The title of my talk today, “Living on Purpose,” comes from a childhood memory of sitting at the dinner table and spilling my milk. That seemed to be a regular, major event in my life and I would always cry, “I didn’t do it on purpose. It was an accident!” Well, sometimes when I have been knocked down again by life I want to say, “I didn’t do it on purpose. It was an accident!” And that is the problem. My life is happening by accident. If I lived a life planned to be consistent with my purpose, life would be better.
I remember leading a life filled to the gills with work, more work and then the things that I needed to do in between the times of work. This was exciting for awhile, but eventually it became just a very busy routine. Life was like a giant merry go round and I did not even know it. I could relate to the character in the book The Soloist, by Mark Salzman,who says, “That’s what my life has been since high school--boring, more boring, and then on the weekends a little less boring.”
In the pace of today’s world, it is easy to get caught up in the flow of life and live life by accident--to do whatever is in front of us. Life is so fast paced and filled with stuff that we are overwhelmed by the flow and we lead a reactive life. Instead, we could be leading a proactive life in which our days would be filled with purposeful activities which we have chosen.
The nineteenth century Polish poet Cyprian Norwid wrote, “To be what is called happy, one should have (1) something to live on, (2) something to live for, (3) something to die for. The lack of one of these results in drama. The lack of two results in tragedy.” Lives in our culture can easily reach the level of tragedy.
If boredom does not get to us, then change and instability will. We no longer can stay in the same pattern of living for our whole life. Life changes too quickly and too often. We live in a society wherein change and instability have become hallmarks. Change no longer necessarily comes through choice. We get laid off, downsized, divorced and uprooted more often than ever before.
We also have many more choices open to us. Job changes are more usual with a mobile workforce. We can decide when and if to get married. We can decide when and if to have children. Some days the choices seem endless.
This combination of choice and external change leads us to a life which is often in transition. The stable life of the Cleaver family from “Leave It To Beaver” fame no longer exists. And life in transition is turbulent and stressful. It takes us to places where we get stuck and lost. We need a compass to get out. Our life purpose is our compass.
What is a purpose? It sounds like one of those mystery words, but it really is a simple concept. A purpose is a reason for being. It’s as simple as that. A reason for being. It seems difficult because we are not accustomed to working with purpose. We are accustomed to having our lives governed by whatever pops up in front of us or whatever feels good. We are a feel-good society. If and when we have the time to break out from the routines, we look for quick hits and light-bulb joy. But these do not last. We need a sense of purpose and meaning which will root us in our deepest values. It is there that we will find true happiness and satisfaction.
We need a purpose because without one we will get stuck and lost. This is happening to people of all ages, in all stages of adult development.
In “City Slickers,” Billy Crystal’s character, Mitch, is stuck and lost as a salesman of commercial time on a radio station. In his own words, he “sells air.” His view of the stages of life is very funny but at the same time it has a strong ring of truth for us. Many of us worry that our futures will be spent in a wasteland, without purpose and meaning, because we see our present lives in that state.
The 61 year old public relations man from the first reading today faces for the first time the thought of managing his life beyond age 65. He had never thought about it. Life had been too busy. Most of us will face this same issue. The average life expectancy in 1920 was 53 for men and 54 for women. Today it is 74 for men and 81 for women. And if we make it to age 60, and the great majority of us will, it jumps to 81 for men and 84 for women. That is almost a 50% increase over 1920, about 30 years. We are leading longer lives than ever before. Will those years be reactive and empty, or will we fill them with purpose and meaning?
Purpose is not just a mid-life issue or just a retirement issue. It runs through the entire path of adult life. Young adults getting out of high school and college are also stuck and lost. Everyone needs to pay attention to purpose, but particularly people in transition: the unemployed, the mid-lifer, the empty nester, the survivor of major illness, the divorced, the retired, and the widowed. These times of transition are the most critical times for us to tap into the creative energy of purpose.
What is your purpose? Ah, that is a difficult question. That one really stumped me. At some point a few years ago I realized that my life had no purpose. I had known it years earlier on some level. I used to ask one of my law partners, “Is this as good as it gets?” Eventually, I became sick and I stopped working. Later, when I was feeling better, I was ready to get on with my life. I was not working, but I had an income, and I had what looked like the ideal situation. I could wake up in the morning and do whatever I wanted to do for the whole day. Wouldn’t you like that? Sounds good, doesn’t it? Doesn’t it sound like complete freedom, the freedom to do any thing you want?
It was awful. I would go from one activity to the next using as a yardstick what would make me feel good. Sure, for awhile it was great. But eventually, repeating the same feel good measures no longer felt good. And sometimes I could not decide what to do. Should I read a book or eat a jelly donut? Which would make me feel better at that moment?
The answer was neither. I could produce a short term hit, but I could not produce happiness and satisfaction because my activities were not tied to the power source of purpose.
During this time I was searching for some answers. I knew that the way I was living was not working. I came across the writings of David K. Reynolds who has a program called constructive living. Reynolds said that if you knew your purpose, then you would know what to do next. I thought that I had finally been saved. This made sense to me, because I had been wandering around not knowing what to do next. So I went looking for the chapter in his book about finding your purpose. I could not find it. I checked the index. I followed up every reference to purpose. Well, it must be in one of his other books. It was not. I knew that I needed to find my purpose but I did not know how to start to look for it.
Do you know your purpose or purposes? I generally use the word in the singular for convenience, but recognize that we all can have many purposes. I am going to make it easy for you, as it was made easy for me. I am going to give you a list. This list was developed by Frederic Hudson of the Hudson Institute of Santa Barbara, California. It is a great list and it will be available to you today after the service.You will have sixty four purposes to choose from. I am going to ask you to choose only ten of these as the purposes which will be important for you during the next year.
Let’s take a look at some of the items on the list:
· living in the present
· being committed to a significant other
· following my dreams
· faith: trusting beyond myself
· bonding, caring and relating
· inner peace
· reforming the world
· being a volunteer
· appreciating beauty and wonder.
You even will have a couple of blank wild cards. If you have a purpose which is not on the list, add it as a wild card.
So that is how you will easily be able to find your purpose. But do you care? Why would you want a life filled with purpose? A life full of purpose is a life full of energy and passion. If we can tap into our current purpose, we will have a vast power source within us. Purpose is our compass to lead us to passionate destinations which we have chosen. In the words of Mary Catherine Bateson, it will lead us to “horizons in shades of blue we have not learned to name.” I love that image -- “horizons in shades of blue we have not learned to name.”
How do you find your purpose? The list will help a lot. But what you really have to do is to stop doing, take some time out and listen. I recently received a card from a friend which said, “When the heart speaks, take good notes.” So get in touch with your heart, your soul, your spirit and listen. I believe that all of the answers are inside us if we just take the time to listen. The answers may not come all at once, but they will come when we are ready to hear them.
So now you are all set. You have your purposes and you know what to do next. What will you do next? You need to connect some activities, some action steps, to your purposes. It is nice to have purposes, but if they remain abstract they are wasted.You need a plan to build the mosaic of your future.
I suggest that you write down one action step for each of the ten purpose statements which you have chosen. Let me give you some examples.
· For “living in the present” maybe you want to notice the sky each day.
· For “being committed to a significant other” you could schedule a weekly date night with your partner.
· For “following my dreams” you could start that new business that you have always wanted or maybe take that trip to Alaska.
· For “faith: trusting beyond myself” maybe some sort of daily reflection would work.
· For “bonding, caring and relating” you could make a phone call to a friend or relative with whom you have not spoken recently.
· For “inner peace” yoga twice a week would help
· For “reforming the world” send one letter to a senator or run for senator. Whichever one suits you best.
· For “being a volunteer” read the newspaper weekly for volunteer opportunities
· For “appreciating beauty and wonder” adopt a plant and try not to kill it.
Most of these actions steps which I have listed are small steps. It is important to choose steps which we will be able to accomplish. All big changes start with small steps. Mother Teresa said, “We do not great things, we do only small things with great love.” This provides us with a good motto for this purpose work. Do small things with great love--love for others and love for ourselves.
Living on purpose requires a new orientation to life. It requires that we follow that compass of purpose. You may be skeptical about your ability to change. I know that I was. I used to tell any one who would listen that people do not change. I now know that is not true. I have seen too many people make changes and launch dreams which they never had dared to dream before. There is a security in continuing to live out the patterns of the familiar past. But a refusal to change leaves you stuck in the past and you lose the future. And more importantly, if you do not believe in your ability to change, you diminish your capacity for hope. And I believe that hope is the most important ingredient in a happy and satisfying life.
Living on purpose is about composing a life of hope. It is about staking a claim to our part of the future. Reuben Alves said “Hope is hearing the melody of the future. Faith is to dance to it.” We can place hope in our lives and compose the melody of the future by living on purpose, instead of by accident. Creating our vision of the future, and courageously changing our lives, is faith. May we all have faith in ourselves, in others, in God, in the Spirit, in the Mystery, so that we all may dance with hope to the melody of the future.
1. living in the present
2. working with a team or group
3. using my skills and abilities
4. bonding, caring and relating
5. faith: trusting beyond myself
6. using my creativity
7. being committed to a significant other
8. having close friends
9. being generous and service oriented
10. trust in the flow of things
11. having alone time
12. dreaming and being visionary
13. being self-confident
14. being free and independent
15. having career satisfaction
16. being a friend
17. obtaining new training and learning
18. feeling my work really counts
19. following my intuition
20. being spiritual
21. eliminating sexism
22. environmental caring
23. being a caring sibling
24. being a close family
25. being in a position of authority
26. having adventure and excitement
27. working for racial justice
28. inner peace
29. leaving the world a better place
30. following my dreams
31. following my bliss
32. playing and being playful
33. sex and sexuality
34. being in front of the crowd
35. being a potter to my own clay
36. feeling my life counts
37. reforming the world
38. reverence for life
39. finding inner wisdom
40. just having fun
41. traveling and seeing the world
42. prefer flow and spontaneity to structure
43. finding more safety and protection
44. working for world peace
45. being a volunteer
46. finding wholeness and integration
47. having a meaningful love relationship
48. reaching goals
49. living on the edge of my abilities
50. alleviating world poverty
51. ability to forgive
52. kindness and love
53. feeling connected to all things
54. appreciating beauty and wonder
55. more freedom in my life and work
56. owning a fine home
57. having new and unique experiences
58. having good health
59. working toward diversity
60. active in church or religious group
61. loving my inner child
62. more recognition