What is your nature? And what is your work?
Could the secret to a meaningful life be as simple as engaging in a pursuit of answering these two questions and arranging one’s daily activities accordingly?
We can sometimes find ourselves enchanted by personality typing protocols, be they the MBTI, the enneagram, the Big5 or the StrengthsFinder, looking for hints that help us understand who we are, our true nature.
‘Oh yes, that’s me!’ we might exclaim, in recognition.
Though some of us find such tools rather more suspect, resenting that some arbitrary set of questions or a time and date on the calendar may reduce our decades of acquired complexity down to one of 16 combinations, 9 types, 5 designs or whatever buckets or scales the said test prescribes.
And when it comes to our work, or “purpose” as it is often referred… well, if you’ve been around here for a little while you will probably know how I feel about this concept. The idea is beautiful, because it tends to orient us with something outward facing, with being in service in the world.
However, the allure of a single pre-determined purpose that is our passion and the source of our financial abundance can be utterly fascinating (from the Latin fascinum, meaning spell or witchcraft), and end up having the opposite effect. Probably yielding results not so different from those that would arise from believing we have one true Soul Mate.
Maybe we do. Maybe we don’t. You get to decide what you believe.
“Do what lights you up!” Is common advice when it comes to seeking purpose.
Do you know one of the things that lights me up more than anything in this world? Having bonfires! Yes, spending a winter weekend in a grassy paddock burning dead wood and tree prunings to prepare the farm for a dry summer ahead. Lugging heavy branches around, throwing them on a blazing pile and raking up the spreading coals to keep the core burning hot.
Unfortunately, probably not something I can make a living off of…!!
Like many of us, I’ve dedicated a lot of time in pursuit of these answers and a deeper understanding of life and meaning, for myself and for others. I dare not call it my purpose, but understanding the human experience and how we form our identities is certainly a passion of mine.
Some exploratory paths have led to quite high levels of neuroticism, I must admit.
While others have led me to what seems to be a rather more empowering and universal truth that sounds something like this:
“Everything exists because of everything else.”
This was a line that came through for me in (metaphorical) neon lights during a psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy session I did a few years ago (yes, I’ve gone to quite some lengths to get behind the ego).
(I’ll come back to what I think that means practically in a moment…)
Stoic philosophy is something I’ve dabbled in from time to time, but after recently picking up the famed work of Marcus Aurelius Meditations, I was quite taken. I quote from the beginning of Book V:
“In the morning when thou rises unwillingly, let this thought be present—I am rising to the work of a human being. Why then am I dissatisfied if I am going to do the things for which I exist and for which I was brought into the world? Or have I been made for this, to lie in the bedclothes and keep myself warm?—But this is more pleasant.—Dost thou exist then to take thy pleasure, and not at all for action or exertion? Dost thou not see the little plants, the little birds, the ants, the spiders, the bees working together to put in order their several parts of the universe? And art thou unwilling to do the work of a human being, and dost thou not make haste to do that which is according to thy nature?”
So much in me exhaled upon reading this.
Life really can be that simple.
In the course of my work I meet so many people placing upon themselves the most immense pressure to get life perfectly “right”. To understand themselves fully and to apply themselves to a cause that yields some form of deep relief, satisfaction as well as personal profit.
I start to hold my breath just typing out those last couple of sentences.
I am a performance coach. I help people get more out of themselves. But so often the heavy lifting is done by helping them become at ease with getting less out of themselves.
It’s very difficult to see what is in front of us clearly if we’re so busy working onourselves that we cannot see beyond ourselves.
“Everything exists because of everything else.”
Sometimes all we need to do is find a way to be in the world. To put in order our little corner of the world. To have some forward motion, and to connect with whatever it is we are involved with, what's within reach.
It could be by showing up to our day job with the vigour of someone who believed their work mattered. It could be by greeting other runners in the park with a passing smile or opting to connect with the (human) checkout operator when doing your groceries instead of relating with the self-checkout computer (quite frankly, I’m really fed up with those security checks which usually see the supervisor badly rearranging my meticulously packed goodies in an effort to ensure I am not a thief, so I am down for this).
No one has it all figured out. And perhaps those who do, we cast as fools. Alan Watts comes to mind as an example, who told us:
“The meaning of life is just to be alive. It is so plain and so obvious and so simple. And yet, everybody rushes around in a great panic as if it were necessary to achieve something beyond themselves.”
The simplest lessons are the hardest to believe. I think that’s because unlearning happens much more slowly than learning. We have to understand the nature of the life-death-life cycles to fully unlearn and to let go.
I’m still learning/unlearning, too.
Despite this, gratefully I get to walk this walk beside powerful individuals on their way to realising they matter so much more and so much less than they realised. Meeting themselves where they are at, in both grand and subtle ways.
Realising that life gets to be richer when they let it touch them.
...almost as good as bon fires.
Thanks for showing up.
Keep showing up.
P.S. In case you wondered, my MBTI is INFJ and my top 5 strengths according to the Gallup StrengthsFinder are intellection (love to think), input (love to seek and store information), restorative (love to solve problems), empathy (emotional depth/awareness) and connectedness (bridge builder and big picture perspective).