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)
When I think about the story of Mary and her alabaster box, I am struck not only by her action, but also by her position. She is on the ground—in pieces–at Jesus’ feet–unlike Simon who sits pridefully at Jesus’ side. The contrast between these two is stark. As a religious leader, Simon assumes a position of entitlement. He serves alongside Jesus as His equal and has no sense of the lordship of Christ. Mary, on the other hand, is demeaned by the religious leaders and scorned by her community. No one sees her as worthy of any position except the gutter. Yet, it is because of her position of disadvantage that she is esteemed by the Savior. “Blessed are the meek,” the Bible says, “for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” Simon didn’t hunger or thirst. He was seated at the table! Mary was the uninvited guest, she had not been offered a plate.
Can you relate?
I know I can. I often feel like Mary as I pursue my dreams. Unlike others who are seated at the table, I’m on the ground in pieces! Struggling with writer’s block, daunted by writing challenges, uncertain how and unable to establish a platform. Like Mary, I’m not esteemed in this industry. Maybe I’m not scorned, but I’m certainly not visible!
But perhaps the lesson is that, rather than striving to sit at the table, I should, first, get down on the floor. Rather than chasing fame and glory, I should first be content with service and support. While society may snub their noses at the “meek,” turning my intentions away from my own objectives and towards another’s turns society’s logic on its head! That’s how it works, you know? It’s not that we’re destined to live in the pit, but that taking this posture prepares us for the palace. Without first being humble–maybe even humiliated, we may not be able to handle the challenges of success.
What encourages me is knowing that God sees. In fact, this story suggests that it is when I am the most vulnerable and the least able to help myself that he is able to do his greatest work! Could my disadvantage be an advantage? Mary’s was. Simon felt no need for a savior, so he received what he came for. Mary emptied herself in the puddle of perfume at Jesus’ feet and left the banquet in peace.
What will this look like in your own life? Think about emptying yourself first, then watch God fill you beyond what you thought possible!