“The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep need meet.” ~ Frederick Buechner
What does Life want from you? Most of us, if we think about it at all, typically ask “What do I want out of life?” (Some of us never even get that far . . . we coast from day to day, being blown this way and that by the winds of circumstance. However that’s a subject for another time.) But the question I have been contemplating for the past few weeks is not “What do I want from Life?” but “What does Life want from me?” I invite you to think about this question, too.
The question comes from The Road To Character, by David Brooks. “In this method, you don’t ask, What do I want from life? You ask a different set of questions: What does life want from me? What are my circumstances calling me to do?
“In this scheme of things we don’t create our lives; we are summoned by life. The important answers are not found inside, they are found outside. This perspective begins not within the autonomous self, but with the concrete circumstances in which you happen to be embedded. This perspective begins with an awareness that the world existed long before you and will last long after you, and that in the brief span of your life you have been thrown by fate, by history, by chance, by evolution, or by God into a specific place with specific problems and needs. Your job is to figure certain things out: What does this environment need in order to be made whole? What is it that needs repair? What tasks are lying around waiting to be performed?’” [Brooks]
How would you answer those questions? What is life asking of you? Here are a couple of ways you could approach this question.
“What did you come here to do?”
Here is an exercise that I did during the early part of this year that I found to be useful and enlightening. I call it “What did you come here to do?”
Take a sheet of paper (a spiral binder works great) and write down the question — What did you come here to do? Then write down the first answer that comes to mind. Write the question again, then write the answer that comes to mind — even if it’s the same one. Continue this for 5 minutes, writing the question, then the answer that pops into your head. Don’t stop writing. If no answer comes to mind right away, write the question again. And again if necessary. (In looking back over my pages, there were times where I wrote the question over and over, 4 or 5 times. That’s OK.) If the same things pop up over and over, write them down over and over. That’s OK, too.
Do this 5 minute exercise every day for 4 or 5 days. You can vary the question: What did I come here to do? What did you come here to do? What did >your name here< come here to do? Stating the question in different persons can sometimes elicit different answers. After the 4 or 5 days are up, go through all the lists and count how many times you wrote each different answer.
For example, you may have written one answer 12 times, another one 10 times, etc. Then list your top ten and put them somewhere you can review them from time to time. (Mine hangs on my bulletin board.) How can you live each day so that you are doing at least some of the things from your list?
Purpose Driven Focus
The 2nd exercise is adapted from Jim Collins’ “hedgehog circles“. The name comes from an ancient parable about a fox who tries many ways to catch a hedgehog but the hedgehog knows one thing perfectly – how to protect itself. No matter what tactics the clever fox uses, the hedgehog rolls itself up into a ball with it’s prickly spines sticking out. “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.”
Collins took this idea of “doing one big thing” and developed the Hedgehog Concept — a tool for determining your one big thing. Take a sheet of paper and draw a Venn diagram — 3 overlapping circles. Label 1 circle = “What are you great at?” Label a 2nd circle = “What do you love to do?” Label the remaining circle = “What does the world need and will pay for?” (Get a copy of the Excelerated Focus Wheel tool here.)
Now, begin listing answers to these 3 questions. Many of your answers may only fit in one circle. Some will fit in the overlap of 2 of the 3 circles. Only a few – perhaps only 1 – will fit in the center of all 3 circles. If none do, keep asking and answering the 3 questions until you have the one answer that meets all 3 questions. This is your Excelerated focus. This is what the world is asking from you.
Answer Life’s Summons
Once you have an idea of what Life is asking from you, consider the context, “the concrete circumstances in which you happen to be embedded”. Suppose your purpose is to “Go West”. There are many destinations that allow you to fulfill your purpose of going West. If you’re in Greenville, SC and your purpose is West, you could go to Walhalla, Memphis, Los Angeles, Hawaii, or Australia. Where are your current circumstances leading you and what are you seeing that needs to be done? There are likely a number of ways you can act on this question which will be in alignment with your purpose.
I believe that we all came here with the same ultimate purpose . . . to be of service to each other. You have a combination of talents, innate abilities, and inclinations that are totally unique. No one living today or who has ever lived, has your same abilities. If you don’t make the contributions only you can make, that part won’t get done. What does Life want from you? You are being summoned by Life. Answer the summons. That is living the Excelerated life!
Excelerated accomplishment — achieving meaningful objectives — is one step in creating your Excelerated life, a life of well-being, meaning, and purpose.
Brooks, David. The Road To Character. New York: Random House, LLC, 2015