By James Strauss
What are you doing? What are you doing with your life? The best definition of a personal mission statement is the answer to those two questions, and the cornerstone question of purpose.
“What am I doing here?”
The question of what is your purpose in life is one that should be asked not once, but periodically as you change, as your life changes.
It may sound simple, and even a bit idiotic, to attempt to distill all the complexities of life down into one answer to one possibly facetious question, but it’s not. Once, I sat at the end of a proverbial ‘dock of the bay’ in Port Townsend, Washington, with a man a whose beautiful, vibrant wife didn’t love him anymore. After twenty-seven years of marriage and over thirty in a relationship, she had filed for divorce. The man was at the end of the dock doing more than watching the ships go by; he was contemplating the end of his marriage, and in every way, what kind of a future existence he could have on the planet. He had two friends, a big wonderful dog, and me. He had no money, because he gave it all to her. He had a run-down motor home; I had paid a thousand dollars for, some ratty furniture, and nothing more. He was an artist of note in acrylic painting. But he’d given his entire collection to his wife. Theoretically as part of the divorce settlement, but in reality as a last ditch effort to convince her to stay. She didn’t stay.
I asked my friend the mission question. He had no answer except to be disgusted with my seemingly simplistic perspective in the face of the overwhelming complexity of his situation. A situation with little apparent hope, and which included the unspoken possibility of not continuing to live at all. The dog and I stayed close to my friend, at the end of that pier, well aware of the magnitude of the decision our friend was really making. Except for lapping waves and some wind across the water, silence took over that day.
“I’m an artist. It’s what I do. It’s all I can do,” my friend finally whispered.
He’d answered the question. We left that pier and went to work on defining what he needed accomplish in order to make his mission come alive and true. Today, seven years later, my friend is one of the premier artists of the northwest. He is remarried to an even more terrific woman, and lives in a multi-million dollar home on the shore of Puget Sound. How did this transformation happen?
Honoring his ability to create art, trusting his business acumen, and working to recover emotionally from the divorce were significant in recovering his life. But the key was defining, and reclaiming, his life’s mission, figuring out what steps were needed to achieve it, and then going to work to live up to it.
When we as humans have no mission, we become exactly like what is described in an ancient Chinese saying: “he who has no target, hits same.” So many American human’s retire, “get old” or merely fall off the social radar through a variety of circumstances (illness, injury, financial ruin, divorce, prison, and more). Life is not about encountering such difficulties and stopping, or giving up. Life is all about experiencing life’s challenges, and successes, and still moving on.
So many do not. Why?
Many do not because they never seriously ask themselves the question, or really think about an answer, or only ask the question once. The purpose of your life at 20 is rarely the same as when you are 50, or 70. However, if you cannot answer the question at any age, then your life has no meaning, or you have lost your purpose, and the ‘end of the dock of the bay’ decision becomes sadly relevant. Humans are not genetically set up to quit and stay quit. Retirees, throwaway wealthy people, and many other humans living on the fringe among us, prove this scientific fact. They die much sooner than others who’ve not lost their way. Ultimately, there is a use for everyone on the planet. If it is not the accomplishment of his or her mission, it is as fertilizer. Humans, properly ground up, dried and bagged make great fertilizer. Others can go on using their remains-experience-energy for physical, emotional and psychological sustenance, and support. That use is much more an elective than a requirement, however. It’s about making a decision of deliberation, rather than allowing accidental occurrences or serendipity to control life, or death.
My friend, who’s taken his answer to the question to fantastic heights, gives me more credit for what happened following that fateful visit to the pier than he does himself. He’s wrong. Advice is given all the time in our complex heterogeneous combination of cultures on this planet. The number of humans who can listen to advice, determine that it is good advice, and then act upon it, is small. My friend lives, having come through a long period of existing in rarified air. But he lives because of an epiphany he had, and then manifested through hard work, and that he did himself.
Do you have the ability, time, conditions and opportunity to sit at the end of your dock of the bay?
Will you ask yourself that vitally important question?
If you have, do you also have the determination and fortitude to lift your head up, and answer that question?
If you can, or will do that, then the objectives needed to accomplish your mission will appear almost of their own volition. Opportunity will knock, as it probably has before, but this time, with the illumination of your mission statement at the forefront of your mind, you will not only answer, but also embrace the opportunity. Life is a lot more about letting things happen, than making them happen. Life is a lot more about what happens inside human heads, before stuff outside ever occurs. If you are living a life of failure, ennui or you are simply under-utilized; go find a place to sit down. Sit down and ask yourself that very simple, but very vital question:
“What am I doing here?”