How One Human Life Matters

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Some days we wake up, we go through our routines, and are reminded that life is just one repeating event that happens day after day. We think there is little we’ve done that matters and realize we will never be on television or have articles written about us in some well known newspaper. We most likely will never write a great novel and no matter what we’re told by the well meaning people in our lives we cannot be whatever we want because we have to be what we need to be for the people depending on us. Most of us are mothers who care for our families and fathers who provide for those depending on us. We work jobs that make money so we can pay our bills and we have to maintain our homes through tedious tasks such as doing laundry, cutting grass, shoveling snow, and fixing those simple devices meant to make our lives easier. Life goes on like a ship headed out to sea and we simply stand on the shore and watch it move further and further away from us. Certainly there are moments of joy and happiness among these routines, but there are also days of mere repetitive necessary tasks. For many people it leaves them with the impression that their life, while important, really doesn’t matter to that many people. And it is that belief that is woefully wrong.

I’ve often quoted a friend of mine who was a Roman Catholic priest. He was an only child and while close to his cousins, he had little family that he associated with. As a Roman Catholic priest he couldn’t marry so he had no children and no wife to share his life with. He once told me that many men in his situation say “There is nothing more dead than a dead priest” to capture the life they live. He believed no one really remembers them because they have no one to carry on their memory. Yet this man has had a continual impact on my life as well as my whole family, He was so wrong about the impact he had on me and mine; he was a friend and I loved him very much.

My father was also taken from us unexpectedly when he died in his sleep. He had dinner with me and my family, went home with my mom, kissed her goodnight, went to bed, and then died of a major heart attack in his sleep. My dad never thought he was anything special. He was a retired police officer who died believing that he simply did his duty as a father and husband, nothing more. He never believed he did anything more than what a good dad and husband needed to do and took pride in the fact he was a simple officer of the law for a city he loved.

Both these men were very important to me but more than that, I don’t think they ever realized how much their lives mattered, even though they lived these lives in the simplest and most ordinary way. Every life matters because it impacts the lives of others in ways the one who lives it never imagines. The simplest courtesy can unburden a desperate soul looking for one act of kindness. The kindest smile can give someone that one glimpse of what is good in humanity they needed to experience that day. Your life matters and you should live that life as if it does. No matter what you do for a living or how you spend your time throughout the day when you live it being reminded how much it matters you impact people in ways you could never imagine or may never know.

My fear is that most of us living today are living as if what we say, do, or how we live doesn’t matter. Don’t do that. Choose your words wisely, be mindful of what you do and how you treat others, and take care that the work you complete is done in the most excellent way you can do it. By living that way you may inspire the next great leader of the nation, show a person love when they feel most unloved, and keep someone from taking their life because they despaired that no one cares for them. Those men I spoke of earlier died. Their death has left my life emptier than when they were in it. However, my life is also much better and fuller in many ways because they lived the most ordinary lives in the most inspiring ways and shared their lives with me. My friend the priest has helped me understand the importance of faith in human living and that service to my fellow human beings is a noble cause. My father inspired me to care for my family and sacrifice my wants, desires, and needs so that they may flourish. He taught me that happiness in a family isn’t getting everything I want from those in it, but rather seeing those in the family find success and reach their dreams and goals because you are willing to sacrifice some of your own. Neither of these men will ever have a movie made about them and like most, after about three or four generations their name may be nothing more than a carving on a gravestone. But that’s not what matters. They have touched and inspired me to be a better man than I would have ever been if I never knew them, and hopefully I have given that same experience to others, and so on, and so on. One life really does matter, choose to live yours in a way that impacts the world in a positive inspirational way through the most ordinary and mundane tasks. Be that pebble that strikes the still water of human existence and sends ripples through it that make the world a little better than if you were never in it. Your life matters, believe it.

Finding Meaning and Purpose In Life

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In the last BLOG, I indicated that the key to maintaining good habits has to do with connecting those habits and goals to your meaning and purpose in life. While that’s a great way to stay focused and committed to things that are difficult, a number of my readers and workshop attendees often say, “How do I know what my purpose in life is?” Let’s explore that a little and see if I can give you some insight into how to discover what that might be. Please be patient with yourself as you go through this process, it can take time and requires some real reflection on your part. However, If you take the time to understand what this is, you’ll be greatly rewarded!

One of the first things to consider when trying to discover your life’s meaning and purpose is to think about the things and activities you’re passionate about. A good place to start is often with your hobbies. Too often we think of our hobbies as simple diversions that allow us to escape from the world. More often than not, your hobby is a reflection of your deepest passion. For example, you may really enjoy spending time buying old furniture and using it to create a modified version of its original look. An old mirror might be transformed into a more modern and exotic piece of furniture that captures everyone’s attention. You like being creative and taking something that someone gave away and turn it into something new, inspirational, and valuable. While you may not make this type of work your job, there is something about it that touches the very center of who you are. What you need to do is spend time thinking about what exactly it is that draws you in and motivates you to spend time refabricating old furniture and turning it into a valuable product. It may not be what you’re “actually” doing, it may be the process or some aspect and characteristic of the work that draws you in totally unrelated to the actual furniture.

I grew up performing magic shows and I became quite a proficient ventriloquist. I would put on shows in my garage, invite the whole neighborhood, and was a frequent guest at numerous birthday parties. I went from performing magic tricks to playing the guitar and learning every Beatles’ song I could get my hands on. I found I loved being in front of people and performing even though I was a very shy kid. From magic to music I later found myself employed as an IT consultant, then a therapist, minister, and now a college professor. How are any of these things related to one another? It took me a long time to see the thread that tied them together, but I believe it is something obvious once you think about it. First, I like the mystery involved in knowing something that others are straining to understand. The magic tricks and ventriloquism were a mystery to my friends and family and when I could make that mystery interesting to them I loved it. Also, all these activities involve engaging people and helping them find something more from life. Sure, ventriloquism isn’t some profound art that assists people to find greater meaning and purpose but it did give them some joy and entertainment so their life was a little better. Being an IT consultant allowed me to take something that was mysterious to many business owners and show them how it could empower them to be more profitable and help their customers. Being a therapist allowed me to help people with the mysteries of everyday life through the power of psychology and being a minister allowed me to walk with people in the ultimate mystery of life found in the divine experience. Lastly, as a college professor, I help young people engage in the mysteries of their educational pursuits so they are empowered to do great things in the world after they leave our university. My hobbies and interest led me to see a common meaning and purpose in my life (By the way, I still love magic but my wife won’t let me pick up the ventriloquist dummy again).

Let’s get back to the individual who loves working with old furniture. It may not be that their meaning and purpose in life is to create new and interesting pieces of furniture (Of course it may be that, but it doesn’t have to be). They may be the type of person who finds meaning and purpose by taking what many people believe to be a “throwaway” item, experience, idea, or God forbid, person and work with them to be something interesting, better, and polished. Maybe this person can find meaning and purpose working with school kids that no one else wants to work with. They can take these souls the school system has thrown away and turned them into empowered, accomplished, educated people. It doesn’t matter what you do, what matters is why you do it. That why is the most powerful motivating force in your life.

Let me close this post with this final homework assignment that I want you to work on. Look at the things you’re passionate about and ask yourself what the root of that activity or idea is that motivates you? What is the unconscious experience in your hobby that speaks to the meaning and purpose in your life? If you can do that, in the next post I will show you how to discern that passion in a holistic healthy way.

Why You Can’t Maintain Good Habits!

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In the last post, I indicated that we really need to take a hard look at ourselves in a holistic way and start setting goals that make us healthier. I proposed we set goals that help us take better care of our bodies, our minds, emotions, relationships, and spiritual lives. This is the best approach to healthy living because each of these five spheres of human life encompasses much of who we are and are completely integrated with each other. If you take care of your mind, your body becomes more healthy and if you take care of your emotions you can think more clearly, etc., you get the idea. That means you should set at least five goals, or at least be mindful of five important practices related to your physical health, your emotional life, your mental life, your relationships, and your spiritual life. That might mean you set the proverbial weight loss goal but you should also attempt to spend quality time with each of your family members throughout the week. Perhaps you can enjoy dinner out with your spouse, playing cards with your children, or taking time to call a friend you haven’t talked with for some time. When you focus on all five of these areas you’re looking at your life holistically and each goal and habit you start for each area will help you in the others.

One of the toughest things about setting goals and developing habits is we seldom follow through with them. We feel inspired to lose that 10 pounds but after about five days we start ignoring the diet, the exercise, and the new gym equipment we got for Christmas. Other goals and habits are just as easily ignored. I know a number of my friends who got tablets for Christmas because they were going to start reading more ebooks this year… Mostly they are binging Netflix shows on them and haven’t even purchased their first ebook. Why is it so hard to get started on building new healthy habits? Being healthy is important to me so why can’t I do it!

The main reason you can’t maintain (or start) good habits and complete your goals is that they have no connection to what you believe your meaning and purpose in life is. Even worse, you may not know what your purpose in life might be! You may be one of those kind souls drifting from one thing to another, functioning well enough, enjoying parts of your life, but not living life with purpose. When you either have no purpose or can’t connect your goals and habits to that purpose, you fail. What we do has to matter and I mean “really” matter. If it doesn’t connect to what you believe is your purpose, it just won’t matter. In fact, you may simply be adopting a goal or habit because it just seems like something people ought to do. Remember, something you ought to do is not something you will pursue with any real energy and is almost as bad as something you should do or need to do from a motivational perspective. You want your habits and goals to be something you do because it allows you to fulfill your life’s purpose. For example, I hate to eat right and I hate to exercise. I would love it if I could maintain a decent looking midsection while eating cake and reading my favorite book. Sugar and reading are two of my greatest addictions! The problem is when I do that I look fat and can’t keep up with my family who likes to travel, hike, and do so many physically exerting activities. Yet, even though I hate these things, I eat fairly well, limiting my sugar and I exercise at least three to five times a week. How is it I can consistently participate in something I hate? First, it’s important to me to be a father who can participate in all my family’s activities. I want to make memories with my family and to do that I have to be able to travel with them and participate in all the activities they enjoy. Secondly, I’m a college professor and speaker. I’m frequently in front of groups of people which means my physical appearance is part of my message. Nothing will distract more from my teaching than a physical appearance that doesn’t reflect healthy living and temperance that I speak about as an essential part of living well. I can’t let my addiction to sugar and sedentary activity keep me from fulfilling my purpose which is to help empower people to be the best they can be. Because of that, I exercise and watch my food intake so that I can fulfill my life purpose.

What I want all of you to do as you start thinking about your next set of goals and habits is to ask yourself, “Does this really help me accomplish my life mission? Will this help me fulfill my purpose?” If it doesn’t, don’t pretend you’re going to continue pursuing that activity, it will fall short. If you really think it’s important, you need to connect it to that life mission if it’s going to be something you do consistently. If you don’t know what your life mission or purpose is, stay tuned, next week we will look at how to develop that. See you then!

What is The Meaning and Purpose of YOUR Life?

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I often write about the need for people to live with meaning and purpose to be psychologically well.  Because of that people often ask me, “How do you discover what your life’s meaning and purpose is?”    I do understand It’s an elusive concept and not very easily captured when asked to tell someone what you think it is.  To speak of living with meaning and purpose can sound so abstract when we do talk about it, we feel like we’re attending a philosophy course.  Because of this abstract nature Let me see if I can give you some guidance to help you discover what your life’s meaning and purpose might be.  You may find you’re already living it in ways you never expected, or you may find it’s time to make some changes in order to live a more flourishing existence.

To get started you need to develop the habit of self-reflection.  Frequently we mistake finding meaning and purpose in life as simply discovering what you love to do.  That’s not true, although it can be something you love doing more often than not.  No one loves to do anything all the time.  In fact, when you do something meaningful, you’re often working hard, failing, and learning how to improve what it is you do to be the best at doing it!  There have been plenty of times doing what I feel is my life’s purpose is downright miserable.  Yet, when I have had to do difficult things and these things are understood in the context of my life’s purpose, they are much more tolerable than just doing something because it must be done.  What you need to spend time reflecting on is the themes and trends in your life where you flourished.  When were you doing things that not only felt like you were made to do them, but that you had a proclivity toward doing them well?

For example, in my life I have a knack for listening to people and helping them develop solutions and solve their own problems.  I am not saying I am good at solving problems, rather I seem to have an ability to listen to people, ask them questions, engage them in dialogue, and then facilitate a type of discovery that leads them to do better at whatever it is they need to do.  In my life I seem to bring a calming atmosphere to personal engagements.  I’m told I’m easy to talk with, seem to empathize and care about what people have to say, and generally show insight into other people’s problems.  When I look back on my life, I can see this theme emerging in a number of ways.

Within my family, I am told I was an easy child to be around.  As I got older, the opinion of my family members was that having me at home made the home feel full and comfortable.  When I went away to college people would come to my dorm room and share things with me they weren’t comfortable sharing with anyone else.  When it came to employment my first job continued to reflect this theme.  I became at IT consultant for several different consulting firms.  As an IT consultant I was often tasked with being the person who interacted with the customer to clarify their goals and objectives that the project we were working on needed to meet.  The team of IT engineers I worked with often said customers seem to “open up” and engage with me better than the others on our team.  Lastly, I am both an educator and therapist in my present vocation.  In these roles I find that I continue to be someone that helps other people learn, grow, and solve their own problems.  Again, I’m not a problem solver, that doesn’t seem to be my purpose in life, rather I’m one who facilitates problem solving in others.

Now, I have the benefit of looking over the past 54 years of living to talk about my life’s meaning and purpose.  Some of you reading this may be in your early twenties and don’t have as much experience to reflect upon.  That’s okay.  Self-reflect, spend time thinking about what you discover, and look for what might be a common theme in your life up to this point.  If you can start to see some meaning and purpose emerge, you’re starting to get a sense of what you are meant to do with your life.  Try finding any work that allows that purpose to emerge and be tested.  Think creatively, it doesn’t have to be directly related to what you’re discovering about yourself, but it should provide you with more experiences to reflect upon.  Who would think an IT consultant would reflect a life’s purpose of helping others solve their own problems?  People hire consultants to solve those problems for them!  Whatever it is, start finding things to do that seem to reflect that purpose and continue to evaluate it over time.  Even if you’re a little off base and haven’t nailed it down perfectly, eventually something more will emerge and your life’s meaning and purpose will continue to make itself know.

As a last point, ask people you trust and who know you well what they think about what you’ve discoverer about yourself.  People you can trust will be brutally honest and you need that feedback to stay on track. We frequently fool ourselves believing one thing about ourselves when in reality, we’re nothing like what we think.  Self-delusion is a problem easily solved by interacting with others and letting them tell you what they think about who you are and the gifts and talents you have.

So much psychological research teaches us that people who live meaningful lives and do what they believe is their purpose in life thrive and are successful.  Over the next few posts I will help you do that very thing.  For now, practice some self-reflection.  If you want, send me a note and let me help you dig a little deeper, I would love to hear from you!