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In meeting #1 of each Personal Exploration Space, I’d like to hear thoughtful answers to a single question I don’t know how to ask.

There are lots of crappy ways to put it:

  • The meaning of life
  • Finding your purpose
  • Finding yourself
  • Doing what you’re passionate about
  • Finding your calling
  • Fulfilling God’s plan for your life
  • Living fully integrated

They’ve all let me down.  So let me take a swing at it and add my own crappy catch phrase to the pile: clarifying your muse.

A Set of Questions:

Some of these questions might help jump start your imagination, if you read them slowly enough:

  • What is the thing that is inside your soul that also wants to create more of that thing in the future?
  • What draws you to it?  What is an irresistible enigma for you?  A siren song?
  • What role can only you fulfill?  What person or job needs you, specifically?
  • What is the common thread through all the projects you’ve been the most excited about?
  • What makes you feel alive while you are pursuing it?
  • What was the most meaningful thing anyone ever did for you and why was it so meaningful?  How might you pass that core importance to others?
  • What do you uniquely bring to your most memorable projects?
  • What youthful resolutions have you long ago forgotten and failed?
  • Why are you really proudest of your proudest accomplishment?
  • What target beckons you? Dares you; tempts you to hit it?

Or maybe more granularly:

  • What would you like to get out of this next season of your life?
  • What’s something that you would be proud to inch toward?
  • What’s something that you would want to try, but would be too embarrassed for anyone to know you were working on?
  • What bad thing was passed to you, that you don’t want to pass on?

Or maybe make a list of books, movies, advice, passions, goals, role models, etc. that you remember being moved by, but you have since moved on from. Aim at the spirit and heart more than the specifics – Why was that thing important to you? What was already inside of you before you encountered it, that it agitated or invigorated in you?  Why do you think it made you come alive and do you wish it still did?

Old Farts

For some of us, at some point in our lives, we are reminded; maybe by an icon or a picture of ourselves.  Maybe we come across a recording or writing from earlier in our lives or are suddenly struck by some piece of nostalgia.  But this time, instead of just being a memory, we experience an embodiment as we recall what it was like to be us, long, long ago, full of an idealism that we somewhere discarded like the proverbial baby in the bathwater.

Young Bucks

Others are not old enough to have this experience yet.  For them, the same questions apply.  But these people must work to push past the smoke screen of a noble goal.  Young people see a project or a movement that draws them and think that goal is their purpose.  That’s a understandable confusion, but a patently ridiculous notion!

The truth is, if that person were born in a different time, before or after their favorite project or movement, they would still be drawn as deeply to another movement.  So the question becomes: what is the common thread between the things you find irresistible, across space and time?  What hook exists specifically in your soul, that allows you to be drawn so completely toward a pursuit?

(HINT: You likely don’t know. And your first, second, third, and sixtieth answers are not quite right. But as long as you stay open to change and are willing to be wrong, you can keep clarifying as you approach it throughout your life.  For now, guess and be wrong.  You’ll be closer than those who never guess.)

One Small Example

For me? George Carlin. But behind George Carlin – one of the things I’m invigorated by is tearing down bloated, exploitive systems by offering a better, more efficient, cheaper alternative. That’s the thing behind him that reached through him and sunk a hook in my soul as well: undercutting tyrants.  Saying the obvious things that, for no good reason, aren’t supposed to be said.

  • I think my piano business is that.  Music education has been an egalitarian suck-fest for a long time.
  • This Personal Exploration Space thing also has a flavor of that for me.
  • My writing is constantly an expression of that.
  • My classroom also always felt anarchical, but not as a rebellion against schooling, just against the ridiculous ways that school is set up.

It’s a common thread that calls to me, when I see someone suffering under an unnecessarily oppressive system, especially when someone else is benefitting from preventing progress.  It’s a thing that makes me want to stay alive, if only for the length of time it takes to see the destruction of a bad status quo.

It’s like a button that I see that should be pressed, and it looks as if no one else is going to press it, so I guess it’s up to me. I don’t necessarily want to be alive, but I’m sure as hell not going to die and leave this crap system behind. So hang on, grim reaper, I’ll join you in a sec.  I’ve got a button I gotta press.

Don’t Be The Best

Why won’t he be the king I know he is – the king I see inside?Nala

Your aim must never be to become the best.  Not the best man, the best woman, the best clerk, the best spouse, the best parent, the best anything!  Your job is to be the best you.  As the only you, all you have to compare greatness to is yester-self, and not his/her accomplishments – those will wax and wane with luck and opportunity.

Instead, measure the steps in this journey, this mostly-blindfolded, loop-de-loop journey of infinite possibilities and an undefined finish line.  Is there current target?  Do you have the strength to step toward today’s target?  You could aim at anything.  What should a ‘you’ aim at?

(HINT: Same hint as before.)

Imagining Differently

Of course, we have constraints.  As a driver on the open road, you can go anywhere you want…on the road.  Or building with Legos, you can create anything you can imagine…as long as you imagine a Lego creation.

The truth is, you can’t be anything you want to be, but you can probably be infinitely more than you imagine you can be. Your imagination is not too great, it’s too narrow, with too few dimensions. You think that if you can’t be famous or change the world, your impact is insignificant. You imagine things you know you can’t be, and consider that a defeat.

That’s like sitting in a Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird cockpit and asking, “Can I explore a cave in this? Can I parade down Main Street with this? No? Well it seems like I can’t really do very much in this thing!?” That man’s imagination is not too great. It’s too small! He does not understand what he’s piloting, so he won’t be able to experience its near infinite possibilities.

Likewise, I do not know what a Jamin Coller is yet. I must truly explore what this thing can and cannot do before I can make a judgement about what my experience might be like piloting one. I will not reach its limits before I die. And this craft morphs over time, based on my decisions, and some possibilities grow while others shrink.  I have a lifetime’s worth of exploring to do right here, before I’m ready to start wishing I could also pilot something else.

It seems likely that if I set myself to exploring it, I will either (1) be grateful that I am not, in fact, famous or changing the world, as that would have impeded the more fulfilling things I am trying to do. Or perhaps, (2) by accident I will find myself famous or changing the world and will realize I never could have attained those side effects by aiming directly at them.

What do you think?