Taking Back Purpose and Happiness
Travel has a way of allowing for lots of personal reflection. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons I enjoy it so much.
At any rate, travel is also the reason why things here have been rather quiet, of late.
Just a quick update (then onto the topic at hand):
- Dan and I went to Houston in mid-February for America’s Classic, a West Coast Swing conference/competition. (Did you attend?) I enjoyed a few workshops, and Dan was able to take advantage of workshops and social dancing. He also competed in their Jack and Jill event, and although he might not have placed where he wanted to, I was immensely proud of him. It’s wonderful to see him able to dance in a competition when just a few months ago, he was hesitant to dance in public. The weekend away was also an opportunity for some bonding time. However, with my crazy work schedule (I had to work remotely for the first day of the conference), and the fact that neither of us got a decent night’s sleep (dance conferences appear to be set up where most of the activity is at night), we also had a few intense conversations and short tempers. It was worthwhile though – we needed some uninterrupted time to talk through some things.
- Immediately after Houston, I left for Anchorage with my boss for a week. We conducted focus groups for a client. Anchorage was unique – it had a very frontier feel to it, but was also quaint and beautiful in a way. My memories are flooded with the constant sensation of bitter cold (for most of our time there, the temperatures were between -15 to 0 degrees F), and delicious seafood (I had amazing calamari, halibut and rockfish). I also enjoyed having access to a heated pool – those of you with back issues take note: heated pools = heaven.
- And then a few days after returning from Anchorage (oh did I mention it would’ve been a day or so shorter, except we got stuck trying to fly out through Seattle due to their massive snow storm that week), I packed my bags and headed back to NYC for my lawsuit. It was a quick trip, and surprisingly NYC was mild for this time of year (50s F and rainy), but I was able to reconnect with Yang, and Stacey, two of my dearest friends, and purchase some well-made ballroom dance shoes which I hadn’t been able to find in Austin.
So, there’s been quite a bit of travel in my life recently, and I’m thankful for it for many reasons, such as:
1) because I love traveling and
2) because (as I mentioned above) travel always seems to provide the ideal venue for self reflection/contemplation
A few months back I was perusing the shelves of a Half Price Books nearby (a favorite hangout, by the way), and came across a book called The Power of Purpose: Creating Meaning in your Life and Work by Richard Leider. I’m a regular reader of the pop-psych/self-help genre (surprising, I know), but usually I avoid any publication with the mention of life purpose, 3, 4, or 10 traits to success, or the like. It seems gimicky to me, and furthermore, “purpose” and “success” appear so broad.
Well, this time, I took a second look, and bought The Power of Purpose.
It joined the (ever-growing) pile of books by my bed and has actually been on a handful of trips with me in the last few months. I pack it alongside a novel with the idea that maybe I’ll thumb through it. Maybe.
On my trip to NYC I knew I’d have time to myself on the flights and in the hotel room each night, and I decided to really make an effort towards investigating The Power of Purpose. I’m so glad I did.
Leider is a counselor/life-coach and uses the book as a medium for demonstrating how to find your own life purpose through the telling of how other individuals found theirs. I have yet to finish the book, but I read the first few sections and there was an idea that really struck me:
But not pure hedonistic pleasure; the idea that happiness is a self-project.
This idea did not grasp me right away but became very clear the day after I returned from NYC.
Here is the gist: Leider discusses how often times individuals feel “purpose-less” because they are waiting for life to hand them, or show them, what they are “supposed” to be doing; what their “calling is.” He argues that such an approach is not only passive, but unlikely to lead one to what they seek. Instead, he posits the idea that individuals must take back the responsibility of “discovering” their purpose – of actively pushing themselves towards new experiences, opportunities and risks, in order to remain true to themselves and ultimately live out their purpose.
Wow – did I need to hear that. My life’s purpose is completely mine to discover and create. And, it’s also my responsibility.
I wrote an earlier posting on shame and victimology, and another topic I could add to that category would be blame. Although you may disagree, I would argue that all three of those concepts revolve around the self as central to the associated feeling:
Shame = self humiliation, self foolishness, self disgrace
Victimology = being a victim (may or may not be self imposed)
Blame = assigning responsibility for something to another (or to the self, but if to another – one can be doing so to aggrandize the self)
And as I wrote about in said post, I’m really great at being self-centered in my feelings of shame, victimology, and yes, blame. I can wear negativity like a (seemingly warm) blanket.
Likewise, in the last few months I have been keenly focused on how the external world has “failed” to provide me with what I needed. Some examples:
– my personal injury lawsuit continues to be a drain/drag on me vs. settling quickly so that I can move forward
– I’m at a professional crossroads in general, and the world has not clearly indicated what path I should follow next
– my familial relationships are lacking in depth, and yet I keep seeking change in my relatives to fit my own idea of closeness
– my friends and boyfriend sometimes misunderstand my actions or intentions and I feel let down
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m generally not a passive person. I am very goal-oriented and take action towards what I want. However, here’s the rub – for some reason, I kept thinking that the external world was supposed to show me what I wanted; the external world was somehow (in my mind) responsible for my life purpose, and likewise, my happiness (although note: I don’t necessarily consider happiness and purpose one in the same, it’s just that lately, I’ve been searching for both simultaneously).
You know what’s great about making the outside world responsible for my happiness and purpose? I can blame “the world” when I’m unhappy or feeling aimless. I can take my discontent, my disappointment, my discomfort, and I can deliberately disassociate it with myself by putting the onus of it on everyone and everything else.
But here’s the thing about entrusting personal happiness and fulfillment to the outside –
The inside suffers, a lot.
1) Because the internal self becomes a self-obsessive pity party. I’d have days, weeks, where I was always feeling bad. Physically, mentally, emotionally bad, bad, bad. All I wanted to do was eat chocolate and watch movies all day. And when my internal self, my spirit, is essentially dragging itself from point A to point B every day, it doesn’t have the energy to do much else but be sad.
2) Because the internal self gave up autonomy and authenticity. When I choose (either consciously or subconsciously) to put the onus of my own happiness and purpose on something else (i.e., my job, my family, etc.), I then lose the ability to have a say in what goes on, and I thus lose the ability to discover happiness both within myself and through the journey to greater personal growth and development.
And beyond suffering internally, happiness, and/or purpose, is often not found when placed in the hands of others.
Because my needs and definition of happiness and purpose can vary greatly from what others perceive them to be.
Anyway, I don’t feel like I’m now an expert on self-happiness, or finding one’s life purpose, I just feel so much freer now that I’ve been able to start to let go of expecting others to do what I should have been doing for myself all along.
As much as I love Dan, my close friends, my family, my mentors – as much as I respect my bosses, and my teachers – as much as I entrust the things I can’t control to fate and the universe, none of them can (nor should) be responsible for my happiness and purpose.
If I’m unsatisfied, I can be disappointed, or sad, or upset – but I need to change it.
That is both empowering (I can be the mistress of my emotional state!) and overwhelming (man, discovering self-happiness and purpose can take work!).
So here goes nothing…
Tonight I’m packing my intellectual, emotional and spiritual bags for a new kind of journey. I’m going to go out there and re-discover myself, and along the way I’m going to do my best to determine a purpose, and ensure my own happiness. I’m going to start by thinking about the things that please and/or captivate me (a few initial thoughts: writing, reading, time with Dan and my closest friends, traveling, dancing, swimming, feeling healthy, seeing others smile, copious amounts of chocolate), and then try to think about how to integrate more of those into my life purely through my own behavior and actions (maybe…try to write weekly, plan another trip, try to make it to yoga more than once a week, spend more time with Dan).
This is just the beginning. It’s going to be challenging, with streams to ford, boulders to climb, and naysayers to neutralize, but it’ll be worth it.
And more importantly, for better or worse, it’ll be mine.
Thanks for reading,