In my last blog, “Paths, Puzzles and Purpose,” I asserted that even when we feel “lost,” we can get back on track when we are clear about our calling.
In today’s blog, I want to augment that line of reasoning by helping you refine your life’s mission. I propose doing so in an atypical fashion. You should track your flashes of insight, dreams, and yearnings. It is in those visions that I believe we reveal our raison d’être.
In addition, I assert that one’s purpose evolves as we age. Life experience and gaining more knowledge refine our values. The books we read, the movies we watch, and the podcasts and sermons we listen to all influence our insights and deepest longings.
What do I mean by insights? Cognitive Neuroscientist John Kounios describes insight as “a new idea or perspective that is novel to the person and pops into awareness suddenly.”
Interestingly, those insights only sometimes align with any problem we are currently facing. “Gestalt” moments occur frequently, yet mostly when we are in a positive and relaxed mood, and our brain is “expansive with de-focused attention.” For example, when a new thought enters your mind just as you wake up or during a long walk.
On the other hand, a yearning is a strong desire for something or someone we cannot obtain without effort. We may yearn for justice or long for a lost love. Our dreams reflect what makes us unique and human. Gestalt moments may propel a yearning. Our unconscious mind is always at work, re-sorting and developing solutions to long and short-term obstacles to reaching those dreams.
Our very thoughts, however, can be influenced by what we consume. Our minds are wired for garbage in and garbage out. Negative, destructive information will adversely impact the number and quality of your insights and dreams. In this article, I am referring to the cognitions and imaginings of healthy, well-adjusted people.
Does this sound far-fetched?
It wasn’t for Thomas Edison. When struggling with a complex scientific problem, this noteworthy inventor would sit in his “thinking chair” and hold a metal ball bearing in each palm. Directly under each hand were two metal pie pans. He would sit and begin to fall asleep. Somewhere between consciousness and unconsciousness, his hands would relax, and the balls would fall on the metal pans and abruptly wake him. Edison would grab a pen and paper and write down all the thoughts he could recall just before being rudely awakened. This way, he could cultivate creative ideas without censoring his conscious mind.
Let me share three recent sudden insights of my own. All these flashes of thought reflect a dream, two just forming and one that has been in my subconscious for several years. Next, I will deconstruct those images revealing the values I hold dear and showing how those insights help define my purpose. Next, I will lead you through recalling your insights and visions and redefining your mission from them.
The Unassuming CPA
I reviewed the total and thought, is this correct? The sum surprised me. My husband and I had increased our charitable giving by 50% since the year prior. A wave of delight passed through me. I didn’t want to feel “proud,” yet being completely transparent, I was beaming. After all, it took discipline and sacrifice to obtain that goal. In my mind’s eye, I envisioned our professional-looking, CPA, reviewing our taxes and saying, “I rarely see people give this generously.”
Still basking in the accomplishment, suddenly, in my mind’s eye, I enter an unfamiliar, small building in a tiny southern mountain town. As I enter the poorly lit foyer, I note the worn, green shag carpet reminiscent of the 1970s. My eyes pan the worn rug and see the tape covering an electrical cord running to a dust-covered desk covered with boxes and papers. As I wait for an assistant to meet me, I glance up and see the cobweb running from the ceiling to the wall in front of me.
Deep in my imagination, a character emerges based on this modest interior. A disheveled CPA appears wearing a rumpled suit. His glasses pushed up on his balding head while his remaining hair pointed in all directions. I estimate the proprietor to be in his early 70s. With an outstretched hand and a charming North Carolina accent, he walks toward me and says, “Ma’am, how might I be of service to you?” There is something about him that makes me feel seen. He is wealthy yet loves his trade. His office serves not only the well-to-do of this small southern mountain town but also those who make very little and often cannot afford to pay him. He is meticulous about his work but pays little attention to his wardrobe or office. He focuses on serving his “flock,” as he calls them. He spends time with each client, often teaching basic budgeting skills from the wealthy heiress to the local grocery store owner. And then the image fades, and I wonder, is this a new character for a future novel?
I attended a multi-day lecture series on an unfamiliar topic. I sit entranced as the speaker cites scientists, paleontologists, archeologists, theologians, and even cosmologists. There are no hand-outs, and I had not brought paper and a pen. I capture key ideas by taking pictures of the orator’s slides. At times the data was overwhelming, too much to take in. After several intense lectures, I longed for the speaker to allow time for questions and answers from his audience.
As I left the auditorium, still attempting to absorb all I heard, I saw tables with numerous books available for purchase. I looked through the offerings and bought several hardcovers for me and my grandkids. Once I read those books, they may remain on a bookshelf.
A thought emerges as I wait for the credit card to go through. So many attending this conference cannot afford these books, and the local community would benefit if they were available. What we need is a bookstore for second-hand books. I see a room created near the coffee shop with people entering, checking out, or purchasing books. Others are sitting, drinking their cappuccinos while devouring a book. The thought moved my heart as I would love to donate several books and begin work on this idea.
Ski Trip of Lifetime
After finishing the day’s work, I scanned my email inbox again, cleaning out all the “junk” and advertisements. Then I noticed an email header, “Plan your next Colorado Ski Trip.” I clicked on the email and viewed three skiers barreling down the mountainside with the brilliant blue sky behind them. I immediately recall my enduring dream of a ski vacation with our large, blended family. No small feat, with 13 adults and seven grandkids, we need a huge house to hold us. At once, I research resorts accepting our Epic passes – Vail-affiliated resorts in the US and Canada. Veterans get significant discounts on ski passes, dining, and equipment rentals. In addition, Epic pass holders can give “buddy passes” to friends and family. I shared what I found with my always supportive husband, Reed.
As we discussed this aspiration, I asked myself, “Why has this dream withstood the test of time when other longings have not?” The more I pondered this question, I realized that the vision I have for this endeavor is so strong that it re-emerges every few years. I see all our grown kids, their spouses, and grandkids sitting around a fire after a long day of skiing as we recount the thrills and highlights. Those fresh on skis or snowboards will relate how scary the day began, how they fell too many times, yet after warming up at lunch, they improved and gained confidence.
I imagine seeing several lounging in the hot tub on the back porch with ski hats on their heads to protect them from the cold. They are laughing and cracking jokes.
In the morning, seeing seven inches of fresh powder, the grandkids and I dress warmly and fashion two snowmen and one snow lady. Afterward, we lie on our backs, gaze at the cloudless azure sky and make snow angels. Later, we watch those sweet children take ski lessons and learn to make “pizza” and “french fries” with their skis. The parents, Aunts, and Uncles, as well as Papa and Mimi, cheer each effort. These snowscape visages transport me, and I feel only joy.
After reciting this reverie, Reed suggests calculating its cost. We factored in a house rental, airfare, ski tickets and equipment, ski school for the grandkids, and food. As you can imagine, the total is a hefty sum. Nonplussed, we began to brainstorm how we might make it work financially. After much work, we realize that although this dream was out of the question even a few years ago, it is very much within reach today.
Discover and Refining Our Purpose
What do these disparate insights and imaginings show about my values and purpose? The rumbled small-town CPA is a character in a forthcoming novel. He is well-to-do but humble and sees himself as a servant. The image represents my desire to continue to write and create a compelling story. Venturing into novel writing is daunting and intriguing. Note that the character is modest, diligent, and caring. These traits reflect my values and how I might fashion the hero in my tale.
Creating a library or a second-hand bookstore demonstrates that I value local community involvement and commitment. The idea shows I also put a value on learning and education, as books often enlarge a person’s view of the world. A second-hand bookstore means books are recycled and thereby more affordable to others. This visage suggests that having a positive and long-term impact on my local community is part of my purpose.
My elaborate and long-envisioned family ski vacation shows that I value family and connection through shared experiences. I recognize that I romanticize this week-long family affair. There is never a perfect time to get all those schedules to align, and unanticipated challenges could arise at any time. This yearning is a once-in-a-lifetime event to give a long-lasting memory to our kids and grandkids. Hence it validates my desire to love my family and leave a legacy.
These three visions provide insight into my purpose by showing that I genuinely care about creating, teaching through storytelling, uplifting my local community, and loving my family by sharing a memorable experience. My raison d’être is well-defined; I am here to create, teach, encourage, and love others. Understanding my purpose helps me plan my days correctly. To say no to opportunities or suggestions by others that do not align with my mission. And when I feel lost or make a wrong move, I need only think about what I truly value and then retrace my steps and head in the right direction.
I hope that meandering into my insights and reveries will help you to honor your visions and dreams and use them to refine your focus. To help you walk through a similar exercise, I suggest that you:
- Make time to be relaxed and calm. Take a yoga class, take a long walk, or take a quick nap but have pen and paper ready.
- Record the insights and visions that come to mind in your day-to-day. Write everything you can recall about the novel idea.
- Also, describe in detail those long-term yearnings that continue to surface from time to time.
- Then, dissect each insight and dream, asking yourself, “What does this vision tell me about what I truly value?” Don’t be judgmental; record the values you identify.
- Next, attempt to write a purpose statement. Complete this sentence: I am here to ______________________________________________________________________.
- Now share your mission with your spouse or a close, trusted friend and get their reaction. You may be delighted with their response!
Share with me what you discovered in this process; know I am interested to read about your insights, dreams, and refined calling.
Through reverie, your raison d’être will be revealed!
 What happens when ‘aha!’ strikes. NSF. (2015, August 3). Retrieved February 3, 2023, from https://beta.nsf.gov/news/what-happens-when-aha-strikes
 Tharp, T. as quoted by Utley, J. (2021, May 21). Edison’s thinking chair. Jeremy Utley. Retrieved February 3, 2023, from https://www.jeremyutley.design/blog/edisons-thinking-chair