What Your Purpose Is Not

By Amanda Cleary Eastep

Every night I take it to bed with me, wake up with it, and feel it breathing down my neck when I’m not giving enough attention to it.

(No, it isn’t an overly affectionate labrador.)

It’s my purpose.

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Sometimes purpose manifests itself in different ways throughout our lives and sometimes as one activity that drives us, brings us joy, and is the hardest work we do.

What is it for you? 

Maybe marketing your business or designing buildings or counseling teenagers.

For me, it  has always been writing, even in the midst of more important work, like raising my children.

Poet and scholar Francesco Petrarca expressed his relentless need to write in a letter to a friend:

This inexorable passion has such a hold upon me that pen, ink, and paper, and work prolonged far into the night, are more to my liking than repose and sleep. In short, I find myself always in a sad and languishing state when I am not writing, and, anomalous though it seems, I labour when I rest, and find my rest in labour.”

Even with the exhaustion and pain brought on by writing, Petrarca said his “tireless spirit” seemed to be “reclining upon the softest down.” 

That is how I’m feeling right now as I type. Despite the strain on mind and emotion, I sense a purposeful euphoria.

I recently took an informal survey and asked people about their sense of purpose.

The responses confirmed that purpose is deeply personal and unique to each person. But they also revealed what purpose is not.

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Purpose is NOT

Our aphrodisiac–My husband, a missionary to India for 20 years, said he and other young Christians became passionate at one point about sharing Jesus with a tribal group. Despite their passion, they never carried out their good intentions. Likewise, we may feel called to a task, but we become more enamored with the idea of it. We pour our efforts into dreaming and planning but never act. 

All about us–I recently interviewed a student for her college’s alumni magazine. She compared her college experience to a line-up of dominoes. “What I do in the place I have been set will touch the next person and the next.” Ultimately, the work we are purposed to do affects a broader community. Our responsibility is to carry out our purpose, to work hard, and to trust that it means something to someone.

About being Moses–Most of us don’t have a “burning bush” moment of biblical proportion. No hot minute in our desert when a voice comes out of a flaming shrub and proclaims, “Hey, you, I’m God and I’m sending you on this mind-blowing mission that will alter the course of humanity!” Even after this supernatural encounter, Moses doubted. I imagine that one more irritating “but Lord” from Moses, and the mission may have been passed on to the next sandaled guy. Which makes me ask myself, Have I answered the call to my purpose with a resounding Yes! or am I squeaking out a response that prompts the universe to not expect so much of me the next time?

 

A version of this post first appeared on Living Between the Lines.

Sunday Drive: Are you carrots, eggs or coffee?

I LOVE this parable our pastor shared last night, and I thought about how much it applies, not just to life, but to the challenges of running a small business.

As a solopreneur–and just another human being dropped on occasion into the roiling pot of turmoil du jour–this story inspires me to be good, strong “coffee” in business and in life.

The Carrot, the Egg and the Cup of Coffee

A young woman went to her mother and told her about her life and how things were so hard for her. She did not know how she was going to make it and wanted to give up. She was tired of fighting and struggling. It seemed as soon as one problem was solved, a new one arose.

Her mother took her to the kitchen. She filled three pots with water and placed each on a high fire. Soon the pots came to boil. In the first she placed carrots, in the second she placed eggs, and in the last she placed ground coffee beans. She let them sit and boil, without saying a word.

In about twenty minutes she turned off the burners. She fished the carrots out and placed them in a bowl. She pulled the eggs out and placed them in a bowl. Then she ladled the coffee out and placed it in a bowl. Turning to her daughter, she asked, “Tell me what you see?”

“Carrots, eggs, and coffee,” she replied.

Her mother brought her daughter closer and asked her to feel the carrots. She did and noted that they were soft.

The mother then asked the daughter to take an egg and break it. After pulling off the shell, she observed the hard-boiled egg.

Finally, the mother asked the daughter to sip the coffee. The daughter smiled as she tasted its rich aroma. The daughter then asked, “What does it mean, mother?”

Her mother explained that each of these objects had faced the same adversity: boiling water. Each reacted differently.

The carrot went in strong, hard, and unrelenting. However, after being subjected to the boiling water, it softened and became weak. The egg had been fragile. Its thin outer shell had protected its liquid interior, but after sitting through the boiling water, its inside became hardened. The ground coffee beans were unique, however. After they were in the boiling water, they had changed the water.

“Which are you?” she asked her daughter. “When adversity knocks on your door, how do you respond?

Are you a carrot, an egg or a coffee bean?”

Am I the carrot that seems strong, but with pain and adversity I wilt and become soft and lose my strength?

freelance writer

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Am I the egg that starts with a malleable heart, but changes with the heat? Did I have a fluid spirit, but after a death, a breakup, a financial – hardship or some other trial, have I become hardened and stiff? Does my shell look the same, but on the inside I am bitter and tough with a stiff spirit and hardened heart?

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Or am I like the coffee bean? The bean actually changes the hot water, the very circumstance that brings the pain. When the water gets hot, it releases the fragrance and flavor. If you are like the bean, when things are at their worst, you get better and change the situation around you.

freelance writer

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–Author Unknown

Each Sunday I take a break from marketing to share something inspiring. Pass it on… 

Sunday Drive: Painting the voices into a corner

Each Sunday I take a break from marketing to share something inspiring. Pass it on… 

I’m not sure why my father started to paint. He just decided to capture that sunset and sat down at an easel. Starting his own business was more complicated.

Whenever there is more to lose, there are more voices telling you not to venture out. But one of the loudest can be the voice within your own head that says, You can’t start a business. You can’t write a book. You can’t paint.

The only answer is to pick up the brush.

van gogh quote
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Sunday Drive: The important work of the world

Each Sunday I take a break from marketing to share something inspiring. Pass it on… 

Starting and growing a business often feels like more struggle than reward, especially if we measure in numbers. But looking back, whether on our struggles in business or in life, we can see the beauty in how we came through it all.

tug-of-war quote

2 Lessons from the Front to Help You Avoid Solopreneur Burnout

I know you get tired. When you’re a small biz owner or solopreneur, there are days you just want to don the t-shirt that says:

Stick a fork

We can’t do it all, at least not for very long.

There are things in the running of our businesses–be it social media, accounting, customer acquisition, even cleaning the bathroom (one of my responsibilities at the non-profit where I served as manager)–that fill our days to the brim.

Over the past two years I’ve been working full time, building my freelance writing business, growing my social media presence, blogging and being the best mother and wife I can be.

wonder woman

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In the process, I’ve learned two important lessons that help me avoid burnout and nurture purpose.
#1 Let it go! You can’t do it all, and THAT’S OK.

I haven’t posted here in several weeks, except for a few inspirational quotes. I only check my Twitter once a day. And I keep finding clients regardless.

I’m going against the many rules out there in regard to blogging frequency and social media presence by telling you this, but we have to find what not only works for growing our businesses but for feeding our souls.

That’s not to say that such things aren’t important, but we have to decide what we can realistically maintain, what we need help doing, and what we should completely let go of.

And once we discover which of those choices works best for us, our families, and our businesses, then we also have to be OK with those choices.

I’m ok with not blogging every week. Really. No, really…

#2 Set goals based on your values as well as the bottom line.

“My goal is a net profit of a bazillion dollars this year.”

Good goal. You might even have a strategic plan for how to achieve it. But why do you want to?

What value is that goal based on? Maybe it’s your love of all things sparkly. Or maybe you’re working toward financial freedom so you can spend more time with your family.

When I set a goal two years ago of having the capacity to be a full-time freelancer in three years, that was a realistic, as well as a value-based goal–the value being freedom in the form of flexibility in my day and my work locale.

There’s another important aspect of this type of value based goal. As I begin the final year of my initial timetable, seeing a finish line inspires me. With two years of accomplishments behind me and many more early mornings and weekends ahead, I’m tired, but I’m not “done.”

Soon it will be time to cross the finish line, kiss the concrete, and possibly throw up a little, but I will have persevered…not only for good reasons, but for the right ones.

Your turn:

What have you let go of that made you happier? How did it affect your business?

How do you set goals? How do you find balance while working toward it?