Why Are We Here? Our Individual and Collective Purpose

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Photo by Vikas Anand Dev on Unsplash
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Ever since I realized that the goals that came from my brain did not bring happiness  when achieved, I have been focusing on life’s meaning and purpose.  So when Chris passed away and Spirit invited me to start the Foundation, with its audacious goal of helping others (on a global scale) to create positive and rewarding relationships with themselves, each other, and Earth, I felt I had to put my money where my mouth was (literally).  I left a 26-year career in higher education and am contributing a large part of my savings to the cause.  Though at the time I wasn’t sure to what degree Spirit would be actively helping me, I decided that I would want to try to do this either way.  I figured that if I received help, all the better.

No coincidence, then, when I’m invited to share a message with someone, it’s usually about what their life’s purpose is or could be.  It’s taken my work on callings to a whole new level.

Spirit has also been sharing with me the purpose of humanity’s existence.  We’re here to learn and grow to create more light and love.  We do so through service to Earth, children and those who cannot care for themselves, and each other, in that order.  We also take care of ourselves in the process.

That’s it.

Our focus should be ecocentric and humanistic.  Our materialism and focus on money, status, power, and luxury and comfort items are far afield from what we’re supposed to be doing.   It is at odds with God’s expectation that we care for Earth.  Our unremitting, senseless consumption is draining Earth’s resources, and polluting her waters and land, and is unsustainable.  We already know that Earth is ailing, yet we continue to take and take without regard to the long-term consequences.

Our first order of business needs to be to find ways to care for Earth in the ways that will be most helpful to her.  The Foundation for Family and Community Healing (www.familyandcommunityhealing.org) was created based on guidance from Spirit so that I may deliver this message and lead the way.

As a supplement to existing environmental efforts, we should also be providing the emotional and spiritual support that Earth needs.  We are in a reciprocal, emotional and spiritual relationship with Earth, and therefore we should provide emotional and spiritual support for Earth’s healing.

To learn more about this, you should join and follow our social media campaign.  But in the meantime, simple things you can do now are to pray or meditate for Earth each day and/or be present when you step outside.  Notice how Earth and her plants, animals, and minerals look, feel, smell, taste, and sound.  It takes no extra time and will be helpful to Earth for her to know that we are paying attention to her out of love and concern for her and her wellbeing.

If our collective purpose is to care for Earth and each other, how do we know what is our individual purpose?  Our individual purpose in life has a simple formula.  You are likely meant to be helping others in areas that you struggled the most.  For example, if you struggled to have enough money in your life, your purpose might be related to helping others get by with what they have, or to find ways to make money.  If you struggled with some aspect of having a medical condition, maybe your purpose is to help others with that aspect of their medical condition. 

You may feel like you still have a long way to go to rise above the challenge you are facing.  That may be true, but it is also likely true that you’ve made a great deal of progress already, and that many are far behind where you are currently.  So in your calculation, consider the challenges you’ve faced where you’ve made the most progress.  For example, I’ve struggled with finding my authentic purpose, going down the wrong track of seeking a tenure only to find it didn’t bring me happiness, so that is my passion and my current work (I’m going to create an app, y’all!).  I’ve also struggled with growing plants, but I’ve made no progress on that so it would not be a good life’s purpose for me right now…unless I decide to change that and learn.  Which I will.   So stay tuned!

In summary, your life’s challenges are there for you to learn and grow.  You use that knowledge to serve Earth or others.  It could become a calling, your unique way to serve the world.  There’s a beautiful symmetry to it, and it belies the idea that we’re supposed to just be comfortable our whole life and never struggle.

You may recall that I did a lot of informal and formal advising for the students in the program I worked for. Many of these incredibly bright students came to me because theywere struggling academically, a scenario they had yet to experience.  It was a shock and they were having a crisis worrying that they were in the wrong place.  I would tell them that if everything were easy for you, then you’re not pushing yourself enough.  Everyone eventually will find they have to struggle if they continue to learn and grow; to do so otherwise means stagnation. 

People who are stagnant may not experience much stress, but it also means they are not thriving.  Take the analogy of a plant.  As someone who harbors a black thumb, I know all too well that a plant which is not growing is actually dying, and it’s just a matter of time before it goes to the great compost heap in the sky.

The same is true for people.  According to Carol Dweck, author of Growth Mindset, people who do not believe they can grow and improve tend to be more depressed and less successful.  Those who are always trying to learn and grow tend to be more successful and happier.  So embrace your challenges.  We are here on Earth to rise to those challenges and bring that wisdom back to others.

We are facing grand challenges socially, economically, politically, environmentally, and spiritually.  The Foundation is aiming to help us rise to the occasion, but you have to want to learn and grow to surmount these issues.  I am excited by the slate of educational programs that we will be launching in 2020 and 2021 and the scope of our social media programs and regional meetings.  Come join us.  Follow us on social media (Facebook,  Instagram, and LinkedIn) to stay apprised of our work and learn how to help Earth to heal herself.  Check out our website.  Spread the word to those who you feel might really resonate with our mission.  Donate a few dollars, I promise we’ll put it to good use!

Hope to see you there too!

Our Authentic Purpose and Spirit’s Hope for Us

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Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay 

What’s the purpose of life?  Why are we here?

Timeless, age-old questions.

Some of us seem lucky enough to be born with the answers to these questions, or have discovered them early in life.  Those of you who followed the earlier version of the Silver Linings Blog know that these were a prominent theme for me.  The interest in the meaning of life and work began for me with a crisis – when I got everything I wanted.  Nothing like checking off all your boxes to make me realize that happiness does not from a strong resume.  This interest and search for meaning and purpose continued through my masters’ capstone project on callings, and through this day.  Now, one of my favorite things to do as a developer and coach is to help others to uncover the life’s purpose that is always to calling them.

 

I guess you can say I was called to do callings work.

Though the focus of my main day job has shifted again, this calling to help others with their calling is still there and just as important as ever, because our calling is the gateway to what is most meaningful and impactful in our lives.

I’ve been confused between meaning and purpose for much of my life.  Meaning has to do with understanding the impact or importance of something, whether it’s something you’ve done or something you’ve witnessed. For example, helping children is meaningful whether you saw a movie about it or it’s your vocation.    If it’s your vocation and it brings you a great deal of satisfaction and success (though not necessarily defined by financial success), then it’s likely part of your life’s purpose.  Your purpose becomes a calling when it becomes self-transcendent, i.e., it’s blissful work that seems to help transform yourself and others in positive ways.

It’s also important to note that our calling may be expressed outside of work.  It does not necessarily have to be what you get paid to do 40 hours per week.  Thank goodness.

Therefore, our authentic purpose, the reason we’re on Earth, is to follow our calling (according to my understanding of message from Spirit/God).

How you discover your calling, if you’re not sure, is a subject in several previous blogs.  Suffice to say that the sense of calling does not come from our heads, which explains where I went wrong in my early career.  Rather, our callings come from our hearts and souls.  When mind, heart, and soul are in alignment, you can bring your best self to your work.

Usually our calling has a prosocial aspect to it, i.e., it benefits others either directly or indirectly.  For example, sometimes people say that their calling is to live a good life.  I ask them if no one ever benefits from living that good life but you, would you be happy with it?  Usually the answer is no, but when it is yes, I would guess that that purpose may not come from the heart and soul.  But I could be wrong.

That prosocial orientation brings us to what Spirit/God wants for us.   We are here to care for others, especially Earth, and children and those who cannot care for themselves, in that order.  We are also supposed to take care of ourselves.  There are no exceptions to this.   There are no demographics that are excluded from God’s love and care, and so we should follow suit because that’s why we’re here.

Spirit wants us to care for Earth first and foremost right now.  I’m writing about that imperative on the Foundation blog, and trying to help everyone understand how fundamental that is to our purpose on Earth, and even our survival right now.

If you feel you do not know your calling and/or are struggling with the focus of your life, Spirit just wants you to take steps to try to discern what you’re here to do.  There are many resources to help uncover your purpose (you can start with this blog series) and I hope someday to develop an online program that will help people to discover it.

Spirit does not expect us to be perfect.  We’re human, which means we are born to struggle and try to learn.  What matters is that we have a sincere desire and attempt to do better at caring for Earth, others, and self, and living our purpose.  Spirit knows we can’t all necessarily be where we want to be in our lives, and that we all make mistakes.  The intention and effort to do better is what matters.

I also believe your calling is there waiting for you, sending little invitations in discreet forms.  If you know your calling, how did you discover it?  Share here and help give others some ideas of what to look for.

 

Next blog:  Guidance from Spirit

Burnout at Work

Are you among the 60% of us that are burned out at work? If so, here are some suggestions:

First, the Gallup Organization reports that burnout occurs after only 20 hours when you are not using your strengths. Apparently, the majority of Americans go to work and engage in tasks that do not involve use of their strengths.  To improve work satisfaction, Amy Wrzesniewski, Professor at Yale and callings expert, recommends that you increase the use of your interests, passions, values along with strengths for your main work tasks.  A strengths (e.g., Gallup StrengthsFinders or VIA) or values inventory (e.g., LuckStone Igniter or others) might provide ideas or insights for you to do this.

For example, one aspect of my job that I least enjoy is annual program reporting.  I have to crunch the data that someone else has requested.  Since the numbers are by and large pretty similar each year, the task is boring and requires considerable effort on my part to stay focused. However, by using my strengths of strategic and input, I can determine the most efficient way to gather the information and report it accurately and efficiently.  I can even look back over years of data to see if there are interesting trends (though usually there are not) or whether I should try to use this data to justify the creation of a new trend.  Using my strengths (with a bit of caffeine and sugar as a reward) to approach the task improves my performance and mood for the task.

Second, identify the meaning of your work.  I once did a mini-workshop on job crafting and asked participants to consider what is the meaning of their work.  Much to my surprise, there was laughter in the room, as if to say:  my work is completely pointless.  If you would’ve laughed too, then this task is even more important for you.

Seriously.  Ask yourself:  Why is your work role important?  Who relies on you to do a good job?  What unique contribution do you make in that job, compared to others who are in or who have been in that role?  If you can’t figure out at least one meaningful role or outcome in your job, that observation is also revealing.

Perhaps you really do have a job that is completely devoid of meaning. However, even mundane or dirty work can be highly meaningful.  Researchers Bunderson and Thompson studied callings among zookeepers and found that despite the hard work and dirty tasks (feeding and cleaning), zookeepers tend to have a high sense of calling with their work.  They find much meaning in what in what might be considered mundane tasks because they believe that they provide for the wellbeing of the animals, a high calling indeed.

In addition, consider whether you can identify a common theme across job tasks.  For instance, you may have to deal with problem customers and co-workers as part of your job.  A common theme is relationship management.  Is that something that you enjoy and would like to develop? Or perhaps you enjoy the problem-solving aspect of those tasks, which may be an area for further growth and development.

Finally, pay special attention to the most important and largest tasks on your list.  Can you tweak some of your duties so that you can increase use of your strengths, values, interests and passions?  Is there professional development available that can help you move more into those directions?  If not at work, what type of activities at home or in the community can provide that outlet and opportunity for you?  Who knows, your volunteer activities can help segue you to the job of your dreams and fuel you through your day job.

Your Bliss: Prospective or Retrospective?

Working with students in higher education is such a privilege because I often get to participate in their important career, and thus, life decisions. Their whole life and career are in front of them.   The possibilities seem endless since they can prospectively plan their bliss into their daily work. According to comparative mythologist Joseph Campbell, following our bliss allows us to feel fully alive; work as a vehicle for bliss has huge implications in terms of our motivation and well-being at work.

However, most of us don’t have that luxury of planning bliss into our career. We may be mid-career, with mortgages, dual careers, debt, aging parents and, well, fear of change that may impair our ability to go bliss chasing. We may have come to terms long ago that our bliss ship has sailed and we missed the boat.   At my age, I just don’t think I’m going to give it all up to try to go become a dancer on Broadway.

But that’s a cop out.   No, I will never at this age get to start a dance career where I will be able to earn a paycheck, much less make a living. But what’s to stop me from taking a dance class? If I really feel the need to perform, why not videotape for Youtube? Or the school “talent” show? Sure.

Better yet, there’s so much we can do within the context of our current jobs. We may not have chosen our current job or career path because of our bliss, but it doesn’t mean we can’t find bliss at work. Researchers Bunderson and Thompson reported in 2009 in a seminal paper on callings that zookeepers, whose job mainly entails cleaning cages and caring for animals, frequently find that tedious work to be their calling. In other words, they had a passion for the work and felt it had impact. Similarly, Wrzesniewski (1997) similarly found that callings exist across a range of jobs, ranks, and disciplines from janitors to CEOs.

The key is whether you make meaning of the work you do. For instance, much of my job is pretty routine. In higher ed, we’re awash in bureaucracy and I shuffle a LOT of forms around. Form-filling is not my calling, but underneath that task I am enabling the degree completion of our students. By not passing the task on to faculty, I am also freeing their time to do the important work of research and advising. The task, though mind-numbingly boring, plays an important role in the school that enables success of our students and faculty.

In other words, my focus and interpretation matter. I can either focus on how parts of my job are soul crushing, or how those small things make a difference to others. I’m never going to enjoy filling out forms but at least I complete that task cheerfully instead of with anger, resentment or martyrdom.

How about you? Do you have a calling or just a job? How can you find more meaning in your job and be more aware of the positive impact of your work on others?

Setting and Accomplishing Career Goals

Some say that the best way to achieve a goal is to define it and create a step-by-step plan to achieve it. I completely agree with that approach, especially when the plan is broken down into manageable pieces.

The problem with this approach is that we sometimes have no idea what our goals should be, especially as they pertain to our careers.   Speaking as someone who has spent most of my life knowing my goals with some certainty, this strategy worked quite well until I realized that I was focusing on the wrong things. The bigger the goal, such as a career goal, the more likely I was aiming for something that I thought I should pursue, rather than outcomes that were a good fit for me. I also have fallen for the trap of focusing on the wrong priorities, like salary or status instead of pursuing deep meaning and satisfaction from my work. I knew that those goals were wrong for me because when I achieved them, eventually they felt like hollow victories.

As a result, now I’m more circumspect about putting my head down and myopically working towards career goals. In addition, futurists say that 60% of the jobs 10 years from now have not yet been created and many of the current jobs will disappear. Therefore, it seems foolish to blindly work toward objectives when a terrific opportunity may become available while focusing on a career objective that may become obsolete.

In other words, we must be adaptable to be successful in the uncertain, future economy.   As luck may have it, adaptability is among my lowest strengths. However, I am managing the discomfort of uncertainty by trying to be present and open instead of worrying about controlling the future.   I am more successful at this on some days more than others; I’m just proud to be making progress in this arena.

Breathe deeply with me, folks. We’re more likely to be happy and successful by positively channeling our energy instead of over planning and trying to control what we cannot control. After all, we might as well enjoy the crazy, uncertain ride!

“Other People Matter”

Our professors told us that this quote by Chris Peterson summed it all up on our first day in our positive psychology graduate program.   At the time, I thought to myself “oh sure.”  But it’s true.

Here’s what I learned:

  • People in positive relationships are physically healthier and heal faster.
  • People in positive relationships have more positive emotions and are more resilient. Positive relationships help children become more resilient.
  • People who give have more positive emotion than those who receive.   Also, givers tend to be more successful than takers.
  • The meaning and purpose we feel in our lives largely pertains, ultimately, to our impact on others.
  • Our motivation to do a task depends on whether we can relate the task to impact on others or relevance to a larger goal.
  • Positive relationships enable an organization to rise to the next level.
  • Employee engagement is causally related to profitability and strongly related to having a best friend at work.
  • Our well-being is directly related to how much social time we get each day. Studies show that 5-6 hours per day provides the peak amount of well-being.
  • Our entire community impacts our well-being.   The friends of my friends and the colleagues of my colleagues can measurably impact how I feel each day.

In other words, the people in our lives make our lives worth living and also help us to live a good life.  The opposite is also potentially true.

Therefore, is your attention, energy and priorities where they should be?

Authentic Purpose

What are we here on Earth to do?  What is our purpose?  We each have a unique purpose that we each can sense inside us, even if we have not yet identified it.   That purpose is a little more vague than our personal mission because the path may lead us in so many different directions, many of which we cannot even imagine.  I believe this purpose is better left open-ended, and we should thus be also open to where it takes us.

I wrote about the uniqueness of our personal mission and our ensuing authentic purpose in recent blogs (Complexity of Life, part I and part II).  The difference between the two, at least as I see it, is that our personal mission is our global purpose in life.  This global purpose applies to both our personal and professional lives.  The theme of our mission, once we identify it, rings true to us once we identify it.  We see it as our personal truth that is highly specific and which we have known at some level much of our lives.   When and how we develop this mission is beyond my understanding at this point in time.

In contrast, our authentic purpose is what we do with that mission.  My mission is to use active love (being actively involved) to help others be the best possible versions of themselves.  I could do that from so many different vantage points:  stylist, coach, teacher, education designer or writer, counselor, nurse, etc.  So the way I direct my mission is also authentically mine and is reflected in my authentic purpose.

I say the purpose must be authentic, because if we’re approaching our mission from the needs, wants and desires of another, we’re simply trying to be someone we’re not (SWN) or inauthentic. Being SWN is exhausting and we are likely to set ourselves up for failure and dissatisfaction as we’re living our lives by someone else’s standards, values and strengths.

In contrast, living authentically tends to be energizing.  Add to that mix the pursuit of our passions, and then you have someone who is fired up and energized by their work.  I believe our authentic purpose is what Joseph Campbell calls our hero’s journey.  We set off to pursue our calling, fight monsters and demons along the way, but return victorious with the knowledge that was lost by our generation.

Since this area of authenticity and mission are on the edges of what is known in psychology,  I’m extrapolating somewhat based on the known literature and experience from my personal and shared journeys.  My own understand is still emerging, but I believe that many of us could benefit from identifying our mission and authentic purpose.  Not only am I enjoying my work and personal life more, but I am much more successful at what I’m doing now than what I was doing previously.  In addition, it has enhanced my spiritual journey in ways that I’m unable to describe.

What is your authentic purpose?  How did you find it?  What impact does it have on your life?  If you haven’t identified it, do you wish to?  Why or why not?