We have determined what we want our lives to represent, identified our core values, articulated a vision statement, and affirmed our mission. Let's continue on to discovering our purpose and setting goals!
Step five – What is your purpose? It is at about this point where we all sigh and say it all runs together! Think of the major components of the planning process this way: your vision (imagination) is the target or the house on the hill; the mission (action) is what you do to bring the vision to reality, and the purpose (motivation) is why you do what you do! The purpose is more of an emotional connection to mission and vision. We are building (action) the house (vision) for a (motivation) safe place to raise and love our family. The purpose is why we serve and often the inspiration for getting us out of bed every morning. When we lose sight of our purpose, we tend to flounder in a fog of dissatisfaction and seek pleasure through other means such as social media, shopping, alcohol, or any convenient distraction. Having a clear purpose is a component of living a meaningful life. Purpose motivates and inspires you to study your craft, to practice and eventually achieve mastery. After we have cultivated a clear purpose and are living it daily, life takes on an entirely new meaning fueled by a desire to serve and contribute. I have written many times about my father’s decades-long battle with depression. Depression (my belief) primarily stems from an inability to let go of the past, particularly mistakes or transgressions from the past. We become obsessed with the past and incapable of living in today. The opposite, anxiety and fear are mainly an obsession with the future. We worry and experience extreme strife about many concerns of which most (99%) will never happen.
My father was depressed for the better part of thirty years. He took every medication known to man for the treatment of depression and tried every therapy to resolve his state of lethargy. Many years after his retirement, he began to make wooden pen holders for veterans. He started going to the VA in Tucson, AZ every Wednesday to hand out his creations, thank the Vets, shake their hands and hear their stories. His depression is gone. He no longer takes medication. He has a purpose that makes his life meaningful and motivates him to get out of bed every morning. He has a service-oriented purpose that is icing on the cake because life is no longer all about him. It is a trite saying but “finding your purpose can save your life.” I have seen it first-hand. We need to serve others because when we don’t, we become overly obsessed with ourselves. When we become overly obsessed with ourselves, we become depressed or anxious, and that is no way to live.
To be clear, I am in no way diminishing the reality of these physical and emotional conditions. They exist, and they affect chemical production in the body. The reality is that depression and anxiety stem from an obsession with self and can be treated by getting out of our heads and serving others.
Step Six – We have identified what we want our lives to represent and how we want to show up…Now what? It is time to establish our goals. Goals serve to advance us toward our vision. They allow us to execute our mission and expand our ability to serve our purpose. A life well-lived is growth oriented. It is a progression. When we look back one, five, or ten years, we want to see our progress. I have often said, “We must strive to thrive.” Too often in the human journey, we struggle to get comfortable. When I get this or when I accomplished this, I will be content with my life. Then we get the object of our desire only to realize that we are no more content than before we had it. Our lives are lived in the trenches, not on the mountain top. We are the most alive and engaged when we are struggling to grow into who we need to be to reach the next level, and there is always another level!
Have you ever heard of “The Hero’s Journey”? Joseph Campbell realized that every story followed the same progression or pattern. The hero starts in his known world – Think Luke Skywalker on his planet at the beginning of Star Wars. He was with his aunt and uncle on the evaporator farm. Then there is a call to action – Luke discovers these droids and a hidden message. He doesn’t know what to make of it, so he seeks advice and in doing so finds OB 1 Kenobi. OB1 becomes his mentor. Luke then crosses the threshold into the unknown as he embarks on a journey with his unlikely companions, to save the princess and eventually the universe. Along the way, there are many struggles including the loss of OB1, capture, and near-death experiences. Finally, Luke (the hero) overcomes his doubts and summoned an inner strength and focus he was unaware he possessed to temporarily defeat the Empire. Luke returns to the known world a different person with confidence and a new vision for the future.
The hero's journey is the story of us as well. Our lives are a continual hero's journey when we are truly living. If we are living our life to the fullest (meaning we remain willing to get uncomfortable), we are living the hero’s journey. From grade school, we cross the threshold into the unknown of middle school. We struggled to fit in and get our bearings until eventually, this unknown world becomes our known world. Then we cross the threshold again when we transition from middle to high school, and then to work or college.
Depression and anxiety creep into our lives when we no longer are willing to cross the threshold. We are obsessed with staying in our known world. Comfort is all that we seek. We get our stimulation though entertainment instead of action-oriented living. We stop growing and stop progressing. Instead of pushing out of our comfort zone, we justify our situation by any means possible. It is our parents’ fault, my bosses’ fault, my family’s fault, the government’s fault and any other fault we can find. We take pills that will allow us to cope with our inability to cope. What we really need is to get off our ass and begin another hero’s journey. Stop being obsessed with staying right where you are and begin to live. We are meant to be challenged because that is how we learn to live. Every living thing seeks growth. How tall will a tree grow? As tall as it can, of course. Life = Growth. Stop seeking comfort and start seeking growth by adding value, and your life will never be the same. You will certainly have setbacks, but that is where true growth occurs. After a setback, you have another opportunity to take your abilities to the next level of growth or mastery.
Soon we will break down the goal setting process. For now, challenge yourself to push to another level by crossing the threshold. Get off the couch, put down your phone, and live. Aristotle taught us that the meaning of life is to live to our highest potential. Do the work to make the plan, and you will continually reach your next level of potential!