“Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.
Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.”
– “Dreams” by Langston Hughes
The passing of a loved one is an opportunity to face your own mortality; not to wallow in remorse or self-pity over a possible sad ending, but to examine one’s life, one’s purpose. If you were the one there in the deceased’s place, the one who had now passed, hearing your own eulogy, what would you hear? What would you want it to be? How far are you from living up to that now?
I asked myself these questions, and the answer was the most shocking of all – I didn’t know. I have been struggling lately, with finances, with my schedule and workload, neglecting my family and our shared goals. The love of my life, my husband Jason, had said something that rang true: I didn’t have a purpose. I let others run my schedule, frame my decisions, cutting my family out of the process. I was letting others run our life. Our life – not just mine – ours. I was being selfish through my lack of self-definition.
This has been a hard thing for me—I’ve always tried to please others. I waffle instead of standing my ground consistently. But, that approach is self-destructive and unfair to the people who depend on me.
We had just received news of the imminent passing of a dear friend and amazing man, George Clayton Johnson. There had already been a lot of loss and tragedy in the year. In addition to the horrific terrorist events, my father and grandfather both died, and even though I wasn’t on speaking terms with them, I mourned the loss of opportunity. They were never the people I wanted them to be… never could have been. But, I know that I can be the person that I want to be. This lead me back to the question – who is that person? Who do I want to be?
I realized that I had to stop reacting to life and take control of it. My wonderful husband had been telling me this for years, but I was too dense to get it. Somehow, through a moment of clarity born out of grief, I saw what he meant.
To this end, I did an online search, not really expecting much. Into the search box I typed “how to find my purpose in life”. Two results leapt out: http://thinksimplenow.com/happiness/life-on-purpose-15-questions-to-discover-your-personal-mission/ and http://www.stevepavlina.com/blog/2005/01/how-to-discover-your-life-purpose-in-about-20-minutes/
I took a notebook and went through the 15 questions. My answers are personal, but I’ll list the questions here for readers:
- What makes you smile? (Activities, people, events, hobbies, projects, etc.)
- What are your favorite things to do in the past? What about now?
- What activities make you lose track of time?
- What makes you feel great about yourself?
- Who inspires you most? (Anyone you know or do not know. Family, friends, authors, artists, leaders, etc.) Which qualities inspire you, in each person?
- What are you naturally good at? (Skills, abilities, gifts etc.)
- What do people typically ask you for help in?
- If you had to teach something, what would you teach?
- What would you regret not fully doing, being or having in your life?
- You are now 90 years old, sitting on a rocking chair outside your porch; you can feel the spring breeze gently brushing against your face. You are blissful and happy, and are pleased with the wonderful life you’ve been blessed with. Looking back at your life and all that you’ve achieved and acquired, all the relationships you’ve developed; what matters to you most? List them out.
- What are your deepest values?
Select 3 to 6 (See list of words to help you ) and prioritize the words in order of importance to you.
- What were some challenges, difficulties and hardships you’ve overcome or are in the process of overcoming? How did you do it?
- What causes do you strongly believe in? Connect with?
- If you could get a message across to a large group of people. Who would those people be? What would your message be?
- Given your talents, passions and values. How could you use these resources to serve, to help, to contribute? ( to people, beings, causes, organization, environment, planet, etc.)
After answering the questions, the article directed me to use my answers to create a personal mission statement. I was amazed at the clarity it brought to me. Here is what I wrote:
“To inspire people to dare to think differently, drop religion and wrong-headed beliefs, so that they change what they do so that they help solve problems facing the world.
To promote visionaries, past and present, so that their message is heard and others will learn from them (good things and mistakes), so that we can all positively impact the future for people, creatures, and the world.
To nurture my family so that we have a harmonious household, the creatures are happy and healthy, and Jason (my most important visionary) has a stable base from which to work his magic.”
I was surprised at how it came together. I saw what was important to me. I then moved on to the other article. I decided to just sit down and write my purpose. The article’s author, Steve Pavlina, instructs:
- Take out a blank sheet of paper or open up a word processor where you can type (I prefer the latter because it’s faster).
- Write at the top, “What is my true purpose in life?”
- Write an answer (any answer) that pops into your head. It doesn’t have to be a complete sentence. A short phrase is fine.
- Repeat step 3 until you write the answer that makes you cry. This is your purpose.
So I began. As I was writing, I was also listening to music.When I got half way down the page, a very special song came on. And I cried. Because I knew that what I was about to write was coming right from my soul:
“To add my voice, my light, to the dream, the vision of a better world, and to know that I did it without fear.”
Wow. I encourage anyone reading this to try these exercises. Do it and pay it forward. Then, look at what you are doing. Write goals that support your purpose. Set yourself up to accomplish them. Be the person you want to be. Don’t wait. Your dream deferred may never come.