For the past decade, there have been a ton of media (books, shows, blogs) focused on finding your purpose. Many of them emphasize identifying your personal brand, finding that exact right fit in a job, or setting off on a massive hero’s quest to eliminate some social ill. In the wake of this upsurge of “Oh The Places You’ll Go” messages I find many people a little disenfranchised, cynical and in a general state of “purpose paralysis” (which is characterized by the lack of movement caused by an inability to define one’s exact purpose in life.) Not good, and in my opinion, not necessary.
Unfortunately, there are many who manipulate and play on our need for a sense of purpose and significance. They appeal to people who already feel a bit “on the outside” and are looking for a way to feel better about where their life is headed. They latch onto the purpose trend and feed a fantasy about becoming a celebrity, getting rich, or dominating an industry. In other words, they use our biggest fears of being insignificant to line their own pockets. Nice.
But there are others who take a different tact. They desire only to see people unleashed to do they are wired to do and to add meaning to the world. This definition of “changing the world” is altogether different. It’s personal. It’s real. I like these people. A lot.
There are a few values that my wife and I have been trying to instill in our three children. These values (that I recently referenced on my personal blog) contradict much of what popular media and “culture at large” seems to value and amplify, but I believe that they are three things that – if they truly live them out – will allow them to change the world around them. Here are three simple mindset changes that I believe will allow any of us to change the world:
1. Contribution, not celebrity. It’s said that Ben Franklin began each day asking, “What good will I do today?” and ended each day by asking, “What good did I do today?” I think these are excellent questions to develop into a practice. In a western culture that seems to value celebrity with no merit whatsoever, we must begin to ask once more “what does it mean to contribute?” This is the question that – I believe – should be at the front of every creative’s mind as they go about their work. Your capacity to change the world is directly tied to how you engage your work and spend your time and energy.
2. Love, not fear. We are a stick-driven society. We’re constantly reminded of how many ways we’re likely to die before lunch. We fear the economy, the flu, terrorism, bedbugs, not being significant, dying alone, marrying the wrong person, never being recognized for our work. We create work that communicates scarcity rather than abundance. We fear that others will get opportunities that we won’t. I think it’s a worthy exercise to – as my friend Ben articulated well – ask whether what you’re creating is expressing love to people, or just using them.
3. Generosity, not consumption. There has been a subtle shift in the media over the past few decades toward classifying the masses as consumers. And if recent studies are any indication, America (specifically) seems to be accelerating its consumption precipitously. What if – rather than being primarily a scarcity-based consumer – we adopted a mindset of generosity? What if we regularly asked as we headed into a meeting or made a life decision, “Am I leaving more here than I’m taking?” What if our mindset shifted from “what’s in it for me?” to “what can I offer to you?” This would change things pretty quickly.
The cynic in me wants to shoot back, “Yeah, but if I do that people will take advantage of me and I’ll wind up broke and discounted and a laughing stock.” I want to adopt an “OK…I’ll do it as soon as everyone else starts doing it too” attitude.
But isn’t that what changing the world is all about? Doing things differently and swimming against the stream? Trying to use our gifts as influence and spend our currency on what matters most to us?
I’d challenge you – as I’m challenging myself – not to worry so much about the grand purpose of your life. You can’t choose your legacy, you can only choose how you engage each and every moment. How you create. How you go about your work. How you encourage and build up others. How you subvert your need to feed your insecurities in order to do what’s right. How you value character over the perception of others.
Changing the world is about what you choose to do in the next ten minutes. Get to it.