Living my purpose has been on my mind a lot lately. I think it comes with the idea of retirement, and other times where we make a major change in the rhythms of our life. I know that living a life of purpose is what will provide me the richness I crave in life. What has elevated this topic in my thoughts is my current situation: I’m semi-retired and I’m on vacation. At the end of three weeks I go back to work, but what happens when I’m fully retired? What will that feel like?
I’ve used this trip as an opportunity to think about how I engage with my purpose. I’ve been curious about how I choose to spend my time when there are few other demands on it – other than the pleasant demands of my wife!
The exercise has been a good one. As the days of our trip have passed, a few things have become clearer for me with regard to the patterns and levels of how I live into my personal purpose. My first discovery is that I don’t want to live into my purpose each waking moment of the day. I have a need for downtime and entertainment as well.
But when in a mindset of being purposeful, there seems to me to be four levels at which I find myself.
This is the basic level of engagement – the stuff of to-do lists. Tasks which we know we have to do to support our purpose. We can’t actually live our purpose if we aren’t willing to do any work to make it happen. My list contains things like networking, building a website, developing materials, etc. It isn’t always exciting stuff, but it has to be done.
Or does it?
Tasks feel familiar. If we don’t pause to think about what we are doing, we might find ourselves feeling good about just being productive. Then, at the end of a day of crossing things off the to-do list we realize that we haven’t moved the needle on engaging our purpose like we want.
I am loathe to put learning on this list as it is critical to personal growth, but I think I have to. Knowledge, without actively applying it, doesn’t move us forward. Learning can be as distracting as doing tactical things.
It is worthwhile to ask myself before starting any task as to whether it is necessary right now to support my journey to actively living my purpose.
If I am successful in managing my attraction to tasks and the associated feelings of accomplishment, then I can turn my attention to my level of self-awareness and self-care.
There is often a constant stream of demands from outside of us. Once again, it can feel both good and familiar to turn our attention to these demands, most of which are not aligned with our sense of purpose. By cultivating a state of self-awareness and presence, where I am able to see myself as separate from, but sharply aware of, the needs and wants of others then I’m able to make the best choice on how to serve my purpose at that time. For example, as a leader of people at work I may be asked how to do something by a team member. If I know the answer, it would be easy just to do it for them. However, by practicing presence I may see another choice – to coach that person through how doing it on their own. The latter approach is a better fit with my purpose and probably with my role at work as well. By being self-aware of what was going on in that relationship, I gave myself a choice.
That sounds easy, but it isn’t always so. I think there are two fundamental components to achieving and maintaining this state. I find my relationship with these two components very cyclical such that when I’m struggling with living my purpose I often return here to see what might be going on.
- Vitality for relationship. This self-aware connection with others takes emotional energy. That energy comes from nurturing our overall level of joy and happiness. One of the most powerful ways of getting there is to spend time doing things we are passionate about. Take time for your passionate pursuits both inside and outside work. Even if you feel you don’t have the time, you’ll be amazed how it pays off for you when you need it!
- A state of presence. This can be a challenge, as there are many things that distract our attention from what is happening right now. It could be anticipation of an upcoming event, it could be rehashing a meeting or conversation that just happened or any of a myriad of other things that emanate from the past or future. But we make choices in the present – right now! There are a number of schools of thought around presence. For me, it is our ability to enter and maintain a state where we can authentically see, hear and (most importantly) feel what is happening right now and be able to view in real time what we discover both from our perspective and the perspective of the other.
My sense of getting to know my purpose is that it sort of “emerged” from my existing life. I was successful in my existing life, but not necessarily feeling rewarded. An inner exploration allowed me to discover my purpose (shifting the lives of people to the possibility of living and leading essentially) was already there waiting. Once discovered, I felt its pull on me to fulfil it.
Uncovering it was only the start of the journey, as I then needed to fully embrace it and live it. While we may not be rewarded by our existing life, we know how to “be” in that life. We’re much less certain about our new life revolving around purpose and therefore find ourselves in a state of transition where it is important to focus on letting go of the old. I won’t go into the whole approach here – if you are interested please read a previous post: Four Steps To Make Transitions Easier. This to me might be the most critical level of them all. My sense is once we move on from the “old world” it is gone!
This is the fun part! This is what we were hoping for when we defined our purpose. The ability to live and work in a way that is completely fulfilling to us. We have done the required tasks, we are present in our pursuit of it and we have released our grip on our old way of being such that we have arrived here. Now it is up to us to be deliberate about our action, both what we do and what we don’t do. We will find a ton of choice and scope here when we are ready for it.
As always, there will be many other factors at play that make it a bit more difficult. Economics, family, commitment, etc. For example, I’m in the midst of this right now as I’m in France, and have a language barrier with almost everyone I meet. No matter how prepared I am, it is difficult for me to fully engage in my purpose when I don’t have enough command of the language.
But to know that I am ready to engage, to continue to try to engage and even to fail at engaging can be rewarding! Passing through these levels can be cyclical, so knowing all of these levels and tendencies will be important for me to live into my purpose long term.