1 Big Idea to Think About

  • Your most essential task is to detect and then pursue your life’s mission. Being in places that inspire you will help you find clarity, purpose, and the next steps you need to take.

2 Ways You Can Apply This

  • Think of a place where the probability of detecting your life’s mission is increased.
  • Make a concrete plan to be in that place and spend time there as soon as possible.

3 Questions to Ask

  • Where do I feel most inspired?
  • When was the last time I was in that place?
  • How can I be in this place again so that I can detect and discern the next steps I need to take toward my life’s mission?

Key Moments From the Show 

  • A trip to King’s College (3:06)
  • Detecting your life’s mission (6:37)
  • What I heard in the chapel of King’s College (9:10)
  • How to increase the probability of detecting your life’s mission (9:55)

Links and Resources You’ll Love from the Episode

Greg McKeown:

Welcome everyone. I’m your host, Greg McKeown, and I am here with you on this journey to learn to understand so that we can contribute more. I’ve become aware recently that I haven’t really shared very much with you about my experience, an adventure here at the University of Cambridge, and for the next four solo episodes, I’m going to try and put that right. 

Have you ever found yourself in a place that made it easier for you to detect your mission in life? By the end of this episode, you will feel inspired, I hope, to seek out places that increase the probability of you detecting, understanding, and hearing that mission that is so often hidden below the surface. So let’s get to it.

To get more out of today’s episode, take action immediately. Within a few minutes or hours of listening to this episode, take a tiny step toward applying it. 

Recently, my son and I spent time at King’s College Cambridge. That’s not the college I’m a member of. I’m a member of Queens, and for anybody who hasn’t spent time at Cambridge, this is even more confusing than those of us that are here. There are 31 colleges. You can think of it as something like the houses in Harry Potter, but instead of there being four, there’s 31. 

Each college works in its own independent way. So really, there isn’t one university at all, not in the way that one would imagine it at universities the world over. Each university has its money separate, has its own leadership, has its own policies, and its own physical campus. Its own college. And so unless you are deliberate about it, you will only naturally have access to the one college that you are a member of. Mine is Queens, which is absolutely beautiful. Whenever I am there, I feel that sweet burden of the hundreds of years of learning that have gone before. But as I said, my son and I had the opportunity to spend time at King’s. 

There’s lots to describe about that place, but the most poignant moment was when we went to the chapel at King’s College. Every college, to my knowledge, has a chapel, and King’s is the crown jewel of them all. Walking through the front door, I felt like Harry Potter might have done walking into Diagon Alley or Lucy walking through the wardrobe into Narnia. The spectacle was more than I was prepared for. 

Since beginning this renaissance in my life, this adventure to Cambridge and all that it symbolizes, all of the learning and adventure beyond the university itself. I have found that beauty and learning have a particular effect on me, and that effect is they make me want to weep in awe.

As I walked into King’s College Chapel, we were transmitted into somewhere otherworldly. That’s ceiling a design, so fit for purpose that we could not help but look up. Look, heavenward, so to speak. My 16-year-old son actually gaped involuntarily for a full 30 seconds. There’s a word for all of this; it’s majesty. 

I was listening to Beethoven as we walked down the aisle of this ancient edifice whose existence is an ever-present and dramatic symbol to all who would seek learning to do so with humility and the endless wish to see and serve something bigger, something beyond ourselves. 

This chapel, which took a mere hundred years to build, has stood there now for 500. For half a millennia, it has offered a renewal of mind and spirit for any who are willing to make the trek. And as I walked its main hall, I thought of you, and I wished you could be there with me, seeing what I was seeing, feeling what I felt, and could look up and ponder, what does this mean for me?

Because beyond the many, many pressing matters of your life, there is something below the surface, something beyond the curtain, something vibrant and transformative, something that will stir the soul, a whisper that will cut to the heart, a flicker that will illuminate our lives and at the same time shake us. And it helps us to sense to know really that our mission in life is not decided and it’s not designed. Our essential mission in life must be detected. And one thing I know for sure is that we won’t detect it if we are just living in our inbox. We won’t detect it if we’re doom-looping through nasty dueling monologues on Twitter. We will not detect it if we are just driven by envy wanting things because other people have them, or by that mimetic desire, where we want things because we think other people want them, which is even more unhelpful. We will not detect it if we are consumed with the trivial. We will not detect it on a low-nutrient information diet where we are just constantly plugged into whatever digital platform is capturing our attention and selling it to others. We will not detect it if we are used, as we so often can be, by the highly volatile emotional, political slogans of whatever persuasion we happen to have. We won’t detect it there. 

These things offer us no clues at all, but one, even those things say to us, if we pay attention, this is not the way. And after all, if you don’t know what you want, at least you are better off knowing what you don’t want. And who of us truly wants these trifling things, this Vanity Fair, these loud persuasive voices that can be so low on wisdom. Something within us, something several layers down, hungers for a beautiful life of meaning. It’s not a left-wing or a right-wing thing. It’s a wing to fly upwards. 

Here’s what I heard as I walked these sacred halls where a learning temple was once conceived. I heard the call to learn faster and deeper, and broader than ever before and to teach in more honest and eloquent ways. And I heard, if I may, something for you too. I felt to say to you this, that there is hope ahead and very, very good things to come, that there’s a job ahead if you seek one, a career ahead of you, if you seek that too, family healing if that is an intent that you’re holding onto right now and a mission of importance if you pause to seek it. But there is a price to pay, and that is to be in places that increase the probability of you detecting your mission in life.

Now, I don’t mean to be presumptuous about this. I know full well that not everybody can be in the chapel at King’s College, and nor do I think we have to be in that exact location to be able to find places that will increase this probability of understanding, sensing, seeing, naming, defining, and then following our unique mission in life. But all of us know and can discern when we are in places that are not going to help us, with people who are not likely to help us. And all of us have the power to be able to say no to that and to do it as gracefully as possible. 

I have a friend, an entrepreneur, a CEO of quite an impressive organization who told me of a man who he did not know well, who knocked on his door quite out of the blue one day and asked if he could just come and sit in his home, sit in a beautiful living room, a place that he had been once before, but not for very long. He said, “I just want to be in a place that feels like it’s full of light.” 

He never explained why he did it. And the entrepreneur I’m speaking of never shared more of the story than I’ve just shared with you, but there’s something lovely and telling and informative about that lovely incident, something for all of us to think of those places where it becomes clearer to us what we are supposed to do and not to do. 

Maybe there’s a special place in your life, maybe it’s a particular place in nature. Maybe it’s when you go for a walk or where you go to run. Maybe it’s your home, or maybe it’s someone else’s home. Maybe it’s with certain kinds of people. 

So here’s my invitation right now. I want you to think of and visualize a place in the world that will increase the probability of you being able to detect your mission in life. What the next right thing is to do in your life. What place comes to mind, and how can you get there? How quickly can you make a plan to be there and spend some time? Because what I know for sure is that if you get in that place, then you can hear something more important than anything you’ve heard in today’s episode. You can hear something that’s unique for you that can help you orient yourself in this disorienting world. To me, that matters. That’s essential. At least that’s what I’ve been thinking about as I’ve been thinking about you. 

What is one idea you heard today that caught your attention? Why does that matter so much? And who is one person you can share that with within the next 24 to 48 hours? 

If you found value in this episode, please write a review on Apple Podcasts. The first five people to write a review of this episode will receive free access to the Essentialism Academy. For more details, go to essentialism.com/podcastpromo. Thank you. Really, thank you for listening, and I’ll see you next time.