Chasing My Shadow Purpose

I’ve written recently about how temporary and seemingly trivial things have a strange way with interfering with our purpose in life. I don’t know why I’m so interested in the idea of purpose right now, but it’s something that’s been occupying a lot of my thoughts lately.

What is my purpose?

What am I supposed to do with my life?

Are all of the seemingly unrelated steps I’ve taken so far preparing me for something else? Something bigger? Something I was created for?

These are not new questions for me. In fact, I’ve been asking them for several years and though I see glimpses of answers from time to time, I still feel like I’m searching for that place where (to paraphrase Frederick Buechner) my deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.

And I’m perfectly OK with not having all of the answers on this one. Where’s the fun in solving all of the great mysteries of life before the age of 30 anyway?

However, while I often wonder what my purpose in life might be, I know without a doubt what my shadow purpose is.

An extension of one of Jung’s archetypes, a shadow purpose is simply something that seems like our true purpose but in reality is just a poor copy. A shadow purpose is not inherently bad or evil — it is, in most cases, just a simple yet powerful distraction.

For example, if the purpose of my life is to throw everything I have into serving the poor, then my shadow purpose could be to simply live a decent moral life that is filled with good things but that does not involve serving the poor. That’s just one example, but most shadow purposes could probably be summed up by the phrase, “eat, drink, and be merry.”

And while there’s nothing wrong with a little food, drink, and merry making from time to time, I think we’d be hard pressed to find anyone who would honestly say that’s the highest purpose of their life.

Like I said, there’s nothing inherently evil about a shadow purpose.

For another example, consider Oskar Schindler (you know, the man who had a list and saved the lives of more than a thousand mostly Polish-Jewish refugees during the Holocaust by employing them in his factories). With history on our side, it’s fairly easy to surmise the purpose of Schindler’s life. His purpose was to save the lives of Jewish refugees during the Holocaust.

I obviously don’t know a ton about Shindler, but I would guess that he was probably never in danger of becoming a Nazi. The thought of persecuting the Jewish and participating in the genocide himself probably never crossed his mind. Becoming a Nazi was probably not something that could have ever interfered with his true purpose. Schindler was clearly not a monster and he would have never wrongly assumed that something so terrible was his life’s purpose.

However, a shadow purpose for Schindler would have been anything that might have distracted him from protecting those people. What if Schindler had just kept his nose down and thought to himself, “My purpose is to run my factory and survive this war.”

Although there’s probably nothing wrong with that attitude, the lives of over a 1000 Jewish refugees might not have been saved.

Like I said, while I often wonder what my purpose in life might be, I am intimately and keenly aware of what my shadow purpose is.

For me, my shadow purpose involves living a life of comfort and ease. It’s going to lots of movies, reading tons of books, and enjoying time with friends and family. It’s chilling in my recliner and filling my evenings with the internet and television shows. It’s investing all my spare time and energy into renovating my house. It’s all those things plus a hundred other distractions, none of which are harmful in and of themselves.

But I know without a doubt that the purpose of life is so much more than those things.

I may not be privy to all the details on what it is my life is supposed to accomplish, but I know that it’s about more than the pursuit of my own personal happiness.

And so as I continually search for that place where my deep gladness AND the world’s deep hunger meet, I have to constantly remind myself that I’ll never find my life’s purpose if I’m only focused on the first half of that equation, that is, those things that make me happy.

What kinds of things make up your shadow purpose?


Thank You Tony Dungy


“But what does it really mean to be a man?

I say this: being a man is more than leaving our wives husbandless, our children fatherless, our employers passionless, our families hopeless.

You can be more. You were created to be more — and better. The messages of the world are a cop-out: the messages of sexual conquest, of financial achievement, of victory in general. Not only are these messages not fair, but they also fall so short of what you can do — and more importantly, who you are.”

-Tony Dungy, from “Uncommon: Finding Your Path to Significance”

UPDATED: 30 before 30

My lovely and talented wife suggested that we each come up with a list of things we’d like to do before we turn 30 later this year. I have included mine below knowing that I may not get all of them done before 30, but with any luck, I’ll knock out a good number of them before September 4th rolls around again.

1. Perform a wedding.

I did this on New Year’s day for a really great couple from our church. It was very cool getting to be a part of such a big life milestone experience between to people. I’m honored they asked me to do it and I will happily marry anyone else who asks me in the future. Now be sure to ask them if I did a good job before you go calling my booking agent.

2. Dropout or fully commit to grad school.

Dropped out. For the story, read On quitting my Ph.D. program

3. Run a 10k.

I ran the first leg of the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon in just over one hour, which is not bad considering it was the first time I’d ran in almost 10 months.

4. Lose a 20 pounds.
5. Read the entire Bible.
6. Start a mentoring relationship with someone younger than me.

I now have a handful of guys who are younger than me who I regularly try to stay in contact with. This has probably blessed my life way more than it has theirs but that’s OK for now. The important thing is that I’ve made myself available.

7. Start a class at church on how we should respond to homelessness.
8. Play with Izzy in the ocean.

Check! I think she preferred the pool over the ocean this year. That’s OK though. We’ll give her another shot or two before we start questioning whether or not she’s really our child.

9. Write a poem.

Done. It’s called, “You Can Always Come Home” and it’s dedicated, obviously, to Isabella Grace.

10. Start a side business and give away all the money it makes to other people or good causes.
11. Have a conversation with a complete stranger.

I did this while getting new tires earlier this spring. It was a pretty one-sided conversation as the stranger did most of the talking, but I’m going to count it anyway. I also did on the plane ride home from Los Angeles in June with an old man who happened to be from Midwest City.

12. Start blogging again.

Boom Sauce! Done.

13. Spend a weekend in complete solitude.
14. Slap a bull.
15. Build something with my own two hands.
16. Host a block party.
17. Back up our home computer on a weekly basis.
18. Chase a tornado.
19. Camp in the wilderness.

Joshua Tree National Park, June 24th – June 26th

20. **** * *** ***
21. Travel to a new place.

While I was at Joshua Tree, I took a little two-hour excursion in the heat of the day up into the San Bernadino National Forest and Mountains. I drove from 1900 feet above sea level and 102 degrees Fahrenheit to above 6700 feet and 72 degrees Fahrenheit. I made my way over to Big Bear Lake, took off my shirt, jumped in the icy cold snow melt runoff water, got out, dried off, and drove two hours back to the desert. I will take my family camping here some day.

22. Try 10 new restaurants.

1. Mercado Juarez in Ft. Worth
2. 1492 in OKC
3. Nhinja Sushi & Wok in OKC
4. Cafe Kranzler in South Padre Island
5. Thai Talay in Los Angeles
6. S & B’s Burger Joint in OKC
7. Kaiser’s in OKC
8. The Beatnik Cafe in OKC
9. Kamp’s 1910 Cafe in OKC
10. Hefner Grill in OKC

23. Start saving money for a trip to Greece for our 10th Wedding Anniversary.
24. Resurface our front porch.
25. Take the lovely and talented wife fishing.
26. Attend the funeral of someone I didn’t know very well (or at all).
27. Walk 20 miles.
28. Get in touch with a long lost friend.
29. Take a vacation without making any reservations or take an overnight road trip with the top down.
30. Create a new family tradition.

If anyone wants to join me on #’s 3, 10, 14, 18, 19, 26, 27, or 29 let me know. I better get cracking. I’ve got less than 9 months.

#20 is personal for now, but I will reveal what it is if it actually happens.

FM Transmitters, Static Interference, and Life’s Purpose

This past weekend I had the opportunity to travel to the desert of southern California where I joined 72 other dudes at Joshua Tree National Park for a men’s retreat put on by the Hilltop Church in El Segundo, CA. It was a great weekend and I will have more to say about it later, but not in this post.

This post is about something that occurred during my 2-hour drive back from Joshua Tree to LAX airport on Sunday afternoon.

If you know me in real life (outside of this blog) you probably know that I’m somewhat of an audiophile. I love music… all kinds of music. I don’t go anywhere without my trusty iPod or Grooveshark and Pandora accounts. I almost always have headphones with me and when I’m going to be spending more than 5 minutes driving somewhere, I always rely on my Satechi Bluetooth FM transmitter to keep my tunes playing. This is not a product plug for Satechi, though if they wanted to send me a few more of their awesome products, I’d be fine with that. However, I LOVE THIS FM TRANSMITTER.

It’s the best FM transmitter I’ve ever owned. It requires no wires. It simply plugs into the A/C adapter in the car and automatically pairs with my phone via Bluetooh anytime I start my car. For those of you that don’t know what it means for a phone to pair via Bluetooth, all it means is that as long as the two devices are paired together wirelessly, any audio that would normally come out of my phone (iPod, Grooveshare, Pandora, YouTube, etc) automatically plays on my car stereo on whatever channel I have the Satechi tuned to. It’s amazing technology and it’s quite possibly the best sound quality I’ve ever gotten from an FM transmitter… wired or otherwise.

As good as this device is, like any FM transmitter, my Satechi is only as good as the availability of a free FM station to play it over. In OKC, I use 88.3 FM. There’s nothing on the dial at that point and so the sound is AMAZING. There is no interference and I can listen to my music at the highest fidelity possible short of using an audio in cable or going analog.

Normally when I travel somewhere outside of OKC, I just leave the device set to 88.3 and that usually works out fine. There just aren’t a lot of radio stations (no matter where you go) that low on the FM frequency.

This past weekend was no different. I got in my car on Sunday morning for my drive back into civilization from the Mojave desert, the transmitter paired with my phone, I selected my favorite playlist, and I took off toward Los Angeles.

It was great. I hadn’t heard much music the last few days and I was jamming out. Everything was going good until I hit Riverside, California… home of KUCR FM, campus radio station for the University of California Riverside. Coincidently, KUCR just so happens to also reside at 88.3 FM.

As I approached the campus on the freeway, I noticed my music, which had been crystal clear up until that moment, started to get a little fuzzy.

And then it got a lot fuzzy.

Then, out of nowhere, what had just moments before been the classic Claude Debussy tune, Claire De Lune (it’s the song that plays at the end of Ocean’s Eleven when they’re all standing outside the Belaggio watching the fountains), all of the sudden turned into Michael Jackson’s Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough. Now I don’t have anything against MJ or that song but it was not what I was in the mood for.

However, for some strange reason, I decided to see if the situation would work itself out on its own, so I didn’t mess with anything. I’m still not sure why I didn’t try to change the station on the radio or the device, but I didn’t. It probably had something to do with the fact that I was racing down a Los Angeles freeway at 75 mph and I have a strong self-preservation instinct.

As I kept driving, I got to witness an epic battle between the music on my iPod and the music being broadcast via KUCR — between my FM transmitter and a much larger radio tower only a few blocks away.

It was like David and Goliath all over again – minus all of the hubris, national pride, name-calling, and death inflicting smooth stones.

The sound went back and forth for a few moments with a bit of crackling static before KUCR and Michael Jackson drowned out my serene Claire De Lune.

But I didn’t give up. And neither did my Satechi.

Together we kept fighting. We’d go under a bridge and for a moment, Debussy would drown out MJ. Then we’d roll past the overpass and Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough would come roaring back to life.

This went on for about 3 minutes. And then, almost as quickly as the interference started, I was out of range of the UC Riverside campus radio tower and my trusty little FM transmitter once again dominated the 88.3 position on the radio.

Am I playing up the drama in this little scenario? Sure.

But I couldn’t help noticing at least a small parallel to life. You see I believe that within each one of us is a distinct and specific purpose. A purpose that our lives are supposed to fulfill during the twenty to one-hundred years or so that we’re walking around this dusty planet. And while some people have no problem knowing and living out their purpose on a consistent daily basis, most of us struggle with knowing exactly what it is we’re supposed to accomplish in our brief lives. Most of us have some idea what our purpose in life is, but sometimes it’s not nearly as clear as we’d like.

It’s almost as if a small localized FM transmitter is constantly there with us broadcasting our purpose just within the range of our consciousness. When we’re tuned into the right frequency, we have no problem hearing the signal. In fact, it’s crystal clear.

However, for most of us (myself included) life is full of interference.

We have different signals coming at us from every direction. These amplified signals can easily drown out the constant yet quieter signals of our true purpose because they’re broadcasting at a much higher strength.

And yet, if we can ignore the interference, tolerate it’s presence for a short time, and not get off track, eventually we’ll be outside the range of the interference. And because our purpose is always with us, even though it’s broadcasting at a much less amplified signal strength, it comes roaring back to life once we’ve distanced ourselves from whatever was causing the interference.

I don’t know about you, but if I’m gut level honest with myself, within the very deepest parts of my soul, I have a pretty good idea what my purpose is. It’s always with me and if I stop for just a minute and get rid of the interference, I can almost always tune in loud and clear.

And then I pass another radio tower. And another. And another. And another.

So it’s a constant battle to stay tuned into what it is I believe my life is really supposed to be about. My purpose is always with me… staying in tune with it is just a matter of how fast I can distance myself from the interference.

And so I have to be intentional.

Intentional about the things to which I give my attention, focus, and energy. Intentional about the interference I let into my life. Intentional about who I spend my time with. Intentional about what I pursue.

Intentional and fast. Because the faster I get past whatever it is that’s attempting to interfere with my purpose, the faster I’m back in tune.

For those of you who have at least a small sense of what your life’s purpose might be, do you ever struggle with staying in tune with it?

If so, what’s causing the interference? What’s causing it and what do you to get on down the freeway out of it’s range?

Gratitude List: Weekend Edition

1. Safe and interruption-free flights to and from Los Angeles over the weekend.
2. Safe and interruption-free drive to and from Joshua Tree National Park.
3. Spending the weekend with Godly men.
4. Little boys, cowboys, warriors, kings, and sages.
5. New friends.
6. Seeing the Milky Way for the first time in my life.
7. Technical rock climbing and repelling for the first time in my life.
8. Riding a zip line suspended 150 feet in the air.
9. Safety harnesses.
10. Bouldering.
11. Hiking on big granite rocks.

11(b). Bright green shirts.
12. Lemon Gatorade.
13. Hanging out with Tate on the drive out to the park.
14. Sleeping under the stars on a cot in the desert.
15. The beauty of God’s creation.
16. Smoked Tri-Tip.
17. Jeff D’s heart for God and other men.
18. Excursions to Big Bear Lake and the San Bernadino National Forest.
19. Clarity on a lot of things.
20. Lighting a campfire with a flaming arrow

21. The night sky over the Mojave desert.

22. $4 for a 7 minute shower at the Coyote Corner souvenir shop after being out in the desert without showering for 48 hours.

23. Campfires.
24. A good conversation on the plane home with an old man who happened to be from my hometown.
25. Funny Southwest Airlines flight attendants.
26. Seeing AM after coming home late on Sunday night.
27. Peeking in on Izzy sleeping in her crib on Sunday night.
28. Sleeping in my own bed.

Real Men and Fear

I’m afraid…

I’m afraid my daughter might grow up not realizing how much I treasure her. I’m afraid my wife might not know how much I really love her. I’m afraid I will get to the end of my life and realize that I’ve wasted many of my days chasing things that don’t matter. I’m afraid of insignificance. I’m afraid of not being awesome at everything I attempt. I’m afraid of people who would do me and my family harm with no concern whatsoever to the consequence of their actions. I’m afraid of the consequences of some of my actions. I’m afraid of getting passed over and left behind. I’m afraid my life doesn’t matter and my contributions aren’t significant. I’m afraid of getting cancer and dying before I’ve lived the life I always imagined for myself. I’m afraid of knives and guns. I’m afraid of not being liked. I’m afraid of snakes and poisonous spiders and velociraptors… yeah I went there. You would too if you happened to be a child the first time you saw Jurassic Park… those terrible bird-like buggers are some nasty creatures.

I’m afraid of all those things and more, but I don’t let fear paralyze me.

A real man knows that he’ll always have fear. No matter what he does or who he is, there will always be some things that cause him fear. And he’s OK with that because a real man knows how to experience his fear.

He doesn’t shy away from fear. In fact, he doesn’t even try to resist it. He wants to experience the feeling of his fear fully. He acknowledges the presence of fear and seeks to understand its cause. He knows that fear, much like happiness or anger or any other fleeting emotion is just that… a fleeting emotion.

A real man stares fear right in the face, tries to understand it for what it truly is, and then he acts.

And in most cases, it doesn’t even matter what he does. In fact, most of the time, the sheer feat of action in the face of paralyzing fear is almost always enough to overcome whatever it is we dread.

Are you afraid of velociraptors? Then do what I do. Every time I feel that fear creeping in, I get online and make a small donation to the American Society for the Prevention of Velociraptor Attacks. My $5 or $10 doesn’t do much, but it does do a little. And when we’re fighting fear, a little action goes a long way.

Once I’ve donated to the cause, what they do with the money is pretty much out of my hands at that point. And like most things I fear, I realize that I have no control whatsoever over what happens next. Maybe my $5 is the $5 that finally puts an end to velociraptor attacks. And maybe it’s not. But either way, no matter what I do, if a velociraptor wants to show up at my doorstep this morning and hunt me down on my way out to my car, then so be it. It’s out of my control.

And it’s the same with pretty much everything else I fear. I can do things to avoid, prevent, or overcome my fears, but once I’ve done my part, the outcome and everything else that happens is out of my control in the end.

If I want my life to matter and I’m afraid of insignificance, I need do significant things. If I’m afraid my wife and daughter don’t know how smitten I am by them, I need to show them. If I’m afraid of getting passed over and left behind, I either need to speed up or slow down and realize that life is not actually a race. If I’m afraid of not being awesome at everything I attempt, I need to attempt less or lower my expectations. If I’m afraid of chasing things that don’t matter, I need to start chasing things that do. If I’m afraid of getting cancer and dying before I’ve lived the life I always imagined for myself, I need to start living that life today. If I’m afraid of things that are beyond my control, I need to realize that I’m not really in control of anything anyway.

A real man does not shy away from his fears. He welcomes them with open arms and uses them as motivation for action.

I still haven’t figured out what to do about my phobia of knives and guns, but if you have any suggestions, you can find me in the snake house at the zoo staring down a few of my other fears on the safe side of a pane of four-inch glass.