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There are multiple ways to unearth your purpose, so the real question is: why don’t you? And for those of you who do know your purpose, why don’t you marshal your energy to make it a daily reality? For those of you who feel you do make your purpose a daily reality, what else have you not yet dared so you can live it even more fully? Every time a choice point arrives, being grounded in your purpose means you have a compass to direct you toward a new facet of your passion, vocation, mission, and/or profession. When I work with coaching clients, I send them a purpose worksheet with this quote by Howard Thurman that sums up purpose:
Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive and go do it. Because what the world needs is more people who have come alive.
My own journey to a purposeful life began when I signed up for a weekend workshop on breaking the chains of internal slave mentality that required me to write my purpose statement. These carefully chosen words, periodically changed over the years, are the foundation of my life by design.
To work with multicultural wisdom and balance and inspire people of color to embark on a creative, cooperative journey of love and healing for this and future generations.
With these words, I have an inner touchstone. My purpose is in the bio I send to clients, right alongside the technical and sectors skills I bring. It acknowledges that if I work with you or your organization, there is a warm heart pumping under my skin and my purpose is a core part of my skill set, along with my strategic mind and spirited energy.
Living with purpose means continually committing to the circumstances for your best self to thrive despite barriers based on race, gender identity, and other oppressions. If you were trained to obey authority or only feel validated by external recognition, a purposeful life will shift slowly to being guided by your internal compass rather than that of others. You embrace your life as your responsibility. Your purpose states the direction your life will take regardless of changing causes and conditions, income streams and supervisors, or cities and relationships.
You can choose to have your life be an expression of what you love doing that benefits you and others. It is your choice. By default, you may elect to have someone else make the selection for you. That too is a decision. In other words, you are primarily driven by other people’s purpose or your own.
Why would you choose to abandon your purpose for another person’s? First, you have had limiting beliefs planted for many years, usually very early in life, that you were not allowed to have your own path. As children, we get that message clearly and it is reinforced in schools and work place hierarchies. If you consider race, immigration status, gender identity, and class, just to name a few, it can seem that your life is only a commodity for someone else’s benefit. Having a purpose disrupts that scarcity mentality.
Purpose means Change
I fought for my right to express an opinion and care about my values as a child and was consistently punished by authority figures. Even when adding the external validation of a MSW, I was suspended, demoted, and fired. Undaunted, although wounded, I chose self-employment so that I could more fully determine my work life trajectory. I slowly built a solid business working in the field of equity and providing trainings, consultation, and coaching. The original joy from a successful business partnership assisting organizations began slipping through my fingers with each client contact. While many made changes, the leaders were white and would decide at one point they had ‘done enough’. Rather than acknowledging their discomfort with what equity entailed, they would blame me for some action they twisted into a ‘fatal flaw’.
My purpose practice drove me to make a change. Several, in fact. I understood that my particular purpose was best served as a solo practitioner with a focus on coaching, writing, and working with organizations led by people of color. I also left a loveless relationship and flew cross country every six months for two years to complete my MFA in Creative Writing, returning me to my early and current passion for writing. I wanted my twins to see a vibrant parent who believed in her innate right to love and joy despite daily challenges as a greying woman of color.
When you are living your life committed to your purpose, life offers distinct and clear choices. With a purpose lens as a regular practice, you simplify and improve the quality of your life. You spend more and more time in expanded energy fields like peace, joy, and love.
This does not mean you eliminate doubt and failure. You do eliminate the constructs of self-blame and self-sabotage that ignore the current and historical inequities baked into most institutional structures regardless of who runs them. It means you understand the context of the culture of scarcity and competition and work to create a purpose that inspires abundance, courage, and discipline. Many people I work with are social justice change agents and have a difficult time tuning into their passion beyond this high level value. I encourage them to explore what they love first, as they will always integrate justice and equity no matter their path.
We often know what we don’t want and less about what we do want. Confirming our ‘no’ is frequently the door into confirming our ‘yes.’ It requires a willingness to explore and be curious. We all seem to accept the importance of loving, committed relationships, yet have unconsciously given up the possibility of a loving, committed relationship to our purpose and our gifts.
“All the elements are in place. But without the spark it is only a pile of dead sticks. So much depends on the spark.” Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass
Once decided, your purpose is the spark that turns dead sticks into fire.
When we are stymied by the limitations of any situation or relationship, purpose is the red flag flapping in our hearts and minds, inviting us to re-think our perspective. Don’t ignore it. Time to get to a mountaintop or read some beautiful poetry or dance. It is possible to untangle the hardest knots, follow our calling, and be an example for others. This does not mean starting from scratch. It means lowering the volume on the commercials that try to convince us that a raise or a certificate of recognition or a few more vacation days will ease the discomfort in our souls. These ‘golden handcuffs’ tempt us to stay bound to external things that limit us from nurturing our gifts.
Your purpose is like your core muscles. My nephew told me once that we all have a six-pack – those muscles are there. The issues is whether you or anyone else can see them! When your purpose is exercised, your ‘why’ is abundantly clear to others. Living with purpose is a life-long practice and requires constant quiet effort with no finish line. I learned this when I began strength training, buddhist meditation, and a yoga practice. I was sure it would all get easier with my devotion. It only became easier when I stopped thinking about control and began focusing on growth and acceptance. One muscle, one breath, and one pose at a time.
If you have a hard time starting to develop your purpose statement, pull out pen and paper or open a document and answer these questions: When did I know I was truth? What moments in my life engaged me fully – body, mind, and spirit? What makes me come alive? What and who do I want to impact? What will be different if I fulfill my purpose?
Purpose is your anchor when difficult times require you to hold steady amid the storms of life. The bigger the ship, the bigger the anchor. We often grow our ship without growing our anchor. The more we do, the more often we need to return to the harbor, restocking supplies, repairing torn sails or heart wounds, and gathering the right crew for our journey out. I spent time at a spa with a friend who felt she was weak to need time to relax and replenish. I reminded her that she is sailing a big ship in hostile waters and her emotional and spiritual tank gets used up faster than a sailboat in a bay. Some people are prone to sail past harbors until they sink, and some never leave the harbor for fear they are not ready. Which is your tendency?
To uncork your full-hearted power, you have to be willing to be still so that the roiling water can settle and so you can look, despite your fear, at the bottom of your heart. This means throwing down the anchor when necessary, sometimes in a storm and sometimes in a port. The perfect time doesn’t exist – you must make the time to create slow, steady changes and expect to course correct often.
Too often we focus on the highs and lows of life. Your purpose anchors you to your middle notes where the melody stays strong regardless of circumstances – a life lived with purpose makes your heart sing and your soul soar no matter what winds or fires or disappointments arrive. Being driven by an internal compass rather than by external circumstances is a daily gift to yourself and to all you touch.
If you want to get started on your purpose, contact me for a 20 minute complimentary coaching session!