Do you know your purpose? Some people spend their whole lives searching for their destiny, grasping for meaning in life quests and career aspirations. But what happens when your search is in vain? When your quest turns up empty? The assumption is that purpose is something to be obtained, but maybe we have it wrong. Perhaps we’re chasing an elusive dream because we shouldn’t be looking for, or even striving towards it–we should be living it.
Living on purpose.
Our failure to find our purpose may be that we’re looking for something that doesn’t exist, because we have to create it! This requires a shift in our thinking. We have to look within–to our intentions, values and beliefs–and let these guide our actions.
This means shifting our concept of purpose from something we get, to something we create. Then, the power is in our hands to achieve it! By living on purpose, we open up possibilities. It is no longer something that exists outside of us, something designed–or imposed by–others; it is something that we do that matters to us and benefits others. It is working to accomplish something meaningful.
Living on purpose looks like:
a writer sending encouraging letters to imprisoned persons rather than publishing companies
a musician playing his instrument in the park for the homeless, rather than patrons at a trendy restaurant
an artist sharing samples of her work with hospital and nursing home patients, rather than exclusive art galleries.
The options are endless! When we live on purpose, any of our experiences –even our failures–can be re-created, into something beautiful and new . It’s about making choices that reflect our best and that make us (and others) better. Whatever our work is, if we do it with intention, we will accomplish the goals we set.
In last week’s post I laid bare my own insecurities as a creative person pursuing success. I talked about how we (creatives) tend to define success as (1) having an audience, (2) getting applause and (3) achieving acclaim. But this week I’d like to disrupt these assumptions.
I believe there is a way to do our work, be fulfilled, and achieve success without an audience or applause!
Sound strange? Read on!
Enjoy the process
First of all, you have to do your work for the love of it. Whether you sing, play an instrument paint, write or draw, if you’re only doing it in order to get something—money, praise or fame—then you’d do better in sales. True creatives do their work because of a compulsion that transcends tangible rewards. If you get enjoyment from the very act of creation, whether people are around or not, then every time you sit down to practice your craft, you win!
Be your own audience.
When you’re in the audience you have a different perspective on the performance than if you’re performing. That perspective is important. After going through the creation process, step back from what you’ve created and examine it as if it wasn’t made by you. The only way to do this is to give yourself some time. Walk away from it, forget about it (as best you can) and only return to it when you can do so with fresh eyes. If you do, you will likely find ways to make it better. You know how great you feel right after you’ve made something? Let that feeling fade—it’s infatuation and it can be misleading. By putting some distance between it and you, you are removing yourself from the emotion which is necessary for creation, but bad for revision.
Think like an athlete…kind of
Athletes are focused on winning and they’re success or failure is measured by how much better they are than their competitors, but for artists, being motivated by comparison is a death sentence! To measure your success by the standard of others in your field is to secure your sense of failure! Why? Because you will never be them! And there will always be someone who does it better, earns more awards or makes more money than you. Not only that, to measure my success by the standard of other writers is to constantly chase a moving target! There are too many writers in the world, and far too many standards of “good writing” against which to measure my own ability.
However, there is another characteristic of a true athlete that I do think is valuable to imitate. While training, athletes don’t look at their competitor’s achievements. They look at their own. A runner trains to beat his/her own best time. Basketball players practice making more shots today than they did yesterday. Gymnasts challenge themselves to increasingly difficult moves—but the standard is theirs.
If you’ve enjoyed the process, then critiqued your work at a distance, you are in the best possible position to determine the next level to pursue. To do so without the pressure to best someone else’s best is to free yourself to achieve your own best! As Chrystal Hurst says “run your race.” Focus more on improving your skills than on promoting them.
Those singers on American Idol didn’t spend enough time with the process. They took the cake from the oven too fast and it flopped! Or, to use a gardening metaphor, they failed to cultivate their craft.
“Cultivating an intentional life is…faith in action. It means planting dreams in faith, even when we don’t know exactly how those dreams will grow—or if they will grow at all. But the possibility is worth the planting”
Did you catch that? Dreams are worth planting whether they grow or not! How can this be? Because there is something to be gained from the process that has nothing to do with your audience and everything to do with you! How will you be changed by your own work? How will the effort and difficulties you face make you stronger? This is how you achieve success and accomplish your dreams. You do your work. Period.
“Blessed are those who find wisdom, those who gain understanding, for she is more profitable than silver and yields better returns than gold.” (Proverbs 3:13-14)
Have you seen those singing competitions where the contestants belt out their very best only to become fodder for hungry judges. #eatenalive! The would-be singers are always shocked and dismayed by the audience they had hoped to impress, as hysterical or politely muted guffaws follow their crushed souls to the door. Now, putting aside the very real likelihood that many of these contestants are actually carefully selected characters intended to boost ratings, you know there are some who genuinely thought they were called to sing. We all know a person or two who believes this in her heart, don’t we? Yet every time he opens his mouth you want to cry!
What I wonder is…why are these singers so shocked when people cover their ears or stare in disbelief? Do they not hear the dissonance? What is it that compels them to chase their dreams in spite of clear deficiencies? Can their challenges be overcome? Some argue that certain talents can’t be taught—you either have it, or you don’t. What do you think?
We tell people to go for it! Chase your dreams, be persistent, don’t give up! But, what if you’re really bad? And worse–what if you’re bad and don’t know it? How do any of us know when we’re truly gifted? We could, like those bad singers, be blinded by ambition!
Sometimes people need encouragement. Sometimes they need to know the truth.
When I see non-singers assaulting audiences with their noise, I want to tell them to stop, but I also worry that I’m just like them! Maybe I, too, am guilty of “not hearing” it—and if so, who would tell me? Friends and family don’t want to hurt my feelings! I could be like those contestants whose loved ones send them on their quest for stardom with fanfare, then quietly close the door behind them and let loose! Maybe that’s me standing on the front porch, sun on my face–full of hope and possibility–blissfully unaware that behind me are folded hands and church fans snickering, “that poor girl thinks she can write.”