“If we aim at nothing, we are sure to hit it.”
No More Therapists
I got some interesting feedback when I ended a blog the other week with the idea that increased community empathy would likely lead to a greatly reduced need for therapists, and I said I was ok with that. The responses were similar to what I get in my initial session with people when I tell them that my goal is to work myself out of a job.
Rrriiiggghhhtttt they say/think.
But it’s true. Yes, I do love what I do. I get to help empower and equip people to unlearn the things that hold them back so that they are free to be their healthiest, most effective and fulfilled selves. It is a fantastic way to spend a life.
At the same time, if the need for therapists disappeared, I’d still be good. I would simply find a different way to live out my Life Mission: “Soften Sorrow, Hold Hope, Encourage Empowerment.”
That is the enduring strength of wrapping our lives around a Life Mission. That’s why I’m so adamant about it.
I was born in a turbulent time in the United States. Many things that had once seemed sure were being importantly shaken to their core. The hard, exclusionary mantle that had formed around our systems and government was being cracked open in an earthquake of change.
Those cracks and fissures were necessary to let the light of a fuller truth in: The “American Dream” was only accessible to certain Americans, on the backs and necks of all of the other Americans. Since then, some things have changed. Many have not. The harder our resistance to growth becomes, the more powerful the earthquake will be, earnestly trying to grow us into something healthier.
Even in the upheaval of my childhood days, there were certain things that seemed inviolable. The idea that our Democracy could fail and potentially give way to a dictatorship seemed laughable. The thought that our country would be attacked on our own soil was only vaguely a thing, because while a ground war against us would just be stupid, nuclear war was entirely possible and we didn’t trust the people with their fingers on the buttons. Most of us never imagined that terrorists could get through the seemingly solid line of our intelligence community.
Technology was still something that was just dream-casted into sci-fi television shows like Star Trek. Having our infrastructures cyber-attacked, or being pinpoint targeted with over five thousand points of data that could manipulate our voting choices was as unfathomable as commercial air travel would have been to our ancestors in the 1600’s.
The illusion of solid ground held when I was a child has now likewise been chopped up by still more necessary “earthquakes.”
What does this have to do with Life Mission, Tiffany?
The idea of having a “Life Mission” can sound, at first blush, like an act of pampered First World Privilege. Our standing as a First World country has seemed a bit tenuous over the last decade as transformative earthquakes again start to re-order our daily experiences. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs had a whole lot of people abandoning such lofty ideas as “purpose” in pursuit of toilet paper not too long ago.
But here’s the irony: When the things that once seemed sure around us start to crumble and fall, our very best response is doubling down on purposefulness, not abandoning it.
Right now, at this very moment, there are human beings living in situations that demand their primary attention go to survival. Some live in rural or urban areas of the United States, trapped in systemic, intergenerational poverty, lacking shelter, food and viable opportunities to find enduring stability. Some live in once-lovely countries that have been reduced, quite literally, to rubble and an almost feral existence. Some live in countries that seemed almost overnight to go from a decent place to live, to a daily struggle to navigate an oppressive government system that changed all of “the rules” upon which people built their lives, wellbeing and future.
I know and have worked with a number of people who have been in or are still in some of those circumstances. Hope is incredibly fragile when everything is in threat. Even speaking the word “hope” at the wrong time can feel like sandpaper on the soul. And yet, the most powerful survival force I have ever witnessed in people in dire circumstances, is hope.
How Do We Hope?
Hope is about vision; Seeing what could be and moving tenaciously toward it. If vision is not rooted in something substantive, it gets carried away by any strong wind of challenge. What do we root our vision in? Purpose. And how do we know what our purpose is? Life Mission.
What are you here to do? What is the positive contribution that you are uniquely impassioned to give? I’m not talking about something as limited as a career or a project, but rather, what is the effect that you are hard-wired to have on the people, the planet and everything in it/on it?
Think Big and Think Small
I gave my LIfe Mission above as an example: “Soften Sorrow, Hold Hope, Encourage Empowerment.” It’s something I gauge all of my best choices on, as a therapist, as a friend, as wife, as a Mom, as a community member. Is this thing I’m thinking about doing moving me toward or away from my Life Mission? That kind of purposefulness has served as the best antidepressant I have ever found.
Our LIfe Missions are not bound to circumstances. I will do the thing I’m here to do when times are good, when times are terrible, when things seem sure, when nothing is sure. When depression, confusion or despair try to drown us, our Life Mission can bring our vision back on line and infuse us with the kind of hope that makes the threatening feelings melt into irrelevance. It floods our inner space with answers to “What else is true?” restoring our connection to the power of “And.” This releases our creativity, resilience and perspective, irrespective of external circumstances.
While a Life Mission can try to feel like some huge, unfathomable, pie-in-the-sky notion, it really isn’t. I was honored many years ago to be introduced to this idea and some practical tools to define it by traumatologist, Dr. J. Eric Gentry. Since then, I’ve been tailoring the process in my own way and walking people through how to nail it down for themselves.
It has been so powerful that I want to do what I can to see that as many people as possible can define their Life Mission.
I am planning to do a short, free, Saturday workshop both in person and in virtual space to walk people through defining their Life Mission. If you’re interested, or know someone else who might be, please contact me here so that I can start to work out the logistics. Let’s do this thing!