4 Lessons On Finding Purpose...Even Now (Warning: contains a morbid personal story. Don't judge)
Updated: Oct 3
Passion is a seven-letter word that has been blown up into such mammoth proportions, that some people don’t believe they even possess it - in any form. It’s often used to describe someone breathlessly expressing interest in something or to depict an unbridled sense of emotion about a person, place or thing. What exactly is ‘passion?’ It’s simple. It’s that color picture sense that tells you that all of you is engaged in something. Passion tells you that you’re alive and have tapped into something that, when used constructively, can bring others edification and joy. An individual who is passionate about something is like a full well – at some point it overflows into another space, or onto another person. It speaks to abundance and richness.
Our day jobs may indeed be that place where our passions meet our profession. Certainly every employer would desire that from their employees. However, it can’t be ginned up nor manufactured through team exercises. It’s either there, or it’s not. And, that’s just fine. You can, and should, do your job with excellence and commitment, regardless.
So, if your deepest passions aren’t found within the walls of the workplace, don’t despair. Keep looking. Keep seeking. Take both the natural, and unnatural transition periods on the calendar (think COVID-19) as an opportunity to write a new story. Ask yourself a few key questions in order to explore your passions. I shared some of these questions during my virtual WGNinHR Masterclass on April 2nd.
1. When was the last time you felt truly alive and energized when doing something?
2. If money wasn’t an issue, what would you be doing with the bulk of your time?
3. How do you want to be remembered?
4. What gifts and talents do others regularly compliment you on?
5. What would you be doing all day and never consider a waste of time?
6. What’s missing from the world from your perspective?
Answering these questions requires some quiet time to reflect. It should also require the willingness to do something with the answers discovered – this is part of the pathway to your purpose. Passion untapped will eat away at you. It will creep into your thoughts, attitude, and eventually, your behavior. It must, at some point, be allowed to breathe. Enter the post-COVID-19 phase with a commitment to explore your passions and a determination not to leave another year with regrets stemming from inaction. I will join you.
There is no passion to be found playing small--in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living. - Nelson Mandela
Someone Should See the Difference
There is simply not enough money, time, nor energy to do all that we desire – for ourselves. Sharing your time, talent and treasure with others is ultimately why we’re here. Passion is meant, as I said, to spillover. Otherwise, what’s the point?
There are countless opportunities to serve others in our daily lives. They can range from allowing a struggling mom to get ahead of you in the grocery store, to taking the time to encourage a weary soul on the bus ride in to work (when we were actually still riding the bus). A smile, a compliment, real eye contact, the gift of your time…..these are simple yet profound displays of service. Start there. Random acts of kindness are wonderful ways to meet the needs of others, particularly during these times of such anger and vitriol.
People often reach out to me on LinkedIn to make connections, share services or ask for advice – total strangers. While I can’t help everyone and must prioritize my own time, I’m always intrigued by someone seeking knowledge. Someone who wants to get better, to know more, to do things differently. More often than not I will respond, much to the surprise of the requester. This is my small way of giving my time (even if scheduling may take months!) to offer someone encouragement and hope.
There’s something enlightening that happens when serving others: we understand the importance of being grateful. You’ve heard the expression, ‘it’s all relative.’ Indeed, it is. Any stress on my job becomes more manageable when I encounter someone who has been out of work for a year. The nagging pain in my lower back is tolerable when I pass someone who is bound to a wheelchair. It’s all relative, because it should be – it forces gratitude upon us.
My own purpose is inextricably linked with giving and serving. It’s not just what I want to be known for, it’s how I need to feed my own soul.
Service requires you to have the right intentions, the right heart. You’re doing it not out of self-gratification (though it does feel great) but out of a place where you really are not the main topic at all. Someone else is.
The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others. – Mahatma Gandhi
May the Real YOU Please Stand Up!
Whether through tapping into your passions or serving others, the real you will ultimately rear its head. Sometimes that head will be ugly, at other times it will be pretty. And, alas, most times it will be neither. It will simply be the sum total of who you were created to be. When I sit in a boardroom, I’m not only sitting there as a black, female, first-generation American, I’m also sitting there as one who is a learned extrovert having emerged from my formative years barely uttering any words in public.
How I think, what resonates with me, what turns me off, who I gravitate towards, and how I react under stress and conflict – reveal my authentic self. I often describe it as being my ‘authentically awesome’ self – because it is. It’s who God created me to be and what I'm still becoming. He also gave me a chisel and a trash bag to whittle away and discard the unpleasant parts that fail to bring Him glory! That means there are parts of my authentic self which are not serving any useful purpose – for me nor for others.
I need to be obsessed with getting to the core of who I am – daily. Through every interaction, meeting, conversation and encounter – I want the real me to stand up. I want the real me to be seen and heard. When that happens with enough consistency, my purpose will have a clear pathway to fruition, and I can hopefully have a potent and positive impact on the lives of others. Think of it as brewing a cup of coffee: you ultimately taste and digest it for yourself – but others will also catch its aroma.
I’m sure you’re wondering how we can be authentic in this world where opinions and ideas are increasingly met with name-calling. Social media sites are rife with nastiness and mob mentalities. If you don’t fit neatly and squarely into the box which someone believes you should be in, attempts to shame and slander your character are viewed as fair game, somehow. Heaven forbid you should have an opinion which goes against the so-called grain. You’ll be called out and silenced by the stroke of 280 characters or snarky memes.
Nevertheless, we must be authentic and use our judgment about how much to reveal and to whom. We should also accept the fact that we are imperfect. I’m willing to work at my authenticity to be better – but, not perfect. Striving for perfection is trying to be like God, and that never ends well. We will all miss the mark at times.
What really matters is the determination to continue to work at it, but not the desire to be liked. There are times to be vulnerable, and to say what you think when you know that not saying it will have even more dire consequences. Many people will not be able to handle that. They will need to own that. And, yes, there are also times where the reverse is true and you should keep your mouth closed – that’s why we have journals.
Above all, work hard at not losing the core of who you are. That may mean having to change your relationships or your circumstances so that your purpose has the right breeding ground. This takes tenacity.
Don’t trade your authenticity for approval. - Anonymous
A Morbid - and Powerful - Depiction of Tenacity
One of the pathways to purpose is the road where many of us are tempted to make U-turns. Tenacity is required to achieve your purpose. The sooner you build this muscle, the less time you’ll be wasting.
Tenacity is, quite simply, deciding not to surrender. It is where crucible experiences meet hope and a renewed energy to keep going. At times, we’d much rather take an easier and seemingly more certain path. But, fighting for your dreams and plans will always be worth it. Why? Because you’re worth it.
One such powerful display of tenacity happened in my life several years ago as I and my family were burying my father.
The funeral home arrangements had been made and the day of burial had arrived. As the crowd exited the funeral home, the attendants prepared to close the casket – the final step before the procession to the cemetery. Several minutes turned into thirty as the attendants struggled with the casket closure. It had become clear to our family – which by then included immediate and extended members, and some family neighbors – that something was very wrong.
The lid would not close and the only choice left, according to the funeral home administrators, was to purchase another casket. We could then make the transfer of the body and be on our way to the cemetery as planned.
You have to realize that, by now, there was a large group of people waiting for us outside – some mulling around the entrance, others lingering in the lobby straining to understand what was happening, with the remaining members sitting in their cars to take shelter from the cold weather of a February day.
That day, family and friends came together to work every bit of ingenuity found in the human mind, using every tool at our disposal. I was of little help, but you can bet that I shared the same determination. At one point, the funeral administrator peeked in with a look of sheer disbelief at this groups’ will. Finally, as we’d neared the last of our options, divine intervention produced a kind-hearted repairman from across the street who finished the job for us. The casket was closed.
(Later we discovered that this is a fairly common and dastardly trick performed by some – not all – funeral homes. They tinker with the casket at the family’s weakest moment, then offer a new one at cost. Despicable, but true).
All of us that day understood one thing, even without saying it: we had a singular purpose which should not, and could not, be abandoned. We had to bury my father in the casket that was originally chosen. What ensued in that hour or more which elapsed, was one of the clearest examples of tenacity towards purpose that I can remember.
That current existence which poses a problem for you needn’t be something overwhelming and all-consuming. It could simply be an incident, which cumulatively, begins to describe the sum total of who you are. The example above happens to be one of many for me. Bizarre as it is, it taught me so much.
Defeat and obstacles may represent your current state, but not your status. The more we resist the chance to develop ourselves or grow through tenacity, the longer we remain stuck.
You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it. – Maya Angelou
Make the rest of 2020 the year of seizing hold of your purpose – (re)acquaint yourself with what makes you passionate. Let your passions spillover into service to others, because the world desperately needs it. We're seeing that every day, aren't we?