The Simple Path to Purpose Has Not Changed in 2,500 Years

I had a great talk with a friend on a topic that keeps coming up post-COVID: What is my purpose? How do I have more meaning in my day to day? It is like trying to grab a wet bar of soap. The simple answer hasn’t changed in 2,500 years…

The Universe has an interesting way of stepping into our lives. At a basic level, there are those people that come into your life that you know, regardless of outcomes, will be in your heart, your soul, your mind and/or your life forever. These are those rare divine interventions into our lives we need to treasure & be grateful for.

“It was like, in that moment, the whole universe existed just to bring us together.”

Sara in Serendipity

In a larger way, the same goes for those callings, those ideas and those questions that tug at us, pull us and keep coming back. As David Whyte says:

“Questions that have no right to go away are those that have to do with the person we are about to become; they are conversations that will happen with or without our conscious participation.”

David Whyte

Our challenge is that we feel that our purpose or meaning needs to be something clearly before us and often feels grand, heavy and/or impactful. My coach, Phil Stutz, says “the big things come about from doing the small things day in, day out.” Ask 99% of people what their meaning or purpose is and they will likely say something vague around having a positive impact on the world. They feel this age old burden that they should be doing something purposeful or impactful but can’t specifically describe it. They expect to have an epiphanal moment, a lightning strike. Alas, it is much more subtle. Before enlightenment, you need to do the dishes😉

The path to meaning and purpose hasn’t changed in 2,500 years since Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. Their wisdom has been recast by the Stoics, Maslow (Actualizing/Hierarchy), Flow, Positive Psychology, Brene Brown, Conscious Leadership, etc. Our purpose and sense of contentment & sustainable success are simple: every day, every moment, strive in small ways to close the gap between who we are and the highest version of ourselves (Arete). The latter is that inner voice that whispers to you from time to time. Fortunately, purpose seems to fall out of this all on its own. As you test & trial small things to build skills or discipline/habits or networks, the forward progress begins to show you clearer paths.

I fell into this trap years ago as I started to build out the underpinnings of FORGE. I knew that my calling had something to do with guiding entrepreneurs on their journey more holistically (but from the investment side). I couldn’t describe exactly what or how but I knew that it had to be different & more human-centric that traditional VC.

I was in my head about how daunting building out all of the human-centric frameworks so they would be practical and not philosophical. Every day, I thought, who am I to think I can do this? So many were better than I, and it was such a monumentally enormous feeling task. Also, I was a successful VC…if I jumped into this new model and failed, I would look like an ass in front of many people.

Jerry Colonna, Reboot founder, said at one key juncture: “Matt, stop trying to save the world. Save yourself and let everyone watch (eg figure it out for just me).

Drop by drop, a person becomes better (or worse) as Buddha says. Each moment, we have an opportunity to intentionally move a tiny bit from the current towards the best version of ourselves, to spend more time developing our GENIUS and less time on our obligations or things that we “should or have to do”. Maslow says we are either moving forward into growth & actualizing (+1) or backward into comfort/safety (-1). This could be as a great parent, a boss, a janitor, an athlete or a partner. The key is small steps forward. Eventually, as the pieces come together, you begin to see the bigger picture that has been awaiting you all along.

Phil Stutz calls these micro-transactions. What simple thing can you do this afternoon or tomorrow morning. Rinse and repeat. For me, with FORGE, first I felt ignorant and intimidated by all of the human-centric skills I would need to bring as a holistic “Sherpa” for entrepreneurs beyond my existing investment experience, strategic knowledge, and some tactical business skills. So, the first “micro-transaction” was signing up for a coaching program. Second, I attended the first class. Then the second. Then I began to reframe the methodologies of each class to apply to the specifics of a) Me (save myself!) and b) my entrepreneurs. After a while, I found one or two close entrepreneurs and worked with them using these. Then I saw gaps, did a second program and started to create modules, offsites & exercises. Rinse & repeat. Over 5 years, I amassed a pretty significant skill set and tools…all while working as a VC, at my existing firms, doing VC as before. This year, I began to put out capital from my own vehicles (FORGE) and blended capital with the new capabilities & growing platform.

The journey of a 1000 miles begins with a step (Confucius). So, if your goal is to be a basketball star, start with extra wind sprints this afternoon or another 25 minutes working on 3 pt shooting. Compound a little each day and soon you’ll be surprised by your endurance or that your shooting percentage is 5-10% better. Same goes for any profession. What can you do today or tomorrow morning…smaller the better.

But do so only if this feels like your flow and it energizes you. You feel like you are chipping away the mud that has hidden you for so long. We all feel these tugs. If you keep getting them, you know that the universe is quietly calling you to purpose. Your job is simply to take a small step (a test) in that direction (with no idea where it will lead you) this afternoon or tomorrow. Then another and another. If you hit a block, move a little left or a little right.

Focus on “those questions (and people) that have no right to go away” and surprisingly, you may just happen to stumble upon the elusive purpose and meaning you’ve been waiting for and seeking (and it was there all along). To rephrase Serendipity above, Pablo Coelho wrote “when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you achieve it (your Personal Legend)