Full text of film producer Adam Leipzig’s talk: How to Know Your Life Purpose in 5 Minutes at TEDxMalibu conference.
Listen to the MP3 Audio here: How to know your life purpose in 5 minutes by Adam Leipzig at TEDxMalibu
On the last evening of my 25th college reunion, there was a party in a tent with dancing, and music, and noise. So much noise that a lot of us started to drift out of the tent so we could hear each other talk and catch up with classmates that we had not seen in more than 2 decades.
As I talked with my friends I made an astounding discovery: 80% of them were unhappy with their lives.
“I feel as though I’ve wasted my life, and I’m half-way through it,” they said.
“I don’t know what my life is all about.”
I was privileged to go to Yale, and we were standing on a summer evening in the middle of Yale’s old campus, and the people that I was speaking with were privileged, and highly educated, and financially well off, and in positions of power. And they had the first house, and the second house, and they had the first spouse, and the second spouse. And 80% of them were unhappy with their lives.
Who was happy, the 20%? Well, we had studied literature and Renaissance rhetoric, and we were the theater people, and the history geeks. We had studied classes for the joy of learning, not because we thought they were going to put direct us to a specific job. We still got jobs, we were living our lives expansively, with life’s ups and downs, and we did not feel that we had wasted a single minute.
And as I spoke with the 20%, the happier 20%, I discovered that each of them knew something about their life purpose because they knew five things: who they were, what they did, who they did it for, what those people wanted or needed, and what they got out of it, how they changed as a result.
Does that sound hard? It’s not, it’s actually really simple. In fact it’s so simple, that you can learn your life purpose now. You’re going to know your life purpose now, in the next five minutes.
Would you like to know your life purpose in the next five minutes?
Can you be a little bit louder? Because they are making a lot of noise in the tent, and there is just a silly little microphone next to my cheek to hear you. Would you like to know your life purpose in the next five minutes?
Thank you. Actually, it’s not even going to take five minutes.
So, can I share something else with you? If you’re like a lot of us, you have wondered and worried about your life purpose for a long time, and there are books, and magazines, and workshops, and seminars about it. In fact, Amazon lists 151,928 books that refer to how you can learn your life purpose.
Well, I know some people who have spent their entire lives trying to learn their life purpose. Look, we can all agree that the unexamined life is not worth living, but if all you’re doing is examining, you’re not living.
So, let’s figure out the life purpose right now together: who you are, what you do, who you do it for, what those people want and need, and how they change as a result. Shall we do it?
All right. Everybody, on the count of five, shout out your first name. One, two, three, four, five:
Fabulous. That was the first one, only four to go. That’s who you are.
Now, what do you do? What do you love to do? Do you love to write, cook, design, create iOS apps, write code, crunch numbers, talk, teach? What do you love to do? And if there is a lot of things that come up for you focus it down by asking yourselves this one question: what is the one thing that right now you feel supremely qualified to teach other people? Think about that in one word. Hold it. Don’t release it yet. On the count of five. What do you do? One, two, three, four, five:
Great. That’s what you do.
Now, think about who you do it for, picture them in your mind, be ready to say it on the count of five. Hold it, don’t release it yet. One, two, three, four, five:
OK, who do you do it for, let’s see it one more time. A little bit louder, please, over the people in the tent. Who do you do it for? Together.
Thank you. That is the spirit that we need. OK, now.
What do all those people want or need? What do they want or need that you have, that they’ve come to you so you can give them this thing. What do they want or need? In just one or two words. Hold it, don’t release it yet. And on the count of five: one, two, three, four, five…
Fantastic. Now, this is the best one. How do they change? How do they change or transform as a result of what you give them? On the count of five, how do they change or transform as a result of what you give them? One, two, three, four, five:
Terrific. Now we’re going to put this all together kind of in a sentence, OK? Everyone together, louder than the people in the tent: who are you?
What do you do?
Who do you do it for?
What do they want or need?
How do they change as a result?
Fantastic. You have all just done something that people who went to Yale could not figure out for 25 years.
Congratulations. Give yourselves a hand.
Now, why is that formulation so powerful? Because of all of those five things that you need to know to know what your life purpose is, only two are about yourself. The other three of them are about other people: who they are, what they want or need, and how they change as a result.
That formulation forces you to be outward facing. And all the happier people that I met outside the tent on that warm New Haven night they were outward facing, they were not inward facing. They knew very clearly whom they served, what those people needed, and how those people changed as a result.
And you may have intuited this already that the most successful people in any field always focus most on the people that they serve than on how they are served themselves.
Happier people make it a point to make other people happy, and do things that make them feel well taken care of and secure. If you make other people happy, life teaches us, we will be taken care of, too.
So since you all did so well, we have time for just a little bit of extra credit.
One of the most difficult things that happens when you meet people for the first time is they ask you this question, “So, what do you do?”
And, if you’re like some of us, that’s a really challenging question sometimes. Particularly, if you’re in these moments where you’re between things, or you’re feeling vulnerable, or it isn’t defined. Or, what you seem to do isn’t what you really do, or what you’re paid to do isn’t how you define yourself.
So, when people ask you this question, “So, what do you do?” and also, you’ve got this mental monologue going on, “Why is he asking me? So, what do I do? Is it because…” It’s that transactional thing where it’s like: “He wants to know if he should really spend time talking to me?”
Or, it’s that other thing, so he can tell me what he does because he’s sure it’s, “Oh, really, so much better than what I do?” Right?
So, when somebody asks you that question, here’s what you do: you just say the very last thing you called out, how what you do changes the people you do it for.
So, for example, you might say, “I give kids awesome dreams”, if your life purpose is: “I write books for children, so they can fall asleep at night, so they can have awesome dreams.”
Or you might say: “I help people look and feel their best,” if your life purpose is: “I design apparel for men and women who need affordable choices, so they can look and feel their best.”
Or you might say: “I help people get great work into the world,” if your life purpose is: “I train entrepreneurs and creative people to take decisive actions, so they can get their greatest work into the world.”
And then, that little snippet that you just said becomes your personal elevator pitch. And it will always start a conversation because the person that you were just talking to has to ask you a question, “How do you give kids great dreams?”
“How do you help people look and feel their best?”
“Can people really get their greatest work into the world?”
And then you get to tell them, and you get to share your life purpose. And you get to share how they may come to learn theirs, too.
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