Why Earning Money Is Not Your Real Purpose (And How to Know What Is)

This is part 3 of my 7-part series on how to find your life purpose. If you are new to this series, read Part 1: How to Find Your Life Purpose: Introduction first.

Pursuing a False Life Purpose: Woman in virtual reality

(Image: Leonard Low)

“It is never too late to be who you might have been.” — George Eliot

When you were a kid, were you told by your parents, teachers, peers, or mentors what you should do in life? It may be to earn a lot of money, to be successful, to be respectable, to be a filial child, to contribute to the society, or to serve a higher entity.

Whatever it is, what role did you play in identifying it? Did you have a say in determining this goal? Did you brainstorm and think about all the things you want to do or who you want to be, before deciding on what you want to do?

The likelihood is that somehow, people decided how you should lead your life on your behalf, without including you in the jury. And what seemed like a choice was no more than a series of suggestions and conditioned messages that you received since young, creating the impression that your life choices were choices, when they were really just instructions that you follow and pick from.

These are false purposes — purposes which have been imposed onto you by others. False purposes are not your true purposes. They have been glossed over and packaged as unquestionable truths. Because of the way they were subtly pressed into your lives, and because of all the structures which seem to support these beliefs, few people challenge their nature. To them, this is the gospel truth. This is the way of life.

For example, if people tell you that your life purpose is to grow up, get married, and have kids, and every person around you is doing the same, then it’s pretty hard to question this. When you watch dramas, you see the same thing — discussions about marriage and having kids, frustrations around the same. When every aspect of your reality supports this direction, you simply accept this as the truth, even if there could be more to life than just that.

I grew up pursuing false purposes, such as to earn money, to be successful, to respect my religion (Buddhism), and to be a good citizen of the society. After over a decade of unconscious adherence, I finally discovered my real life purpose and began to live life in a conscious manner (I share my full purpose story in part 4).

I need to clarify that I am not undermining the merit of the above. Even though I am now non-religious, I am more conscious and appreciative of the teachings in Buddhism than when I was a Buddhist.

All I am trying to say is that unless what you are pursuing is the result of conscious evaluation and choice, your life has not begun. Having lived on both sides of the spectrum, I can say that there is a very big difference between a conscious life and an unconscious life.

Here are the differences between a false purpose and a real purpose:

False Purpose

  • Inculcated since young. A false purpose is often inculcated in you since young. This direction usually comes from being part of a larger community, such as a family unit, culture, society, religion, or nation, rather than from within you. It’s something that everyone parrots, so there’s little room to question this or think differently.
  • Unconscious. A false purpose is unconscious. You do it because that’s what you have been told to do all along. You’ve never thought deeply about what you want to do in life and all the possible options you could follow. You simply do this because that’s what everyone is doing, and what’s expected of you.
  • Part of an expectation. A false purpose is part of an expectation. Everyone says to study and do well in school, so you study and do well in school. Everyone says to get a well-paying job in a good company, so you get a well-paying job in a good company. Everyone says to get married and have kids, so you get married and have kids. Everything you do is part of an expectation, be it your parents’ expectation or society’s expectation.
  • Driven by fear. A false purpose tends to be driven by fear or an obligation to live up to others’ expectations. You follow it because you want to avoid repercussions. For example, anger or disapproval from your parents. Rejection by your community. Shame from your society. Being left out when with peers.
  • Is empty. A false purpose will not satisfy you in the long run. While you may feel fulfilled in the short run, this satisfaction comes from the pursuit of any goal. In the long run, you will start to feel dissatisfaction, like you could be doing more or that there could be more to life. For some people, their consciousness never grows beyond being a sleepwalker, so they never come to this realization, but instead live life mechanically each day.

Examples of false purposes include earning money, continuing a family business simply because you’re born into the family, following a religion because you were born into it or your school was a religious school, achieving certain social statuses, and any life direction that you never questioned but simply took as your own.

A false purpose doesn’t have to fulfill all the characteristics. It can fulfill one of the traits and still be a false purpose.

Real Purpose

  • Conscious choice. A real purpose, on the other hand, is something you consciously adopt. It’s not something that you assume by virtue of your race, culture, or birth. It is not something you choose because you have no other choice. It’s something that you consciously create and follow.
  • Comes from within. A false purpose is often outside → in, meaning it is something you were taught or repeatedly told since young, after which you adopt as your life path. A real purpose comes from inside → out, meaning it is something you decide on your own, independent of outside influence or pressure.
  • Not an expectation. A real purpose is not the result of an expectation. You do it because you want to. You were not told to do this. You are also not expected to do it.
  • Driven by love. A real purpose is driven by love. You do not do it because of expectation or because everyone else is doing it. Neither do you do it out of routine. Rather, you do it because you want to.
  • Inspires you. A real purpose empowers you and resonates with every fiber of your being. It does not make you feel pressurized or fearful.
  • Lasting meaning. Pursuing it fulfills you intrinsically. This fulfillment does not come from the reward or recognition of doing it, but from simply being able to pursue your path.

Examples of real purposes are essentially anything that you consciously decided to do, such as growing and helping others, environmental activism (saving Mother Earth), bringing positivity to the world, advocation of peace, helping the poor and less fortunate, and non-cruelty pursuits.

Can you see the difference between the two? As you read these traits, some of them probably resonate with what you have experienced in your life.

What is your current path in life? What is the life path that you were expected to follow since young? What are the life decisions that people around you constantly tell you to do? Whatever they are, I urge you to question them. Question the basis behind those beliefs. How did they come to be? Why should you follow them? Who determined that this is the best thing for you? And why should these people determine your life direction? Questioning and conscious thought is the first step to being an active, conscious creator of your life.

In the next part, I share my story of how I found my life purpose and the two important things that helped me discover my purpose. Read Part 4: Two Important Things that Led Me to Discover My Real Purpose

This is part 3 of my 7-part series on how to find your life purpose. If you are new to this series, read Part 1: How to Find Your Life Purpose: Introduction first.

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