Author Dan Millman on 'The Life You Were Born to Live'

Interview with Dan Millman by Phil Bolsta

Watch and listen to Dan Millman’s interview:

Welcome, Dan. Thank you for joining us today.

Well, I'm glad to be here, Phil, sharing with you and with your listeners and viewers.

Allow me to introduce you. Author Dan Millman’s 17 books have inspired and informed millions of readers in 29 languages worldwide. The feature film, Peaceful Warrior, starring Nick Nolte, was adapted from Dan’s first book, Way of the Peaceful Warrior. Dan’s latest book, the revised 25th-anniversary edition of The Life You Were Born to Live, is the subject of our interview today.

Dan has agreed to appear on video for a few minutes to establish a more intimate connection. The rest of the interview will be conducted via audio.

So I am happy to be meeting you via the airwaves and in cyberspace. You see me in my natural environment, my small office here in Brooklyn, New York. I'm happy to be sharing with you about The Life You Were Born to Live. It's been recently updated and revised, a 25th-anniversary edition, one of my 17 books. Each one has a different message, and this one is focused on a particular aspect of life: purpose or the hidden paths of life. We'll get into it today.

But I wanted to meet you, in a sense, more personally via video, so you can picture something, and now I can focus on the message, so we're going to go directly just to audio only. Thank you for viewing this.

You bet, Dan. And before we go to audio, please hold up a cover of your book.

Sure, glad to do it. This is what it looks like, the new 25th-anniversary edition, The Life You Were Born to Live. And I'll explain maybe if we have time where that title came from a little later.

That would be great. Okay, here we go. Dan, after writing your autobiographical novel, Way of the Peaceful Warrior, what drew you into the speculative field of numerology with The Life You Were Born to Live?

That's a big question, and certainly it brings up the elephant in the room because many people, like myself before I discovered this method, which I'll go into, see numerology as more mystical mumbo-jumbo. It's not entirely rational. How can adding up the numbers of one's date of birth possibly give reliable, accurate information about some of the core issues of their life? It actually doesn't make much sense, and yet, as will become perhaps apparent during the course of our conversation, the method I learned has unusual accuracy, which probably accounts for the popularity of the book, even among people who call themselves numerologists.

So my first book, The Life You Were Born to Live, inspired many people, and 10 years later, I wrote a sequel that takes place within the same timeframe called Sacred Journey of the Peaceful Warrior. And after reading one or both of those books, people used to ask me, "Dan, I was inspired by your first two books, these stories, but how do you apply some of these ideas to everyday life?"

So then, in answer to that, I wrote my third book, which was a nonfiction guidebook called No Ordinary Moments: A Peaceful Warrior's Guide to Everyday Life. And then I met a rather unusual mentor, and I learned the rudiments of this system. So the next book seemed like a tangent. Many people said, "Wait a minute, where is this coming from? You were talking about the big picture of life, the practical elements of daily life, and suddenly you have this number system for figuring ourselves out. Where did that come from?" Which is essentially your question.

And it came from a rather unusual mentor I referred to as the warrior priest. He said, "Dan, I have a feeling you're going to be helpful to other people down the line." He'd read my first book, and he said, "I'm going to do a reading for you." And I said, "What's a reading?" He said, "Well, we're going to sit down, and I'm going to suggest some things about your life." And some of it involved what he called metaphorical past-life elements and so on. And in the process of about an hour's talk, he changed the course of my life. I couldn't believe he understood that much about me. I said, "Are you a psychic of some kind?" He said, "No, I'm not a psychic, but I've been trained to know where to look." And that intrigued me. I said, "But how can you know all this?"

About six months after that, he and I became colleagues and friends, and he said, "I'm going to be teaching an advanced training somewhere in Hawaii. I'm going to teach people to understand the method by which I gave you this information." I said, "You mean I can learn to do for other people what you did for me?" He said, "Yes, you can." And there was no way I wasn't going to be there.

He spoke with me and about 20 other people, the rudiments, the fundamentals of the system. I took careful notes. I only had about 20 small pages of notes. And the other people learned it for their own edification. We all found it fascinating. But I went home and immediately, using my notes, started doing readings for family and friends, anybody who would listen. And they were all like, "How'd you come up with this information?" They were amazed too.

So eventually I started doing readings professionally. I internalized the information, these 20 pages. Over a period of about eight years, I was doing many, many readings, in person, by cassette tape... back then, cassette tapes, remember those? And finally, I decided I would do a training and teach psychologists and other health professionals the methods of the system. It was about then I decided it was time to write a book, and that's where The Life You Were Born to Live ultimately came from. That's its history a bit.

Well, what new information does this new edition of  The Life You Were Born to Live cover?

Well, the book came out in 1994, and few people were really thinking about the new millennium at that point, and we did a new-millennium edition with a new afterword in the year 2000 because, since it's based on the date of birth, there were some entirely new numbers that hadn't appeared on the planet for millennia. Finally, when the 25th-anniversary time came, my publisher said, "You know, we'd be willing, if you're willing to update the book to include more information."

So, first of all, we started with 37 life paths, and now there are 45, so first of all the new edition has all the life paths, even of some children born after the year 2000, so it's more complete. But I also just cleaned up some of the language, clarified points, and I offered new insights that I had come across in the intervening years. So it has all the value of the old edition, but it does have these new insights and completed material.

Let's go back to the basics. What is a birth number, and how does it relate to a life path?

Sure, sure. Yeah, because I'm aware some of your newer people may not have heard of the book or me or this whole idea of life paths. Simply put... in fact, I would invite your viewers, not necessarily during the course of the interview, unless they can conveniently do it, but at least afterward, to go to, my website, and the first thing they'll see on the splash page, they'll see a link to the Life Purpose Calculator. If they go to that Life Purpose Calculator and just put in their date of birth, or they could even put in the date of birth of a friend or relative, someone they know, they will immediately see a number and some information, just a paragraph, a taste or a teaser of some information about their life path. And that's the most objective, direct, mistake-free way to get their birth number, which represents their life path because each digit indicates or can be interpreted to mean certain concise bits of information.

For example, the number 1 is the beginning, the creative seed. The number 1 has to do with creative energy. The number 2, when you have two people together, it's more about cooperation and the issues around cooperation. 3 is expression. 4, the digit 4, is about structure, stability, process, analysis. The number 5 has to do with freedom, looking at things from different angles, independence. And it goes on like that through the various numbers.

So the combination of numbers in one's life path... For example, my number happens to be 26/8. Some people have a four-digit number, like 29/11. The point is the numbers themselves don't mean anything, but once you establish the number, then you can interpret that in a way that gives valid, reliable, accurate information about one's life path.

Now, that still sounds a bit vague, I know, to people, but all they have to do is go to the website, look at the information, and they might be surprised to see what the issues are that come up. It's like our hidden calling. It's like what we have a yearning to do, or we're not clear on what that is.

You know, Lily Tomlin, the comedienne and actress, once said, "I've always wanted to be somebody, but maybe I should've been more specific." And I think this method, this information is the most accurate and accessible that I've found for a jump in self-knowledge.

Now, why is that important? Well, if we don't really know ourselves, if we know more about our self-image, our persona, but we don't really have an introspective to the degree we really see our tendencies and understand ourselves, we end up making poor decisions. In other words, we make the right decision for the wrong person, the one we thought we were.

Over the gates at the Temple of Oracle, the Oracle of Delphi in Ancient Greece, over the gate are written the words "Know thyself." Every spiritual tradition, every psychological tradition agrees it's good to understand ourselves and know ourselves. But how do we do that? And people do psychological inventories, career planning. There are many different kind of tests around. They may read the book on the Enneagram. That was a popular book for a long time. The MMPI. There are different systems of personality. Some people go to astrology, they have a good astrologer interpret their chart, again based on their date of birth and time of birth. And astrology can be very accurate in terms of transitions people are going through.

But this is an immediately accessible method for us to look up the number, see the life path, and read about ourselves. By the way, I should mention there's even a Life Purpose app. Isn't there an app for everything today? And a friend of mine created a beautiful, functional, aesthetic, and user-friendly app that people can get in iTunes Store. It's for Android phones or iPhones, and they can have all that information on their phone, at their fingertips. They can put in someone's date of birth they just met and get some insight into them.

Now, this is not about psyching somebody out or getting power over them or anything like that. The fundamental purpose, Phil, is a way to have more compassion for ourselves and for other people because, as Plato said, "Be kind, for everyone is fighting their own battle." And our friends, our adversaries, acquaintances, people on the street, each of us has our own personal, internal battles we're fighting and challenges, and the Life Purpose information helps us to see what those challenges are, so we can effectively tackle them.

It also helps us to see strengths we didn't fully appreciate, and that's how it changed my life. I didn't start teaching until after that reading, until after that session. I saw what I was here to do, and I started setting out to do it. So it had a huge impact on my life, and as far as I know, with over a million readers, the book has had quite an impact on many people.

You mentioned astrology, which is also based on a birthdate, and it seems that your Life Purpose system and astrology would then have the same basic foundation. Is that correct? What's different?

In a sense, they do, and if someone said, "Well, Dan, give me a rational explanation of how astrology works or how this particular interpretation of a numerological system works," I can't give a rational explanation, except to talk about things like the macrocosm and the microcosm and how we're somehow connected to the stars, the solar system. Various mystical teachers like Gurdjieff and others spoke about our connection to the planets and resonance and the music of the spheres, but I don't really know any clear way to explain it. I just know that it does work after working with it for over 25 years.

Astrology, there is a close resonance. An astrologer could read somebody's chart, and they could also look up their birth number in my system, and they would find some parallels. It's just that astrology is very difficult to synthesize and interpret all the information on one's chart, whereas, in this system, it's right in your face.

By the way, it is not an oracle. An oracle is vague, generalized information that we then read into and interpret in our own way. For example, let's say somebody's deciding whether to move to Europe or stay put and commit to where they live. Then they do the I Ching, or Book of Changes. They throw the coins, they get the right page, they open it up, and it says, "The mountain is tall, and the pond is still." And they go, "Oh, wow, that's perfect! It's saying I should be patient and stable." But the book didn't say that. It just said, "The mountain is tall, and the pond is still."

But that's an oracle. We're able to read or interpret in our way. The tarot cards are an oracle. They're these archetypal images that convey information, but we have to project our own subconscious wisdom onto those. Whereas this system is not an oracle. That would be fine if it were. If I created a book that gave vague information that was sort of the same for everybody, every birth number, that would be okay. There'd still be some usefulness in it. But it's not an oracle. It hits you over the head.

I don't know what your experience was. You can tell me honestly. Tell your listeners if you looked up your birth number.

Yes, I'm a 36/9.

Uh-huh, 36/9, yep.

That is the category that I would've selected for myself.


The integrity and kindness because those are the two overriding principles in my life. The positive attributes of that were right on. The potentially negative ones were not because it goes into depression and anxiety, and I have none of that. But that's just my skimming of it.

Okay, well, and it is important. I'm glad you brought that up. In the Life Purpose information for each life path, I have a long paragraph of what it looks like when it's being warped in the positive and what it looks like when it's being warped in the negative. For example, there's a 32/5 life path, I think somebody like Albert Schweitzer, there are some really wonderful people on that life path, but also Adolf Hitler. So the point is every human being has a life path, but the question is are they working it in a more positive, constructive way or a negative, more destructive way?

Now, many of us have matured out of the more negative aspects of that life path, but it's good for us to know the potential for either one because we sometimes cycle back and forth in little ways. And, by the way, the 36/9, your life path, there are issues. You have expressed energy. You have high standards and ideals. Also, of course, there's that wisdom and integrity, the 9, a certain charisma. So it's how are we manifesting those? Are we working it more in the positive?

Now, one way I'd explain the life paths is this: If I were to point to a tree outside, chances are there's not a single tree on the planet exactly like that tree. In the same way, each of us is unique. We each have our own story. There's no story exactly like ours. But I can say some things that apply to redwood trees that are different from birches or aspens or oaks. So, in that sense, we fall into different patterns, like those various kinds of trees. Those patterns are what the life paths describe.

If you divide 45 into the population of the planet, that means millions of people are working each of those life paths. It does not mean they're exactly the same personality or look the same because we each have our own genetic heritage. We have our life experiences that also help to shape us. So we're not just a number, but it is a very good indicator, and the issues and qualities and dynamics of that number can be quite helpful to understand so we don't stumble in the dark over them. We can see where the hurdles are in our lives.

And, by the way, the most important part of the book are the spiritual laws. There's a major section on certain universal or natural laws that apply to overcoming the hurdles on each life path. So it doesn't just tell people, "You're like this, you're like that." It says, "Okay, if you're dealing with this issue right now, follow this law, align yourself with it, and you can help overcome the hurdles or tendencies on that life path."

Well, yeah, for my 36/9, I'd have to agree that it was very accurate for the positive aspect of it. What is the best way for a new reader to make use of this system? They read your book, they go through the spiritual laws. What should they do next?

Well, you know, some of us spend half our day analyzing our craziness and the other half of the day dramatizing it. So it's not enough just to look and say, "Oh, yeah, wow, cool, I'm that way, I tend to be that way." That's fine. That's a beginning of actually having some insight into ourselves.

But the next step is, "Well, how can I make use of the information?" which is what you're asking. And it's like we know it's good to eat healthful food, a balanced diet. We know it's good to get enough rest, and it's good to exercise regularly. And if someone says, "Yeah, but what do you do with that information, Dan?" I'd say, "Well, you can follow it or not." When somebody asks me how, I'm saying, "You know how. You just want to know, what's the easy way. Is there a shortcut? How can I hack this?” And the information is there, and the insights are there. Once you have that, what you do with it is essentially up to each individual. But the laws at least are a big plus in that they offer guidance and reminders for how to tread our life path in a more positive way.

For example, since you're working with the 6, the perfectionist, high ideals, high standards, I remind people who are working that 6, and I am too. I have a 26/8, so we share that number and those tendencies. You want to use your high standards in the work you're doing. I expect you do, Phil. You don't want them to use you. Otherwise, you end up feeling never good enough, or you give a speech, and it's a wonderful speech, but you make one little mistake, and what do you obsess on afterward? "Oh, if only I hadn't done that, if only." That sort of thing can be a tendency of sixes.

So, when we understand those things, we can start to learn how to say, "You know, it wasn't perfect, but it was good enough." And we start to be more conscious in terms of our responses, in terms of our approach to life. So that's how we make use of the information.

Yeah, I have long ago substituted excellence for perfection, and that works just fine.

Exactly. That's what I advise people in general, not just sixes. Don't go for success because that's not in our control. Go for excellence. And if we go for excellence, we're more likely to achieve some outcomes, some positive outcomes, than if we don't because excellence is under our control: paying attention, refining, practicing. Yeah, so you understand that, and I think your listeners do too.

Well, it's true that people are looking for the easy way out, but it's called The Life You Were Born to Live, not The Life You Were Born to Hack. So I think that's an important point. Now, do some life paths represent a more evolved soul?

Well, some people believe that. They go, "The 9 must be more evolved than the 8 or the 7." But I haven't found any indication of that at all. Other numerologists... and I'm not a numerologist, by the way. I was simply trained by this one mentor in a particular interpretation and a method of adding up the numbers to convey this information. But some may believe that and have theories about how some people are older souls and all that.

I only include in the book what I found to be valid and reliable and accurate. For example, in some numerology systems, your name can be... you can take the letters of your name and end up with a number, and if you change your name, it changes your birth number, and it changes your destiny. That's the theory behind it. But names can change all the time. People get married, they change names, they use nicknames, so I don't include that in this particular book, only what has seemed valid, reliable, and accurate.

Now, for example, there's also a section in the book on relationships, and you can even do that going to my website and looking up one's birth number. You can also put in the number of a significant other, a spouse, a friend, a partner, and you get a composite energy of the two of you, a composite dynamic, and you can see what challenges you face together and what strengths also come up together that you may not have individually. Many people are fascinated by that. They go, "Wow, you mean I can look at..." It's not a compatibility. In astrology, they have these compatibility things, like should I date this person? Should I marry this person? What's our composite number? But there's no indication of a go or a no-go.

In the same way, there is no better or worse, superior or inferior life path. They're all different. They have different strengths, and they have different challenges. So, in the same way, among two people, the composite number, there's not one that's better or worse. It's whether it's being worked in a positive or not. And even for the relationships, there are certain laws I give in the book that help relationships to thrive, so that really becomes the question, how are you working the energy between you? Is it more in the positive or are there negative elements to look at? So that's what I think is most useful.

I've gone to your website but not the relationships part, and now I'm intrigued by that. I'm going to go into that and look up family members and things like that.

Yeah, you can do that. It's free, of course, yeah.

Can someone's life path change?

The best answer I can give is definitely. It can change as we start working it more in positive, constructive ways. For example, I've always wondered about this, Phil. What do you think? Some people are very good with computers and software, and they create a new app, or they create a new program. They're creating in the positive. Other people end up being hackers, and they create a new computer virus or phishing or various scams.

Why do some people choose to create more in the positive and others to create more in the negative? Who knows? Maybe it's their relationship with their parents growing up. I don't know. Genetics? A twist of fate? But some people create in the positive, and some create in the negative.

Now, this brings up a very important point. Someone with a 1 in their birth number has a lot of creative juice potentially. They may be less creative than other people because what goes along with the 1 is insecurity, and people who are very creative often also are very insecure. They feel somehow not equal, not as good as other people, and they fight to prove themselves. They have a strong need to prove themselves. So they may not manifest their creativity.

In other words, what we're here to do in our life, according to this system, is not necessarily what comes easiest. It's the mountain we're here to climb. But when we climb that mountain and make that creative struggle, we really have the juice. And in contrast, I don't have a 1 in my birth number. Mine's a 26/8. Does that mean I can't get creative? That would be a reasonable question, but obviously I've been very creative. I've written a number of novels and so on. The difference is I don't have a need to be creative. I can either create or not, but I don't feel a compelling need.

Someone with a 3 in their birth number, they have a tremendous drive to express themselves, whether verbally, in writing, through music or art. They're going to feel most on track when they're creating, when they're expressing themselves. They need to express themselves. Someone without a 3 doesn't really feel the need as much. They may talk a lot, but they can stop. They just don't feel... They don't go into a depression if they're stifled.

So these are some of the insights I share in the book. See, my job, I tell people in seminars and trainings that I do, I let them know that my responsibility is not to get you to believe what I believe or see the world just as I do. My responsibility is to be clear enough so that you can then agree or disagree based on understanding what I've said, rather than on misunderstanding.

So in The Life You Were Born to Live, I have aimed to be as clear as possible so someone can read it without jargon, without gobbledy-gook, and clearly understand their life path. And what they do with it, of course, it will always be up to them.

So a particular category that has millions of people, they all have perhaps the same inherent tendencies, but a number of factors, as you mentioned earlier, will determine whether they'll be breaking bad.

Exactly, or breaking better.

Breaking better, I like that more. Well, what are your thoughts on telling children about their life path? Are there pros and cons to that?

I would not suggest or encourage people to tell children their birth number or life path. Let kids just be kids. They should grow up with a certain innocence, discover life about themselves, learn about themselves. When they hit the teenage years, for example, if they have an innate interest in reading the information in the book, then that's a natural thing. They learn about themselves, and they can deal with what it says.

But I wouldn't lay that on kids because the self-fulfilling prophecy, telling kids, "You're a this or you're a that," they're going to start paying more attention to that, and they'll believe you, whatever it is. If you tell them something positive, they'll tend to believe it, and if you tell them something negative, they'll tend to believe it. So I would avoid... It's good to know our children's life paths. We can cut them some slack and have more compassion again, understand what they're going through a bit more. But no, I would not share the information directly with children.

Okay. Dan, you mentioned at the start of the interview that there was a story behind why you called the book The Life You Were Born to Live. Can you share that story?

Yeah, very briefly. Any author, anybody out there who's a writer, the challenge always is titling your book. How do you capture the book in a few words and make a promise and capture the energy of the book? And we were going to call it “The Number Book,” "The Life Purpose Book." We just didn't know.

My wife and I were kicking around ideas. And then we were walking through the living room... this is years ago. Our daughters were very young, again 1994. And my daughters were watching The Sound of Music, that film with Julie Andrews, and the Mother Superior in the film was telling Maria, the character Maria, "You have to go out and find the life you were born to live." And we went, "That's it!" We looked at each other and said, "That's the title."

It's not easy to remember. People say "The Life You Were Meant to Live," "The Life You Were Built to Live," but it's The Life You Were Born to Live. And so it just seemed to fit. And the subtitle is A Guide to Finding Your Life Purpose, so there you are.

I love that.


Well, thank you, Dan, for sharing your insights and wisdom with us today and thank you for the work you do in the world.

Oh, it's my pleasure, Phil. And if you like, you can put me back on video, and I'll just say a personal goodbye.


Okay. If we're on here... yes. I hope you've enjoyed our conversation. I know I did, and I trust Phil did too. And if you're curious about my work, of course, please drop by my website. You can always drop me a note through Facebook or follow me there, as well on Twitter. I share quotes with people. It's a hobby of mine. I love quotations. They have a lot of power. I'll leave you with one.

Mark Twain once said, "I've had many troubles in my life, most of which never happened." So that's a good thing to contemplate in closing. Phil, it's been great sharing with you. I appreciate your interest.

Dan Millman is a former world champion athlete, university coach, martial arts instructor, and college professor.

After an intensive, 20-year spiritual quest, Dan’s teaching found its form as the Peaceful Warrior’s Way, expressed fully in his books and lectures. His work continues to evolve over time to meet the needs of a changing world.

Click here to read my first interview with Dan 10 years ago.

Click here to watch Dan’s TEDx talk in which he asks the question, “How can we develop a talent to meet the challenge of everyday life?” He answered that question by developing the Peaceful Warrior’s Way.

Click here to visit Dan’s website.

Dan’s 17 books, including Way of the Peaceful Warrior, have inspired and informed millions of readers in 29 languages worldwide. The feature film, Peaceful Warrior, starring Nick Nolte, was adapted from Dan’s first book, based upon incidents from his life.

Click here to watch the movie trailer for Peaceful Warrior.

Much of Dan’s time is devoted to writing and speaking. His keynotes, seminars, and workshops span the generations to influence men and women from all walks of life, including leaders in the fields of health, psychology, education, business, politics, sports, entertainment, and the arts.

Dan and his wife Joy live in Brooklyn, New York. They have three grown daughters and four grandchildren.

Catalyst is produced by The Shift Network to feature inspiring stories and provide information to help shift consciousness and take practical action. To receive Catalyst twice a month, sign up here.

This article appears in: 2019 Catalyst, Issue 2: The Interview Issue