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There are 10,000 tools out there to help you discover your life purpose, and more coming into your inboxes every day. I didn’t want to offer you another one. Even if by some miracle I could create a new and unique Life Purpose Discovery™ tool—and I bet most life coaches could do it in their sleep—that would just make 10,001 tools.

And here is the thing: I have developed a real aversion to tools. Well, for the most part. I still love my trusty kitchen timer. I am crazy about my Akerworks swatch gauge. And one day they will be prying my heavily customized Bullet Journal from my gnarly hands. (Editors’ note: thanks for the product placement, Max!)

But mostly—and maybe this means that the Day I No Longer Need My BuJo is nigh—I have gotten more and more interested in simplicity. Does this tool or technique promise to make me a better sweater? Well, I am in! Hit me with your tool ASAP.

KonMari for the Soul

What I no longer want are tools or techniques that promise to make me a better person. And I really don’t want to pass those on to you, either. Instead, I have begun scanning the horizon for reasons to empty my toolbox.

And boy am I finding them. Do I need 14 accounts on different social media platforms just to keep in touch with the people? No? Okay, bye Facebook.

Do I need six accountability mechanisms to write one newsletter every week? Or could I make do with one writing partner and that same kitchen timer? Well, make it so!

Must I meditate, practice yoga, do morning pages and write gratitudes every day to calm my spirit? Or could I simply be a witness to the emotional weather passing through, which takes—according to science—all of about 90 seconds? Yes? Yes.

You could say I’ve been on a KonMari mission of the soul. I’m cheerfully tossing out 98% of self-improvement tools and techniques and along the way I seem to have ejected the idea of self-improvement altogether. For example: NOTHING BAD HAPPENED WHEN I STOPPED MEDITATING.

The day after I stopped meditating, I was kind of the same. The next day, and the day after that, too. I didn’t turn into a horrible person. I didn’t turn to drink—nothing that extended past Negroni Week, anyway. I didn’t lose my way at all.

And so it is with “life purpose,” the Self-Improved Person’s co-pilot. When I saw that those tools and practices that are meant to reveal my soul’s big plan— the spiritual retreats, the guided meditations, oh the endless books and workbooks—failed to spark joy, I became suspicious about the idea of life purpose itself. Was there anything real to lose? Was life purpose actually a thing? Or was it … more of a notion, albeit one that has spawned a big spiritual industry?

The Purpose-Ridden Life

Back when religious observance was compulsory, and the choice of religion more limited, the question of life purpose must have been largely settled for us from the jump. If your life’s purpose looked like sitting on a gilded throne and leading a feudal nation-state, OK, divine law. If it looked like your lot in life was to toil in the fields, well, many would say it was God’s will.

This is all less cut and dry now. There are more religions and perhaps less religion. There is more social mobility—not always upward, of course. There is career counseling, and there is working from home, and there are side hustles, and there is the gig economy, and none of these is the same as a life purpose. (Puritans may disagree.)

Anyway, without all the “spiritual” practices, I seem to have KonMari’ed my life down to 1. activities that sustain my physical situation, like paying bills, doing laundry, and dusting if someone’s coming over, and 2. activities that have no purpose other than pleasure, like watching Russian Doll a second time (Netflix; recommended), playing with the fam, and organizing my nail polish by color, and 3. activities that—praise hands!—cover both bases, like writing.

KonMari says, “Don’t worry about regrets! Just know you’ll have them, haha!” (Not an exact quote.) But I am noticing that I have no regrets in this category. I cannot say I feel the lack of life purpose as something missing. I only feel more spaciousness, just like Marie Kondo would want me to.

So now that you know how non-religious and non-spiritual I am, you may take this self-care idea I offer with a grain of salt:

What if there is no pre-defined life purpose? What if you don’t need to spend your precious life searching for one, because there isn’t one to discover?

The idea that there’s something very, very specific that we need to accomplish in our time here, that others are depending on us to figure it out and then perform it—the world needs your gifts! the gifts that only you can bring! —gosh, how very stressful. And I just can’t bring myself to believe that stress is the purpose of our life here.

I like this idea better: No one, no person or nation-state, actually needs you to do anything. Really, any self-care guru who gets up by noon can tell you that there are a million ways to meet every need humans come up with.

So how might life be if your only “job” here on earth is simply to show up and participate, just as you desire?

In order to consider that, I think you have to trust that you’re already good.

And as your resident self-care expert, I can tell you for sure that you are.

Good in every way.


Image:  Piano Practice Interrupted, Willem Bartel van der Kooi, 1813, Rijksmuseum. Used with permission.

About The Author

Max Daniels is a research-based life coach whose weekly emails make us laugh with recognition and rethink everything we thought we knew. Her new book is Meals at Mealtimes. What a concept!


  • Simplicity and the spaciousness that naturally follows….sounds delightful!

  • What a beautiful read-LIFE- bring it on!

  • Lovely.

  • Wow! Thank you. I needed that!!

  • YES!

  • Well if this is true…. what a relief!! I may be constitutionally unable to get off the fence on this though. –And maybe that is okay too. Wonderful thought-provoking post.

  • Awesome, as always! Thanks, Max.

  • I’ve thought this for a long time. There are people that I call searchers. They spend so much time searching and waiting for the perfect life that they end up not really living the life they have.

  • Sorry, but this is just another of todays “it’s okay to be totally self absorbed” article.

    • Agreed tbh — “show up and participate — *just as you desire*”. Otherwise a good piece that makes some great points (just show up and do the work in front of you, love the people around you, don’t spend all your time in an endless spiral of shallow self-actualization) but what if participating just as I desire means taking everything for myself and leaving nothing for others? What if participating just as I desire means ignoring the needs of my family and community? What if other people DO, in fact, need me to do some things?

      We all have responsibilities and obligations. Striving to meet them, and striving to find some meaning in our lives, does not have to mean indulging in martyrdom or neurosis. Sometimes it means just putting others before ourselves.

      I normally like Max’s approach, but this one totally misses the mark.

      • Amy H makes many many good points.
        For the record, I spend zero time worrying about a purpose in life and I also am not religious or spiritual. But I get to work with low income people who basically spend their time trying to survive day to day. They definitely don’t ponder life’s purpose, it is a matter of getting by. I honor their struggle.
        Maybe that’s why it seems strange to me to even consider time spent arranging nail polish bottles as relevant to a discussion on life’s purpose, and especially then to go on and read that “No one, no person or nation-state, actually needs you to do anything.” Really? There is no civic fabric we all need to help maintain for a decent society? I cannot agree. Consider tutoring a kid who is struggling in school, or volunteering to walk dogs at a local animal shelter, or shelving books at the library – *something*! Contributing one’s share can help eliminate the need to (and maybe some of the the time for) worry about a deeper purpose in life. Unless “participating just as you desire” includes giving back, it can be perilously close to feeling great about yourself while you leech off the good will and good work of others. Isn’t there enough of that going on already?
        Finally, doesn’t making the elimination of stress paramount just create a new & rather flat “purpose for life”?

        • You said it! Our society would be no where if we just did what was in front of us. How very sad a life that would be… sounds a bit like communism.

        • ah yes but then I feel i’ve totally burned out on the I’ve got to fix EVERYTHING thats wrong in the world by myself if necessary. I’m offically KNACKERED! We need a middle way or middle middle way. But I have to say in the uplands of middle age… the exortion to find ones passion and make it ones job really is a pile of shit… I’m sorry folks .. most people do jobs they endure and do what they want outside job.

    • I guess you could see it that way but I see it as a more freeing message to enable you to STOP being so self absorbed. So many messages these days hinge on figuring things out. To me, this one says stop doing that and just be.

      • I agree. So many self help gurus seem to be peddling total self-absorption. Just BE for heaven’s sake. Be the best person you can be, of course. But be open to the little lessons that come to you every day if you’re not so busy with the next fad that you fail to see what’s happening around you.

      • Yes, I do think that’s the upside of her message here — to just show up and do the work in front of you. That is absolutely right. It’s the focus on ~~ do what makes you happy ~~ that I think is shallow and ultimately a false promise. Do what makes you happy and then … what? You’ll feel fulfilled? You’ll feel … a momentary and fleeting sense of personal pleasure? Reminiscent of Max’s comment about emotional weather. It doesn’t last. Putting our greatest focus on what makes us happy is a recipe for self-absorption and myopia too — just in the other direction: sorry, can’t help you what that, it just doesn’t fill my bucket. There are ways to meet our obligations to others with joy and selflessness while also not becoming a martyr. It just involves not making your own pleasure and self-fulfillment your highest priority and understanding that like it or not, we’re not each individually at the center of the universe. Balance is possible. Max seems to be advising that we swing from one end of the pendulum to the other, because surely the secret to self-fulfillment lies in concluding that there is no secret, only our own buckets to fill, others’ buckets be damned.

        • Well said Amy. I agree and also think that the –be happy– message infers that if you’re not happy, you’re failing.

      • Well said! Excellent article, Max!

      • I totally agree with you, KIMWFINDLAY!

    • I respectfully disagree. I personally have two simple objectives: to keep myself as healthy as possible (I’m quite disabled); and to be as happy as possible. To be reasonably happy, I must spend as much energy as I can helping others in many ways, and I think that’s true for many people. Guilt that one is not “doing it right” helps no one, except perhaps those selling solutions.

      • Yes!

  • I love this. I am also nonreligious. I do believe that we each have a moral obligation to figure out what we love and do best and do it. I don’t know that my belief is entirely rational. I do know that I have never been happier since I unraveled it for myself.

  • YES!! I’m speachless. Almost. So, so true. Many thanks, Max and MDK.

  • Recently, I read a line that said “dedicate your day to love”. I started doing that this week. It started out to be really easy and fun and lighthearted and wonderful. However, when situations arose that I had to really give the love to myself, it became more difficult.

    Today I’m struggling with doing just that. I can either choose to be upset about the way a particular person has treated me because it triggers my inner critic, or I can choose to concentrate on loving myself by realizing that their actions are their actions and have nothing to do with me personally.

    Maybe learning this kind of love, putting my inner critic to rest, is my life’s purpose.

  • Agree! I found a while ago that I was creating more stress by feeling I “should” be doing all these self care activities. I stopped running through that list and started on trying to focus on the life I am living, moment by moment. Iam a work in progress, as we all are; but I am starting to see the trees in the forest.

  • Best article on purpose I have read yet. Although I think my purpose in life is to knit up all the yarn in my stash before I die. Which in my case will be at 150 years old.

  • I have learned that the only person you can make happy is you. Doing things to make others happy is doomed for incompleteness. Thus let go of those things and activities that stress you out.

  • Ooh! Light bulb moment. Trying to leave all of this striving and self improvement and false connectedness behind. The latest trends of side hustle means I have even less time to appreciate what I have. Why do I need more? I have enough. I am enough.

  • Wonderfully written Max – Thank you !

  • Thank you so much Max, this was exactly what I needed to read x

  • “No one, no person or nation-state, actually needs you to do anything.” How earth shattering–according to prevailing wisdom! Thankyouthankyouthankyou for this!

  • I enjoyed this!

  • Thank you for that.
    Pretty much what I have been thinking.
    I still want to keep my gratitude list going. Everything else, no.

  • Yes, yes, yes!!! You hit the nail on the head! I have been struggling with this question for a long time and here you’ve said exactly what I’ve felt. That you for helping me define my truth!

  • Just what I needed to hear–thank you.

  • Oh my, yes! What a lovely, calming notion. Thank you for putting it into the world.

  • I can’t agree more, thank you!

  • I think it takes great courage to buck the new-age ‘spiritual’ trend and publish this piece, and I heartily applaud you! AND, I’m so very grateful to read this right now as I’m also reading the works of Tosha Silver about offering our lives, our decisions, and all… to the Divine. I’m 60 years old and am only now — after 40 years of believing there was something wrong with me ‘cos I couldn’t “figure out” my ‘life purpose’ — accepting that my life purpose it to BE ME from moment to moment. It is the opposite of self-indulgence; it is courageous!

  • Amen

    • There are so many versions of this philosophy: 1) Be present. Listen. Speak your truth. Detach from outcome. 2) Bloom where you’re planted. 3) (My favorite) The KISS principle. Keep It Simple, Stupid! (Tongue-in-cheek, of course).

      After 40 years as an obstetrician, I can without guilt just enjoy.

  • Yesssss. Just show up. That’s my purpose.

  • It wasn’t until I hit my 60’s that I finally was comfortable in my own skin. Or I found my true north or whatever you chose to call it. The price that I paid was horrendous, but it was worth every single minute. I’m no longer a doctors wife living in the suburbs with a lovely home and an assured income. Now I’m a single woman who changed professions after a fall put me on disability and vocational rehab put me back on my feet. It’s not the age that is the factor as my 89 year old mother remains angry and bitter. It’s something within and resilience that allow us to change.

  • This is blowing my mind, in a deep sea sonic waves kind of way. I opened this article thinking, “yes! If anyone can help with the life’s purpose question, it’s Max.” Now I’m thinking “what if life’s purpose is physical maintenance + moving in a pleasurable direction?” And then strike out the word “purpose” from that equation.

  • I really agree with you!

  • Well-reasoned. I’m a fairly recent widow who spent the last 5 years doing and managing everything so that my husband had as normal a life as possible. For the last 7 months I have been listening to what makes a normal life for me. I still do yoga and meditate because I like it. I go to the gym because I want to, it makes me feel strong. It’s hard to banish the “should” that my inner voice tries to shout about but I manage–most of the time. In this post Max gave us all permission to find our own way. Take these words and run with them any way that works for you. Leave them here if they don’t. This isn’t a commandment, it’s something to think about.

  • Thank you!

  • Thank you, Max. Your columns always give me joy!

  • Thank you for your reflection Max. It is my first time reading your work. I believe you are describing your own discovery of grace. Frederick Buechner writes it better than I ever could like this: “There’s nothing YOU have to do. There is nothing you HAVE to do. There is nothing you have to DO. The grace of God means something like: ‘Here is your life. You might never have been, but you are, because the party wouldn’t have been complete without you. Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid. I am with you. Nothing can ever separate us. It’s for you I created the universe. I love you.’ Thank you again for your writing and for reminding me to find this quote in my journal! (It helps me with my knitting too.)

    • Even I a dyed in the wool atheist thinks thats a fantastic quote!

    • That’s a lovely quote – thank you for sharing!

  • Yes yes yes, this!
    I got rid of my most recent primary care physician when I went for help with several conditions caused by stress, and she said “the solution is to get rid of those stressors.”
    I am a person with a family and employees, a small business. How the heck?
    But I did simplify the things I could. My garden is a yard whose “good bones” are covered by weeds, and if my very organized Dad knocked at my door I would pretend to not be home. (And when I’m out of vegetables my kid has no vegetables, to be honest.)

    • Yes, I’ve wondered about the advice to rid yourself of stressors. I can understand simplifying what you eat if cooking stresses you out but what about things you can’t change? I’ve been caring for an elderly parent for several years and it stresses me but I can’t change it, and I’m not sure I’d want to so I need to accept it.

      • Yes!

  • This was exactly what I needed to read today. Thank you!

  • As a very purposeful, intentional person, I feel free-er than ever. I think purpose is having figured out what is important to you (you have, clearly) and then focusing on that. OR, it could be what the old Demotivators calendar said on a page entitled, Mistakes showing a shipwreck: “It could be that the purpose of your life is to serve as a warning to others.”

  • Thanks Max. It’s taken me many years to get there, and I’m finally content that I have arrived. My journey has been wonderous and I’m Grateful I’ve experienced all I have and searched all I did. It’s now time to sit inside myself and delight in all the little things that bring so much joy. There is a time to rush through life and there is a time to sit inside yourself and just say “ahh”. There comes a time when we don’t need “things” we just need to be. That’s where I am now! I am enough.

  • I really enjoyed your article, Max. It reminds me that this life isn’t some kind of dress rehearsal that I need to labor away on, waiting to live it until I reach some vague goal. Life is in the present moment and should be lived with joy and curiosity. If I can’t find my joy how on Earth can I share it with anyone else?

  • Thank you so much for this. In addition, I love the painting you chose. My “purpose” that was always pushed on me was playing the piano; and, boy, I sure preferred any interruption to piano practice!

  • All lovely. But the best part was you made me look up Negroni Week. I’m in!

  • Absolutely loved this, thank you Max!

  • Thank you! Just how I was thinking. What a breath of fresh air

  • I love this idea! I, as a humanoid, DON’T need to start yoga! Phew! And giving up meditation is a relief, yay! I fulfilled Nature’s requirements; procreated. So thats done. And the procreations are grown and gone…another phew! Lol. Hey and one of those procreations is in pharmacy school. Yippee!

  • Oh, thank you, thank you for this. After 76 years on this earth, I have finally figured out I was put here to enjoy what I am doing and when I enjoy what I am doing, I do it well. Knitting happens to drop into that category. So does writing and loving my family and friends. I may do other stuff but it’s definitely not either my purpose or sole responsibility. Thanks again for agreeing.

  • Show up and be me! I can do that. Thank you.

  • I so agree. I’m old and a couple of years ago I decided to give up trying to improve The Great Me. My New year’s resolution since then has been: fresh flowers on the first of the month. Within my limited budget, improves my surroundings, and cheers my friends. I’ve also cut out the words should and but, feels much better!

    • I add the words never and always to my Avoid List. Well, usually. They’re hardly ever accurate, and they’re often angrifying. (Sorry; I can’t remember what famous person invented “angrify.”)

    • I love that resolution.

  • Someone, wish I could remember who, said that life was just one damned thing after another. Another said that life is made up of all the moments in all the days. My mother told me never to expect any big deal out of life. My personal mantra is to enjoy every moment as much as possible and try to endure the bad ones with as much grace as possible. Also, it’s all good; every day spent above ground is a good one.

  • Funny, I’ve always lived my life this way. Simplicity is key. Thinking this way will make one less self-absorbed, in my experience.

  • Thanks Max, I needed to hear that! Foregoing meditation for a walk in the sun.

  • I laughed out loud at the comment about dusting when people are coming over. Sounds like me. And thank you for this newsletter. Inspiring and freeing all at the same time.

  • Fantastic article Max – I really needed it. Is there any way I can share it on Facebook?

    • Awww, thank you! There’s a little Facebook share icon in the top left of the page 🙂

  • I love this writing and thank you for it. I am 71 years young and still trying to figure out my life purpose, the “thing” I was meant to do on this earth and time is running out to discover this one course I should have taken. I’m relieved that you too struggle with this question. I’m very much liking the Marie Kondo method of just letting go of what does not bring me joy. Is it necessary for me to know what my path “should have been” or rather to be grateful for the many years I’ve had doing what I have, even though it never felt quite right. Now I just want to take the time to enjoy my grandchildren and my knitting and friends and my husband and children – so much that is now my purpose.

    • I couldn’t agree with you more! Well said!!

  • Possible unpopular opinion here, but I’ve always thought that meditation was a bit of snake oil and its proponents too censorious of those who could not or would not do it. I think there are other ways to be mindful without sitting still for 20 minutes and trying not to feel antsy and think of other things If you can’t succeed you just feel bad about yourself. So no surprise to me that you would feel no different after abandoning the practice. Good for you.

    • PS: I have held this opinion for a long time, ever since 1971, when a high school classmate who studied meditation with the Maharishi was given time to explain the wonders of this practice to the rest of the class. He drew circles on the blackboard to show us how creativity would bubble to the surface. It made no sense at all. I am not making this up!

      • DYING!

  • Did I ever send my comment? I don’t see it here. This topic has made me reflect on something I never thought of before, having swallowed whole early in my life a religious tenet that gave me enough overarching purpose to go forth and bumble my way through life — given whatever talents, provided or denied to me and whatever information provided or misinterpreted by me, or opportunities opened up, created by, or squandered by me. In short, doing the best I can given the goals and purpose of the moment. After much picking myself up and dusting myself off I have come to the realization that that overarching religious purpose ultimately translates to LOVE. Kind of covers everything.

  • Kon-Mari can do one as we say in the UK! Anyone who advocates only owning 30 books clearly needs therapy 😀 😀

  • 5 Stars…maybe 6.

  • “Do all the good you can,
    By all the means you can,
    In all the ways you can,
    In all the places you can,
    At all the times you can,
    To all the people you can,
    As long as ever you can.”

    –possibly a quote from John Wesley

  • KonMarie for the soul…what a freeing concept. I love it 🙂 Thanks for the great article!

  • Thank God for Max Daniels! I really needed to hear this message. And I laughed and laughed!

  • Just saw this post as I was cleaning out unread emails from last year (always on top of things!). I think I may have read it last year, but this year it really hit home. I’ve been working on setting goals in this new year and trying to figure out what my purpose is and having a rough time of it. Thank you, thank you, thank you, Max!!!! It’s OK if I don’t have a purpose. It’s OK just to be me. That is enough to work on this year!

  • Just what I have been needing to read! Thank you

  • I have looked for decades for my ‘life purpose’ and never found it. Great – now I can stroke that of my to-do list!

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