Heroing Purpose

In a previous post, I covered the concept of Heroing, the act of saving something or someone from something. In the context of ourselves, we hero ourself to protect ourself from something, usually discomfort. Heroing is an unconscious move we make when we do not want to face something in our lives, whether it be stress, an uncomfortable situation, a chore that we just don’t want to do, etc.

We hero ourselves with our purpose too. The issue with purpose is that we’re scared to live it. The idea usually goes something like this: I can’t live a life of deep meaning because I couldn’t make a living doing my purpose! And if I couldn’t make a living doing my purpose, then I’d be bankrupt! And if I’m bankrupt I’ll lose my house; and if I lose my house, I’ll lose my spouse and my kids! Therefore, I can’t pursue meaning, and I must subject myself to some other mind-numbing occupation for the rest of my life!

But our soul is screaming at us to live our purpose, to live an abundant life full of meaning. But since we are scared where that may take us, we unconsciously hero ourselves by providing a little bit of short-term relief to satisfy and quiet our soul.

Sound familiar? Hold on, don’t leave just yet; bear with me.

The problem with that scenario is that our very soul won’t let our purpose go that easily. The soul is always knocking on the door, it’s always whispering, creating opportunities for purpose...whatever method your soul uses to get your attention, it’s persistently reminding you that your purpose is waiting for you to let it free.

Now, you may say, but I don’t even know what my purpose is! I disagree and would tell you that you actually do know what your purpose is. Now, it’s highly likely you haven’t articulated it yet or have gotten clarity around it, but you do know--and your soul definitely knows--what your purpose is. But that’s for another post.

For now, let’s get back to how we hero or create relief for ourselves when our soul is providing some purpose-driven pressure. We’ll use a little fiction to explore the topic:

Jack loves to paint. As a teenager, he discovered painting in high school. He loved it. When he would paint, he noticed he would come alive. He was extremely good at it. Some said he was even better than his teacher, but he was definitely better than any other student, hands down. He had a natural talent, and he had never connected with something like this before.

His teachers and counselors encouraged him to pursue his passion. He researched and found some good art schools in the region. One day, he finally mustered up the courage to tell his parents that he wanted to attend SCAD, an internationally recognized art and design school. Without looking up from his phone, his dad muttered, “How are you going to make a living with an art degree? I’m not paying for an art school.”

And right there on the spot, Jack’s dream was squashed. Over the next several months, he began to convince himself of the same, How would I make a living? I couldn’t make a living painting! So he got more practical and responsible. He applied to a public university and enrolled in their graphic design program. Close enough, he thought, and it appeased his parents as well. What he didn’t realize is he was trying to appease his soul at the same time.

He learned to run a printing press, and he got to dabble in design, but never painting, mind you. It sort of scratched the itch, but not really. After college, he got a job with an ad agency, where from time to time, he would get projects that stretched him creatively. That’s what kept him going, but such projects never reached the depth of his soul.

He got married, bought a house, and he jumped at the chance to paint the interior of his new home. He had almost forgotten how much he enjoyed painting, although this was a different type of painting. He sensed a kindling of a small spark, but he didn’t recognize it.

A few years later, his wife was expecting, she asked if he could paint a mural on their soon-to-be-daughter’s wall. He jumped at the chance. His job was getting really mundane, but painting the house and painting the mural satisfied him enough that he could keep going.

A couple of years later, he was really unfulfilled. He couldn’t put his finger on it. It didn’t feel right because he had the “perfect” life: A beautiful wife, two healthy kids, a great house in a great neighborhood. He worked for the most prestigious agency in town, and he was even on some of the best accounts. But his days were more about sale pitches and tracking his time. He was actually pretty miserable.

Then, out of the blue something came up! His church asked if he would paint the new theater set for the kids’ program. You would think that someone had commissioned him for a multi-year, multi-million dollar painting. He jumped at the chance and dove in. When he was done with the project, the jaw of the children's minister hit the floor. Who is this person? Who knew he was this talented? She had never seen such a theatrical set before!

Jack beamed at his work. It took him several weeks, and he knew he put more into it than asked. But Jack couldn’t help himself. He just got lost in the work, and he loved every moment of it. He basked in the glow of his creation for a short time, but reality soon crept back in. He had to go to work on Monday. He certainly couldn’t paint theater sets for a living. He had a family to support!

And on goes the story, of Jack’s soul knocking, whispering and manifesting opportunities for Jack to paint. But Jack paints more as a hobby. He scratches his itch of purpose, but then he goes back to reality. By doing his hobbies and pseudo-associated projects that are somewhere in the realm of his purpose, Jack provides some relief that his soul and purpose are thirsting. But he’s not living his purpose. Sure, it gives him a hit. His hobbies provide him just enough lift to keep him going.

Jack is heroing his purpose. He unconsciously finds outlets to scratch the itch of meaning his soul seeks, but he is not making any conscious commitment to live for that meaning.

And like Jack, we too have a deep-seated fear that keeps us from living or even discovering our purpose. We most likely have the experience of someone influential in our lives telling us we can’t live a life of meaning. The reasons vary from not being able to make a living, or we won’t be good enough or some other well-intentioned comment that we end up using to create a jail cell for our soul. Or it’s a variety of other factors, such as our environment, our baggage, limiting beliefs or inaccurate assumptions that keep us from what our soul is craving: purpose.

How are you heroing your purpose? What activities do you do that makes your soul feel good for a moment, but which you could certainly never do more of? What job do you have to go back to, and why is it you can’t go back to a vocation or a role that fulfills you? Are you settling for your station in life, intermittently getting small hits of fulfilling experiences to keep you going?

What would it look like for you to stop doing all the small heroing and let the pressure build up where you HAD to do your purpose, whatever it took?

For me, it’s getting up in the morning and writing. It’s reading books I know I want to read and making the time to do so. It’s creating plans and setting goals to increase the percentage of my day that I am living in purpose to the portion of time that I am not. What I am doing right now, writing this post, is 100% aligned with my purpose.

It starts as easy as that: consciously choosing to increase the percentage of purpose-driven activities for which your soul thirsts.