Finding Purpose with Ben Michaelis

By Zach Branson

Phi Beta Kappa member and clinical psychologist Dr. Ben Michaelis runs a not-so-ordinary practice. By combining fields as mixed as martial arts and biology, Michaelis helps his patients utilize their passion to lead lives that, as Michaelis puts it, “are fulfilling time for them rather than just filling time.” Recently, Michaelis has brought his practice to the page with Your Next Big Thing: Ten Small Steps to Get Moving and Get Happy (Adams Media, 2012), an insightful book that encourages readers to stop running in place and start moving forward.

Your Next Big Thing focuses on helping readers get out of this situation of “running in place,” Michaelis’ phrase for when “someone fulfills moment-to-moment needs without considering the bigger picture.” Recent college graduates may especially find themselves running in place – they have a great deal of knowledge that is incredibly useful, but they may not be sure how to apply that knowledge for their own needs. College graduates many times get high-paying, prestigious jobs, but they may nonetheless feel stuck and unfulfilled if those jobs do not resonate with their own passion. Your Next Big Thing takes readers on a journey towards something that does resonate with their passion: “your next big thing.”

According to Michaelis, your next big thing can be just about anything – financial success, happiness, spiritual fulfillment – but every next big thing revolves around a sense of purpose. The first part of the book helps readers craft a one hundred word statement of purpose defining what is important to them. This statement guides readers through the rest of the book and shapes their experience around what they feel is their purpose. There are also many quizzes and exercises throughout the book to direct the reader towards concrete goals and actions that will lead them to their next big thing. In this way Your Next Big Thing is interestingly interactive – depending on their statement of purpose and responses to quizzes and exercises, every person has a unique and personal experience when reading Your Next Big Thing.

Michaelis says that his book stems from the philosophy behind his practice: “I feel like it flows from my practice and the way I think about people.” Like his practice, Michaelis’ book integrates knowledge from a wide range of fields. For example, Your Next Big Thing uses martial arts to support the philosophy that we should tackle our problems head on rather than run away from them, which is one of the main themes of the book. By letting the reader see through the lenses of all of these different perspectives, Michaelis helps people get the best image of what their next big thing will be.

To bring all of these fields together into one cohesive work, Michealis embraces a liberal arts education, or what he calls the ability to be well-rounded. “Being well-rounded is one of the most essential things about being out in the world. It means being able to understand references from across the board, whether it’s the classics or music or biology, all of which form my thinking on a daily basis.” However, being well-rounded isn’t such a simple task: Michaelis spends a lot of his time researching the current literature. “I’m constantly reviewing journals and searching for the latest information. Things are moving so quickly that information that came out a year or even a few months ago is just not as helpful,” Michaelis says. The clinical psychologist’s ability to sift through a myriad of books, articles, and papers is the secret behind Your Next Big Thing’s well of easy-to-understand information.

Ultimately, Your Next Big Thing is for anyone looking for more purpose in their lives. Michaelis references so many realms of thought that there is always something in his book that will resonate with each reader. However, although readers can learn a great deal while journeying through Your Next Big Thing, Michaelis believes that his book is an opportunity for him to learn as well. He always wants feedback from his readers and patients to know how he can improve: “The most gratifying thing for me is learning from everything I do. It’s not useful to me if I’m not learning from it. I don’t want to know what I’m doing right; I want to know if this works for you, because I want to continue to write and do a better job helping people.” Michealis is always pushing himself to reveal the potential in others, whether it’s through writing, running a practice, or reading the latest on every subject he can find. With feedback from his readers and patients, Michaelis is confident that he will continue to lead people to their next big thing.

Zach Branson is a junior at Carnegie Mellon University majoring in economics and statistics, and professional writing. Carnegie Mellon is home to the Upsilon of Pennsylvania chapter of Phi Beta Kappa.