What’s Your Purpose

While tucking my daughter in to bed the other night she asked me a question. “What if you found a genie lamp, and when the genie came out he only gave you one wish instead of three? With only one wish, what would you wish for?”

In the blink of an eye a thousand possibilities streamed through my mind and only one was clear and easy to choose. “I would wish that I am living my purpose on this earth.”

“That’s it?” says my little girl. “What else do I need?” I respond.

“Hm, that does make a lot of sense” she responds while I can see her pondering the scenario.

Thankfully I’ve done a lot of internal work over the last several years so I don’t have to wish to be on my path, I know inherently I already am. This quick yet powerful interaction between my daughter and I was yet another reminder of the simplistic nature of the world we live in.

The truest answers are almost always the simplest.

I could have wished for more money, a bigger house, to be forever healthy, to travel the world… and while all of these are valid responses and all serve good purposes, they all leave other areas in life lacking.

None covers all the bases.

Yet if we find and actively pursue the purpose for why we are here, all of those other areas in life fill themselves in effortlessly.

Our purpose may or may not have anything to do with what we THINK we want to do. The discovery process for many, myself included can take years of persistent trial and error. For those willing to put in the time and learn to embrace the process, the reward is far better than can be imagined at the start.

It is a journey free of a specific destination and full of surprises, risks, accomplishments to be enjoyed along the way.

If you haven’t found your path yet, or are trying to force a path you think is right, take a step back and evaluate what feels forced and what flows naturally. Lean into the natural flow and release those things which create friction.

Learning is all about perspective, and each “failure” or “hardship” is only a course correction and a grateful heart will notice this and quickly adapt a change on the path.

What does it matter?

During the normal course of a day many of us experience interactions with all sorts of people, in all sorts of contexts. Family, friends, co-workers, customers, vendors, and simple random interactions are a normal part of many days. Think back of today, or perhaps yesterday and think of all the interactions you had during this time.

Perhaps you and your co-workers talked about COVID and how the impact has somebody missing work, perhaps several people. This shortage led to a customer not being serviced as expected and now the upset customer is taking it out on you or your co-worker. Did Jane have a crappy attitude and set you off on the wrong foot for no reason? Maybe John dropped the ball and you are found yourself venting at his lack of determination or focus. Maybe you are the one listening to the venting, a compassionate ear for a frustrated soul.

I was once talking to one of my direct reports, he managed a large group of employees and he was having a few issues as employees were arguing about this and that. As he was talking it suddenly occurred to me that about 80% of what we encounter on a daily basis is nearly meaningless. Worse, it’s actually counter-productive as it convolutes our day and adds drama and complication which quite frankly has no need to be in our day. I revert back to one thing I know and am reminded of here again.

Life is simple.

The world we are taught to live in is anything but simple. When we really clear away the clutter though, what really matters at the end of the day? If not the conversations and context we’ve had through the day, what is left?

Let’s go to the old dramatic axiom: what if on your way home from work you died unexpectedly, and suddenly found yourself facing your maker. Your maker says “Welcome! I hope you enjoyed your last day on earth. Now that you’re done with life on earth, what have you brought with you here?”

Now think back to the daily conversations which happen around you on a normal, everyday basis. How many of these instances make the cut for quality and actually benefit you as you move on to a new plane of experience? Most of us will not have many to bring to this table. It’s ok. relax and know it’s never too late to be a little better today than yesterday.

This doesn’t mean our lives are meaningless, far from it. Our lives are actually much more powerful than we give ourselves credit for. Much more powerful than many of us realize. Think back on your day, or a few days. When was the last time you made somebody smile? When was the last time you made a selfless gesture to a stranger, something as simple as holding the door open to allow the person behind you to walk through? Perhaps it was a simple smile and gesture of “hello” to a stranger you passed on the street.

These simple gestures can, and often do have profound impacts on those we encounter. And we’ll never know exactly how, and this is ok. We are quite literally all in “this” together. “This” being this life as we know it. We all have things going on in our lives nobody outside our inner circle knows about, often even the circle doesn’t know all of it. Have you ever had a day where you feel empty, useless, like you don’t matter and nothing you do is good enough? Then some random stranger gives you a smile, simply acknowledges that you’re alive and a person. This simple gesture can pull you out of the gutter and help change your thoughts and bring you back to center.

This is a dramatized example and I imagine though you can insert your own memory of a time when you were unexpectedly cheered up by a random act of kindness.

Now let’s think back to meeting your maker and the question posed. “What have you brought with you here?” Think about the positive impact you have had knowingly or otherwise on people. Suddenly, you’re not empty handed, are you?

None of us are perfect and there is no reason to be. Laugh, love, cry, get angry, feel sad… and compassionate and empathetic… and all the myriad of emotions we as humans have. We don’t have walk around with a fake perma-smile plastered on our faces. We also don’t have to take out our frustrations or anger at others. Processing emotions (not burying them) is very important and something we can do and still have a positive effect, even when we’re not in the best of moods.

One thing which I believe to be true and it’s my starting point with all of my interactions. People wake up in the morning wanting to do good things for themselves and their families. Is this true 100% of the time? Of course not. It is true far more often than not though.

Knowing the people around you share the same goal as you do: trying to make life better for yourself and your family. This common goal helps to see others in a slightly different light and we can all help each other get closer to this ideal. By helping each other do the same.

Play around with smiling at strangers, saying hi randomly and holding a door open here and there. Sure, you will get some strange looks and questioning faces and that’s awesome, you’ve just gave somebody hope for humanity!

In your business, think about how your products/services better people’s lives or improves their circumstances. This is your focal point and drives your energy to get your product/service out to more and more people, because you know it’s going to help them, add true value to their experience of life. As business owners and leaders, we can have a tremendous impact on our employees and families, as well as our customers and vendors.

This is what is meant when you hear the phrase: “Be the change you want to see in the world”. At the end of the day, it all matters.

Practice, not perfection

Many years ago I was talking to a neighbor of mine and I was lamenting how tight my clothes had become. We had moved to Texas and after several months of eating at the myriad excellent restaurants around town, my waistline was showing the effects.

My neighbor suggested I simply get some “fat pants”, it’s what she does when things get too tight. I wasn’t familiar with the “fat pants” or where to get a pair, or how they worked. “What are fat pants?” I asked. “Bigger pants” was the deadpan response. I realized I was at a choice point in my life, choose to accept the enlarging waist and get some fat pant to accommodate my sloth. Or, I could choose to eat better and get my health back on track, saving me the painful concept of the bigger pants.

I chose to lose weight and work myself into my normal clothes again thankfully. This process I have since learned is applicable to many areas of life. The process of working towards a goal, an objective, an idea, a dream.

I have learned during my weight loss journey, I have learned again during my professional career, my marriage, fatherhood, entrepreneurship. I have experienced the same context in different formats. Like watching a movie where the family is in danger and the husband/father comes in and saves the day against all odds. This movie has been made a thousand times. The actors change, and script and scenery change, but it’s really just the same movie over again. These movies span all genres just like the important aspects of achieving a goal.

Progress on the road is infinitely more important than being perfect along the journey. I recall going on the Atkins diet (basically keto, before keto was cool!) and I dove in on a Monday morning. From beer and restaurants to zero carbs from one day to the next. Wasn’t really a great plan I admit, and the first two weeks were a nightmare, the third only slightly better. I did however steal peanut butter once a day during these first few weeks, and a beer at night a few times. These “indiscretions” are what gave me the willpower to keep going and not give up on the entire diet.

As I got better at eating a very minimal amount of carbs it became easier and I was able to adapt and adjust voluntarily when I felt ready to. I eventually gave up peanut butter and beer as I had progressed to a point. I had lost a lot of weight, and now was willing to sacrifice further to attain my goal.

There are times in life when we can be laser focused on a goal, AND we can deviate a bit to allow ourselves room to continue instead of crash. Countless people I’ve encountered give a 110%, (rise and grind bro!) only to burn out before getting what they were after. In my experience, getting three quarters of the way isn’t the same as crossing the finish line. Perhaps this is what the old “tortoise and the hare” fable is all about.

If you are going on a diet, starting a new business, beginning a fitness regime or changing fitness styles, (or one of so many other journeys) give yourself some leeway to have fun along the way. Sacrifices will need to be made, it will be difficult, and this is ok, this is part of the accomplishment. There’s no reason though to make it so difficult you can’t complete it. If you take a day off, eat that donut(s) at the office, miss a day of training don’t beat yourself up. It’s all good, simply continue where you left off and enjoy the progress you’ve made thus far.

Practice and persistence (consistency) will always win. Enjoy the journey and your much more likely to reach your destination.

Are we there yet?

If you’re anything like me you are always striving for more. Striving to improve in all areas of life, personally, professionally, physically, working to get a little better today than we were yesterday. I have always been like this and for years I had always leaned into hitting the next stage, next level of growth.

Many of us who share this mentality also share a common trait of thinking there is a “there”, a destination at the end we will eventually reach. That once this next goal or level is achieved we’ll be “there”! Ironically, what many of us experience as we succeed in achieving our goals and moving to the next level is not a overwhelming sense of joy and accomplishment. It’s a sense simply of “what’s next”.

I love this mindset and I wouldn’t trade my continual growth for anything. This mindset though can be lead us to be very harsh critic of ourselves and our perceived accomplishments. Like most things in life we have to embrace the gifts of who we are and strengthen those areas we perceive to be not as good.

This inner critic many of us experience is not a bad thing when held in check. It can also be hugely damaging if we let it take over our sense of self worth. This inner critic can keep us sharp, on our toes and focused on the task(s) at hand; or it can ultimately demotivate and derail our progress altogether. So how do we embrace this voice within us instead of simply trying to ignore it or shout it down? Or worse, allow it to begin to infect our being as we start to believe some of the non-sense this critical voice throws at us?

The first step is simply to notice this voice and/or thoughts when they appear. When this critic starts it’s torrent simply take note that you hear this voice and it’s rant. That’s it, notice them, don’t buy into them. By simply taking note a profound shift occurs very quickly, which is a separation of yourself from this voice. You’ll notice it’s almost like over-hearing a conversation of other people, mainly one person talking AT another. You have a choice now as to how you wish to handle this. Would you allow another person to speak to you as this inner critic does? Not likely. By noticing this voice and creating a separation between it and yourself you can take ownership of your response if not the narrative of the voice.

Changing the narrative of the voice takes time and practice and can absolutely happen (for another article). Reducing the amount of air-time this voice gets is a natural progression as we remove the power this critic has over us. First though we have to get really good at understanding the voice is a crazy person. A self defense mechanism ingrained to protect us from perceived danger, even if this danger is simply and act or activity at the edge of our comfort zone.

Once you have practiced noticing the voice you will begin to notice other things. Perhaps you’ll notice the angry response many of us have when somebody cuts us off in traffic, or the frustration towards a co-worker. As we notice these things, many of us soon begin to notice our buttons are not as easily pushed because we are noticing the trigger and not responding blindly, but through a separation of rational thought and raw emotion.

The natural progression of this concept is simple. If you begin to respond to life in a more positive and understanding manner, can you see what the trend will be going forward? That’s right. As we improve our relationship within ourselves we improve all of our relationships outwardly, and this has all manner of positive outcomes. Our experience (life) is simply a collection of our choices and actions thus far. As we upgrade our thoughts and actions, our experience thus upgrades with us.

Going back to the beginning of the article, how does noticing our thoughts and separating ourselves from our inner critic have anything to do with reaching our goals and getting to that point we are all striving for?

That point we working towards doesn’t actually exist. It’s a mirage. Like seeing the end of the rainbow it can look so close, yet when you get close it’s not longer there, vanished. As we strive to improve ourselves in all aspects of life there is no point at which we’ll be done, will be at our destination and fully satisfied. When our inner critic hears this the tirade can become volatile and destructive if we let it. If we ignore it and keep trying to get to this imaginary “point” we ultimately will become miserable in the process. Most of us feeling as if we’ve failed, even in our success, especially in our success.

When we understand we will always be growing, it is indeed our nature as people who desire growth. We can quell the critic within and enjoy the process much more. After all, it’s the process and not the result which is the real prize and thing to be attained. The experiences along the way are what matter and the goals we set are simply markers along the way, like mileage posts on the highway.

Begin to notice these thoughts and pay attention to the shifts you will experience. Embrace the experience of all of it, the perceived good and bad of everyday. We wouldn’t notice the sun without the clouds.

Let me know how this works for you and what you notice along the way. This practice opens the doors for more profound change as you grow with it.