Archive for July 2016

Week of July 18, 2016

“Quotable,” on finding your purpose

It is where the three lines in our lives of passion, ability, and opportunity intersect, that we find ourselves at the point where we have the greatest fulfillment and contentment, with a certainty that we are where we should be.

Finding Purpose

 

Last week, I shared some thoughts on life purpose based on something my dad said to me when I was younger:  “Do as much as you can until you’re 40, then do one thing well the rest of your life.”  He often said things like this that were wise thoughts on finding and following your purpose in life, and one of those things came about when I was in my early 20’s.  In the fantasy of my mind, I thought that if I wrote a book, I would become “famous” or “important” in my field, so I had decided that it was something I needed to do.  When I shared this with my dad, he said, “Jeff, before you can say something that people will listen to, you first have to have something to say.”  Like a lot of things he said, there was deep wisdom here that needed to be unpacked, and I understood over time that it is not until you have learned something valuable and meaningful through your own life, learning, and experience, can you truly pass it on to someone else.  I eventually did write a book (that’s what this post is about), but it came after a lot of life and experience.  I now appreciate the lesson my dad taught me, that I ought to write not simply because I want to say something, but because I have learned something that is important to say.

FindiFinding Purpose coverng Purpose at the Intersection of Passion, Ability, and Opportunity is a book I originally wrote almost ten years before it was published (I even went so far at that time as to apply for a copyright and submit the manuscript to a publisher). However, much like what happened with the rebuilding of the temple described in Ezra 4 and 5, God – in His divine sovereignty – saw fit to put a stop to the process until the time was right. It seems He still had more to teach me on the matter.

Now, I know that I will continue to learn and grow for the rest of my life, and I also know that “the more I know, the more I know I don’t know,” which means if I waited until I have full and perfect knowledge, this book would never have happened. And so eventually I reached a point in time when God prompted me to pick up where I left off and re-engage, and – with some revising and additions to the original – to publish.

In essence, this book addresses the question of “How do you know God’s purpose? How do you know what He wants you do?” When I look back over many of my experiences, it is clear that God was working out His purpose in my life. So then, as I have analyzed the circumstances and events that have taken place, I have focused in on three common factors that keep appearing in these situations that have helped me to know His purpose. These three factors are:

1)    Passion – the things that I strongly desire, that I want to pursue,

2)    Ability – the things that I have the talent to do, and

3)    Opportunity – circumstances that occur in my life.

It is these three lines in our lives – passion, ability, and opportunity – that, when they intersect, form the point where we find the greatest fulfillment and contentment, with a certainty that we are where we should be. Picture a geometric graph, with three separate lines, one representing our passion to do or be something, one representing our talents and abilities, and one representing the opportunities that appear before us. At some place on this graph these three lines intersect at one specific point. This is the place where we find that we are doing something that brings us joy and that matches our talents well.

These concepts first came together in my mind while facilitating a student retreat quite a few years ago, and over the time since, I have seen them applied in my life many times and in many ways. God has placed opportunities in front of me that matched my passion and abilities in ways that have allowed me to be His instrument while finding fulfillment in my work. My prayer for you would be that you would identify these three factors in your life and find your purpose.

To order a copy of my book, Finding Purpose at the Intersection of Passion, Ability, and Opportunity, on Amazon, click here.

Week of July 11, 2016

“Quotable,” on developing life purpose

“Do as much as you can until you’re 40, then do one thing well the rest of your life.”

Jack McMaster

Do As Much As You Can Until You’re 40

When I was in my teens and early 20’s I really didn’t have a good idea of what I wanted to do with my life. This was a struggle for me, as I searched for what I thought should be my purpose, and where I thought I should use my gifts and abilities. I worked at a variety of jobs, went to college and graduate school, and sought counsel from others, but still felt like I wasn’t sure where I was going and what I was supposed to do. And then I had a conversation with my dad, and he shared with me a life principle that I had heard him share with others, and over the years since that time I have begun to understand the real meaning and value behind his statement. What he said to me during the time of floundering in my life was this: “Jeff, do as much as you can until you are 40, and then do one thing well the rest of your life.”

 

At the time, I only saw a lesson on the surface– do as many jobs as I possibly could for the next 15-20 years of my life, and then pick one of those and focus on that one – but that wasn’t the lesson he was trying to teach me. In reality, I did get to participate in a wide range of work experiences, including construction labor, mason’s tender, laying carpet, electrician’s apprentice, waiting tables, retail sails, meat butcher, teacher, family therapist, restaurant manager, newspaper delivery, door-to-door sales, and a number of others. All of those things were valuable for my development (which, it turns out, was part of the lesson), but his message to me wasn’t that I should do all those jobs, and he wasn’t trying to tell me to seek out as many different jobs as possible. His message was that I needed to be a learner first, learning from every experience that I would encounter, and then I could begin to apply what I learned into the life purpose that developed.

 

I think I may have first realized this true lesson in his statement when I studied Leadership Emergence Theory as part of my doctoral program. Leadership Emergence Theory, based on research conducted by J. Robert Clinton, views leadership development as emerging out of the stages of our life. He breaks our life experience down into several smaller stages, each characterized by particular principles and events, and it is through these stages that the combination of your experiences and the skills you develop eventually merge together in preparing you for impact and leadership in a particular way. Ironically, we usually are not able to see how these things all converge until after it has happened and we look back on the road that brought us there. It is then that we can often see the variety of events and experiences that played such an important role in shaping who we have become. This was the lesson that he was trying to show me, that every experience I would have, whether I realized it or not, would be part of shaping who I would become and how I would discover the best use and fulfillment of my gifts.

 

Jim Collins, in his book Great by Choice, describes the concept of firing bullets, and then cannonballs, to explain how successful organizations intentionally apply limited resources to a variety of ideas until they are confident of which one will work, and then apply great resources to that one. I believe we can make a parallel application to our lives. There is a lot of value in “firing bullets” with our lives, by shooting at a variety of opportunities and experiences, and then learning from those until we can hone in on the best use of our own specific skills and abilities. Then, once we have begun to focus in on our purpose, we can still pull many lessons from those other experiences that will help us where we are now.

 

So, when dad said to me, “Jeff, do as much as you can until you are 40, and then do one thing well the rest of your life,” I now know that what he was really trying to teach me was to be a learner, learning from every experience, and to apply what I learned, and that would eventually take me to the place in my life where I could do something well and lead others in the process.   Interestingly, I realized this same truth several years ago in the Bible, in a study of the book of Ezra. One particular verse in that book (chapter 7, verse 10) caught my attention, when I read, “For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the Law of the Lord, and to do it, and to teach statutes and ordinances in Israel.” I was struck with the knowledge that Ezra, a leader of the people had first taken time to learn (“…to seek the Law of the Lord,…”) before he was ready to apply what he had learned (“…and to do it,…”), and it was only after that, that he was prepared to teach others and to lead.

 

I now pass the same wisdom on to you, even if I don’t say the same words that my father said: learn as much as you can, and apply what you learn, until that body of knowledge and experience shapes you into a person of purpose and influence. But if it helps you to remember, I will say it like he did – “Do as much as you can until you are 40, and then do one thing well the rest of your life.”