The myth we tell ourselves about purpose

The myth we tell about Purpose

I have such a love hate relationship with the word purpose.

Such an emotionally heavy word, we attach so much meaning to having a purposeful life, a purposeful job, a purposeful relationship, it goes on until all I can think is that perhaps my purpose is to find my purpose (perhaps its hanging out in a bar waitlife-not-twerk-quote-pics-quotes-picturesing for me).

I remember when I was the CEO of a victim support group, people would remark that I had ‘found my purpose’, like it was something out there hidden to be discovered. I would nod and agree, desperately wanting to reassure them that I actually had some idea what my purpose was but actually the truth looked more like “I am in a job that I love right now, and when I stop loving it I will find another one that I love, and on that will go”.

Because thats just it… purpose is not some stagnant object that once found can be ticked off a list.  Its not ‘out there’ waiting for you (damn, I was slowly working my way through every bar calling its name).  Its not a destination that you arrive to and stop, and its certainly not a particular career.

The reality is that purpose is dynamic, and there are moments we’re really in the ‘flow’ of life, times when we’re living in awesome alignment to our values. And there are times when we feel like we’re losing our way, but to quote Chris Martin “just because we’re losing doesn’t mean we’re lost’.

Making the decision to resign from my CEO job was one of the hardest things I’ve done (yep, one of the hardest!)  I’d worked there for eight years, and loved it for seven.  In the eigth year, despite the fact that my career was at an all-time high, I didn’t feel connected to the work anymore.  I kept myself going by telling myself lies, that this was my ‘purpose’ but that sinking feeling in my stomach grew each day.

I asked a friend of mine, if I’m not the CEO of this organisation, if I’m not this crusader for victims’ rights, then who am I..?  Her response was beautiful. And in ten simple words she’d convinced me to resign:

“I dont know,” she said “but aren’t you curious to find out?”

The day I walked away from that job I realised that I decided what my purpose would be.  Not some random twist of fate, not a happy coincidence that I fell into the right job, and certainly not someone else’s notion of what it was I should be doing.

That was the day I started to worry less about ‘what’ I would be when I grew up, and started to care more about ‘who’ I was going to be.

Inspired by the beautiful TED talk from David Brooks

Living for your Resume or Eulogy?

Living for your resume or your eulogy?

Yes, I am addicted to TED Talks, but who can blame me?  In this stunning TED Talk, Columnist David Brooks discusses the work of Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, introducing us to our two internal ‘selves’.

(Watch David’s talk here)

One side (Soloveitchik name as Adam I) is concerned with accomplishment, status, recognition, success – whilst the other side (Adam II) is drawn instead to wisdom, exploration, creation, nurture, love and relationships.  Solovetichik, Brookes states, argues that we are in constant turmoil with these two sides of ourselves.  That we live in a society which feeds the ego, leaving us unable to articulate the needs of the soul, and creating an internal battleground which leaves us feeling exhausted and incomplete.

Despite everything I’ve learnt in life and everything I espouse to others through my seminars and workshops, I too struggle with balancing the needs of both of my “Adams”.

My Adam I is insatiable.  She is difficult to please and seeks out opportunities to prove her superiority.  In social groups Adam I is dominating, she name-drops and steers the conversation to topics where she is knowledgeable and confident.  Underneath this she is afraid.  Afraid of being caught out, of being ignored or misunderstood.  My Adam I is a hole and the more I feed it the deeper it becomes and repels others.

On the other hand, my Adam II is curious, genuinely interested in others and sees connections between people, places and causes.  She feels, is drawn to simplicity and is driven by a need to explore, discover and befriend.  My Adam II is a pasture, and the more I feed it the more it blooms and attracts others.

My Adam I is a boat bobbing in the ocean, highly visible and susceptible to the tug of a changing tide.  Whereas Adam II is the buoy which anchors us, she is unwavering and keeps us connected to the earth.

I am both Adam I and II, and wonder if happiness comes when the needs of both are met.