Thomas Merton said: “If you want to identify me, ask me not where I live, or what I like to eat, or how I comb my hair, but ask me what I think I am living for, in detail, and ask me what I think is keeping me from living fully for the thing I want to live for. Between these two answers you can determine the identity of any person.” (Thomas Merton was a monk, and one of the best Catholic authors of the 20th century. He also sounds like the consummate career coach.)
It’s easy to live in the more superficial level that Merton describes. Just yesterday morning, as my daughter shook sleep off her 13-year old body around 9:00 a.m. to get ready for a Bar Mitzvah service for a friend, she was a billboard for outer layer concerns. As are the masses of tween and teens in the world. Is my hair okay or does it look ugly? Will people think I am wearing the same dress too many times? But teens are not the only ones concerned with this. Issues of status, appearances, compensation, lifestyle, and career titles (attorney, sales director, consultant, controller) –the outer layers of one’s existence, are huge for many and certainly many of my clients in transition. We get very attached to that element of ourselves…sometimes it really feels like our identity. Figuring out what lies beneath this isn’t easy. Yet, if you are here reading this, consider yourself in the small percentage of soul-identity adventurers who at least dare to attempt it.
When you are aiming for your next best direction..the one that will enable your greatest impact, as Merton says, getting crystal clear on your true identity is critical. The identity that lies beneath the titles you’ve given yourself at work and in your relationship to your family and friends all of these years. He claims your identity lies in the interaction of two questions:
1) What do you think you are living for?
2) What do you think is keeping you from living fully for that thing?
For question 1: What do you think you are living for?
Beyond skills, attributes, natural talents and so on, this is getting at what drives you. What are you passionate about? What keeps you up at night? What would you do if you never got paid for it, because it just is so pleasurable or fulfilling for you? Is there an injustice or a cause you want to help? Is there a target audience you identify with and want to assist? Do you have an insatiable curiosity or desire to advance something or solve a problem? What values do you stand for, and what are your uncompromising priorities? If you got to the end of your life and were not able to say you lived for this, you would have regrets. If you have, you would be at peace.
For question 2: What is keeping you from more fully doing this?
What fears, beliefs, circumstances, situations or people get in the way of you more fully living for this? OR what are you allowing to get in the way?
How you handle your aim, and what gets in the way of you more fully stepping into it, will speak volumes about your identity. And from there you can use the data to build a purpose-based life plan. It’s a great place to start.
So, purpose-quester….What are you living for? What is getting in the way of you more fully living for it? Please comment below!!