Earlier this month I was presented with the opportunity to read a new book called Life on Purpose — Six Passages to an Inspired Life, by Dr. Brad Swift. Swift’s story is an inspiring one: twenty years ago he was a successful veterinarian, with no apparent problems in his professional or personal life, but he very nearly committed suicide because of uncontrollable feelings of suffering, emptiness, and worthlessness. He was saved from the brink by a good friend, and since then his climb has been — by his own admission — slow and erratic, but inexorable. His life now is centered around his foundation, the Life on Purpose Institute, and his “Life on Purpose Process” taught by him and the coaches he has trained.
This Process is what you’ll find in this book.
It is most definitely a how-to book, full of thought experiments, tools, techniques, and exercises designed to show you how to find your life purpose and start living it. The Process consists of six “Passages”, ranging from “Preparing for the Journey” to “Mastering the Tools for Living”; and each Passage calls on the reader to dig deeply into the soul for answers to some very difficult questions.
The odd thing about this book is that it’s written for beginners — people who have no idea what their purpose is, who have little access to their intuition and are truly adrift. You can tell it’s written for beginners because of the examples Swift uses: baby boomers struggling with empty nest syndrome, or people focused exclusively on wealth creation. It’s also written in a simple, genuine style, with no New Age jargon, and no background assumptions about any kind of spiritual framework.
Why is this odd? Because the exercises are hard. I’m a reasonably intelligent guy, reasonably creative, reasonably — ok, obsessively — introspective. I also believe I know what my life purpose is, and I’ve got some pretty specific ideas about what I want to do. You’d think the book’s exercises would be pretty easy for me. Check this one out, from page 87, verbatim:
What’s the simplest unit of a person’s life?
What we’re looking for is the simplest or most basic unit of a person’s life that will retain the properties of the life. When we know this, we’ll know what’s truly being shaped by our life purpose. When we multiply this molecule enough times, we will have a person’s full life.
Hint: Just like a molecule of water has three components, the simplest unit of a person’s life has three components as well. Take a stab at it now: What are the three simplest components that make up a person’s life?
As a Druid, I’m inclined to answer nwyfre, calas, and gwyar, but somehow I think he has something else in mind…
The answers are “moments in time”, “yourself”, and “action”. Now, don’t you feel silly for not figuring that out?…
To be fair, the exercise isn’t really meant to be solved; instead, the seeker is supposed to learn by trying — to gain insight by struggling with it. Sure. But I can see your average Joe or Jane running up against this exercise and giving up pretty quickly — either in anger, frustration, or feelings of inadequacy. This is a book for advanced students.
Notably, it would also be fine if the seeker had a coach — someone to tell them, “It’s ok if you can’t figure it out. The point is the process of asking yourself the question…” That sort of thing. Perhaps not coincidentally, Swift’s Life on Purpose coaches would be ideal for this.
Another, related problem with the book is vagueness. Many of the exercises are difficult because they are vague. Again, the point is to encourage thought and introspection — but since that isn’t made real clear, the effect can be frustrating.
Something else that surprised me were the life purposes the book generates (to judge by the examples he gives). Examples of life purposes include:
- “A life of purposeful, passionate, and playful service, mindful abundance balanced with simplicity, and spiritual serenity.” (Swift’s own purpose.)
- “An outrageous life of adventure balanced with thoughtful contemplation and contribution.”
- “A joyful, caring life filled to overflowing with fun, love, and wisdom.”
They seem like awfully tall orders. Each of them has a lot of targets to hit. How are you supposed to remember all those things in your laundry list? Compare that with the purposes of myself and the other people whose purposes I know to have been made public:
- Myself: “To experience and create beauty.”
- Steve Pavlina: “To grow, and help others to grow.”
- Adam Alexander: “To experience and create peace.”
These are quite different in character. There’s a simple, targeted concept here. It’s an expansive concept — interpretable in a number of different ways — and how you achieve it is up in the air; but it seems much more conceptually graspable than the basket of goodies in Swift’s examples. If I had been using this book to work on my own purpose ten years ago, I might have thought, “Gee — all I’ve got is beauty. Is that really enough?…”
Buy This Book If…
That said, I am going to sit down with this book and work through the exercises, and it’s going to be a great help to me. And you, too, should get this book, if:
- You want to know your life’s purpose, and you have a good handle on introspection and connecting with your intuition. If you’re in this situation, the book will be just what you need: the exercises will challenge you with difficult questions, forcing you to grow in ways you may not have, and confronting the aspects of your life you might be trying to avoid. And your intuition will guide you to the right purpose for you, regardless of Swift’s examples.
- You know your life’s purpose, but you want to explore it further, and get some good ideas about how to implement it and live it in your everyday life. I fall into this category, and I think it’s going to be very valuable. Things in the book like Purpose Ponderings, ideas for Purpose Practices, and other tools to keep you on track through the tough times are extremely exciting!
- You’re thinking about making use of Swift’s Institute and its coaching services. I strongly suspect that reading this book will give you a good idea of what to expect.
Thanks to Carol Arnold of Arnold Communications for the invitation to review this book.