Yesterday I turned 48. Since I’m pretty sure I’m going to live until 96, I think I’ve officially reached my exact half-way point in life. Intermission, or halftime if you will.
Halftime is the time allotted for rest, evaluation, adjustment, and planing, all to see the rest of the game through to the end, hopefully with a positive outcome. We get the benefit of reflecting on the first half. What went well, what didn’t, and what do we think will work going forward? It’s a time to assess all of the moving parts and make some quick decisions on how we interpret that assessment. It’s a time to re-focus and re-energize.
Heidi and I use a little exercise called SNIP’D (Strengths, Needs Improvement, Projects, and Delete). We take each category of our life (we have eight) and we apply a reflective exercise to honestly evaluate each category. It’s a halftime of sorts but we do it once a year and it takes a couple days. I’m lobbying to do this twice a year because one of my learnings is that I lose enthusiasm or steam and would benefit from a more frequent re-tooling of sorts.
You could argue life is one big game, and we are all just trying to play it to the best of our ability. Some play to win, some play for power, some for love, and some for fun. This might lead to the age-old question of the meaning of life, but that’s some heavy stuff and maybe a discussion for another day.
The title of this essay is How to Find Your Purpose and Maximize Your Potential. If you’ve read this far to find the secret, you may have been misled by this author. I walk around most days scratching my head wondering just exactly how I’m ever going to find my purpose. And maximizing my potential? Don’t get me started. I’ll likely soon end up in very expensive therapy trying to eat that big matzo ball. The big nasty Potential Dragon has been breathing fire on me for decades now. I’m dodging those fireballs as I’m digging in the dirt trying to find my purpose hidden under any promising looking unturned rock.
The truth is some people are certain of their purpose and some of those have even known since they were sniffling their way through elementary school. But I don’t think that’s most. I’m willing to bet I’m in the majority. The wanderers. The ones who know there is something out there with the same certainty that they haven’t found it yet. And I think most people probably have at least a tickle of a bigger itch somewhere deep inside that lets them know they are meant for more.
So there lies the rub. What do we do with the gap? What do we do with the vast green landscape spanning between what we are and what we can be? I can tell you what I’ve been doing. I’ve been watching the grass grow. It hurts me to admit it. It seems so big with no clear path. Feel free to insert all kinds of cliches here. “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” “You don’t have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great.” Just google it and you’ll find all kinds of nice quotes over images of sunsets or mountains.
So if you are watching the grass grow too and also wondering what your “purpose” is or what your “true potential” would look like, you are not alone.
The question is, what do we do about it? I think the first step is to become comfortable with the idea that these questions will always remain questions. There’s an idea that floated my way not too long ago with respect to the “purpose” question and I like it. What if our purpose is to just be ourselves? Really, in a world where most are portraying some veiled version of a person they wish others to know and change masks to accommodate the circumstance, what if we were able to find a way to be so secure in who we are that we just “are who we are.” In one line, my purpose is to be entirely me all the time. My daughter Lucie, when asked as a kindergartener what she wanted to be when she grew up, answered “Lucie!” The teacher, to clarify, asked “so when you grow up you want to be a bigger version of yourself?” “Yes!” Well, of course, we should all be the same authentic version of ourselves we were when we were five. Never were truer words spoken.
Ok, so we knocked that one out of the way. Now on to that pesky “potential” problem. Let’s just be fair for a moment. Maximized potential is a moving target. Have you ever found the end of a rainbow? Ok, then let’s just succumb to the reality that potential is an elusive wisp of wind we will never bottle. How then do we wrap our arms around this plague that eats at us and keeps us up at night? Trust me, this is me telling myself as much as telling you. It’s gotta be in the doing. On any given day, Kobe Bryant was more focused on making three hundred shots than he was on winning the championship. Tiger Woods was more locked into making 50 four-foot putts in a row with just his right hand than he was on winning the next major. To “be” the best they could be, or let’s call it maximizing potential, they just had to “do” the things that made them “be” that person.
It can get a little gray, however, and not so simple. If I wanted to be the best piano player I could be I think it’s clear the route would involve practicing the piano. That seems straight forward. As we look across that big green landscape mentioned before, you know, the one that lies between today you and future you, we have to decide what traits future self possesses. So this takes some clear thinking, maybe writing some stuff down. Is future you fitter? Nicer? More loving? More nurturing? In a different career? In a different city or house? Exemplifying different money mindset? Creating? Building something? Watching less TV or Instagram? Writing more? Meditating? Taking more saunas and cold plunges? Vegan? Rid of certain people or things?
I think that big green expanse, the one by which I’ve been studying the grass growth rate, can be so intimidating because the distance gets really fuzzy. Like a mentor once taught me, sometimes we are beating our head against a brick wall in an effort to break through to the other side and we don’t realize we put the bricks there ourselves. If breakthrough is on the other side of the brick wall, just take down the bricks and save the concussion. My idea that “potential” is this big Great Wall of China that I will never cross has made me stop trying. But I built that wall. In other words, I created a “story” that “potential” is my big blocker. That story has kept me safe from experiencing the potential discomfort of trying. What I’ve learning is the discomfort of paralysis is way worse. There is no wall. There’s just the first step on some pretty soft green grass. And since I’m never going to get to “potential” I can rest easy that I haven’t gotten there yet. So I think I’ll walk and take it all in just a little more. I hope I see you along the way.