At the age of 69 ½ -- sound like my grandkids don’t I with that “1/2” – I am reflecting on the extraordinary changes that have energized my life in the last few years and which give me such optimism heading into 2015:
In just a few day I am going to walk onto stage in a theater venue “just off Broadway” to do what is called a limited run of The Actual Dance. And since I started working on this play, I have lost 65 pounds, reduced the number of medicines I take by 60% and have found an entirely new purpose in life. (I was a lawyer an businessman for most of adult life.
How did all this happen? Serendipity. Yes, through serendipity I found my purpose in life. Or better said, the purpose of my life found me! I connected with something that has enormous meaning to me and other people and it has turned my life upside down. In a good way.
Serendipity might sound like dumb luck. As I think about my journey during this season of light and joy, it occurs to me that it is possible for anyone to increase the odds of the same serendipity encounter in their lives. No guarantees. Yet if you take just a few steps there is a very good chance that you too can discover your passion or purpose in life and enjoy all the benefits that come with that.
In particular as the wave of baby boomers enter their “third age” – the post retirement period of life – these exercises can help figure things out. They can also be a ton of fun!
First: Clear the mind. Not just for the moment. Rather, spend a little time eliminating all the biases, assumptions and prejudices you have about yourself. It doesn’t matter what you have been doing for the past 20 or 30 years. Be willing just for a while to believe that anything is possible. And then act on that by trying new things. A teacher of mine once called this the “Fuck it Adjustment” – it is the ability to step into something new and different without preconceptions and simply be open to see what happens.
Second: Make a list. With that open mind take a look back at your life. Occasionally I physically turn my head to look behind me, close my eyes and began to develop a mental list of those things that I was naturally drawn to over my life. Going back as far as I can remember, even as a kid, I recall what was “fun” for me. What books did I like best? Who were my heroes? Start putting these items down in a list on a piece of paper or document. I want to credit Joseph Jarwoski and his fabulous book Synchronicity: The Inner Path to Leadership for this insight.
Third: Explore, “Yes”. With a clear mind turn you heard back around and look ahead. Imagine a graph line that goes from have been and see where it is point to – that is where you want to be heading toward. There will be a path ahead. For some it might be specific and clear, like an arrow. For others it might be a broader swath or area with a variety of possibilities. The basic rule for me in the exploratory phase was learning to say ‘yes.’ My own path led me to committing to two areas: social justice work and theater. Both areas from my personal look-back and which look like where I want to be. I know that some of these areas we discover can seem very unlikely in our lives. If something scares you and feels impossible, so long as it is not a risk to your personal safety, go back to number just try. Remember that whatever it is you try it is just for a while.
Last: Expect Serendipity. Sound crazy. Well yes, it is and that is why it works. My experience and my lesson is that finding purpose isn’t about formulas, algorithms, logic and analysis. It is really just about being open and available to find what delights you and feels rights. When it is, don’t worry, you will know it.
It can be scary and yet amazing. Today when I am asked: “What do you do?” I answer “I am an actor and a playwright and I am about to take myself and my work to New York.” Me? That?
Last assignment. What do you want your answer to be in two years? In this season of renewal and light, take a minute, clear the mind look back to what has been and look forward to what will be and simply say Yes! Just for a while.