It is fall, and all I can do is obsess about my spring yard. Kismet’s old bassinet in the garage is laden with tulip and daffodil bulbs, tiny babies ready for planting.
My intention is for a meadow.
One of the gifts of COVID is that it has asked us questions about purpose – whether it’s our yards, our parenting or our jobs. The stripped-down nature of hours of Zoom calls and limited socializing has asked us to think, really think about how we want to be everyday. Even if we enjoy our work, many of us know where we’re at isn’t quite it - yet.
Finding true purpose is a tricky business. When Steve Jobs told us all, “Do what you love,” our impulse was to run outside, hands outstretched to the sky in freedom. But halfway to the door, most of us stopped and said, “Wait. What do I love?”
Recently, my family briefly mobilized to turn my 15 year-old niece into a lawyer. Pre-COVID, she was a star at mock trial, the only freshman on varsity. This quickly evolved into a possible summer internship with a judge, my brother’s childhood friend. My parents mused about where their granddaughter might to go to college - depending on the caliber of the pre-law programs.
I watched this all with discomfort. I wasn’t against lawyering, per se. But in my niece’s mock trial success, all I could see were the echoes of her eighth grade play where she lit up the stage. I wanted to tell her, “Stay creative! Stay open! Don’t get too pragmatic yet!” I saw my younger self in her: Smart, competent, eager to leap into the “real world” and dismiss the heart. When I poked around the subject, my niece told me she actually loved biology, but “you don’t make any money as a biologist.”
Our families, our society wants to put us on a linear track to something – anything! – that has a whiff of success. This is in loving support of us – and fear for our financial failure. We, catching the fear, allow ourselves to be funneled along. We are a culture obsessed with doing, after all, and stepping into the current of doing seems an easy feat.
Not surprisingly, the linguistic origin of “purpose” is “intention.” Intention itself comes from the Latin root “to stretch out”, and the Middle English term for “emotions and feelings.” By such heritage, our purpose is not a job we’re not yet doing. It is an emotion to amplify and stretch, it is a way of being in the world. As such, finding purpose is a lateral, creative pursuit, not a linear one. It is related to how we want to feel, not what we want to produce.
The good news is, we carry this feeling in our bodies. It is already right here with us. If we can BE more of what we already know to be our highest vibration, if we can feel that emotion more fully, the doing will follow.
Long before I became a coach, I was the Head of Strategy at a big agency. Instead of taking an office in the executive roost, I moved into a dark office on the ground floor near my team. The office had a built-in black desk that made a brutalist ¾ circle around the space like a flat, button-less control panel. Others that had sat in that office had decorated the excessive square footage with books, awards and neat displays of packaging for their clients.
In contrast, I ordered pillows and a large whiteboard for the office and invited my team in to use it as a collaborative creative den. We perched on the control panel, adjusted pillows and scribbled on the whiteboard in slippery red, green and blue markers.
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I had a feeling about how I wanted to be at work. It was looser, wilder and more communal than the process- and calendar-led agency culture.
Somewhere in the middle of this mood, I wrote on an orange Post-It and stuck it on my desk. It said “Guide.”
This Post-It became an echo of my future self. “Guide” now influences all that I do – most obviously coaching, but also parenting (my vision of motherhood is to hold the highest altitude for my son – it is in the being, not the doing), and modeling my own way in the world as a single, adoptive, self-employed parent and beginning gardener.
One of my favorite examples of an energetic purpose comes from a client. “I’m a writer who’s not writing,” she smirked wryly at our first session. She had worked writing digital ads for a big company. She had an idea for a memoir (“…that I’m not writing.”). All of the emphasis on doing (or not doing) had trapped her.
In her session we did a walkabout, dipping into her role as a mother, and as a student of Comparative Religion. We were opening up concentric circles of space and finally, we circled back to writing.
“When you think of a great day of writing – like, really see yourself in it, really feel it – what does it feel like?” I asked her.
“It feels like I’m in God’s energy,” she answered.
I practically bounced out of my seat at this. Here was an amazing purpose – an energy, a way of being that was directly connected to her writing, but not dependent on the doing of it. A way of being that also connected to parenting, with partnering, even with showing up to a day full of meetings at work. With these words, she had reconnected with something essential and expansive.
As proof, within a few months she had quit her corporate job. She was swimming in interesting freelance work, devoting more time to her daughter and graduate school. Her email update was full of exclamation marks.
When COVID hit, mock trial was cancelled along with the rest of school. Was my niece sad not to be doing her internship, I asked? “I actually started to feel really stressed about it,” she confessed. In the end, “It didn’t sound fun.” She’d found herself dreaming of biology.
As I was finishing this piece, my neighbors erected their sukkahs - outdoor tents with four walls and no roof - for the Jewish holiday of Sukkot. Sukkot celebrates the harvest, but also the end to the Jews wandering in the desert. A friend told me it is called “Our Season Of Joy” – the one holiday where joy is mandated. During the week, the night air was filled with low voices and gentle laughter late into evening. I kept thinking about the sukkahs in relation to seeking purpose. The “doing” is to sit within the small walls of your world and to be in joy... and to keep the ceiling open to the stars.