Human beings are strange creatures, often waiting until we are forced to change rather than choosing to change before we "hit the wall." We see signs--irregular sleep, discord with others, regular illness, excessive drama, acting outside of our values--but we ignore them. We don’t act or we don't act consistently. Each time we ignore a sign we place a brick in the wall we eventually hit when all those signs add up to crisis. Sine qua non is Latin for indispensable element or condition. I call it "readiness." This blog seeks to connect those who are searching for or have found the sine qua non of change. What makes you or keeps you from taking off? What keeps you from flying or helps you soar? What do you know about change that can help others?

Sunday, April 25, 2010

The meaning of life, part two

Mission is not a job title or description. Mission is a few words that describe your essence. What you are here to do (and who you are here to do it for). In our class we use the zebra as the icon for mission. Zebras, like snowflakes, are unique. Each one has a slightly different set of stripes that distinguish them from the rest. People are unique, but by the time they've been through school are so atuned to pleasing others and doing what's expected that their stripes (their unique identity) have often faded or disappeared.

The past month I had the luxury to dig in and work on my mission. Even after you've identified the stripes, there's work to do to figure out how to take action. By contrast to the people I've encountered who are wandering and longing I ended up rubbing elbows with researchers at the local historical library. These people sit for hours, digging, reading, looking for clues and stories. They have found their stripes and are enjoying the benefit of working wholeheartedly. I even ventured into the local Earth Day celebration nearby and marveled at the guy who is working to have license plate holders (they apparently weigh a pound) removed from cars to increase their efficiency. He passionately lists the fuel-saving benefits and talks to anyone who will listen. I signed the petition of the raucus women who are trying to rid the state of plastic bags. These people are ignited by passion.

If you are one of the lucky
ones who know (even if a small part of) your mission, give it voice, put it in writing.
  • Start doing something with it; volunteer, take a class, set up an interview, something.
  • Each time you follow your passion, watch for the door that opens next.
  • Write down every experience that makes your heart sing.
  • Dig deep and observe.
If you don't have a clue about your mission, I'll share mine and then describe a bit about what each word means to give you an example. My mission is simple. It's only six action words, in no particular order. Others use phrases or sentences. It should never be as long as a paragraph because you should be able to tell others what it is on command.


I begin my explanation with "ask" because it was the first stripe I identified doing this multi-year process. I finally dug deep enough to remember being teased for being the great interrogater for as long as I remember. I ask questions. As I mentioned in the previous post though, "ask" has more than one meaning. It also represents my voracious need to research, always interested in digging and asking, my love of inquiry-based coaching and why I am a good community-builder.

Learn (ing) is what happens when you ask. I learn from those who speak to me, I learn from my research, I learn from the collective wisdom in the communities I build. I am not happy unless I'm learning the next big thing.

Create (ing) is as necessary to me as breathing. I must create. I create beautiful food, I create beautiful photos, I create messages. I am a creative being. When I don't create I suffer.

Share (ing) is a natural output of creating. I write for others to read, I cook for others to eat, I take photos for others to enjoy.

Connect (ing) is a way of saying that I bring the learning and creation and sharing together to connect with other people and ideas. I build communities of people who benefit from watching each other learn and grow.

I added Behold late in the game (within the last year) because as it turns out I see things others don't see, one of the reasons why people like my photographs. I'm still playing with the concept to see if it really fits with what I'm here for mostly because I'm the luckiest photographer that ever owned a Nikon. I take photos with an intuitive sense that often doesn't know what it's captured until I see it on the screen.

Here's what I'm not allowed to ask next, "But how am I going to get a job doing that?" The how will come in time. Getting bogged down in the job that you're supposed to pursue next is counterproductive. This is an intuitive, iterative process that requires taking some steps and letting them compost. Taking some action and seeing how it feels. Every time I pursue these stripes another door of understanding and opportunity opens. And I sit like a pig in mud, joyous in the actions I take that match my stripes.

Allow yourself to be satisfied with the joy of the search.

Next: The meaning of life, part three

1 comment:

Luscious Lindsay said...

Love this :)

The Journey

by Mary Oliver

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice--
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
"Mend my life!"
each voice cried.
But you didn't stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do--
determined to save
the only life you could save.

I mourn for you

I cry because someone important once degraded you, carved a mark on your soul that colors your lens, distorts your thinking. I ache because your head has built a wall around your heart that protects you from people you long to know. I grieve because you serve others, settle for less than you want, sit with that lump in your throat and ache in your heart that leaks tears when you speak. I mourn for the signs you saw and ignored, parasites sucking you dry of money and emotions, of goodwill and compassion until you cannot put a sentence together any more than you can repair your life because you are clueless about where to start.

Awareness before change

Awareness November 2008

“I was hoping to come back and join you in bed,” my sweetie said clearly disappointed as he walked past me on his way to the bedroom after spending the night in the guest room where his back finds respite. “Too late,” I retorted, fully clothed, brewing a cup of coffee and unfolding my buttermilk pancake recipe. He continued to our bed, surely hoping I would change my mind. Standing my ground meant we missed out on the irreplaceable morning “spoon”—a defiance way beyond the occasion and very much out of character.

I had nothing to say on this Pancake Sunday--a ritual we started to bring the family back to the fold once a week, even after Mom arrived; even when my sweetie tried to get me to leave my post at the grill to come see the critters converged on the deck enjoying the morning’s banquet of seeds and suet. I ignored him. “I’ve got pancakes to turn,” I growled under my breath.

I could feel myself slipping over the edge as Mom poured syrup and detailed the lives of her neighbors and their little girl whom she cannot forgive for going without underpants, and the impending birth of twins, and the small house they live in, and the Mom’s favorite coffee and their latest conversation encased in a “Then I said,” and “Then she said,” recalling every word. “I don’t care,” I thought, through my blank stare.

That was the first time I realized my heart hurt. Not the “I’m-having-a-heart-attack” kind of hurt, but an ache in the anterior. I breathed deep into the pain and sighed.

Luckily only Mom had joined us on this Sunday after Thanksgiving. Instead of the usual group of friends and optimistic chit-chat, we ate with an uncomfortable quiet. It didn’t take long for her to pack up and go home after breakfast, leaving me alone to dwell on the status of my relationship, the recent and untimely death of a friend, my floundering career. My heart hurt. I breathed deep and sighed and relieved it for a moment more.

Awareness October 2009

Darkness had not yet dissolved on the Saturday morning I awoke anxious and sad and inconsolable. The contrast was stark to the usual song in my head. The frenzy prevented me from turning and breathing and willing myself back to sleep. What? I wondered.

The channels flipped on my internal tube, exposing trailers of unfinished business, the chasm I feared growing between me and my daughter, the class the previous day that produced two negative evaluations, conversation with the neighbors at dinner the night before where we talked about elders and our turn, Thanksgiving plans upended again in a phone call.

I paused and hit replay. Decades of chaotic Thanksgiving scenes montaged through; my Dad’s death on the holiday when I was 5, yelling and swats with the hair brush over dresses and curls, a major riff in the family where half split off to celebrate elsewhere, Mom insisting on celebrating one place or another creating the necessity to “pick sides,” my daughter throwing up to avoid choosing, the ache in my heart the year before. Years of chaos and drama created by ancient sadness and suffering disguised itself as current reality and visited me there in my bed to me to remind me to move on.