So the phone conversation I had yesterday morning: it was out of the ordinary for me, seeing as I don’t particularly like phone conversations, and, if I had my way, would have them only with Carrie and my mom – and that just because those two people insist on calling me and leaving messages until I give in.
But Paul, whom I worked with for a while up in Seattle, had been pestering me for weeks about “setting up a time to figure out [my] Life Purpose.” At first, I brushed off these advances. The Paul that I knew from work was intelligent, but sarcastic; good at delegating, but not at doing; and kind of a pain in the ass. I didn’t want him telling me what to do with my life – which I was sure would amount to him telling me to quit my job at the grocery store, as he long ago did himself.
I remembered, though, that he’d also been pushing this Life Purpose thing on a good friend of mine up there, and that she had also been skeptical, so I checked in with her to see what she thought. “The Paul thing is pretty cool,” she said. “It’s not very time-consuming, so it’s worth it.”
This is how I ended up in a conference call yesterday morning, with Paul and one of his partners, Bruce. The company they’ve started is a sort of life-coaching-meets-business-consulting deal, geared toward helping companies figure out how to best use the innate assets of the employees they have, and helping individuals, like myself, figure out how to make the best use of the lives we’ve been given. At least, that’s my understanding. Paul described the exercise we were about to do as a way of discovering my “core competencies and values,” claiming that for a given individual, regardless of the situation (professional, personal, philanthropic), “some high-level mothernode doesn’t change.”
The exercise consisted of three parts: first I would list off things associated with three concepts – angers, passions, and talents; then we would “distill them down to a unifying word or phrase;” then we would put that together into a statement. This statement, Paul explained, was my Life Purpose.
And so we began. As I, wearing a pink wifebeater-style tanktop and Ninja Turtle boxers, moved from the couch to my desk and then back again, I listed off things that make me angry, things that I’m passionate about, and things that I’m good at. The lists looked like this:
- people who don’t bale their cardboard
- saying “my friend and I” when “my friend and me” is correct
- pregnant women and their sense of entitlement
- mud-slinging in political campaigns
- people who, when visiting a foreign country, make no effort to communicate in that country’s language
- drinking tea
- going outside/going for walks
- talking and connecting with people one-on-one or in small groups
- writing and editing
- reading and writing
- connecting with other humans
- singing (kind of)
- baking (sometimes)
When we distilled the lists, we came up with, “I am angered by ignorance, selfishness, and dishonesty,” which, flipped into the positive, sounds more like, “I want people to take responsibility and ownership of their actions and themselves”; “I am passionate about sensory input and intellectual stimulation, as well as a desire to be productive” (we later changed “productive” to “gratified”); and “I am good at communicating and connecting with people.”
“Good,” said Paul. “Now we plug those things into a template, and come up with a statement about how you can use those passions and talents to effect the positive change described by your angers.”
But we never really came up with that statement. Paul tried: “I want to use my ability to connect and my desire to be productive in order to encourage people to take responsibility,” but it didn’t sound right to me. It sounded too political.
“Look,” I said. “If you had asked me, before we even started the exercise, what I wanted to do with my life, I would tell you that I want to divide my time between raising a family, writing, and doing something – whether working part-time at the grocery store, or, ideally, editing – to make money.”
This was the point at which soft-spoken Bruce, with his background in psychology and an unreliable phone, finally weighed in.
“Everything you’ve mentioned,” he said, “comes back to connection and engagement with other people – from writing to babies to relationships to drinking tea to taking walks. It sounds to me like you need to be doing something that allows you to form fundamental human connections, whether written or verbal.”
“So you want to be a writer,” Paul offered.
I laughed. “My eight-year-old self could have told you that! I started saying in third grade that I was going to be a famous writer when I grew up, but you know, life gets in the way of those dreams, and they’re not always realizable…”
“That’s the point of the Life Purpose Exercise,” said Paul. “Once you know your Life Purpose, then you can look at your actual life, and say, ‘This is what I need to do, and when I’m not doing it, I’m putting myself in conflict.'”
“Okay, fair,” I told him. “But I have a feeling you’re going to identify my day job as the main conflict here. And that’s just not practical. I need to make money, pay my bills. It’s all well and good to tell me I want to be a writer – I knew that already. But what about the how?”
“Well, we don’t usually go into the how in the first meeting,” Paul said. “We only have an hour, after all. Usually we would set up follow-up meetings to deal with the how – set some goals, make a plan.”
And so, we are penciled in for another conference call next week: same day, same time, and, most likely, same Ninja Turtle boxers.