To become fully productive and thoroughly enjoy what you are doing, it is important to pursue your purpose in life or your mission. This applies to both men and women. A mission is not a stage of development but a continuing set of activities with a common theme, enabling the expression of yourself in your work. Finding a mission in life is elusive, typically difficult, and also highly individualistic. Yet, finding and pursuing your mission is rewarding beyond belief.
Purpose, Meaning and Mission
By Martin Brossman
Finding your purpose in life is often thought of as something that will become clear at some point in the near future–like a delivery person coming to your door saying, “Sorry I am late, but here is your clear purpose in life–go live it.” In my years of working with people on this it has almost always been more like catching a glimpse of a shadow in the corner of your eye then working to remember that image and sculpt it into stone.
Years ago I told a good friend and mentor that I was afraid I might pick the wrong purpose in life. He replied. “Only a prince can dream of a castle.” He was so right, but it took years with many moments of insecurity and doubt to realize this was true. Finding your purpose is more an act of trial and error, noticing which actions truly light you up and then allowing life to move you or touch you enough to even know when you are lit up. It is also more about noticing when you are on your path and when you are off of it. I often use the tool of my imaginary scenario of passing over and being asked by God, “What did you do with the beautiful gift of life that I gave you?” Because the answer for many would be: “Well, I kept busy.” A humorous wake up to the profound loss we would feel with that response.
Instead of frantically searching for meaning, it seems more practical and elegant to simply select a mission and live from it for a while, and then evaluate how it needs to be changed or adjusted. It is a dynamic process, not an end point. Many of us are so driven that we can’t hear what we are called to do. You have to become conscious of your own “driven pattern,” and slow it down or step out-side of it long enough to find out what is calling you.
To get clarity on your mission here are two questions to ask yourself: “When you leave this world what do you want to be remembered for? And ” Are you truly in action on making that happen or do you have a lot of good excuses about how you are almost living your mission?.
If your mission is evading you, it could be that the image you have of yourself is not sufficient for the mission of your life. It is almost like you need to NOT be yourself– the person you think you are—but to be your true self. The identity is built for survival, not for living a fulfilled or fully expressed life. A human being just surviving is not a pretty sight.
A favorite example of mine is a female scientist who wanted to retire early and live in the mountains with her dogs. I asked her to “look back” at what she would like to have done with her life, and rather reluctantly she explored it. She discovered that she would have liked to have worked on creating sustainable food sources for third world countries, a mission essentially unrelated to her current position. I asked her to do some research on the new-found idea, while we simultaneously worked on her retirement plan. To her amazement she found someone virtually down the hall from her office working on a solution for crop destruction in third world countries, and made arrangements to work with them. She has now happily set aside retirement, enjoying her new fulfilling path—and met her new husband through the work!
Another big obstacle to uncovering our true mission can be our desire to: “fit in;” “be reasonable;” and “not make any waves.” We worry about “looking good” and “waiting for the right time.” Yet when you take into account the amount of unnecessary suffering and real suffering on this planet, there is NOTHING REASONABLE about truly creating a life that you love. Creating and living a meaningful mission today can be considered UNREASONABLE, in the good sense of the word. George Bernard Shaw expressed it (and forgive him for his use of the male pronoun): “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable man persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.” I invite you to be positively unreasonable!
Another favorite example is a woman, who after a devastating divorce and some health challenges that wiped out the rest of her money, was discouraged and working at a coffee shop. She had no confidence and felt she had no idea what her purpose or path next was. I discovered that some of the highlights of her career were when she taught modern dance and danced professionally for a while, but for health reasons she felt she could no longer do that. When describing either coordinating dance or dancing she became a different person, one with clarity and focus. She even stood up to demonstrate something as though she were compelled and could not help herself. Then she said “I would love to have that clarity now”. I suggested a new viewpoint, and in a remarkable turnabout, she reinvented herself by designing the world as a stage. Thus she gained the clarity and action to see what was next. I even got her to see the coffee shop as a stage and the younger people that were not so nice to her as great actors playing their part. Something then crystallized or clarified, and the new clarity was that she could teach yoga and now owns her own studio. She is loving what she is doing. Her life is now about beauty and strength in motion – an evolution from the dancing that she could no longer pursue.
The Elusive Mission
By Bruce Oberhardt
How does a person find a life-long mission or purpose? Is a mission truly a life-long pursuit? Does it unfold either rapidly or slowly from something else? When does it begin? When does one find it or recognize it?
I am a problem solver, and I have solved many important problems in the development of biomedical technology and in business, as well as in areas entirely outside of science and work. However, I believe my problem solving skill set is not directly applicable to finding a mission in one’s life. Perhaps this is because a mission in life is about one’s life, and life is not a problem to be solved but a series of realities to be experienced. Hopefully, as one moves through life, there will be many meaningful experiences, including interactions with other people, that will provide a path consisting of work or service that makes one happy and fulfilled – a joyful path.
This joyful path is the path that you will follow when you find your mission. You will be traveling down a new, yet familiar, road – one with a purpose. You may be very close to this road right now but not know it; or you may already be on it and not know that you are. Eventually you will feel the mission experience that is unique to yourself and that could evolve as your experiences evolve. It is like a connection of the dots that will provide fulfillment and joy in a way that perhaps nothing else can.
But once you have found it, how long will the mission last? That most likely depends upon you. It can also evolve in new directions, again depending on you and your experiences. You can try different things in the hope of finding your mission or transforming it. Perhaps it is best to not directly seek a mission or to change it when it appears but rather to let it evolve and/or just come upon you.
Sometimes the realization that you are on a mission will hit you like a sledgehammer. Sometimes, others will tell you what they observe. In the end, you will know.
We would love to hear your views in the comments below.
By Martin Brossman and Bruce Oberhardt