Good day, team.
First, a correction regarding last week’s challenge, “Remarkable Bosses.” The quoted piece was not written by Roy Gardner as I stated but by author Jeff Haden and was published originally in Inc. magazine. The article, titled “9 Hidden Qualities of Remarkable Bosses,” can be found in the Feb. 4, 2013, issue of the magazine. My apologies for the incorrect attribution and to Mr. Haden.
This week’s challenge has emerged from a book I just finished reading, “Short Night of the Shadow Catcher: The Epic Life and Immortal Photographs of Edward Curtis” by Timothy Egan. It’s a wonderful book about how the famous photographer Edward Curtis grew up in the Midwest, how he started taking pictures and eventually became the premiere portrait photographer in Seattle, and how he found his life’s mission in photographing and recording the dialects and cultural details of the American Indian.
He did most of his work in the Indians’ natural settings, and although disease and forced relocation reduced native populations to almost nothing, Curtis managed to produce an astounding 20-volume set of books called “The North American Indian,” which has become a national treasure. Somehow Curtis knew that he was photographing and recording a race of people that would possibly be gone forever, and it gave him a sense of urgency that caused him to focus his entire life on this project.
The dedication Curtis had to his project and the love and respect he experienced for the Indians inspires me.
What is it that captures a person so totally that they become completely devoted to a design, a project, an idea? What caused Thomas Edison to create 400 patented product designs within an eight-year period? What makes a professional dancer such as Rudolf Nureyev practice ballet six to eight hours a day, seven days a week to perfect his technique? How does this kind of dedication emerge and take hold of someone so that he or she gives up almost everything else? What drives the dedication?
In Curtis’ case, it started with the faces he saw through the lens of his camera. In the first few portraits of Indians he produced, he saw expressions of pride but also resignation in the faces of his subjects. He saw a wisdom and emotional depth that he didn’t understand but was drawn to. He saw a deep anger and resentment that he would only understand some years later after he had lived with the Indians in their diminished surroundings. He wanted to know more about these people, and because he knew they were disappearing, he knew he had a limited window of time.
Curtis was re-energized each time he arrived at an Indian camp, often after a weeks-long, perilous journey. I knew this was why he kept doing it, even at the expense of his family and financial resources. He loved their ceremonies and rituals, their spiritual beliefs and deep connection to nature, their familial ways and artifacts. They filled his heart in a way that no life in Seattle could, and he felt a deep devotion to making sure the things he loved about their culture would be shared forever.
In reading about Curtis, I began to understand that his happiness came not from dedication to his life’s purpose of recording a dying race of people but from doing what made him most happy. Even if Curtis hadn’t produced “The Native American Indian,” I’m sure he would have found a way to live and work with the Indians he grew to love and respect. Fortunately, the project continued to allow him to do what he loved.
Somehow, all this took me off the hook, so to speak, from having to have a life’s purpose. It’s kind of like being asked when you’re a kid, “What do you want to do when you grow up?” When you’re a kid, you often don’t have a clue and can feel like a real dummy when you reply, “I dunno.
There’s so much talk nowadays, particularly in coaching circles, about needing to have a life’s purpose. I see many of my clients struggling with the big question, “Why am I doing this when it doesn’t seem important?” This attitude fosters scarcity thinking. We focus on what’s missing rather than on an appreciation for what we already have or what we are already doing, which instead fosters an attitude of abundance. When I study people who were so devoted to what they were doing and who, in many cases, had a huge impact on the world around them, I see people who often didn’t start out knowing what their great mission in life would be. They simply stumbled onto something they grew to love and kept doing it. So the real devotion is not to some external purpose but to whatever it is that enriches our heart and feeds our soul.
I feel fortunate that the work I do has meaning and brings me joy. Of course, this doesn’t happen every day, but most days, in one of my meetings with a client, there will be a moment of understanding or a connection made that reminds me of why I do what I do. I get the most joy from getting to the heart of the matter and helping someone find what’s important and then learn to make decisions from that place of clarity. Each time this happens, I feel more renewed and invigorated. I love helping others find paths where they think there are none, illuminate dark places to see what comes to light, maximize strengths, reconnect with the people and activities that bring them joy, and try out different ways of doing things to be more successful. If this makes for a purposeful life, then so be it. But, it’s not the reason I do it. I do it because it makes me happy.
This week, find what makes you happy in your work and do more of it. First, identify the activities that you’re passionate about and that give you energy. Then, look to see how much time you’re doing those things versus the things that feel like drudgery and take energy from you. There’s always a balance between these two, but find ways to restructure your responsibilities so you’re doing more of what makes you happy.
If you’re beating yourself up for not knowing what your life’s purpose is, just stop. Stop long enough to look out of your eyes and be present to what you’re doing right now. Does it make you happy? Does it give you energy? Do you want to do more of it? It may seem small and insignificant, but some of the smallest moments create the most memory due to their poignancy and our presence.
We all know people who live purposeful lives. It gives them energy to think about how they can continue to do good and help improve the lives of others in this world. I respect their efforts and admire their fortitude. I also know that when asked how they can sacrifice so much to help others, they often say, “It may look like they get all the benefits, but in fact, I’m the one who gets the most out of this.” It’s because what they’re doing makes them happy. And fortunately for us, it’s helping all of us as well.
Have a good week!
© Copyright 2013 Pathfinders Coaching, Scout Search Inc., all rights reserved.