What’s Your Purpose in Life?

Men who don’t have a sense of purpose or mission in life are dangerous, Frederick Marx writes. 

What is your life purpose or mission? What are the gifts you have to share with the world? Native Americans talk about the medicine that each individual uniquely has to offer. What is your medicine?

Mine? “I co-create a world living in truth, without despair, by fiercely loving myself and all beings.” Let’s break that down piece by piece.

“I co-create.” One of my shadows is the traditional male “go it alone” shadow, “I can do it all myself.” I call that the male disease. Going it alone is a recipe for burnout and failure. It’s important for me to remember that. God knows I’ve burned out and failed enough!

It’s important, too, to note that a mission should be bigger than what any one man can reasonably accomplish in his own lifetime. This is not a time for false modesty, to think small. This is a time to think big, real big. Many lifetimes big. Seven generations big. Think the cathedrals of Europe. Many men worked their entire lives on one small part of the structure and died never seeing it complete. Pride in the workmanship and holding the vision are what’s essential.

“A world living in truth.” How sweet would that be? What do I do to make it happen? Certainly my films, even the fiction ones, seek the truth about the human condition and social realities. But it’s not just about what I do, it’s who I am, too. I practice speaking truth in my daily life, whether in personal or professional situations.

“Without despair.” It’s important to keep despair in front of me at all times. That’s one of my great shadows. It’s all too easy for me to throw up my hands and say, “what’s the use? It’s all going to shit anyway.” Or “I’ll never succeed.” For this reason, I drastically limit the amount of news I take in. How people can read/hear/watch the news every day and not want to kill themselves or someone else is beyond me.

Defining myself solely as a filmmaker is also a one-way ticket to hell. Defining myself only in what I do, rather than in who I am, moment to moment. I have to consciously limit the directions my mind goes when I work: “How much money must I raise to make this next film?” It’s never enough. But if I wring my hands in despair rather than get busy raising money, that’s on me. “Why doesn’t X return my phone calls?” People promise all kinds of things and fulfill very few. But if I obsess about how they can possibly be so far out of integrity rather than cut my losses and move on, that’s on me. “Look at X, Y, and Z colleagues … they’re receiving far more funding than I, their film is screening in far better venues, they’re going to much nicer festivals, they’re getting better reviews …” There are plenty of filmmakers who receive far more support for their work than I. But if I focus on that and don’t marshal the tremendous resources I do have, that’s on me. It’s all about resisting the lure of being the victim and challenging myself to become the man I’ve always wanted to be.

“By fiercely…” Why “fiercely?” Another of my shadows is being the nice guy, doing whatever it takes to get someone to like me. Being the “people pleaser.” So “fierce” is a good reminder to me that sometimes it’s necessary to not be liked. Being liked by the people I am with is often not a priority relative to what’s really important. To crank up the intensity, the volume, the presence, to do what’s right, what’s necessary to serve the greater good. It requires fierceness to speak up for what’s right in a world comfortable with lies and illusion. Holding firm boundaries requires fierceness. So does confronting self-righteous authorities. So does protecting loved ones from danger.

The word “fierce” also serves to remind me that life is not for the faint of heart. It’s hard. I’m not reductively Darwinian, so I don’t believe “only the strong survive.” But the pain, the disappointments, the losses, the fears of life can be immense. It’s essential to develop some emotional, physical, psychological, and spiritual resilience, some fierceness of attitude and outlook to weather the storms.

“Loving myself and all beings.” Given much of the above, you might already have guessed that “loving myself” is the greater challenge here. My guess is it’s difficult for most Westerners. (Unlike many (most?) Asians, for whom it’s almost unimaginable that a child would not be absolutely treasured, honored, and welcomed into this world, building a healthy foundation of self-esteem.) Though it cannot be unlearned, fortunately the habits of poor self-esteem can be mitigated against. Meditation, regular exercise, men’s groups, positive affirmations, and mirror work are some of the tools that have proven helpful for me. I’ve also learned to recognize what I need when I need it. So when I feel dumped on by someone, or at my wit’s end with a frustrating situation, I can reach out and ask my wife or a friend for a hug and some encouraging words.

But “loving all beings” is no small challenge either. There is a long list of people in government and a longer list of those in business who really challenge me. How do we love people that threaten us with their greed, their self-absorption, their cruelty, their ignorance, their indifference? The first step is to recognize that we don’t have to like them. Liking and loving are entirely different matters. Secondly, any person’s cruelties can be traced to their ignorance. They simply haven’t been taught any better. At a dharma, or Buddhist level, they haven’t been taught how absolutely interconnected we all are. Lastly, everyone suffers, even torturers, billionaire bankers, war-loving generals, presidents, and politicians. While still adamantly opposing their destructive practices and policies, our challenge is to make room in our hearts for their own suffering.

The way I was raised made it difficult for me to accept that any rich person could possibly ever suffer. Working with rich people over the years has taught me otherwise. Not to minimize the fear that faces the 40-plus million Americans who won’t eat three meals today, or the 50-plus million who have no regular, sufficient medical care, but there are an awful lot of wealthy people steeped in nothing but fear over how they’re going to protect their wealth in our declining economy. Not to mention any number of myriad other problems. Christina Onassis’s suicide at 24 was a real eye opener to me in this regard.

I co-create a world living in truth, without despair, by fiercely loving myself and all beings. And you? What’s your mission?

Frederick Marx is interested in starting an advice column on all things male related. We invite you to place suggestions, or specific questions, below on issues you would like to see addressed.

—Photo laszlo-photo/Flickr

About Frederick Marx

Academy and Emmy nominated independent filmmaker Frederick Marx (HOOP DREAMS) has worked 35 years in film and television. Company mission: "Bearing Witness, Creating Change." Creating transformational stories that transform lives. Visit www.warriorfilms.org for more info.


  1. Wonderful to see some of your amazing missions. Erin, David, Copyleft, Pharaoh – thank you for sharing yours. Readers, please continue to share your own. I’ll be posting a Part II to this train of thought shortly, talking about why and how men are dangerous when not living in mission. Leia, whatever your own mission is, I’m glad to see it no longer includes caretaking other men living in shadow. Until your ex discovers and lives his own mission sounds like you’re well rid of him.

  2. “Dangerous men”

    Oh look, a feminist publication exercising in fear-mongering. How surprising.

  3. Aloha Frederick, Thank you for such an insightful article. Your thoughts ring so true for me. As an Air Force veteran with 25 years of service, I have a deep appreciation for a well defined mission. Since retiring and moving to Maui, Hawaii, my life mission continues to be to serve mankind in a special way that makes life more meaningful and rewarding for us all. As a film maker, you would appreciate this. I’ve started a company, http://www.EAffirmations.com, which produces inspiration, relaxation and meditation videos/media.
    EAffirmations.com provides creative tools to relax, unwind, and regenerate by watching and listening to my online videos, DVDs, etc. EAffirmations.com fills our need to escape daily stress, tension, and emotional ailments by redirecting our conscious and subconscious mind to peaceful, uplifting sights, sounds, and thoughts.
    To keep in short, I provide an alternative option at the other end of the viewing spectrum. This alternative viewing experience redirects our focus, our conscious and subconscious mind, to a more positive and uplifting perspective of life. I want viewers to reconnect with their spirit and feel good about life. And as result, be empowered to make a difference in their unique way.

  4. I loved a man once when I was too young and naive….he was extremely intelligent, articulate, and much older than me…it’s funny to look back now and see that he was still unformed…and still had lofty goals that he hadn’t thought he could dream of until he met me (and he kept that a secret from me)….I think he latched onto me because I was too young and naive and still had great possibilities in front of me….He was working on his PhD. in science at the time, already married and with a family…when I looked at him I saw the father figure in “Leave It To Beaver”; I thought he was already settled and focused on his own responsibilities…..Little did I know how much he envied me and my freedom…He said he fell in love with me…but I look back and see maybe he just wanted to trade places with me and have another chance to chase a great dream: to go to pre-professional school….and I never knew until many years later when I had broken things off…his desperation in chasing me…I was so young and so impossible…perhaps if he conquered me then he could achieve anything….somehow by being near me he could somehow escape his stultifying life and chase his real dreams….maybe he felt challenged by a too green and too petite kid who declared that she wanted something really lofty for herself…he was my intellectual superior…surely if I could do it, couldn’t he? Long story short…he played a dangerous, sick game with all of our lives and became really controlling and coercive and manipulating….if he could just control me better and make me into a better robot, then he could master his own life, too? I all ended spectacularly after 7 tortuous years…everything went up in flames…I had stayed with him all those years because I could see that he was sick…I had hoped I could make him better…if anything, he just became more monstrous…When I left, I told him I couldn’t help him anymore…that he would have to see a therapist or psychologist ….that he would have to finish his personal goals alone…I couldn’t support him anymore…he was draining me of my lifeblood….He eventually did go to pre-professional school a few years later….he stalked me 2 decades after I fought my way out of the relationship just to show me what he had finally accomplished…but he was so old now….and decrepit….He finally achieved what he secretly coveted in me for himself…Was it worth the cost? Where was the applause? Did he stalk me so that I could bow down to him and tell him that he was a worthy man? How do you explain a man so diabolical and secretive that he would pursue something against all odds?

    • A typical female home wrecker who tries to justify her actions and shift all blame onto the man. Women make it quite clear to men that if they want to attain women, they have to get a girlfriend/wife so that many of them will suddenly be interested in them. Whatever follows is never their fault. Women are always the victim.

  5. David McCartney says:

    I also have been thinking a lot (again) about mission. I wrote a piece for myself a few years ago about personal mission statements. Maybe it’s time to dust it off and think about submitting.

  6. I enjoyed your perspective. I have been doing a lot of thinking and writing about the importance of a mission lately so it is good to read similar sentiments. Without one we are just doing things and usually not things that matter most to us.

  7. Mine is to promote reason, knowledge, and justice.

    “I am the Shaman of the Tribe. I protect the Tribe by helping the leaders to become more powerful and more human by connecting to the Divine in us all.”

    In practice, I am an Executive Coach, I help my clients to become more conscious, loving, and authentic leaders. I love my mission, when I am ON, I can feel the Gods working through me. I can’t believe I get paid to do something I love so much.

    David Kaiser
    Dark Matter Consulting

  9. That’s a lovely piece of writing. As for me, I try to build bridges more often than burn them, listen closer when I don’t understand, and look for things in common with others so I can become and ally, not an adversary. I think most people intend to bring more good to the world, we just sometimes let our pride interfere.


  1. […] really important that men have a sense of mission or purpose in life. (I have written about this subject recently.) They have a built-in desire to want to serve someone or something, to know that their life has […]

  2. […] really important that men have a sense of mission or purpose in life. (I have written about this subject recently.) They have a built-in desire to want to serve someone or something, to know that their life has […]

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