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.
I made the mistake of listening to an old voice message today, from someone I thought was a friend. She was responding to a question I had asked in a previous message—a simple request, but it would have required two things: (1) her vested interest in my well-being and (2) her willingness to vouch for my ability. Her response was wordy, but it can be easily summed: no.
She was not for me.
What surprised me most is that in the past I had
supported her, vouched for her, even promoted
her. I mean, I wasn’t asking for money or a co-sign on a car loan. It was
merely a request to say in public “this is a person you should know; she has
Even listening to the message after so much time has
passed, it still hit me like a bullet. If a friend isn’t for you, who is?
I once asked a “famous” family member a similar
question and felt the same sting when she pushed me off. Apparently, rejection
is a place and I’ve been there often.
So, my inclination is to turn inward, shut out the world and bury myself in pity. Forget all of them. I’ll rely on me!
But, all the slogans of self-reliance fall flat, because
self-reliance is not enough. Every
day the thorn of doubt pokes me in my side making me uncomfortable with
success. Every day I question my ability to fulfill a very specific dream that
exists only in my imagination. I move in a direction that circles me back to
where I started and I can’t seem to step off of the merry-go-round.
Even I am not for me.
Whether it’s the rejection of a friend, betrayal of family or my own inability to rally, it’s the same thing day after day and I’m dizzy from the ride.
There is a story about a man who was called to do something hard, yet it seemed that he, too, was surrounded by opposition. As he was thinking about his challenge one day he happened upon a soldier who stood before him with his sword drawn. Frightened, Joshua asked, “are you with me or against me?”
“Neither” the man replied.
“I represent God.”
Suddenly mine and Joshua’s opposition fades to black. Rather than “who is for me” should my question be “who am I for?” Rather than looking for approval and acceptance from people who will always disappoint, I am challenged to look inward and ask if I’m living my life for a higher purpose. If I am, then the opinions of others don’t matter. Being for God means seeking out his approval which I will always find. Being for God isn’t a cop out, it’s a step up! It requires a higher standard, perhaps even a more difficult road, but if I am for Him I get the benefit of His power. If I center my focus on what He has for me I can more easily tune out the noise of opinions, discouragement and negativity. I can rise above the microagressions and see more clearly the path that lies ahead. By looking up, rather than out I’m given an entirely different view of the challenges that lie ahead.
They say patience is a virtue.But, it’s not a virtue that I naturally possess. When I want it, I want it now! Yet, immediacy and present action has been more of a wish than a reality for me over the years. For example, my plans to move immediately after I graduated from college dissolved into a settlement in my present location. My intentions to launch directly from school to a shining career have dragged through a meandering road of unexpected detours and traffic delays.
Yet, I’m told by the wise man that “for everything there is a season” …so I should not see these digressions as stumbling blocks but stepping stones. It’s just that when you’re a person who struggles with that patience virtue, it’s hard to conceive that the extended delay at the stop light is in any way a benefit to reaching the destination.
So, what is it with waiting? What is it about that pause, that is so helpful for the future?
And what about you creatives out there? Do you struggle with waiting?
When you sit at the canvas…
at the piano…
at the keyboard and wait…
for something: an image, an inspiration, a melody? a breakthrough?
Waiting can be hard. Yet, waiting does something…
It allows for preparation. If you’ve ever been in that weird space in between, you may remember what you learned. Just think back to middle school—that awkward educational, emotional and developmental space after elementary and just before high school. For some of us it may bring back nightmares of embarrassing moments, bad hair days and acne, but it was also a time of discovery. When the world was opening up, when we began to recognize ourselves as individuals and to establish our own sense of self. Granted, it was the beginning, but that safe space in between allowed us to prepare for the subsequent steps which would be more demanding.
Each phase of our lives is really a space between the previous one and the next which allows us time to learn from the past and anticipate the future. While it can be awkward, it is also comforting because we can take advantage of what we know while enjoying the freedom from what we don’t know. Let’s face it, sometimes the best part about middle management is passing the buck! (“Sorry, I’m not authorized to make that decision, you’ll have to ask my supervisor!”) Yet, watching what happens at the next level, keeping our eyes and ears open to what goes on at the front of the line allows us time to think about what works and what doesn’t.
While you’re waiting for inspiration to come, what can you learn from what you already know?
It facilitates maturation. You may not like being in middle school or “middle management” because, the other reality is that you’re often reminded of what you “can’t” do! You’re old enough to “know better” not old enough to have the keys. You have just enough power (knowledge or skill) to do lots of work, but not enough to get much credit for it. Those around you call the shots, make the decisions and hold your future in their hands. Waiting for your day is like watching grass grow! Yet, as those of us who survived middle school know, the years in between mark a period of significant change, growth and development. Our bodies and minds matured so much during that time that family and friends hardly recognized us by the end of it! The time of waiting may feel long, but it is necessary to facilitate this maturity. If our parents gave us the keys when we were 12, disaster would have certainly followed. But, within 4-6 years, we matured from those awkward middle stages into more mature (though still maturing) teenagers capable of greater responsibilities and independence.
As adults, moving from middle to upper management–or from novices to masters in our fields–may feel like a work of futility, but the work that we’re doing, the small steps we are taking, every task we complete is part of our maturation. We don’t notice it while it’s happening because the changes are imperceptible, but over time, the accumulation of every small effort—even unintentional ones—is contributing to our development until one day we’ll look up and, perhaps, not even recognize ourselves!
It builds anticipation. Then, when you’ve been in that middle zone long enough to see how it works, long enough to watch what’s next, long enough to study and prepare, you’ll feel that preparation welling up. What may have started out as fear will transform into energy. When you were a middle-school kid, you may have felt out of sorts–uncomfortable in your own skin. Maybe you worried what other people thought about you and cared what others said. But during the waiting you’ve had time to settle in. You’ve had time to observe the cycles, to see that people talk about what they admire and camouflage their jealousy with disdain. You understand leadership—that blind ambition clouds judgement, but humility covers a multitude of sins.
You’ve grown and matured. Now you’re ready for your shot.
You’re ready to take your place at the front of the line–to step out onto center stage. The time spent waiting is like wood stacked for a fire and the anticipation is a simmering cauldron on an open flame ready to explode!