Your Purpose – Explained By Downton Abbey

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Imagine if he’d lived.

I’ve recently become addicted to Downton Abbey. Yes, I know I’m late to the party. I usually avoid shows like that because I am weak. I am drawn to my couch, popcorn and tv shows, like an alcoholic to vodka, and like the alcoholics say, one is too many and two is not enough.

Approximately four episodes in yesterday, (it might have been five, don’t judge) I had the following thoughts:

  1. My house would look a lot better if I had servants.
  2. Every member of Downton Abbey dreads the same thing:

Redundancy. Lack of purpose and meaningful work.

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Poor Mosley.

Their concern is not just economic – though it is that. It’s a deeper and perhaps more familiar issue than we care to admit.

Mosely the valet is bubbly at the chance to serve Lord Grantham, then crushed to find Mr. Bates back on scene. Lord Grantham is thrilled at being sent to lead troops on the front lines, then humiliated to find his role was titular only. The women scheme constantly for a husband and a house, so they might have something more to do than dress for dinner.

It’s interesting because despite the social stratification, the human condition runs through every vein in the grand Abbey.

Put another way: We’re built for purpose and lacking one, we cobble and scrap for it; by helping a grown man get dressed or relentlessly meddling in the affairs of the grandchildren.

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Go on – practice making the Dowager Countess face.

But as Captain Matthew, the on-again off-again heir to Downton said, it’s all shifting sand. That’s why the characters plot and maneuver all the time. Don’t even get me started on these two.

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Got to have a villain.

Misery and self-promotion are rarely far from each other, and I think we’re loath to admit how we often we engage both. It’s not just that we fear the economic ruin of getting sacked, it’s that many of us completely lack identity outside the one provided by our work.

So when the sand shifts, we panic, secretly thinking:

“If I’m not this, who am I?”

Are you miserable in your job, but terrified to leave? Retiring soon? In possession of a “good job” that feels to you like eating a whole sleeve of saltine crackers?

If so, perhaps wrestling the question, “Without this, who am I?” is a useful, if terrifying, first step.

I was forced into answering it myself seven years ago. Standing on the back porch of the historic, if crumbling, farm house Sam and I bought on a windy West Texas ranch. I got everything I said I wanted and discovered it wasn’t enough.

I stood there howling into wind. “What am I doing with my life?”

When you’re that loud about it, I believe someone is bound to answer, and someone did. It still pains me to think of that time, but I don’t even recognize that girl now.

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I’ve recently begun a new venture that I hope to roll out next week. It’s a tool really to help you answer three questions:

  1. Who created me?
  2. What for?
  3. And how do I do that?

I’ve learned the hard way, I cannot be the center of my own life. There too many days I wake up depressed or fearful and lack the fuel to drive myself in any other direction. On those days, self-help is, by definition, a mobius strip.

I now have a supremely reliable external power source, a fire burning in me that someone else lit. I believe all of us have that fire, it may just need a little stoking.

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They’re catching fire.

If you are lost, feeling useless or done, or like the ladder you’ve been climbing leans against the wrong building altogether, I invite you to subscribe, so you can come along as we grow and figure out together what it means to catch fire.

I promise, I hardly have it all figured out, but I’m hot on the trail and I don’t want to travel alone. As the African proverb says:

If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.

Help for the Winter Blues

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My friend Cassie is, like me, a bit of a word freak. Years ago, she taught me a new, old word; one that’s so old in fact, it’s not used anymore. And that’s a shame because it’s a good one, particularly, if you struggle to manage January’s long, dark hours.

The word is apricity and it means the warmth of the sun in winter.

A delightful word for a delightful thing, as Merriam-Webster describes it, the word apricity entered the lexicon in the 17th century, but evidently, never caught on. It is not found in any modern dictionary.

It was cold in Texas over the weekend, but clear and blue, just like it is, minus the snowdrifts, in the high plains desert of New Mexico or the Colorado Rockies. I recall a thousand times, pausing on my cross country skis in the still, white silence of the Blanco Basin and turning my face to the sun, letting the warmth of it settle into my bones, like glitter fluttering to the ground on New Year’s Eve.

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Sam enjoying apricity. – Blanco Basin. Colorado. 2007

Yesterday, I headed out with my dogs, and as I walked out of the shade of our pine grove, the sun hit my back.

Apricity! I thought, and a little shiver rolled up my spine. It made me think of Cassie too. She’s an artist and I wonder if she’s ever painted how apricity feels.

As I walked around the lake, the breeze rustled the bullrushes and I stopped and looked up, staring at a sky I’d call Colorado blue. It only occurs certain times of year in Texas, and it’s beautiful particularly when the trees, stripped of their leaves, stand naked in contrast to it.

I felt the Lord saying, Look up! Keep looking up. That’s where the beauty and promise is. And yet, how often, when I’m discouraged, do I fix my eyes on the asphalt and mud.

When we are dark and cold – wrestling with depression, fear or discouragement – we can always look up and let the sun hit our faces. Apricity is free.

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But some days the sun just isn’t out. So, here are two other strategies:

Kindness:

My pastor often says, when you’re feeling shriveled and dry, like that wrinkled, creepy guy – Gollum – in Lord of the Rings, the antidote is to squeeze out a drop or two of kindness from whatever reservoir you have left. Hold a door for a stranger, let another driver in your lane. Encourage someone – anyone. Tell someone they have a lovely smile. It’s amazing what torrents of living water rush through you after you have watered someone else. Especially when you don’t feel like it.

Community:

Have you seen that meme on Facebook this week, where people are offering a cup of tea and a listen to anybody feeling depressed in the dark hours of the new year? What a smart impulse.

When the darkness beckons us back into bed, to dwell on all the things that are not, people on Facebook are offering a “cuppa” as my British and Aussie friends call it. Who doesn’t feel better after a good cup of tea in the warmth of a friend’s living room? It’s a brave and effective way of beating back the darkness. It’s the human expression of apricity.

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After spending some time in African cultures lately, this is something I admire in them very much. The friendship. The solidarity in suffering. The impulse toward togetherness. It’s beautiful and I’m afraid we in the West have gone the opposite way – favoring privacy, individuality and solitude. Don’t get me wrong, those thing have value too, but when you’re stuck in the cold dark hours of winter, you need sunshine and friends.

Did you ever notice, Jesus never sent the disciples out alone? They always traveled at least two-by-two, and they were warmed by the light of the world.

There’s probably something to that.

From Resolutions to Reality – Two Helpful Guides

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I quit my job 12 days ago, on the winter solstice – the shortest, darkest day of the year. This was a bold but deeply calculated move.

For months though I’ve had my eye on January 2, 2017, knowing it was the first business day of my new venture – a new company, a new book, new blog, new direction. It’s all very exciting. It’s also the first day in three years I wouldn’t go to the office. And that’s just tricky.

Wisely, I decided January 2nd should be tightly managed.

So, I got up at 5:30, studied, took the dogs for a walk, they found stray dogs hiding my in my barn, so I dealt with that. Then I took a shower, shaved my legs, got dressed, put on makeup and dried my hair.

Minus the stray dogs, that’s a typical morning for me – when I had somewhere to be.

I still have somewhere to be.

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What I plan to do in 2017 is essentially a mountain of resolutions, but if I don’t put my boots on and climb it every day, it won’t get climbed.

Of course, how many times have I set out on a grand climb in January, only to be lying in a hammock in the grassy foothills by Valentines Day?

But this year, I’ve been training with a couple of smart people. What they taught me, they can teach you, so you can climb your mountain.

Ready?


#1 Marie Kondo – The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up.

Last fall, people were raving about this Japanese woman’s little book on organizing stuff. I bought it, read it and said, “Right. Let’s do it.”

By applying her simple criteria for deciding whether or not to keep an item –  a book, a blouse, a file of papers – I cleared at least half of of my belongings out of my house. Here’s the before and after of my kitchen I posted on Instagram.

Clutter steals mental energy, which I need right now, and the trick is not to organize better, but to have less stuff.

Kondo’s approach is simple:

Take every piece of clothing out of every closet in your house. Everything. Then hold each item, one by one, in your hands and ask, “Does this bring me joy?”

If not, put it in a pile and take it to Goodwill, so it can bring someone else joy, which is joyful in itself. All the other questions about fit, style, cost and someday are irrelevant. Joy is the only criteria.

When I did this, I took 200 hangers of clothing out of my closet and put about 80 back. It’s astonishing, embarrassing and freeing all at once.

Can you see the benefit of this exercise? Particularly if you plan to do something radical like quit your job and start a new company? There’s a reason high level people wear the same things every day.  It frees up their decision making for more important things.

Clutter, physical and psychic, drains us. Get rid of it and use your brain for something else.

#2 Steven Covey – The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. 

Covey’s book is a classic for a reason. My favorite thing to emerge from it is his advocacy for what he calls “Quadrant Two Time.”

Look at the graph below and decide in which quadrant, or on what tasks do you spend the most time.q

Are you in a crisis? That’s quadrant one – a combination of matters both important and urgent. Sometimes life is like that, but if you’re there all the time it’s worth asking why.

Do you rush from one meeting to the next, unsure what you accomplished? That’s quadrant three, the combination of urgent and not important tasks. A nasty precursor to life in quadrant one.

Or do you lounge around in quadrant four consumed with non urgent, non important things like Facebook and Netflix. Are you trying to decompress from your time in quadrants one and three? I get it but….

Now look at quadrant two – home of not urgent but very important tasks – the place where contemplation, deliberation, dreaming and planning occur. How can we expect to execute big plans if we spend no time plotting how to go about it?

I now book quadrant two time into my calendar every week.

Sometimes it gets hijacked by urgent things, but whatever. This practice is where my new business was born. It’s also where I plan how I want my life to be in 20 years, ways I can improve my marriage, and what I can do each day to help other people. Covey has some great resources to help you in the same process.

Friends, it’s not unusual to consider our big dreams, it’s unusual to act on them. With regular, deliberate climbing.

focus.pngSteven Covey and Marie Kondo are two reasons this blog is going to retire soon. In its place is a whole new world of creativity, encouragement and resources to help you get to know the God who created you, so you can figure out what he created you for.

If that sounds interesting, subscribe to this blog to stay in the loop with our rollout, or follow us on Facebook or Twitter.

Here’s to new beginnings. Yours and ours!