Last week I picked up a book that has been on my bookshelf virtually unread for over 15 years. It’s a book that has reportedly sold over 35 million copies worldwide—A Purpose Driven Life:What On Earth Am I Here For by Rick Warren.
I remember being very excited to read the book when I first got it. It’s title spoke to the very question that still nags at me. Yet I was disappointed that I wasn’t called to get more than a couple of short chapters into it. The language didn’t resonate with me and I was intimidated by it. The book is filled with scriptures from the Bible. While I certainly believe in God, evangelical teachings have always felt foreign to me. Yet as I am experiencing now, there’s much that can be learned from those who speak a different language. I just need to have the strength to stretch out of my comfort zone.
I am going to finish this book this time. Because despite the language barrier, I do resonate with its core message and its guide to how to pursue your purpose.
The Lesson is Available When You’re Ready to Learn
I picked this book up again two weeks before my 61st birthday. I’m feeling like I’ve got to get to living with purpose because time is running low. I don’t want to get to the end of my journey here feeling any regrets.
The reality is that I have a good idea of what I am here on Earth to do. Yet I forever hold myself back. Not giving myself permission to pursue my passion. Not making purposeful activities a priority. Not allowing myself to shine. Holding steadfast to the known.
Yet Pastor Rick Warren has taught me that it’s my obligation to the force that created me to fulfill my purpose. To recognize that the unique talents and characteristics that I was born with were given to me for a reason. I now feel compelled to make my creator proud. To have him/her see the manifestation of what he or she visioned for me.
I figure that it’ never too late to live a life well lived.
Here it is Thanksgiving week and I had planned on being in a quiet neighborhood in a suburb of Chicago visiting my in-laws. Instead I’m at home looking out the windows at the grey air that has been a constant reminder of the worst wildfires in California history.
My husband and I had plans to fly out yesterday, Sunday. Yet when we returned home from another family event late Saturday afternoon, a virus that had been raising its head earlier in the week suddenly returned with force. Luckily I don’t get ill often, so when a bug hits me I know it. I had been dodging this one all week, yet I thought I could continue to keep it on the low and usher it out without fanfare. I went to bed early on Saturday night hoping that I’d wake up in the clear in the morning.
I woke up early on Sunday morning feeling feverish, with the mild sore throat I’d been fighting seemingly moving into my ears. I didn’t feel the motivation to leave my bed, let alone hoof it through the airport and endure a 5-hour flight. My worst fear was what the aftermath might bring. I couldn’t imagine that such a journey in my condition was the recipe for feeling better. So we made the decision to cancel.
It felt very weird to realize that our plans for the week had been completely turned upside down. We weren’t going to hang out and cook at Dean’s parents’. We weren’t going to take the train to visit museums in Chicago. We weren’t going to be gone. We were going to be at home without a single plan or commitment for the week. I don’t know why, but the sudden change in plans felt overwhelming to me. And I longed to feel right again.
Finding Purpose in the Change of Plans
Dean and I talked in bed for a good couple of hours before making the phone call to his parents. I always look to see the purpose behind everything that happens. What came up for me was that now with a wide-open schedule during a holiday week that lifted most of our business responsibilities, we’d been given the opportunity to focus on what we want to create with our lives. This, at a time when it is unhealthy to do what we would normally do in mild weather, simply go for walks and enjoy the outdoors.
I’m looking at our blank slate as an opportunity to set a new vision, not only for the week, but for the weeks and months to come. The beauty in this is that I know that this is exactly what we need right now, a time and environment from which to recalibrate. As much as we both know we need to, we would never have taken the time to clear the slate on our own. My mother’s comment: “It wasn’t meant for you to go.”
“It wasn’t meant for you to go.”
Today I graduated from an upright position in bed to my desk in my home office, clothed in warm layers and my favorite leopard slippers. Unless I have a setback, I imagine myself leaving the house tomorrow. I plan to be moving on.
This afternoon I had a luscious time sitting on my deck in the delightfully warm sunshine. My husband was out car shopping and I had the afternoon to myself. I was feeling mellow after an intense morning workout that zapped my body of energy. I thought that maybe I would pick up the drawing pencils I hadn’t touched in a couple of years. Or maybe take out my beading container that has been buried in the closet for the last three. The beading won out. Yet as I opened the container to get reacquainted with my beads I realized that my heart wasn’t into it. As I pondered the idea of drawing instead, it occurred to me that the beading and the drawing suddenly seemed like distractions that I’d created to keep myself from focusing on what I really love to do. Write about life.
Switching gears, I brought the journal that holds notes I’ve made while attending inspirational retreats and conferences out to my deck. Flipping through the pages reading my notes energized me. In particular were words from Caroline Myss that I jotted down from a day-long conference I attended in San Francisco a dozen years ago.
“Asking questions about life’s purpose stimulates movement.”
How often do you wake up to the day and ask yourself questions about the purpose of your life? I am someone who thinks about purpose quite a bit. I believe that I have a purpose, that you have a purpose, and that every event that unfolds is meant to guide us closer towards expressing our purpose. But in order to be guided, we have to be paying attention. I don’t know about you, but that’s where I often fall down. I am often asleep at the wheel of life.
“Approach each day with the expectation that it will be full of messages for you personally. Look at life symbolically. Look for larger and deeper meaning in any event.”
I love this philosophy and believe it to be the key for living a deeply meaningful life. But it intimidates me. Where do I begin? How exactly do I do this? How do I stay the course?
I remind myself that I have been intimidated by many things over the course of my life that I have later come to manage quite well. These things range from losing weight and developing a running regimen to learning Google Adwords and building websites. I remember that these things seemed overwhelming the first few times I tried, but I succeeded as I persevered. What it takes is intention and commitment.
“We must discover our unique gifts and then choose the way we will use them to be of service.”
I personally don’t think most of us have a problem in discovering our unique gifts. Is it fair to say that most of us know what we’re good at and what brings us joy? The hard part is figuring out how to make a living sharing these gifts.
Yet how many of us have asked for guidance to get to the answer? I know that I do once in a while, yet I’m not consistent. For all I know, the answer has been presented to me six ways from Sunday, but I’ve not been paying attention.
Late last week I discovered a lump on the back of my 15-year old cat underneath her coat. I was shocked. I pet Sarah many times a day and the lump seemed to come out of nowhere. I’m almost always convinced that everything is going to be fine yet this worried me. I told my fiance what I discovered and he said that he had just noticed the same thing.
First thing the next morning I brushed Sarah’s coat with my fingers searching for the lump. It was still there but it seemed like the size had subsided. I let that be my reassurance that maybe it was just a bug bite and things were on their way to getting back to normal. I went through this process and thinking for three more days before I reckoned that the lump was still there and I better get it checked out.
This morning Dr. Eva took a sample from Sarah’s lump. Dr. Eva looked at the sample under a microscope and saw that there were many cells in it. My probing enabled me to learn that this meant it probably wasn’t a cyst or an abscess, but probably some kind of abnormal cell growth. The sample is off to a pathologist and I’ll know more in a day or two.
Like I said, I’m usually a very positive thinker yet having gone through the heartbreak of losing my last cat to lymphoma, I couldn’t help thinking about what I would do and feel if the news was not good.
I went about the business of my work for the remainder of the day with thoughts of Sarah flowing in and out of my mind. While considering the worst possible outcome–a malignant cancer–I found myself feeling frantic, like what will I be able to do to fix it–to get her healed?
Somehow later I was led to a different perspective that has given me a sense of peace. It is one that recognizes that Sarah arrived on this planet with her own journey to experience. However her life is to play out is her journey. My job as the person who has loved and cared for her for most of her life is to support her on her journey in all the best possible ways I can.
As someone who believes there is a purpose behind all that happens, I recognize there is a purpose in Sarah’s lump. Whatever happens is not about me and my life, but rather what is being called for her life. And I’m going to be right by her side however she needs my support.
I’ve been thinking about how I can apply this to my relationships with others — less emphasis on trying to make them better in whatever way I think they’d be happier to just giving support to the condition they’re in.
I had been thinking about re-launching—or more appropriately, resurrecting—my personal blog for weeks. I’d been on hiatus for four years while consumed with getting my marketing business sturdily off the ground all the while becoming increasingly aware that my life was out of balance. I knew that I needed to add a focus that feeds my soul and keeps me in touch with the experiences of life. I don’t want to end up feeling that my life has passed me by.
The sadness of last week’s tragic death of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman lingered with me for several days—far longer, frankly, than I would have expected for a man whose work I honored yet didn’t follow closely. The thought that has stayed with me is just how delicate the human experience is on so many levels. How easy it is for us to observe someone else’s life on the outside and think they have it made yet have no clue about how much they may be suffering on the inside.
As I tried to process my emotions in response to this event, I recognized that I wanted to learn more about what was touching me. Isn’t this really the experience of life—truly feeling what gets thrown at you day by day?
For decades I have heard my mother’s voice uttering, “Everything happens for a reason.” I do believe this is true. Yet how can it be true for just the big things? I believe that everything—big or small–that happens every day is an opportunity to be looked at to lead me or you to do something new or different.
So while I was in a state of wanting to explore my responses to life on a deeper level, I had a very mundane event occur that I looked at as guidance to return to my personal blog. Thank you, Sheila, from Dublin, Ireland for following my dormant blog the other day. You motivated me to get back out there. Hopefully my digging for meaning will make some kind of a contribution.
I have just returned from BookExpo America (BEA), the book industry’s annual event held this year at the Los Angeles Convention Center, where I went to promote the debut of my book, Inner Architect: How to Build the Life You Were Designed to Live. I expected the experience to be one of value, learning, and building relationships. What I didn’t expect was to discover what occurred to me while I mentally noted the highlights of the event during our final day. As I focused on these highlights, I saw a common thread that weaved throughout the launch of my book that would have totally bypassed my consciousness had I not stopped to casually review. I believe this common thread provides a direction for me that I would not have taken seriously had the energy of life not have shoved it in my face.
I’d like to share my clues and my perception of the guidance they provide, and then invite you to look at recent, or not so recent, events in your life where there might be direction sitting there for you.
Clue #1: My company, inner architect, published the book using a standard off-set printer who specializes in the book industry. Upon our request for production samples, the printer we ultimately chose sent us two books published by Hay House. I didn’t think anything more about this at the time than the printer wanted to promote that they had a well known, prestigious client.
Clue #2: Louise Hayauthor and founder of Hay House, happened to be autographing books in the Hay House booth at BEA while my partner, Dean and I walked by. Dean took my bashful arm and led me to stand next to him in the line to meet Louise. When it was our turn to greet her, Dean introduced me and thanked her for the inspiration she provided to us to launch our publishing company. Once again, I didn’t take this for anything more than shear luck of being in the right place at the right time to meet Louise Hay, a woman I respect and honor for her contribution to the human development movement.
Clue #3: Later that day at BEA we stopped to talk with a man promoting international distribution services. We proudly showed him our new book and he responded with a comment about it being along the lines of what Hay House publishes. He went on to tell us that a company that had recently lost the Hay House account would likely welcome something to replace it. I felt encouraged by his comment, yet didn’t see the meaning in this exchange until I put all three of these clues together.
My interpretation of these clues: I was led to look at a woman who I deeply admire as a model for my own work in a way that I had never considered on my own.
What to take away from my experience:
Look at the events that unfold in your life as having meaningful messages for you.
Take the messages that you interpret seriously, even if they seem grander than visions you’ve created for yourself.
Trust that these messages are meant to lead you in the direction where you will find the most fulfillment.
Believe that you are capable in carrying out these messages and commit to doing the steps that will see it through.
My current task of coming up with a logo for my new personal development firm, inner architect has brought me to probe a number of questions that I don’t often think about. I’m sure I’m not the only one who spends more time thinking about what I am going to wear than reflecting on these questions that address life at the very core. I wanted to toss them out to give you something to chew on:
How do you want to be remembered?
What ideals do you represent?
What image would you pick to represent who you are?
Do your choices and actions align with that image?
Don’t be afraid to let yourself be guided by the dreams and visions you have in your heart. These dreams represent your potential, who you truly are at your core. The fact that you have these dreams is evidence that they are attainable, even if they seem too good to be true.
What if something really does feel too good to be true?
Ask yourself one question. Is it too good to be true for anybody, or just too good to be true for you? This is an interesting question, isn’t it? Why should any idea be too good to be true? There is something about being human that leaves us wide open to questioning whether we are good enough. Why is it that we can muster up so much more worthiness for our family, friends, and neighbors than we can for ourselves? Just like we need to believe that we can reach something before we stretch our arms for it, we need to believe that we are entitled to something before we dare to begin to take the steps toward it.
Steps to conquer the fear of not being good enough:
Look at yourself with compassion from the inside out and ask, what is really not good enough?”
Look at your intention. Is it to do something that is good for you and your fellow man? Is so, ask what’s not to be good enough?
Don’t compare yourself to others. Allow yourself to see that you bring your own unique gifts and experiences that make you different.
Remind yourself that when you are being who you truly are, you are way more than good enough. You are in your right place. The process of getting from Point A to Point B may feel like it pushes your buttons of competency, yet that’s very different from your being good enough.
Remember than absolutely nobody is perfect. Life itself is meant to be an experience that we learn and grow from.
You cannot discover your purpose unless you think you can.
Try to let go of the idea that discovering your purpose has to be hard. Replace it with the idea that discovering your purpose is simply a matter of tuning in and paying attention to who you are, what you love and what is important to you.
Tip: Pay attention to activities that give you tremendous joy.
Have you ever noticed how happy you are when you are doing what you really enjoy? Take a minute to think about what it is that really makes you feel alive.
Is there something that, when you’ve just finished spending some time doing it, you get so conscious of the joy it’s brought you that you tell yourself that you’ve just got to find more time to do it?
Is there something that you lose yourself in, that there never seems to be enough time to get your fill?
Is there some wild hair idea that floats in your mind that just won’t go away?
People have shared this thought with me about teaching children to play tennis, providing foster care for abandoned dogs, making furniture for the home, and providing deep sea fishing excursions for stressed executives. The list goes on and on.
Tip: Don’t judge or try to measure the value of what your heart wants to do. Just listen.
This weekend I completed a project that had been a priority for almost two months. I should have been utterly delighted because in its completion I was sending it to someone who had expressed an excited interest in possibly helping me to take it to the next level. Yet yesterday, upon my return from getting it out into the overnight mail stream, I recognized that having it finally off my plate had left me feeling a bit lost. When I climbed into bed last night, my boyfriend, Dean, helped me to get in touch with what was going on. I had temporarily lost my sense of purpose. I had mistaken this project, which I see as a means of expressing my purpose, as the purpose itself.
What came to me this morning is that purpose is just as much about the little things as it is the big projects. While I knew this intellectually, sometimes I have to experience a lesson that reminds me to feel it in my heart. And this morning I was led to that perfect experience when I received two emails from people asking for my input about issues that affected their happiness. I felt a true sense of purpose in these one-on-one exchanges.
In her work, Sacred Contracts, Caroline Myss talks about the challenges we have in seeing our purpose unfolding because we’re so focused on the past and the future that we can’t clearly see what’s happening in the moment. It’s when we look at everything that comes across our path as contributing to our purpose, that we can begin to see where we are in the journey. Everything has a purpose. Even feeling lost has a purpose. It forces you to take a look at where you are.