A few days ago, my husband Evan and I watched Everest, a film about a group of climbers who went out to climb Mt. Everest in 1996.
I would never do this, was my first thought. I decided to swallow my judgement and keep watching.
The climbers left their families and friends behind to risk everything, to go on this wild and dangerous expedition.
One of the lead guides had a wife who was expecting a baby. Enough said. He must survive! Right?
I watched as the climbers pushed their physical limits to the max. Not only did the climbers have to be fit physically, but they had to condition their bodies to function on little oxygen. Add to this, they were living in below freezing temperatures surrounded by beautiful but deadly landscape for several days.
Unless you’re an adrenaline junkie, this sounds like pure torture. Why are these climbers putting themselves through this crazy experience?
Why Do We Push Our Limits (and Torture Ourselves)?
Whether you’re climbing Mt. Everest, launching your own company, running the New York City Marathon, or putting yourself through childbirth, you’re suffering to an extent.
Why do we do this to ourselves?
The answer is purpose.
In Everest, each climber had a different purpose, a deeper reason to go out and push their limits.
One guy did it for the kids. If he could climb Mt. Everest, a regular average Joe who was actually physically weaker than his traveling buddies, anything is possible.
Another guy was escaping depression. Being on a mountain was the only way he found peace. (He didn’t even tell his wife he was going to climb Mt. Everest, he just called her from basecamp.)
Purpose is powerful. The moments that seem so difficult, so scary, somehow lose center stage. – Tweet It!
Instead, we focus on something bigger than ourselves: the impact, how we’ll change lives, our own life or the lives of those around us. So what may appear like torture actually becomes quite bearable.
What Happens Then, When We Let Our Purpose Drive Us?
First, there are no guarantees of success.
On May 10th, the climbers ascend Mt. Everest. (Spoiler alert!) They make it, they cry, they celebrate. It’s quite amazing.
But now they have to make it down the mountain. (You have to expect drama otherwise there wouldn’t be a movie about this.) A deadly blizzard hits and many don’t survive.
Although this ending is tragic, “the ending” is actually not the main point of taking risks and doing the unthinkable. (I personally need this reminder from time to time.)
The reality is the unexpected happens. In some cases it’s a storm. In other cases it’s massive layoffs or the end of a bubble. The unexpected is bound to happen whether we take that risk or not.
But, that’s not the end of the story. Pushing your limits and letting your purpose guide you transforms you, regardless of the final outcome.
In Mt. Everest, the climber suffering from depression survived. It seemed he continued to live a more peaceful life after his near-death experience.
In my personal, sometimes-tortuous journey of entrepreneurship, a path I’ve been on for the past two years, I’ve pushed my limits and tested myself daily. This experience often rewards me way more emotionally and mentally than any steady, full-time job with a six-figure salary.
Unsure still of my final destination, and despite it, I’ve experienced the following:
- I’ve connected with hundreds of young and experienced professionals, and when they tell me I’ve helped them find work, their mission or helped them get unstuck, I know I’ve made a difference somewhere…and it’s awesome.
- I’ve become more confident. Where I once used to worry deeply about what others thought of me, I now push through it. Following my mission is my key driver rather than external rewards and compliments.
- I’ve gotten smarter. I was a nerdy kid, and I thought straight As meant I had it all figured out. I know better now. Tapping into my inner creativity gives me way more fuel and helps me solve new problems that memorizing a few pages in a text never could.
- I’m a more positive person. I’ve learned that if I want to achieve my mission, I need to stop whining when things don’t go my way. Rather, I need to be solution-oriented. If it’s not working, just look for a better answer. #MakeItWork
This list will continue growing throughout the years.
So, How Can We Be More Mission Driven?
Finding your mission and leading with it is about following your gut when there are so many logical reasons to turn the other way, stay home and live a life of safety.
Here are a few questions to help you identify your mission. (This takes time, so just live the questions for right now if you feel overwhelmed.)
- What’s most important to you? What do you value? Is it a challenge, autonomy, creativity, family, money?
- What do you gravitate to most frequently? What books do you seek out? What blogs do you read? For example, if you’re often drawn to books on entrepreneurship perhaps this is a sign of an area to explore. Make a list and start broad. What’s the common thread among your interests?
Being clear on these two can help you identify the work that you want to do. Once you get to this, there’s always room for improvement.
When thinking about pushing our limits, whether we’re business owners, climbing the ladder, a stay at home parent, an artist or an athlete, the following questions come to mind…
How can we be more brave in our day to day?
What are we willing to risk for our goals?
How much are we willing to hold back, and what’s the consequence?
Self awareness is key. I won’t be climbing Mt. Everest anytime soon, but I will continue to push my limits as long as I’m driven by something bigger than myself.
Join the discussion 7 Comments
Pushing your limits is always the best way to realize that anything is possible. Keep going because even making a difference in one persons life is important
Thank you Neve! So true…pushing our limits can be a game changer.
When you have a purpose, it makes the rough times easier to handle because you have a bigger mission. But purpose can come in different forms. Maybe you’re starting a new job, and you have 3 big learning objectives. You focus on getting the most out of that job, and when the work environment is less than happy, you check-in with those learning objectives. I’ve found that to be really helpful.
On the other hand, a purpose that has no soulful, truthful, creative, meaning can make it really hard to push through the trials. For instance, I took a contract where it wasn’t about the learning objectives, it was all about the money; I needed it. The tough times sucked because I couldn’t connect with a meaningful purpose other than dollar bills.
I was listening to a podcast with Taye Diggs this morning about how he was really uncomfortable doing Hedwig and the Angry Inch, but that it was thrilling to push his limits. Now that his run is over, he’s looking for the next role to push him. It’s easy to get complacent, and the strength you have to push your boundaries is just like any other muscle – you need to consistently use it!
Lindsay, thanks so much for posting! Your insights are spot on. Sometimes we get caught up with finding our BIG purpose, which is so overwhelming. The key is to find it in small doses…for whatever we’re doing at the moment. I feel that’s just as powerful. And pushing your limits is another way to make the most of the situation. You rock! Thanks again for sharing.
Great read! You are right, we need to push our boundaries sometimes to find our purpose. But I really like how you talk about prioritizing what is important to you to find your purpose. I think answering the questions you laid out is a good way to start!
Thanks so much for your comment Kate! 🙂