Is this all there is?
Is this the life I was meant to lead?
What difference am I making/will I make?
Questions that we all ask and must address. The answers define perspective and our path. The answers define what we do and the choices we make. The answers shape our future.
Joseph Campbell: We must let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for us.
We can only respond to what is calling us. To what the world reveals to us. To the opportunities that engage our hearts and minds. To the intuition of what we were meant to do.
I met two people this week.
An executive who was at a new beginning of her journey of defining her purpose. 20 years into her career of successful and progressive promotions in the same industry. She was successful in all of the external measures of title, money, and prestige. She is 47. But she realized she had submerged her desires, interests, and passions to the expectations of others. How to please her parents, her mentors, her bosses and her peers. Everyone but herself. She was awakening to her inner voices trapped beneath the rubble of other people’s expectations. She wanted to rescue herself before it was too late. I did little in this conversation but allowed her to speak and express herself. It was powerful to see and witness. It was like the child of possibilities was reborn. She saw that she had a new world of opportunities ahead of her. My only advice was to fully explore her interests and to listen to what her heart was telling her. She was fearful and excited.
Mark Twain: The two most important days are the day you were born and the day you find out why.
Then I met a young man who was the child of drug addicts and was essentially abandoned to a gang. He was angry. The gang became his surrogate family and they cared for his needs-emotional and financial. They gave him a future. They mentored him. He became a father at 13 and then again at 17. He too was awakening. He had surrendered his future to others too. His dreams were left behind. So now he is getting his life together, thanks to a community based youth mentoring program. He is 19. He is hopeful. He was asked, “What advice would you give other young men that are in the situation you were in? He said without hesitation, “Find your purpose. We all have a purpose. We have to find it.” Wisdom comes from unexpected sources.
When will we pursue our purpose? When our hearts speak to us do we listen and take note?
Through the haze of life there are moments of clarity. Moments where we say, "Oh there it is again." That feeling of satisfaction of purposeful activity that aligns with our moral and spiritual compass. Not something that impresses others. Something that impresses you. Not an achievement but an activity or even a persistent idea that aligns with our soul. It may be fleeting. It may be a continuous flow, if you are lucky. A flow of engagement of who you are but almost always about the needs of others. As in love and even answers about our destinies, we have moments of deep clarity that propel us forward. A story strikes us, a Tedtalk, a news item, a childhood memory……We get distracted. We always want more or something else. We need to trust ourselves.
We say we like challenges but we also avoid the challenging work we want to do, we need to do to define our lives. We fill our time with the mindless and defer the mindful. The couch beckons and our courage wanes. The only thing that makes progress is time.
Suddenly I am behind on my bills and my dreams. Les Brown
We plot our lives like a clever chess player thinking 3-5 moves ahead. And we can miss the detours, new opportunities, and unbeknownst options that are right in front of us. The next can be the enemy of the now.
We must suffer, struggle and stumble to give our life the meaning and purpose we crave. Meaning and purpose do not knock on your door or fall into your lap. They visit those who have compassion for themselves and others. Those engaged in the great fight for purpose.
I love this excerpt from David Brooks -----------
Commencement speakers are always telling young people to follow their passions. Be true to yourself. This is a vision of life that begins with self and ends with self. But people on the road to inner light do not find their vocations by asking, what do I want from life? They ask, what is life asking of me?
Their lives often follow a pattern of defeat, recognition, redemption. They have moments of pain and suffering. But they turn those moments into occasions of radical self-understanding — by keeping a journal or making art. As Paul Tillich put it, suffering introduces you to yourself and reminds you that you are not the person you thought you were.
The people on this road see the moments of suffering as pieces of a larger narrative. They are not really living for happiness, as it is conventionally defined. They see life as a moral drama and feel fulfilled only when they are enmeshed in a struggle on behalf of some ideal.
This is a philosophy for stumblers. The stumbler scuffs through life, a little off balance. But the stumbler faces her imperfect nature with unvarnished honesty, with the opposite of squeamishness. The stumbler has an outstretched arm, ready to receive and offer assistance.
External ambitions are never satisfied because there’s always something more to achieve. There’s an aesthetic joy we feel when we see morally good action, when we run across someone who is quiet and humble and good, when we see that however old we are, there’s lots to do ahead.
The stumbler doesn’t build her life by being better than others, but by being better than she used to be.
Those are the people we want to be.
We have to suffer and struggle if we want a life of meaning that is much bigger than ourselves. We have to connect with ourselves, with our purpose and stumble forward, always forward.
Thanks for reading. John