at the cognitive principles behind those activities that enthrall you. Because they can easily be applied elsewhere.

4. How can you better embarrass yourself?

Before you are able to be good at something and do something important, you must first suck at something and have no clue what you’re doing. That’s pretty obvious. And in order to suck at something and have no clue what you’re doing, you must embarrass yourself in some shape or form, often repeatedly. And most people try to avoid embarrassing themselves — namely, because it sucks.

Ergo, due to the transitive property of awesomeness, if you avoid anything that could potentially embarrass you, then you will never end up doing something that feels important.

Yes, it seems that, once again, it all comes back to vulnerability.

Right now, there’s something you want to do, something you think about doing, something you fantasize about doing, yet you don’t do it. You have your reasons, no doubt. And you repeat these reasons to yourself ad infinitum.

But what are those reasons? Because I can tell you right now that if those reasons are based on what others would think, then you’re screwing yourself over big time.

If your reasons are something like, “I can’t start a business because spending time with my kids is more important to me,” or “Playing Starcraft all day would probably interfere with my music, and music is more important to me,” then, OK. Sounds good.

But if your reasons are, “My parents would hate it,” or “My friends would make fun of me,” or “If I failed, I’d look like an idiot,” then chances are, you’re actually avoiding something you truly care about — because caring about that thing is what scares the shit out of you, not what mom thinks or what Timmy next-door says.

Living a life avoiding embarrassment is akin to living a life with your head in the sand. Photo via iStock.

Great things are, by their very nature, unique and unconventional. Therefore, to achieve them, we must go against the herd mentality. And to do that is scary.

Embrace embarrassment. Feeling foolish is part of the path to achieving something important, something meaningful. The more a major life decision scares you, chances are the more you need to be doing it.

5. How are you going to save the world?

In case you haven’t seen the news lately, the world has a few problems. And by “a few problems,” what I really mean is, “everything is fucked and we’re all going to die.”

I’ve harped on this before (and the research also bears it out), but to live a happy and healthy life, we must hold on to values that are greater than our own pleasure or satisfaction.

So pick a problem and start saving the world. There are plenty to choose from. Our screwed-up education systems, economic development, domestic violence, mental health care, governmental corruption. Hell, I just saw an article this morning on sex trafficking in the U.S. and it got me all riled up and wishing I could do something. It also ruined my breakfast.

Find a problem you care about and start solving it. Obviously, you’re not going to fix the world’s problems by yourself, but you can contribute and make a difference. And that feeling of making a difference is ultimately what’s most important for your own happiness and fulfillment.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. “Gee, I read all this horrible stuff and I get all pissed off too, but that doesn’t translate to action, much less a new career path.”

Glad you asked …

6. If you absolutely had to leave the house all day, every day, where would you want to go and what would you do?

For many of us, the enemy is just old-fashioned complacency. We get into our routines. We distract ourselves. The couch is comfortable. The Doritos are cheesy.

And nothing new happens.

This is a problem.

What most people don’t understand is that passion is the result of action, not the cause of it.

Discovering what you’re passionate about in life and what matters to you is a full contact sport, a trial and error process. None of us knows exactly how we feel about an activity until we actually do the activity.

Ask yourself, if someone forced you to leave your house every day for everything except for sleep, how would you choose to occupy yourself? And no, you can’t just go sit in a coffee shop and browse Facebook. You probably already do that.

Let’s pretend there are no useless websites, no video games, no TV. You have to be outside of the house all day every day until it’s time to go to bed — where would you go and what would you do?

Sign up for a dance class? Join a book club? Get another degree? Invent a new form of irrigation system that can save the thousands of children’s lives in rural Africa? Learn to hang glide?

What would you do with all that time?

If it strikes your fancy, write down a few answers and then, you know, go out and actually do them. Bonus points if it involves embarrassing yourself.

7. If you knew you were going to die one year from today, what would you do and how would you want to be remembered?

Most of us don’t like thinking about death. It freaks us out. But thinking about our own death surprisingly has a lot of practical advantages. One of those advantages is that it forces us to zero in on what’s actually important in our lives and what’s just frivolous and distracting.

When I was in college, I used to walk around and ask people, “If you had a year to live, what would you do?”

As you can imagine, I was a huge hit at parties. A lot of people gave vague and boring answers. A few drinks were nearly spit on me. But it did cause people to really think about their lives in a different way and re-evaluate what their priorities were.

This man’s headstone will read: “Here lies Greg. He watched every episode of ’24.' Twice.” Photo via iStock.

What is your legacy going to be? What are the stories people are going to tell when you’re gone? What is your obituary going to say? Is there anything to say at all? If not, what would you like it to say? How can you start working toward that today?

And, again, if you fantasize about your obituary saying a bunch of badass shit that impresses a bunch of random other people, then you’re failing here.

When people feel like they have no sense of direction, no purpose in their life, it’s often because they don’t know what’s important to them or what their values are.

And when you don’t know what your values are, then you’re essentially taking on other people’s values and living other people’s priorities instead of your own. This is a one-way ticket to unhealthy relationships and eventual misery.

Discovering one’s “purpose” in life essentially boils down to finding those one or two things that are bigger than yourself and bigger than those around you.

And to find them you must get off your couch and act — and take the time to think beyond yourself, to think greater than yourself, and, paradoxically, to imagine a world without yourself.

Family

Disney has come under fire for problematic portrayals of non-white and non-western cultures in many of its older movies. They aren't the only one, of course, but since their movies are an iconic part of most American kids' childhoods, Disney's messaging holds a lot of power.

Fortunately, that power can be used for good, and Disney can serve as an example to other companies if they learn from their mistakes, account for their misdeeds, and do the right thing going forward. Without getting too many hopes up, it appears that the entertainment giant may have actually done just that with the new Frozen II film.

According to NOW Toronto, the producers of Frozen II have entered into a contract with the Sámi people—the Indigenous people of the Scandinavian regions—to ensure that they portray the culture with respect.

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Though there was not a direct portrayal of the Sámi in the first Frozen movie, the choral chant that opens the film was inspired by an ancient Sámi vocal tradition. In addition, the clothing worn by Kristoff closely resembled what a Sámi reindeer herder would wear. The inclusion of these elements of Sámi culture with no context or acknowledgement sparked conversations about cultural appropriation and erasure on social media.

Frozen II features Indigenous culture much more directly, and even addressed the issue of Indigenous erasure. Filmmakers Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck, along with producer Peter Del Vecho, consulted with experts on how to do that respectfully—the experts, of course, being the Sámi people themselves.

Sámi leaders met with Disney producer Peter Del Vecho in September 2019.Sámediggi Sametinget/Flickr

The Sámi parliaments of Norway, Sweden and Finland, and the non-governmental Saami Council reached out to the filmmakers when they found out their culture would be highlighted in the film. They formed a Sámi expert advisory group, called Verddet, to assist filmmakers in with how to accurately and respectfully portray Sámi culture, history, and society.

In a contract signed by Walt Disney Animation Studios and Sámi leaders, the Sámi stated their position that "their collective and individual culture, including aesthetic elements, music, language, stories, histories, and other traditional cultural expressions are property that belong to the Sámi," and "that to adequately respect the rights that the Sámi have to and in their culture, it is necessary to ensure sensitivity, allow for free, prior, and informed consent, and ensure that adequate benefit sharing is employed."

RELATED: This aboriginal Australian used kindness and tea to trump the racism he overheard.

Disney agreed to work with the advisory group, to produce a version of Frozen II in one Sámi language, as well as to "pursue cross-learning opportunities" and "arrange for contributions back to the Sámi society."

Anne Lájla Utsi, managing director at the International Sámi Film Institute, was part of the Verddet advisory group. She told NOW, "This is a good example of how a big, international company like Disney acknowledges the fact that we own our own culture and stories. It hasn't happened before."

"Disney's team really wanted to make it right," said Utsi. "They didn't want to make any mistakes or hurt anybody. We felt that they took it seriously. And the film shows that. We in Verddet are truly proud of this collaboration."

Sounds like you've done well this time, Disney. Let's hope such cultural sensitivity and collaboration continues, and that other filmmakers and production companies will follow suit.

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