Kristin Armstrong Searches for the Meaningful Life
“It isn’t so much what we do that brings meaning or makes a difference; it’s more about how we do it, who we are as we’re doing it, and our why”
In my work I hear the same sentiment, the same aching existential question phrased in a variety of ways. There has to be more than this. What am I supposed to do with my life? Why am I here? What’s my purpose? I want to make a difference, but I don’t know how. I want my life to mean something. I feel like I’m just spinning my wheels. I want something deeper, but I can’t figure out what it is or how to find it. I want to do something meaningful with my time. What’s my legacy?
These phrases are not just mid-life crisis pleas; I hear them from people of all ages. People seem to understand on some level that they are designed for a higher purpose, and they feel restless and even empty when they can’t get a sense of what that higher purpose is.
I like thinking of it this way. If we are all divine beings traveling around in skin suits on this planet for a prescribed period of time, our appearance, our roles or our employment are kind of like undercover agents. This occurred to me years ago when I got my hair done by a woman named Suzanne. Every time I left her salon, I felt like a new person — not just with pretty hair, but better in every way for having spent time in her company. When you sit in her chair, you are the most important person in the world and the focus of all her good energy. Her cover is as a hair dresser, but her real job — her calling and purpose — is to love people and help them love themselves. In her own way, she makes the world a more beautiful place.
I once heard calling described as the intersection between your greatest challenge and the world’s great need. The idea being that each one of us goes through different seasons of trial or difficulty, and they refine us in a specific way, if we are cooperating with our curriculum. It changes you, whatever it is. And as it changes you, it gives you a gift. That gift is the thing you pass on to other people as you go on with life. The gift expresses itself in different ways depending on your personality, your abilities and what you naturally like to do. Some people work a day job that funds their calling. Others find a way to integrate their calling into their job, and work becomes less effort, more about being than doing.
This can get tricky. A client told me about a woman who loved to bake; she started a social media channel about her baking, and later opened a bakery. Sounds like a dream come true story, but she ended up so stressed out about her business that she closed it. She decided it was better for her to retain baking as a source of great happiness rather than making it her job. In this case, her passion was not her purpose — it was her pleasure.
“…it’s more about how we do it, who we are as we’re doing it, and our why.
I like to think that it isn’t so much what we do that brings meaning or makes a difference; it’s more about how we do it, who we are as we’re doing it, and our why. I like to ask myself and my people, “What’s your why?” Often when we can answer this question on a deep, authentic level, it answers all of our questions simultaneously.
If the front door of Meaning or Calling is locked, there is a way to go around and get in the back door. Sometimes a better question is not what (what should I do, what is my purpose), but how do I want to feel? Or how do I want others to feel in my presence? I say this all the time, but the only reason we ever want anything at all, ever, is because we believe it will make us feel a certain way. Once we determine how we want to feel and start moving toward the feeling, intentionally creating ways to feel more of the feeling here and now, things outside of us start lining up.
As Maya Angelou said so beautifully, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
If we carry this idea into our relationships, our parenting, our workplace, our creative expression, our service and our communities, then we will — connection by connection, day after day — find ourselves aligning with our unique purpose and bringing more love and light into the world.