This time, maybe for the first time in my life, I had a plan. I had a precise objective, and not just some goal I came up with. It was a Big Hairy Audacious one.
“A true Big Hairy Audacious Gal (BHAG) is clear and compelling, serves as unifying focal point of effort, and acts as a clear catalyst for team spirit. It has a clear finish line, so the organization can know when it has achieved the goal; people like to shoot for finish lines.” – Collins and Porras, Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies
I love to envision the future, and for a while, I had been crafting this very special one about the next few years, finding ways to accomplish it. My thinking was very convergent for once in my life, and it felt great.
I wanted to become an academic, read and write and do some more research. I wanted to get my PhD, and teach about compassion and mindfulness to business students, because I truly believe that the future of management lies in an authentic leadership.
Confident about my wonderful plan, I had a talk with a professor which I respect very much, and told him about it, thinking he could help me achieve my goal. Things didn’t unfold the way I thought they would, as he told me I should take a break after my Master’s, get out there and experience a bit more, before coming back to studying and teaching. And he’s not the only one who thinks that way. Penelope Trunk, which I respect and admire a lot, also believes it should be a process of learning and doing.
“Grad school is all learning. It’s an imbalance that is not fair to you, and not right for you” – Penelope Trunk, Best alternative to grad school
I came back home even more excited. The possibilities were once again infinite, I had just gotten three more years to explore the vast world before going back to sitting behind a school desk all day.
Then it punched me in the face. Sitting at night, thinking, I started to get depressed. Because you know what? Never knowing is exhausting. We all want to be reassured, and are therefore looking for ways to find some certainty into this constantly moving environment. We want that certainty that we are going to be happily ever after.
Therefore, having an open mind, always thinking about all the alternatives, the exhaustive list of things you could do, is arduous, and exhausting. Divergent thinking is amazing when it comes to solving problems with creative solutions ), but what to do when your biggest issue is about what to do with your life?
Divergent thinking and your “purpose”
I do agree that one of the first steps when you want to bring a higher purpose to your life is to open up your mind to plenty of alternatives, breaking free from the stories you created about yourself, the multiple labels you’ve been given, and eventually even your past experiences if you do not related to them anymore. It’s all about giving you the chance to start with a blank canvas, and add on to it as many colors as you wish to. This is the moment to explore new paths, discover new possibilities, try new experiences. So go ahead, and dive in.
However, once you’ve been here exploring for a while, it might get overwhelming. At least it does for me. It’s hard to get the perfect balance between clarity and chaos, that “messy enough”, that will get you to create amazing projects for yourself. If you are looking for some inspiration, I do recommand you read this interview with Ed Catmull, the head of Pixar and an amazing intrapreneur.
Focusing on values and strengths to define your “life mission”
Eventually though, if you stick to it, you will find yourself attracted to some particular experiences, and will discover your signature strengths. You might feel like you need to get some things done more than others, because they are so linked to who you are, and your core values. That’s when we start building what will be our life mission, what we want to do on a daily basis, the work of our life, so that work is more than a job or a career. That special occupation that means more than a salary, that brings more than pleasure, that resonates with us.
Some call it a calling, others call it a purpose, but no matter how you define it, we are pretty much talking about the same thing: the existential question of “Why are we here?”
It’s not about religion, it might not even be about spirituality. But I do believe that it is not something that can be only thought through. We have to find meaning with our whole being, with our head yes, but also with our body and our heart.
“Work in the invisible world at least as hard as you do in the visible.” - Rumi
Countless ways to get to your final destination
The way you will define your life mission will impact the way you will envision success. Once I’ve realized that my mission was to inspire you to live the authentic, fulfilling and passionate life you deserve, using some of my top strengths which I believe are teaching and writing, it changed the way I invested myself with my family, my friends, at work, at school, and in the community in general. And when I do get confused, when my ego feels like taking over my heart, I come back to it.
It’s not a panacea though, because there are still many ways to achieve that life mission. That’s where I usually get confused. Should I teach happiness and authenticity in a classroom or in a yoga studio? Should I focus on spending more time with my family and friends or invest myself in some volunteering in the community? Should I work on some scientific research to learn more about joy or should I practice meditation and find my own answers?
These are all things I still need to figure out, but one thing I have to remember though is that there is simply no “should’s”. The only way to see if something works for me is to try it, take a risk, and invest myself into some carefully chosen options, even if everything seems so excited. Because better is better than more, and I cannot do everything at once. Choosing a few of these options instead of the whole package will definitely be more profitable on the long-term than trying to do it all.
There is no way of getting it “right” or “wrong”, no fastest way to get where I want to go, because where I have to get is right here, right now.
“There are a thousand ways to kneel and kiss the earth.” – Rumi