To celebrate my birthday this week, I thought I’d take it back to where it all began, with Enlightenent for Schmuck’s 1st article. Without further adieu, I present to you: THE 10 STAGES OF PURPOSE.
There’s a song made famous by Frank Sinatra called New York, New York, in which he sings the lines “If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere, it’s up to you New York, New York.” After having been on the self-improvement journey for quite some time now, I am of the opinion that these lines that refer to the challenges of succeeding in one of the greatest cities on Earth would be even more appropriate when speaking of engaging in one’s life purpose. This is because, of all the self-improvement actions I’ve undertaken, finding and fulfilling my purpose wins the prize for being the toughest of them all. Hands down, nothing has been more vital in forgiving myself and others, and becoming the more enlightened Soul I’m striving to be.
Ultimately what I found out about purpose is that the act of learning about why we’re here and subsequently taking up that cause specific to our Soul is akin to ripping apart the ego (false fear) into little tiny shreds. It is the ultimate fear to face, but it is also much more than that. It is that from which all ability to grow up spiritually flows, the result of which is that much sought after peace which passeth all understanding.
Sound dramatic? Yep, you’ve got it pegged. After all, finding our purpose is the first prayer, the “Why am I here?” entreaty that everyone has sent out to be answered at one time or another in life. For a lot of us, this question eventually gets stuffed down beneath layers of life’s tasks: paying bills, painting the kitchen, taking the cat to the vet. Or maybe this question has been answered and ignored. It could also be that your purpose is being fulfilled right now, but the energy required to keep at it has made you waiver at times. The good news is that each of these examples are actually three different stages of fulfilling our purpose.
THE STAGES OF PURPOSE
There are those among us that dive into their purpose at a young age and never look back. For those of you in this Stellar Spiritualist Category, congratulations. You only have five stages to finding and fulfilling your purpose. Those of us in the remedial class to bliss have an additional five, marked below with an asterisk:
- Asking Why Am I Here
- Getting Clues to the Answer
- *Ignoring the Clues
- Using the Clues to Find Your Purpose
- Tentative First Steps
- *Slamming the Door Shut
- *Reopening the Door
- *Kind of Sort of Working on Your Purpose
- *Repeat Stages 6-8
- Becoming a Professional At Your Purpose
*Remedial Class to Bliss People Only
STAGE 1: ASKING WHY AM I HERE
As an adult, asking ‘why am I here?’ can be daunting. It requires a sort of blind faith, a loss of control of everything familiar and safe. There is an innate understanding that the answer will shake up our world a bit and require change. There can also be a fear that the answer to this question won’t be forthcoming; that we’re all just blobs of cellular material floating in the sky, sans purpose. Yet not asking the question gets tougher and tougher every year, as we feel less and less vibrant and more stuck in the rut of new day, same old boring routine. This makes for a Catch-22 that cannot be easily overcome by focusing on the big picture, but instead by concentrating on the details specific to you. This act of getting into the particulars of your life turns the table on these fears, making them a fun activity instead of a dreadfully overwhelming one.
Below are some key questions to ask yourself in order to pull out your purpose from your subconscious. It’s important to understand going into this line of questioning that everyone knows their purpose. We’re born knowing it, but it often gets pushed down below the surface. Therefore, the questions above aren’t aimed at teaching you your purpose, but instead helping you remember it. With that in mind, do more than just listen to the answers. Observe your excitement level, how big a smile you have while considering different possibilities of what your purpose could be. Consider how much your heart races and you get that feeling in your chest of anticipation. Also, keep in mind that these aren’t scientifically tested questions, but instead ones that came from my own personal experiences and instinctual nudges. If others pop up that you think may help, ask those of yourself as well, or instead.
- What did you like to do as a child?
- What lights you up now? This can be very simple, like making a good meal, singing a song, teaching your child something, or taking a photograph.
- Is there anything you wish you could be doing right this second? (Note: I live in the north, so everyone I’ve ever asked this question of has a first answer of “taking a tropical vacation.” It’s possible we’re all meant to be Caribbean tour guides, but more likely this answer indicates we all need a break from the current abysmal weather. Keep digging.)
- What specifically about the thing(s) you named do you like?
- What occupations have you been drawn to in your life, even if you never actually were part of those professions?
- What are your hobbies? Favorite TV shows? Films?
- What do you like helping people with the most?
STAGE 2: GETTING CLUES TO THE ANSWER
Based on the answers to these questions, sometimes multiple possibilities present themselves. One person I knew who asked for help in remembering his purpose loved creating music immensely. Being a musician was a distinct possibility. Yet, as we dug deeper, we found that he also had a passion for videography, photography, and movies. Eventually, all his main talents, and his life’s interests, pointed toward filmmaker. He’s now at work on learning more about the craft while storyboarding his first movie, a short film, and has also begun laying out the plot for a second film.
Many of our first clues to what the bleep this life is all about came when we were children. Maybe it’s an interest in historical finds, and we can’t wait for that archeological kit Mom ordered to be delivered so we can start digging for ancient artifacts. Perhaps there were twenty stray dogs, cats, and birds hanging around being fed, trained, and cared for, much to our parents’ dismay. It could also be that we’re complimented on things that we kind of take for granted, and that sparks an interest in us.
The key in this stage of the game is to understand that there might be a lag time between asking the questions, coming up with some answers, and forming those answers into specific goals for your life. While this may test your patience, remember that what is really happening is a process of remembering and also of deciding how you’d like your particular purpose to unfold in this world. If you think you might be a writer, for example, you can consider how you feel about different types of writing, such as memes, blog articles, books, and technical manuals as well as different subjects: do-it-yourself, historical fiction, self-help, etc. You’re in control here, so have fun considering the many possibilities available based on the clues coming your way.
STAGE 3: IGNORING THE CLUES
We schmucks have a way of getting caught up in what we’re “supposed” to do and in getting sidetracked by insecurities and by the pressures of world. We also at times try to take the easy way out. Doing these things are just different aspects of the same underlying issue: ignoring our purpose.
If you’re anything like me, obtaining the clues that help guide you to your purpose will be followed by years of refusing to actually acknowledge these clues. Over and over again, I heard from friends and family things like, “You should write a book” and “Have you considered starting a blog?” I interpreted these subtle hints to mean “You should start an eBay purse business” and “You should look into massage therapy training”. You can see how such vague and in-concise suggestions could throw me off.
The important thing is not to beat ourselves up for any such avoidance tactics. This whole process is really about healing the blocks that we each have to what our Spirit wants. Being terrified about finding our purpose is natural, because it is what we really, really long for at our core, and who wants to fail at what they really want? Nobody, that’s who.
If you’re stuck in this stage, it’s good to remind yourself of a few key facts about purpose:
- Finding your purpose is a lot like putting on that spring jacket and pulling out a $100 bill – you are immediately overjoyed, wonder how the heck something that big ended up in your pocket, and start thinking of all the ways that you can use it.
- Identifying your purpose doesn’t mean that you have to start working on it right away. You’re the captain of this ship, and can do or not do as you please. Reminding yourself of this can help take the pressure and worry off your shoulders about how you’ll possibly live a purpose-driven life. It allows you to concentrate solely on identifying your unique contribution to the world without getting caught up in the internal voice that may be overwhelming you because it’s getting ahead of the step you are on right now.
- The angst of life pre-remembering purpose vs. post-remembering purpose is like the difference between asking a stranger for directions and programming your GPS. We’ve all had an experience similar to being told by a well-intentioned direction-giver to turn right after the third haystack and NOT the second haystack, because the second haystack will take you straight to old Ethel Clappdapple’s place, and she doesn’t take too kindly to strangers. The bottom line is, just like GPS, finding our way through the world and back home again is just so much easier with our purpose there to turn to whenever we get lost.
STAGE 4: USING THE CLUES TO ACTUALLY FIND YOUR PURPOSE
Narrowing down the many possibilities of why am I here can be a bit more challenging. Sometimes, it takes preparation that is out of our hands before our purpose can be fully revealed to us. Yet this doesn’t mean we can’t start experimenting with what we’ve discovered so far. Start simply. Just like my filmmaker friend, you may find yourself drawn to other areas of life for several years, such as music or photography. Remember, everything is a stepping stone, so participate in those hobbies that attract your attention.
Identifying purpose includes another step as well: consciously paying attention to those things that attract your attention. In other words, be an active participant in the process. This means not only participating in activities that attract your attention, but making note of them as well. Jot down everything you do that is fun and fulfilling, even if it’s just on a post-it note. Do the same with the things you’d LIKE to try, but for one reason or another have not yet.
Writing down and keeping all of these fun and fulfilling activities and dreams in one spot can be invaluable. This is because reading back over them enables us to see trends about ourselves. It’s also often easier to be honest to a piece of paper about what we want than it is to our family, friends, and the world in general. A piece of paper, or a document, is a receptor of our ideas only, so it won’t talk back or give us flack about the limitations to achieving our goals. It is pure.
STAGE 5: TENTATIVE FIRST STEPS
Once we’ve identified our purpose, or believe we have, there is one thing that is vital: Participate in your purpose, even if it’s for five minutes every third Tuesday. I actually once heard an audio recording of bestselling spiritual author Mike Dooley saying to do something very similar: do your dream five minutes a day. It’s just a great general rule of thumb to get focused on doing what makes you happy. And it’s important to remember that it’s not about the five minute rule, but about doing what makes you happy. Therefore, even if you start some days with the good intention of making room for your dream, but find yourself watching a marathon of Big Bang theory instead, you can’t fail if you simply refocus.
Participating in your purpose can show up in a lot of different ways. Maybe you want to record an album someday but need a band, so you put an ad online. Participation may also involve planning, such as figuring out how to pay for college tuition. Whatever way participation unfolds, once your unique purpose in this world is identified, keep your thoughts on it consistently. This helps with actively engaging in it because our thoughts remind us of what is really important to us, and help us create the life we’re aiming for.
STAGE 6: SLAMMING THE DOOR SHUT
Aaah, yes. This is the lovely stage brought on by pure, unadulterated panic. The typical culprits for this angst are being intimidated by the fear that we’ll never succeed and feeling overwhelmed by all the steps that need taken to reach our goals. Letting these feelings rule the day is something that many people allow for at one time or another. In my life, for instance, there were years and years when I was too intimidated by writers to ever actually consider myself one. I was very attracted to books, author’s stories, and writing topics in general, yet I’d run mantras in my head telling myself that these people were too talented, too multi-faceted as artists, and too deep in their understanding of how to shape language into lessons to ever belong in the same category as lowly old me.
It can be very frustrating when you see someone doing a version of your dream exceedingly well while you’re struggling with issues of self-esteem and lack of practice. But this same frustration is a key sign that you’re on the right track. As mentioned in STAGE 3: Ignoring the Clues, fear of failure is most intense with those activities in life that our Spirit’s crave most. The key to overcoming this very natural feeling is to start to emulate those who have what you wish to have. When this decision is made, it becomes a way to see more clearly that the very ones we’re overawed by often have backstories similar to our own. The truth is that many famous minds, such as Einstein and Lincoln, were at one time considered non contenders in their respective fields. Emulation is such a powerful tool at easing intimidation because it requires digging beneath the surface to find the real story, which helps us relate to rather than be cowed by those who are experts in the field we’re attracted to.
Dealing with feeling overwhelmed requires a slightly different approach. The best way to overcome this one is to practice staying present. Doing so keeps you focused on the tasks that you can do today to help you towards your dream. Staying present also makes it possible to plan a few steps ahead without panicking about the additional steps that can’t be worked on just yet.
Meditation can be helpful with staying present because it enables us to run our brains instead of letting them run us. This helps ease that overwrought voice in our head that says we don’t have the time or energy to get everything done. Another great tool for staying present is consistently saying a prayer for focus, in which you’re asking your Higher Power for assistance. I’d particularly recommend Eckhart Tolle’s New York Time’s bestseller The Power of Now to assist with easing worries about the future because it has such fantastic insights about the gifts inherent in the present moment.
STAGE 7: REOPENING THE DOOR
Luckily, the internal icky feeling that comes with avoiding a dream is its’ own best catalyst for switching things up and overcoming being stuck. Yet while refocusing sounds simple enough, it is not always easy. A couple of tactics can help with swinging the door wide open again.
One vital motivator is to take an inventory of how far you’ve come in fulfilling your purpose. We all want to look ahead and say “Oh my God, look at all there is to do.” Focusing instead on our progress creates positive vibes that can pull us out of the mud. Try looking back at every item on your agenda that is already accomplished or in progress. Also make note of where you are at in the big picture and then celebrate this. Take yourself out to a nice dinner, brag it up to your friends, or do whatever else floats your boat. This focuses attention back on your ability to succeed so as to build your own confidence.
Noting how far you’ve come goes along with the second tactic that helps with reengaging in purpose, and that is to only compare yourself to you. We’re all programmed from an early age that making it in this world requires competing with everyone else, yet it is only when there is a laser-sharp focus on internal self-improvement, free of all outside distractions, that enough energy can be generated to actually fulfill a dream. Therefore, it’s best to practice constructive criticism of self to help further your own unique purpose in life while avoiding unconstructive criticism based upon trying to be somebody else.
Only comparing yourself to yourself may seem like the opposite of emulating those we admire that was mentioned in STAGE 6, but it is indeed in keeping with doing so. Emulating involves repeating what got someone to where you yourself would like to be, but it also involves learning from their mistakes; it is free of judgments and full of humility. Rather than competing with those we admire, we can look to their lives for help on our own unique journeys. Emulation in this sense of the word allows for individual spiritual progress toward our Soul’s goals.
STAGE 8: KIND OF SORT OF WORKING ON YOUR PURPOSE
Celebrating progress and only comparing you to you are practical ways to assist with feeling strong enough again to start back on participating in your purpose. Most of us will then enter the stage in which we will lack consistency in working on the goals related to our purpose. At this point, it is important to lose any guilt associated with this lack of giving 100% effort. This is for two reasons:
- Guilt will weigh you down, throwing you back into STAGE 6: Slamming the Door Shut
- Resistance to our true calling is a natural force in the Universe.
If that second one threw you for a loop, you’re not alone. It did the same for me the first time I heard it when author Steven Pressfield spoke of this idea on an episode of Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday, emphasizing that resistance to purpose doesn’t mean that there is something wrong with us; instead it is inherent in our makeup. Creating something from nothing is akin to giving birth, so it is an understandably tough process to go through. We therefore resist it.
Our own inner blocks are the rascals that lead to resistance. They are based on an experienced reality; this is what makes them so powerful a force. No one wants to try writing a stanza, only to have no ideas come, or spend three weeks wining and dining a potential client, just to see them choose the competitor. Yet these things happen, and their sting can add fuel to resistance’s fire.
To help douse these flames first requires acceptance. Acceptance that you and everyone else who creates anything will feel the internal struggle between avoidance and participation. This is wonderfully freeing because it takes away the power resistance has to make us feel bad about ourselves. This in turn makes it easier to move onto the next key element, letting resistance build. That’s right, if that sucker wants to stick around, let it have at you. The more it increases, the more effortlessly ideas and intuition will flow when you do finally let them loose into the world. This is how you make resistance work for you.
Finally, practice diving back into participation whenever resistance builds. Doing this over and over will eventually make what once seemed nearly impossible into a habit, one that enables you to better understand your own strength and power to fulfill your purpose.
STAGE 9: REPEAT STAGES 6-8
This stage that actually encompasses three stages can take a few years or a lifetime. It may seem like it is redundant and therefore negative, but on the contrary. It has ITS purpose too, and that is to develop us into that person capable of wholeheartedly living our dream. We hone our skills, run scared, then learn to gather our courage again and face down those fears. We practice not only our specific purpose, but also how to listen to our own inner voice and overcome the distractions of the world, until that day when what once was a talent now is a well-developed skill.
Author Malcolm Gladwell, in his book Outliers, calls this period the 10,000 hours of practice needed to become an expert. His theory proposes that everyone, even so-called prodigies, have to put in their time before becoming virtuosos at their craft. Therefore, stages 6-8 are the learning stages, in which we reach towards becoming disciplined, confident, and skilled enough to be able to share our inner vision as a gift with the outside world.
STAGE 10: BECOMING A PROFESSIONAL AT YOUR PURPOSE
Eventually, we have to break the cycle of half-committing to our Soul’s goals if we are to ever see them fully realized in our lives. And, contrary to popular belief, professionalism doesn’t have to be defined as getting paid for something. Just as believing in your purpose before it actually comes to fruition makes it possible for it to come to fruition, so does being professional at purpose before necessarily getting paid lead straight into getting paid for it.
So, what does being professional at our purpose really look like? It is about becoming adept at overcoming those blocks, that resistance that is so prevalent in STAGE 8. This starts with dedicating a good chunk of your existing free time to your purpose. Next, you make a concerted effort to create additional free time for it. Finally, obligations that once seemed to rule the day, like having a perfectly cleaned house, or attending that work function that you really don’t care about, become secondary to putting in the time and effort to hone your skills. This is called letting the Universe know you’re serious about fulfilling your purpose. It’s hard to do, but has a surprising upside. The Universe responds by sending you the ideas, financial assistance, and intuitive nudges that you need. You go first, then the Universe follows your lead.
Recognizing and being grateful for the Universe’s assistance are key components to becoming professional at purpose. This is because doing so eventually transforms into faith, as you see the pattern of support from the Universe enough times to know it is forthcoming. Faith then allows you to feel more comfortable taking chances for your dream, such as investing some “emergency fund” money to start a business, going to the gym despite fears of being ostracized, or gathering your courage to read your poem at the local poetry slam. This upward cycle is also known as getting into the flow of life.
As chances are taken for a dream, even if the outcome is what we feared, we become fearless. Walking straight into fear has a way of making us unconcerned about the very things we feared. When this point is reached, we become the master of our fate that William Ernest Henley spoke of in his beautiful poem Invictus:
“Out of the night that covers me, black as the pit from pole to pole, I thank whatever gods may be, for my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance, I have not winced nor cried aloud, under the bludgeonings of chance, my head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears, looms but the Horror of the shade, and yet the menace of the years, finds and shall find me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate, how charged with punishments the scroll, I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.”
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