As life gets busier and more complicated we crave something larger and more meaningful than just ticking another item off our to-do list. In the past, we’ve looked to religion or outside guidance for that sense of purpose, but today fewer people are fulfilled by traditional approaches to meaning.
We hope you’ll enjoy this short excerpt from Dr. Eric Maisel’
s new book Life Purpose Boot Camp
, which offers an alternative approach for creating a meaningful life. The book offers an eight-week program for naming and implementing your unique purposes. Like military boot camp, his plan requires radical changes and commitment, but its rewards are sure to be transformative.
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You can gain a deep understanding both of your life purposes and of how to achieve them, but you are obliged to work for that understanding, just as you are obliged to work in a real boot camp to learn how to handle, clean, and fire your rifle. Few of our goals in life can be achieved without work. The same is true with respect to choosing our life purposes.
When I was in the army I first went through basic training and then advanced infantry training. After returning from Asia, I served as a drill sergeant to new recruits. So I have experienced boot camp from both sides. Boot camp is a very interesting place with many metaphoric resonances that we can apply to the idea of life purpose. Here are a few of those resonances.
Radical Lifestyle Change
First, things change immediately when you enter the army. As soon as you arrive at boot camp you are in a completely new environment and governed by entirely different rules. Hardly any event in a person’s life produces such a radical change from one day to the next. In the course of this book, you will go from living in an ordinary way one day and deciding to live as a meaning-maker the next. That change is exactly as radical as enlisting, if we let it be!
Second, you are continually tested in basic training, and it is made clear that you are being continually tested. Whether it’s the test of a long run with full gear on, the test of dealing with a room full of tear gas as you learn to get your gas mask on, the test of marksmanship as you learn each new weapon, or the physical test that you have to pass to graduate basic training, boot camp is a continual testing ground. So is life. By acknowledging this we stand a little straighter and a little more at the ready to choose our life purposes.
Morning “Falling In”
Third, in boot camp the first thing you do every day is “fall in.” That is, you leave your barracks and get into company formation and stand at attention while you are counted and while the day’s instructions are announced. The metaphor of falling in very nicely captures what a morning meaning check-in can feel like as you decide daily where to invest meaning. Rather than standing at attention, we start our day with attention: we face our day and make mindful decisions. The ceremonial falling in of boot camp mirrors our individual daily falling in as we start our day with intention.
Quick Thinking and Quick Acting
Fourth, in boot camp you’re taught to seize opportunities and to act quickly, since your life may depend on it. For example, if you are captured, your best and perhaps only chance to escape is in the first seconds of capture before you are put completely under enemy control. In everyday life most people see no need to live in such a heightened fashion, acting quickly and making every second count. Yet our life purposes may require that we live exactly that way, staying more alert than usual and acting more quickly. You become the quick-witted, quick-acting project manager of the project of your life.
Fifth is the idea of drill. Soldiers are made to march in part for physical conditioning but just as much to instill in them an acceptance of the monotony of military life, a monotony of marching, cleaning weapons, and waiting for something to happen. Life requires that same acceptance of unexciting repetition. To successfully play an instrument you must repetitively practice that instrument. To successfully build a business you must involve yourself in repetitive business activities. To successfully run a scientific experiment you must check on your rats daily. Life possesses a repetitive aspect that we must accept. Indeed, precision drill possesses a certain beauty, and we can take a surprising amount of pride in drilling well, the same kind of pride we can experience when we do a beautiful job at our own repetitive activities.
Sixth, we must undergo inspection. In boot camp you are regularly inspected to see if your belt buckle is shining, if your weapon is clean, if your fatigues have been pressed, and so on. While you’re being inspected you stand at attention to underscore how seriously you take this inspection. There is a certain lovely gravity to standing up straight and forthrightly dealing with a tarnished belt buckle or wrinkled fatigues. If we are intending to act responsibly, we have to monitor ourselves to make sure that we are doing precisely that — and the word inspection nicely captures the flavor of that self-monitoring process.
Tapping Into Our Reserves
Finally, there is the idea of tapping into our reserves. In boot camp a recruit is invited up to the front and told to hold his rifle out at arm’s length. Naturally he can only do this for so long. The recruit struggles more and more to keep his rifle up. Finally he can’t help but lower it — and it seems indisputable that he has used up every ounce of his strength. At this point the drill sergeant shouts, “Mister, get that rifle up!” and the recruit instantly returns the rifle to the raised position.
The recruit had reserves of strength that he — and everyone watching — had no idea he possessed. We too have reserves we don’t know we possess. Of course, we don’t want to access these reserves by yelling at ourselves like internal drill sergeants. But we do want to know that we possess these reserves and that if one of our life purposes stretches us past our comfort level, we will be able to tap into our reserves to help us along.
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