How do you know what your true life is? Or what your soul’s purpose is? How do you know how to live this purpose? The answers to the sequestions are yours for the taking, but you must seize the answers and not wait to be given them. No one will give you the answers.
One good clue as to whether you are living your true life is how much you fear death. Do you fear death a lot, just a little, or not at all?“When you say you fear death,” wrote David Viscott, “you are really saying that you fear you have not lived your true life. This fear cloaks the world in silent suffering.”
When mythologist Joseph Campbell recommended that we “follow our bliss,” many people misunderstood him. They thought he meant to become a pleasure-seeker, a selfish hedonist from the "me generation."Instead, he meant that in order to find out what your true life could be, you should look for clues in whatever makes you happy.
What gets you excited? In the answer to that question, you’ll discover where you can be of most service. You can’t live your true life if you’re not serving people, and you can’t serve people very well if you are not excited about what you’re doing.
What makes you happy? (I know I already asked, but the fear that"cloaks the world in silent suffering" comes from not asking that question enough times.)In my own professional life I have finally found that teaching makes me happy, writing makes me happy, and performing makes me happy. It took me many years of unhappiness to finally reach the point of despair necessary to ask the question: What makes me happy?
I was the creative director for an ad agency and I was making a good deal of money producing commercials, meeting with clients, and designing marketing strategies. I could have done this type of work forever, but my horrible fear of death was my clue that I was not living my true life.
“People living deeply,” wrote Anaïs Nin, “have no fear of death.” I was not living deeply. And it took me a long time to get clear answers to my question: What makes me happy? But any question we ask our selves often enough will eventually yield the right answer. The problem is, we quit asking.
Fortunately for me, in this rare instance of persistence in the face of extreme discomfort, I didn’t quit asking. The answer came to me in the form of a memory—so colorful it was almost like a movie scene. I was driving at night in my car 10 years earlier, and I was as happy as I had ever been. In fact, I was driving around aimlessly so that I could keep my feeling of happiness preserved and contained within that car—I didn’t want anything to interrupt it. It was so profound that it lasted for hours.
The occasion had been a speech I had just given. The subject of it was my recovery from an addiction, and the night that I spoke I was running such a high fever, and I had such a fear of speaking in public that I tried to call the talk off. My hosts wouldn’t hear of it.
Somehow I made it to the podium and, probably because my fever and flu were so intense, I spoke freely, without caution or self-consciousness. The more I spoke about freedom from addiction, the more excited I got. My creativity just soared. I remember the audience laughing as I spoke. I remember them jumping to their feet and cheering when I was finished. It was the most remarkable night of my life.Somehow I had reached people in a way I’d never reached people before, and their own expressions of joy lifted me higher than I had ever been.
It was that memory of that moonlit night, driving in my car, that came back to me 10 years later after I’d spent weeks repeating to myself the question, "What makes me happy?"Now I had the picture, but I had no idea how to act on it. But at least I knew what my true life was, and I knew that I wasn’t living it.Then one day one of my major advertising clients asked me to hire a motivational speaker for a big breakfast meeting they were having for their sales staff. I didn’t know of anyone in Arizona who was any good—the only motivational speakers I was familiar with were the national ones whose tapes I’d listened to so often in my car, people such as Wayne Dyer, Tom Peters, Anthony Robbins, Alan Watts, andNathaniel Branden. But Alan Watts was dead—and the rest were probably far too expensive for our little breakfast.
So I called Kirk Nelson, a friend of mine who was sales manager atKTAR in Phoenix, and asked his advice. “The only person in Arizona worth hiring is Dennis Deaton,” he said. “He speaks all over the country, and he’s usually booked, but if you can get him, do, because he’s great.”
I finally reached Deaton in Utah, where he was giving seminars on time management. He agreed to come back to Phoenix in time for our breakfast and give a 45-minute motivational talk.Kirk Nelson was right. Deaton was impressive. He held the audiences pell bound as he told stories that illustrated his ideas about the power that people have over their thoughts, and the mastery that they can achieve over their thinking. When he finished speaking and came back to the table where we had been sitting, I shook his hand and thanked him, and I found myself making a silent vow that someday soon I would be working with this man It wasn’t long after that that he and I were indeed working together. It was at a company called Quma Learning, Deaton’s corporate training facility based in Phoenix,Arizona. Although I began with Quma as its marketing director—creating advertisements, video scripts, and direct-mail pieces—I soon worked my way up to the position of seminar presenter.
My first big thrill came when Deaton and I were both invited to speak at a national convention of carpet-cleaning companies. It was the first timeI had ever shared the stage with him, and I was to go on first. He was in the audience when I spoke, and I have to admit I had worked harder than I’d ever worked in my life in preparation for this event.
The participants had heard Deaton before at previous conventions and loved him, but they’d never heard me. After my presentation was over, they clapped enthusiastically and as Deaton passed me on his way to the stage he was beaming with pride as he shook my hand. (Unlike myself, Dennis Deaton has very little professional jealousy of other speakers. He was happy for my success. I have to admit that my favorite moment occurred when, after he was introduced, someone in the audience teasingly shouted out, “Dennis who?”).
Many people get confused and believe that living their true life means getting lucky and finding a suitable job with an appreciative boss somewhere. What I have come to realize is that you can live your true life anywhere, in any job, with any boss.
First find out what makes you happy, and then start doing it. If writing makes you happy, and you’re not writing for a living, start up a company newsletter or your own Web site. When I first realized that speaking and teaching made me happy, I started a free weekly workshop. I didn’t wait until something was offered to me.
Whatever goal you want to reach, you can reach it 10 times faster if you are happy. In my sales training and consulting, I notice that happy salespeople sell at least twice as much as unhappy salespeople. Most people think that the successful salespeople are happy because they are selling more and making more money. Not true. They are selling more and making more money because they are happy.
As J.D. Salinger’s character Seymour says in Fanny and Zooey, “This happiness is strong stuff!” Happiness is the strongest stuff in the world.It is more energizing than a cup of hot espresso on a cold morning. It is more mind-expanding than a dose of acid. It is more intoxicating than a glass of champagne under the stars.
If you refuse to cultivate happiness in yourself, you will not be of extraordinary service to others, and you will not have the energy to create who you want to be. There is no goal better than this one: to know as you lie on your deathbed that you lived your true life because you did what made you happy.