This morning a friend shared an article to her Facebook page: “Reveal Your Life’s Purpose By Asking These 15 Questions”. I tried to read the article during my lunch break at work, but it wouldn’t open properly on my mobile device. I wasn’t too concerned and quickly moved on to other pursuits. After all, I had only been idly curious to see whether these particular 15 questions were really any more life-enhancing or -altering than any of the other (literally) hundreds of such lists I’ve read over the years.
When I got home from work, there was a letter from another friend in my mailbox. I took the letter with me as I walked to the coffeeshop, and opened it with anticipation. Several pages fluttered out of the envelope. The lead paragraph of the article declared “So what’s your real purpose in life? To get started on your path, it’s important to ask the right questions. Here are 10 to move you in the right direction.”
I’m a believer in meaningful coincidences. These two lists of questions in my “mail”, sent by friends, arriving on the same day? Seems like something I should pay attention to, right? But then, because I sometimes need to be hit over the head before paying attention, this also showed up on my Facebook newsfeed today. From Oprah.com: “The question that reveals what you really want—and the two follow-up questions that can tell whether you’re lying to yourself“.
After leaving the coffee shop, I sat in my quiet apartment, pen and paper at the ready. I read the first fifteen questions. There were some good ones on the list (What kind of things do people always ask me about?), but I got sidetracked when I read, “What recurring dreams do I have?”. Forty minutes later I realized that I had just wasted a chunk of time reliving my childhood nightmare about a giant who comes over the hill and lifts the roof off my childhood home.
I thought I might focus better on the questions in the article that came with my friend’s letter. Again, while there were some good questions on the list (Do I view life as abundant?), I found my brain was balking from the task at hand – it simply refused to zero in on discovering my life’s purpose this afternoon. The note paper I had gotten ready in preparation for the many insights I expected and would want to retain remained blank.
As I sat in my uninspired state, I wondered if perhaps this had been just a run-of-the-mill coincidence, rather than the Universe tapping me on the shoulder. Like the time I heard Ariana Grande was performing on something and I was like, “Whose that?”, and suddenly her name and face were everywhere. It is January, after all, and people are full of resolutions and a new year’s attempts to redirect their lives.
Then I remembered something. Last week, my nephew’s wife, Elsa, posted a conversation she had with her young daughter, my great-niece Ada. Elsa had decided to turn the tables on Ada by repeatedly asking the girl, “Why?” Eventually, the conversation took this turn:
Ada: Why did you say why?
Elsa: Because I was pretending to be you, and you say why a lot.
Ada: Why do I say why?
Elsa: That’s your developmental phase.
Ada’s pretty quick on the uptake for a girl who just turned four this week! But as I thought about this interaction, I realized that many of us, myself included, spend an inordinate amount of time asking, “Why?” A few of the “why” questions that ran through my head just yesterday included:
Why am I cursed to always get stuck behind the one driver obeying the speed limit?
Why can’t I find a pair of shoes that don’t hurt my feet?
Why does this always happen to me?
Why can’t I find the perfect _____________ (job, lover, cup of coffee, balance)?
What’s wrong with asking why? Nothing, if the question is a curious one about a topic we hope to explore. Too often, though, why is the question we ask when we think we’ve been short-changed or are feeling self-pity. It’s most common form is “Why me?” When we ask “Why?” about our life’s path, it keeps us locked in the past. The answer to “Why haven’t I/can’t I find my life’s purpose” merely leads to rehashing and rethinking the choices and actions that have led us to this moment. And it stops there – it doesn’t take us forward from the spot where we currently reside.
We keep asking this question, in part, because we feel we know the answer(s). We like that because we’re uncomfortable thinking about things we don’t know or can’t control. It’s not that we can’t answer the questions posed on these “discover your true purpose” lists. It’s that we don’t know how to translate the answers into lived actions. I can give a whole slew of answers to “What would I be doing if money were no object?”. But how do I take those answers and convert them into goals and a plan?
And how much work and change in my life would it take to make that happen? Just thinking about all that work and change both exhausts and terrifies me.
It is so much easier to stay in the “Why”, rather than to live with the more probing questions. But if I don’t want to remain at precocious little Ada’s developmental stage, I have to move on from why. And I have to stop allowing my brain to distract my attention with shiny baubles like my giant nightmare from childhood – I don’t have that dream anymore, and it is irrelevant to moving forward.
Pondering these thoughts and questions, I was reminded that I took the word “IGNITE” as my inspirational word for 2015. I began to wonder about the answers to questions like: “What would it look like if I truly ignited this year?” “How am I defining the word ignite?” “In what ways would my physical/emotional/spiritual self change if I did light up this year?” “How will I know or recognize if I am igniting in a particular area of my life?” Suddenly, my unused notebook paper started filling up with ideas. These questions have specificity for my life, begin where I am right now (as opposed to where I stood in the past), and are forward-looking. I can also see how to create goals and action steps from the answers. All that remains is to actually stay with the questions long enough to hear how my heart answers them.
As Vanessa Redgrave once said, “Ask the right questions if you’re going to find the right answers.” If I have a New Year’s resolution, it’s to stop asking the same old “Why/Why me?” question. I’m ready to move on from the past and I’ve got a good feeling about 2015…don’t ask me why.