Some clients tell me they consider me an expert in helping people discover their purpose in life. Of course, that’s very affirming. so I like it. And I really hope it’s true. After all, I’ve been helping people find their life’s mission since 1983, when I started working with Stephen Covey. That’s over three decades of nearly daily engagement linking the deep questions of life with the challenges of work, business and leadership.
I also have been the beneficiary of life’s rough stuff. I became well acquainted with many of life’s I-never-thought-this could-happen-to-me-catastrophes and persistent gut wrenching stress. I have swum in the stormy ocean of life’s great disappointments.
I find that the juxtaposition of my idealism and my life’s reality has pushed me hard on issues of faith, purpose and reconciling the existence of evil… all the big gnarly questions. I spent the better part of a decade submerged in introspection and angry meditation. Okay… I know real meditation doesn’t allow for anger yet I found that anger, frustration and despair are powerful motives to drive deep persistent meditation on the purpose of life.
Over the years I’ve also found the time to study the big thinkers from Plato to Whitehead as well as the world’s most persistent religions. Through workshops I have helped thousands of people draft inspiring mission statements and designed and conducted research with over 30,000 people to discover what they find most satisfying as well as what’s most difficult about modern life.
Well, a few days ago gave a TED-length talk to group of 50 leaders who direct ecology based nonprofits. I was told they wanted something inspirational.
As I thought about my work with nonprofit leaders, I consistently found that many are chronically stressed and upset. Their frustration stems from being overmatched by the wealth and power of people who care so little for the environment that they take no responsibility for polluting, eroding and destroying our living spaces in the name of commerce.
I empathize with that anger, yet living life as a permanent underdog or even worse, a victim, is self-defeating. Shaking your fist at a mad world is initially good to awaken you but over time it will make you weaker.
I also find some nonprofit leaders burdened by their noble cause. It’s as if they’re doing what they think they should even though they would rather be doing something else. I found that people who try to use their personal guilt or even sense of duty as a primary motive will soon lose their good judgment and creativity as well as their zest for life.
I felt that what I wanted to do in the short time we had together was to lift these leaders’ inner burdens, melt some of their frustrations, and help them find their inner sources of optimism and joy. So I begin my remarks by saying… “If people I love asked me on my deathbed what I have learned that was really important, this is what I would tell them.”
- All of us long to be valued. I believe that is our primary human motive. Some people are really good at creating honest to goodness value in this world but many are not. Many people seek to be valued in all the wrong ways. They want to be famous, or rich or powerful. Insecure and selfish people still long to be valued and when they’re not they often act in awful and even evil ways. I have found that viewing someone’s bad behavior as either an attempt to be valued, or reaction to not feeling valued helps me to stay calm and wise. Believe me, understanding people’s universal core motive doesn’t let anyone off the hook for being a stinker. It just makes you wiser in how you respond.
- The purpose of life is to be compassionate toward all, all the time. I believe this to be the core truth of all 17 enduring major religions. When the great authority on world religions, Dr. Huston Smith, was asked what he learned over his lifetime of studying world religions he answered, “To be a little kinder.” The Dalai Lama has said, “Kindness is my religion.” Loving kindness meditation is one of the most powerful personal tools to become free of biases, past hurts, and persistent self- criticism. It is simple to do. Take a meditative position, and with deep rhythmic breathing you simply create an inner intention for yourself, your loved ones, your circle of acquaintances and coworkers, and your enemies. Thinking of each one of these groups in turn you simply use your inner voice to pronounce your positive intentions. You can simply say to yourself, “I desire to experience love, health, wisdom, success and happiness today.” Then you express the exact same intention for each group ending with your enemies. My experience is that you won’t have some room-shaking epiphany. Rather, slowly, overtime your view of everyone will change. And you will feel a new level of connectedness and contentment that will make you more calm, resilient, and powerful.
- Your Mission is to create value by expressing your gifts doing whatever you’re doing right now. There are 7.4 billion people on earth today. I am convinced no one is extra and no one is the same. Furthermore, all our circumstances and opportunities are different. Our mission is to use our unique personalities and talents to create value in every situation. I’m convinced that you do not need to do something amazing to be amazing. Every honest profession needs talented people who are excited to do their work in their own best way. Consider this; Abraham Lincoln wasn’t a glamorous lawyer. He litigated over 5,000 cases most of which were land disputes in rural Illinois. What set them apart was the way he approached his profession. He was honest. I won’t make any lawyer jokes here but being honest was a very distinctive quality. He refused to represent clients who wanted to plead innocent even though they were guilty. Lincoln got so famous for his honesty that he was elected President during our country’s darkest hour. My point here is critical to understand. Lincoln’s personal mission wasn’t to become President like so many of the politicians we see. His mission was to create value through by amplifying his values in the circumstances he found himself.
I am convinced it is not so much what we do, as it is how we do that matters. We need excellent janitors and flight attendants, and retail clerks, and doctors and nurses, and engineers and cartoonists. We also need moms and dads, and aunts and uncles, and sons and daughters, and good friends and neighbors…well, I think you get what I mean. Every honest profession and every role in life is a chance to create value for other human beings. We create value when we don’t go through the motions but when we express our highest and authentic selves to make things a little better, a little lighter a little more enjoyable.
The key is to be your best self. Use the good and virtue that’s inside you to energize your gifts.
We all have different gifts. Some of us are analytical, some are visionary, some are optimistic, some are prudent, some are leaders, and some are supporters. Most of us are many of these things depending on the circumstances. The key to fulfilling your mission is to not wait for the right opportunity to be awesome. Just be awesome all the time. Don’t make excuses and don’t apologize. Just give your gift to create value. That’s your mission.
What I’ve learned is this. You’re designed to make your difference. When you make your difference every day in a hundred little ways the future shifts.
What if the true purpose of life was not to change the world but to change yourself? And what if by doing that the world actually changed?
Please don’t wait to become a compassionate person. Please don’t wait to fulfill your mission. Just love all and give your gift.