The Coach is In…

The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls.”– Pablo Picasso

Life Purpose

The ‘Vocation’ of My Life

I have been thinking about my “vocation;” how did I come to my life’s ‘calling?’  How does anyone come to their life’s calling?  Did I come to my life’s calling, or did it ‘come to me?

It is not uncommon to hear adults encouraging youth to follow their passion, to trust their feelings, to understand why they are here.  I guess this means that the many important answers to our life’s purpose are found deep within us.  No doubt the contemplation of ‘what is the purpose of my life’ is among the important questions to ask when we are trying to find purpose.  I am familiar with this journey.

David Brooks, in his book, The Road To Character, indicates that in our current culture organizing our lives like a business plan (taking inventory of your gifts and passions and then coming up with a plan to “organize your progress toward those goals”) seems to make sense if we are working from a position of personal autonomy.  He suggests, however, that perhaps there is a different set of questions to operate from: What does life want from me?  What are my circumstances calling me to do?

Brooks quotes Viktor Frankl (Frankl was a Jewish Psychiatrist in Vienna who, in 1942, was first sent to a ghetto and then on to series of concentration camps.  He went on to write the seminal piece on our subject (Man’s Search For Meaning).

“It did not really matter what we expected from life,” Frankl wrote, “but rather what life expected from us.  We needed to stop asking the meaning of life, and instead think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life – daily and hourly.”  Frankl concluded that fate had put a moral task and an intellectual task before him.  It had given him an assignment.”

Having read Frankl’s book, I understand the context in which it was written.  When I think about the ‘context’ of many people’s lives, I understand the notion that their very survival comes from understanding their circumstances and how to best ‘solve,’ or ‘deal’ with where they find themselves.

I grew up during the Cold War and the threat of nuclear annihilation. I was thirteen in 1964.  It was a decade of social revolution; full of a great deal of social unrest, violence, the assassination of key leaders, rock and roll, and a very unpopular war.  These were ‘our’ circumstances.

As a teenager, I was challenged with what ‘thinking’ and ‘action’ made sense.  I was, like most teenagers, absorbed with my ‘stuff.’  Yet, in the midst of our circumstances , individually and as a group, we were looking to find meaning.  Where do we fit in?  How do I make sense of all this chaos?  My belief is that the desire to find meaning is something we are born with.  We want there to be purpose to our lives.

When I think about the circumstances of Frankl’s life, and my own, I see an intersection asking “What does life want from me?  What are my circumstances calling me to do?  These are the macro questions born of the circumstances.  I am aware of those questions in my own life.  I am more aware, however, of the questions that are individual – “Why am I here?  What is my purpose?  What is my unique contribution?”

I believe Brooks sees these questions as being 180 degrees apart.  I’m not certain they are.  It seems to me that most circumstances, if not all, have an element that ask, “What are these circumstances calling me to do?”  Yet, in the midst of the circumstances, the greater question of my ‘calling’ festers.  What is the connection between what is occurring in my life, and what I’m uniquely built to respond to?

I have come to see these questions as ‘and’ questions rather than ‘or’ questions.  Our natural reflection of ourselves can/will lead us to what we are good at and what we enjoy doing.  Unfortunately, connecting the notion of “What are my circumstances calling me to do?” and “What are my passions, and my purpose?” takes some work and some maturity.  I believe we can connect the two, but my experience is that we start with ‘how I fit in’ before (perhaps long before) we make a larger connection to the needs that are around us and how they match with what we love to do and do well.

My other observation is that none of this is easy nor linear.  Our ‘search for meaning’ is full of exploration and experimentation.  The journey from “it’s a job” to “this is what I was built to do,” is full of ‘experiences’ – summer jobs, volunteer experiences, camp, education – things that stretch our thinking of ourselves and the world around us.  The journey to finding what we like and don’t like to study, to ‘do,’ who we like/don’t like, what we believe often takes us into our 20’s and beyond to understand and narrow what we like to do and are good at (our purpose).  For those that are most successful in finding ‘themselves,’ there is an attention and intention to reflecting on and pursuing more of the things that they were built to do which includes listening to the ‘inner voice’ and taking action.  My suspicion is that these are also the people that are more likely to connect the ‘circumstances’ around them with their unique ability to meet the needs of those circumstances.

There is at at least one more part to this exploration and writing.  In the meantime, what has your ‘search’ looked like?  Have you found your purpose?  How did you do that?  Any advice for others?  I’d love to hear from you.

To a better you…