Last Tuesday evening, I led my latest in a series of free monthly workshops that I hold at the local library. The topic was "Writing your Personal Mission Statement."
I had six lovely participants and I walked them through a series of activities to get them thinking about when they act and feel like the best version of themselves. What are they doing? Where are they? Who are they with? What is essential to their idea of "living on purpose"? What themes and commonalities could they identify in those important moments? What words came to mind when considering how those moments related to their overarching purpose in life?
This is a challenging activity and a deeply personal one. We had an interesting mix of people with a wide range of interests and passions, so their "on-purpose" moments ranged from showing compassion for others to driving a fast car. After the self-searching and brain-storming phase, we got to writing the rough drafts of our statements. I showed the following examples:
One of the things that I love about my job is that I am constantly learning and incorporating new ideas into my already existing framework. These questions and the ensuing discussion made me think. Does a life purpose have to have a service or altruistic component? I decided, fairly quickly, that it does not. One of my "Big A Words" is AUTHENTICITY, after all, and forcing an idealism that you don't feel would never work anyway. Furthermore, by being honest with yourself and others and pursuing a life that makes you happy, you might just inspire others to live in line with their true desires, thus indirectly giving back and making a difference.
This was the first workshop I led on this topic, but it was not the first time I'd completed the activity. In fact, I plan to make a habit of reassessing my "purpose statement" every year or two. It is never set in stone, but going through the process helps me solidify what's important and therefore live more by design than by default. My purpose statement will be a compass for my daily decision making, pointing me toward a more productive and meaningful life.
While it's a work in progress, this is what I came up with:
My purpose is...
The discussion with the group provided some clarity and freedom for me. I sometimes struggle with feelings of guilt or worry that I am being selfish. I have many (time and money-consuming) hobbies, you see. I catch myself thinking that perhaps instead of going to ride a horse I should spend those hours working on curriculum for a coaching program or volunteering at my daughters' school.
Being able to non-judgmentally conclude that someone else's desire to have fun and seek new experiences was a perfectly acceptable purpose freed me up to give permission to myself to pursue that part of my own journey. I am happiest when I am active and enjoying my many adventurous pursuits. I also thrive on the feeling of giving back and supporting others, and those two parts of my purpose are not mutually exclusive. In fact, I like to think that my personal lifestyle gives me more credibility in my professional life.
This is the take away: Spend some time on this. Be honest about what sets your soul on fire. Write a purpose statement and refer to it often. Revise as needed. Live with intention and see what happens.
Last summer, we did a major overhaul of our backyard. We hired a crew to take out a wooden deck and play structure, replacing them with a decorative concrete patio with a fire pit and outdoor kitchen, a new walkway, and an in-ground hot tub. It was a big deal, requiring the workers to rebuild a red flagstone wall that spanned the whole width of the yard, destroy and re-sod the majority of the lawn, demo the old, dig pits for the new, and get it all into working and attractive order. Of course, like any project, it took longer than expected. I watched in dismay as our yard became a construction zone. We wanted more from our yard, but it had been decent and serviceable before, and for a large stretch of prime summer days, it was nothing more than a huge mess, full of muddy holes and scattered pieces of rock and wood…ugly and unusable for several weeks.
I remember thinking and saying to friends, “I wish I could just see the before and afters…not the whole gross mess in between.” It was hard for me to look out on the carnage of my yard and imagine the oasis of outdoor fun that would ultimately be there.
We live in a before-and-after-picture world. Who doesn’t like to see the photos of the people who lose 100 pounds? Why are makeover shows so popular? Going from frumpy to fashionable in 30 minutes is inspiring. From flabby to fit on one magazine spread…spectacular. When people win the lottery, it's fun to imagine what we would do if we were so lucky. I am not immune to this fascination. I love before and after pictures. I love stories of transformation. I love the side by side comparison of then versus now.
But this mentality--this overwhelming desire for quick transformation--has set up unrealistic expectations about what real change looks like. It undermines the hard work that goes into reaching worthy goals. It also ignores the continued hard work required to stay fit or rich or successful or happily married. Quick fixes, get rich quick schemes, overnight successes…we think we want that. But do we really? If the answer is yes, then we are focused on the wrong things.
As a life coach, I want my clients (heck...I want everyone) to accept and apply two major concepts. First of all, I want each of you to hold yourself to a high standard. Set big goals. Believe that you can do impressive, meaningful work. Start that business. Plan that trip. Go for that relationship. Run that marathon. Create your ideal life!
Secondly, I hope that you can find joy and satisfaction in the process. Whatever your goal is,
you will have setbacks. Life will not always go as planned. The saying "no pain, no gain" is popular for a reason. But there's another saying that goes, "Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional." Many circumstances are beyond our control, but the way we show up, keep trying, and enjoy the ride is completely up to us.
I like before-and-after pictures because they show progress. They show a goal set and reached. But I dislike them because they imply an end to a story...a met goal and a hard stop. In life, however, there is no such thing. An after picture is just one snap shot along the journey.
I remember looking out at my yard as the workers went about their tasks. One very meticulous and skillful guy was rebuilding our red flagstone wall. I watched as he carefully placed stones, checking each one for fit and balance with the other pieces. It turned out beautifully, and while it is not the first feature you notice, it spans the whole length of the yard and is one of the key elements that brings it all together. Observing the long, difficult process of hauling the stones, matching the pieces and cementing it together gave me an appreciation that I wouldn't have gotten from a simple before and after view.