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– Mark Twain
It’s rare that we find ourselves instantaneously in love with an idea, concept, or new occupation and this is where finding what we’re passionate about is key. Our passion is what allows us to open those doors we otherwise wouldn’t touch and test new ideas or challenge our preconceived notions.
While it’s a good practice to set out short-term goals to help determine your progress and effectiveness, it’s equally important that we have a clear understanding of what it is we want to accomplish through these efforts. This is a critical point to distinguishing the short-term, frenetic energy we often associate with our passions, from that steeled and unwavering determination we see in those who have a clear sense of what the purpose is behind what they do.
Let’s face it – no one achieves success by going at it on their own. While we tend to associate the accomplishments of athletes and inventors like Thomas Edison to a single individual, the reality is that their accomplishments were the result of having a supportive network of people helping them to not only succeed, but to keep them on track toward what it is they want to accomplish.
In our drive to find success in our professional and personal lives, it’s only natural that we look to where our passion lies to help us find some direction. However, while we might rely on our passions to light the way, it’s important that we not forget that our passion can only provide us with the kick start we need to get going. It’s only when we make the effort to develop our passions into a sense of purpose that we can create something that is truly enduring and meaningful, and subsequently attain that feeling of success we all aim to reach.
“I don’t believe in ‘time management’ because you can’t manage time….it’s always going regardless if you try to ‘manage’ it. You CAN manage priorities and your energy.”
– John Maxwell
Sometimes, the most important thing about a day is an activity or set of activities. If you’re an athlete, you may prioritize exercise; if you’re a salesperson, you may prioritize making calls. In either case, you are prioritizing the activity over the desired end result.
One of the most potent things you can prioritize are your goals. What’s the difference making something a goal and making it a priority? Goals are rarely within our direct control – our priorities always are.
Sometimes, the most useful thing for us to prioritize is neither an activity nor a goal, but a way of being. These intentions carry on in the background as we engage in activities and pursue our goals. Some useful intentions include “staying present”, “enjoying whatever it is that I am doing”, and “listening and speaking from my heart”.
As oxygen is to the body, attention is to the spirit. When we make a person our priority, we are committing to give them greatest yet simplest gift we posses – the gift of our full, undivided attention.
One of the simplest ways to prioritize something is to begin with it – to put it right at the top of the agenda and stick with it until it’s done. This approach works particularly well with activities and “mini-goals” – i.e. goals that can be completed within the course of a few minutes to a few hours.
I have yet to meet the person who isn’t blown off course during the course of a day. In fact, no matter how many post-it note reminders you stick on your computer, fridge, and dashboard, I guarantee you’ll forget about your chosen priorities again and again. The solution? When you remember, shift your focus and do it now! This approach is particularly useful when you are prioritizing intentions, and people.
How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. How do you prioritize a goal? By coming back to it again, and again, and again. This approach is equally useful with activities, goals, intentions, and people.
For years, I’ve sifted through the existing literature on discovering, uncovering, or creating your life mission, trying things out in my life and wondering why I wasn’t as fulfilled as I believed possible. However, along the way, I’ve made four critical distinctions that have led me to explore deeper levels of meaning, purpose, and satisfaction.
Many people already know what their gifts are – those things in your life that come naturally to you, without any undue personal effort or struggle. However, in a society which places a premium on hard work, it’s easy to overlook and underestimate the value of what you were “born with”. A good way of identifying your gifts is to think of those skills, abilities, or personality traits you exhibit which are so much a part of that you can’t remember learning them and can’t imagine not having them. If you’re still not sure, grit your teeth, ask those people closest to you, and if you’re like most of us, prepare to be embarrassed!
In the old days, it was the most natural thing in the world to hear someone talk about being “called to the priesthood” or “called to be a doctor”. (As with reincarnation, where no-one ever seems to recall a past life where they were “third guy on the left in ancient Egypt”, people never seem to talk about being “called to be a garbage collector”, but I’m sure it happens!) Your calling is what you are continually drawn to, no matter how impractical or impossible it seems to “make a living at it”. In the same way as you choose your work, your calling chooses you, and for many people it is difficult to remember a time when they did not want to do something related to their calling, even if they never have (yet!).
There is a great deal of contention about whether your mission in life is something you create or something you discover. As you’ve probably guessed, I weigh in on the side of creation. In it’s simplest form, you create your mission by deciding how you want to use your gifts in the service of your calling. Do you need to have a mission? Absolutely not, but if you don’t, you are probably missing out on some of the joy, energy, and fulfillment that comes with clarity of purpose and surrender to a higher goal.
If you’re lucky, your work, i.e. what you do for a living, is merely an extension of your mission and you spend each day joyfully using your gifts in the service of your calling. On the off-chance this doesn’t describe you :-), you now have a clear set of criteria for choosing meaningful work.
1. Take a few moments to identify your gifts and clarify your calling. If you’re not sure, simply set the intention to become aware of your gifts and calling and prepare to be amazed as life conveniently drops daily hints and reminders into your life.
(If you already have a mission statement, think about re-evaluating it in the light of what you now know about your gifts and your calling).