Living With Purpose
Last summer, while gazing out at Lake Superior from our deck on Madeline Island, I rather excitedly shared, with a friend, my purpose to inspire people to treat others with significance. His response took me aback.
He said, “You’ve lost the plot!” With a bit more diplomacy he added, “While your purpose is noble, you can’t treat others with significance if you don’t treat yourself that way first. Your efforts will fall like seeds on shallow ground.”
His insight made perfect sense to me and it was an easy decision to expand my purpose to include treating others AND self with significance. A more challenging and harder line of questioning came when I pondered the question, “Do I get the plot, when it comes to treating myself with significance?”
Before answering that question, I had to consider how to describe the plot.
Foundational to the plot of treating myself with significance is the story line around living my purpose, passions and potential. My visceral response to the question of living my purpose is, “Well done, Rae!” Well done because I cared deeply about being home to raise our boys and nurture their values, character and well being while nurturing my own development by pursuing my eduction in Psychology and a Masters degree in Human Resources. As our boys matured, so did my aspiration to pursue a career focused on developing people. I threw all of my energy into my career, taking genuine satisfaction in helping leaders be more effective in leading their people and managing their businesses.
Of course every plot includes a conflict or a tension, and my story is no exception. The first tension arises as I think beyond the issue of living my purpose to the broader issue of how I lived it. The tension of balance. Those closest to me, and my now wiser self, would say my extreme passion for my work resulted in a lack of balance. This was evidenced by my failure to show the same level of care for my physical and spiritual self, and at times my relationships and emotional life, as I did for those I worked with. Negligence of self-care charged its weighty penalty. As I literally accumulated pounds on my hips and thighs, a heavy sense of urgency for my life’s work untempered by spiritual renewal amplified my impatience, blunted my playfulness, and narrowed my interests and conversations.
Given I had a desire to live more fully in all areas of my life and had little confidence I could continue in my career and do so, I decided to retire from corporate life at a relatively young age. I relished the idea of taking time for myself. I imagined reading Louise Erdrich and Isabel Allende novels versus the Harvard Business Review. I pictured Tim and I strolling the beaches in Hawaii, not walking between my hotel and the office in yet another country where I had no time to explore the wonders of that place. I visualized long lazy conversations about madcap adventures, personal revelations, and the latest health panacea with my close friends, not another endless discussion reviewing project details. I could clearly see myself meditating, praying and reflecting while shutting out the image of awakening before the dawn’s early light, my mind buzzing with the details of the work day before me.
I distinctly remember my wise coach and friend Pam S., saying “You will never be satisfied living a life of leisure forever.” This sage warning reveals the second tension: Suspension of purpose. The first few years were invigorating as I practiced “being” versus “doing.” In my usual focused fashion, I had a strategy for “being” which included doing minimal consulting, declining invitations to join boards and a refusal to talk to head hunters about new job opportunities. On the affirmative side it included plenty of time for walking in nature, time for spiritual reflection, and time with those I loved.
My body became more fit, my spirit was renewed and energized, and my relationships invigorated BUT, something was missing. I was not serving anyone outside myself. Tim, recognizing my malaise and growing discontent, challenged me one day. He said, “You should write a book.” Even though I assumed I knew what he would say given several people over the years suggested I write a book about developing leaders in a deeper way than the typical books written on the topic, I asked the question, “About what?” Tim answered my question with another question. He asked “What was the blog idea you talked about three or four years ago?” Given Tim does not usually employ the socratic method in our conversations, both his approach and his question stunned me into silence. Taken aback for a moment, it hit me. It hit me with a force. My purpose was to bring to life an earlier dream to inspire people to treat others with significance.
I reflected on the powerful impact of growing up with a mother who made each of her nine children feel as though we mattered. Her focus on each of us and the many delightful family rituals she initiated caused me to imagine what life could be like if, in our personal and work lives, we simply took the effort to really see the people around us and acted in such a way to honor their worth.
So, with an energy born of a passion and with considerable encouragement from Tim, I launched Significance Matters, and am once again living with a deep sense of purpose, passion, and pushing new limits of my potential.
So did I, and do I, get the plot about honoring my own significance? My initial visceral response was much too self congratulatory and lacking in the deeper reflection required for insightful self-awareness.
Giving it more thought I would say I am faithful in my quest to live with purpose, sometimes flawed in my execution, and resolved to learn from my experiences.
A CALL TO ACTION
- Reflect back on your childhood dreams. Think about what you wanted to be when you grew up.
- Draw a picture or write a description of those dreams.
- Notice how you feel when drawing or writing about your childhood dreams.
- Write down any insights you received from this exercise. Were there any clues or insights which inform your vision and purpose for your life? What are they?
- This rather simple and even childlike exercise was used in a career development workshop I led and yielded surprising results as participants connected with past dreams and in some cases chose to bring aspects of that dream into their future plans.
- Read the book “Wish Craft – How to Get What You Really Want” – by Barbara Sher. While this book was written many years ago, it is one of the best books at helping you dig more deeply into the underlying characteristics of vocations or avocations which bring you joy and help you realize your purpose.
- Do the exercises in the book.
- Execute on the insights and plans that result.
- Reflect on the people and activities which energize you. Notice your body language, breathing, heart rate, and emotions when you think about, interact with or do various activities.
- Look for patterns and consider what factors underlie the things which energize you.
- Notice repeated thoughts, dreams and urges. For example, for 5 years or more a friend of mine holds fast to a dream of opening a coffee shop featuring Acai bowls which employs and mentors youth. What are your repeated and consistent dreams? What is it about that dream which calls you? Capture your insights.
- Take one initiative a week for six months to research and or pursue your dream.
- “Fortes Fortuna Juvat.” Latin for: Fortune Favors the Brave. Answer the question; if you were 10 time bolder what dream would you follow?
- Consider the cost of following that dream.
- Consider the cost (mind, body and spirit) of not following that dream.
- What are you willing to stop, start, or continue, to pursue your dream?
- Imagine an anthropologist with their precise methods of observation examining your life and your care for you mind, body and soul. Write down observations and conclusions the anthropologist would draw about the degree to which you treat yourself with significance.
- Identify areas where you want to make a change to better honor your worth.
- Identify specific actions to support that change.