Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Piecing together the puzzle that is our authentic life path

Bear with me as I think out loud about this quintessential dilemma. How do I find an authentic life path (and stay true to it)?

So many of us are actively working on this question. It is wrapped up in so many other questions. How do I know what I am meant to do? How do I do it in the face of competing demands and responsibilities? How do I honor the need for financial security while crafting a life that honors my needs and passions? On any good day, I find myself going in circles with all this.

And in those rare moments of clarity (today might not be one of them), I understand and can articulate the subtleties of this process. Today, I came up with an anology that I am going to try to think through and flesh out here. I don't know where it will take me.

The process of finding an authentic life path is like assembling a 1000 piece puzzle. For those of us who are going about the business of life, working our jobs, caring for our families and not actively making a transition, the pieces might be (neatly put away?) in a box on some shelf somewhere. We look at it every now and again, but we are not actively playing with it.

For the rest of us, they are laid out all over the floor, bed, desk, chair, under the couch, in a pocket, on a counter, next to the lap top... They are everywhere, and here we are trying to piece it together. Needless to say, we are also trying to cook, eat, sleep, work, care for the children, pay the bills... while we work on the puzzle. Some pieces get "misplaced." Others simply forgotten. And more often than not, the puzzle sits there semi-assembled because there is always something more pressing to take care of. We don't always remember the joy of playing so we think of the puzzle as "work." We might avoid it. Sound familiar?

Today, I had a coaching conversation with someone who, like many of us, is figuring out her next move. These are my words, not hers. Should she stay with a job that demands so much of her that she does not have room to breathe? Should she follow her passion for poetry? How to deal with her need for financial security (especially living in New York City)? How can she find a balance? I asked her some basic questions.

And, in these questions are some of the pieces of the puzzle we are assembling. I am going to sketch some of these pieces in a cursory way. Each of them deserve a lenghty explanation. I will pick up on pieces that seem of particular interest to those of you interested in this question.

Puzzle piece "must-haves": What must I have in order to be at my best? These are needs that must be filled so we might have time and space to get more of what we want in our lives. A network of friends and family who support me? Regular access to this support network? A spiritual community? Geography? Intellectual stimulation? Creative expression? Personal growth? Health? Social activism? Cultural diversity? Each of us has a very unique list that reflect who we are. Mine has some of the elements listed above.

Puzzle piece "values": What are my core values? I define values as those intangibles that attract me. They are different from the tangible "needs" that are in my must-haves list. It takes some reflection and work to name these values because we often take them for granted. They are not necessarily the same as the morals or family ethics we inherit. This work of defining our values is done by so many who are so much wiser than I. I use a number of tools with coaching clients to help us name values.

Puzzle piece "personal gifts": What are my unique strengths, gifts and talents? What are my God-given talents? What kinds of gifts have I chosen to develop? What skills do I have? Over time, I have found that for a number of reasons, we do not own the full extent of our gifts. I can not tell you how often I encounter the sentiment that because something comes naturally to us, we do not think of it as a personal gift. Equally often, I hear that someone writes poetry or sketches or doodles but does not consider herself an artist. This puzzle piece is not as simple as it may seem because each of us has to come to a place of seeing ourselves in the light of gifts and not the darkness of faults.

Puzzle piece "passions": We are mostly familiar with these, but do you notice how this piece is not the same as gifts or needs? What would I do if I owned my own time and had no worries or responsibilities? What would occupy me so well that I would lose myself in the activity with no sense of time? Often this is the piece that is tucked away in a closet or dresser drawer or pocket somewhere. This is the piece that needs the dust wiped off so that it can actively be in play as we figure out the question of our authentic life path.

Notice how each of these is interconnected? They do fit together, and rely on each other for greater clarity of the "big picture" we are trying to piece together. There are other pieces. Bigger ones like the puzzle piece "life purpose" that encompasses the ones I have already listed here. And, I certainly can not name them all. After all there are at least a 1000 according to my analogy.

If you are interested in playing with these ideas, please post a comment, a thought, question so that we can collaborate on the puzzle.

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