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?


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?

The Rest of My N.U.T.s

A few nights ago I opened what I consider to be one my great guilty pleasures in life, a bag of Blue Diamond Smokehouse Almonds. If you’ve never had a Blue Diamond Smokehouse Almond, you are missing out my friend. In fact, they are so tasty that they were the one food I chose to bring with me to the hospital for the birth of my daughter. I’d heard horror stories of wives laboring for 12, 15, or 20 hours with very little time between contractions for their poor husbands to leave the room to replenish their empty man stomachs. Although I now admit that I was probably a bit overly concerned about the struggle against hunger that I might face if my wife’s labor left me unable to leave her side for 12-20 hours, I will say that my snack food of choice (if it had been the only thing available to sustain and nourish me) would not have let me down. Those little bite-sized bits of delicious salty almond goodness came through for me in a big way last September.

Understandably, when I think about A) how delicious those almonds are to begin with and B) how I now associate them with one of the most joyful and meaningful experiences of my life, it’s no wonder I harbor such a strong affinity to them these days. The problem is that once I start going on those bad boys, I find my own personal willpower and restraint begins to wane. Continue reading

N.U.T. #4 – I’m involved in the life of my children

What does it mean for a man to be involved in the life of his children? A book I’m reading right now called, “The Heart of a Father,” by Ken Canfield offers a pretty good description:

My friend Paul is an involved father. He works forty hours each week, and in fact chose a job that allows him to be home each night and each weekend. At home, he likes spending time with his daughter Susan. They play Chutes and Ladders on the living room floor, and he reads her a story before bed. Cindy is a bit older. With her, involvement means driving her to gymnastics and cheering at her meets. It means sitting down next to her at the kitchen table when she lays out her math homework.

Sometimes Paul has his own work to do, his own errands to run. “I’m going to the hardware store,” he announces. “Anyone want to come along?” Occasionally Cindy or Susan will join him. The youngest child is Jacob. Among all the things that involvement means for this toddler, it also means changing diapers. Paul participates in the daily activities of his kids.

Call me boring, but I read those two paragraphs and I can’t wait to be able to play Chutes and Ladders on the living room floor with my little Izzy in a few years. Continue reading

N.U.T. #3 – I live below my means.

In the not too distant past, there used to be a fairly tried, true, and tested piece of advice for financial stability. If you wanted to be financial stable, all you had to do was live within your means. Or, as my favorite double negative phrase of all time says, “DON’T BUY CRAP YOU DON’T NEED WITH MONEY YOU DON’T HAVE!”

Just a few short years ago, this timeless piece of advice was enough to keep just about anyone in just about any financial situation above water if they were willing to put it into practice. Sure, sure… there were and still are other more sophisticated financial axioms for people who really wanted to get ahead, but if you just wanted to be financially responsible, all you had to do was live within your means.

And up until sometime in late 2008, that was good enough. But then the markets crashed here in the U.S. and around the globe, and like most pieces of conventional financial wisdom, the idea of living within your means went from being a great financial axiom to being not quite enough. In fact, after 2008, most people (myself included) stopped believing in the idea of financial stability completely.

With the events of the last few years as context, I (likely along with millions of other people around the world) started reevaluating my finances a little over a year ago. My big financial rule used to be, “Give 10%, save 10%, and live on the rest.” Which was, for the most part, all well and good, but I’ve decided to take it a bit further.

My N.U.T. in this area today is that I will not only live within my means, but I will also strive to the best of my ability to live well beneath my means. My current goal, as long as the emergency fund that my lovely and talented wife and I set up remains full, is to give 20%, save 15%, and live on the rest.

We’re not quite there yet, but we have been taking steps to get there and we’re on the right path.

Since trying to put this plan into action, I’ve mentioned it to a handful of people and I’m usually met with the same questions.

The first thing people ask me is why we’re not saving more than we’re giving. My answer is that we want to be financially responsible, but that we don’t want to be hoarders. We have an emergency fund if something big comes up, and if something happens that requires more money than what we have in our emergency fund, our budget still has a lot of margin in it. Though not ideal, if our family is in a crunch, we can always redirect some of our giving back into our monthly budget as long as we keep giving at least our original 10%. I’d love to save more, but I won’t do it at the expense of people and causes that I think are a lot more important than the Mitchell’s having a large nest egg at retirement.

Once I’ve explained that one, the second thing people typically ask me is what exactly we do to get to the point where we can live on 65% of one income. After all, I make a good living, but I’m still fairly close to the median income of everyone else who lives in my city. My wife is a therapist and she sees a few clients each week, but for the most part, her main focus is staying at home with our daughter as much as possible. I tell you that about our income to say that the answer to living beneath our means is not, “more income.”

For us, living beneath our means is fairly simple. It means we live in an older house that is smaller than what we could actually afford in a neighborhood that, though it is perfectly safe, is probably not as desirable as one we’d like to live in. It means not having cable T.V., and since we never had it to begin with, we don’t even feel like we’re giving anything up. It means cutting out coupons before we go grocery shopping. It means cooking all but a few of our meals at home instead of going out five nights a week, which (on an entirely different subject) is also apparently really good for our marriage and our family. Living beneath our means also means that we don’t buy crap we can’t afford with money we don’t have. With the exception of our mortgage and a tiny bit of student loan debt, we don’t buy things on credit unless it’s to get the miles on our Southwest card, in which case we pay it off each month.

Those few simple things and the fact that we make and keep a budget each month are really the only things we do to live beneath our means. Sure, our life probably seems a little less extravagant than some of the other people our age and older, but we’re not exactly living the monastic life either. We still take vacations. We have two cars that were both manufactured within the last decade. We both have (stupid) smart phones that we probably don’t need. We still go out to eat with our friends when the occasion arises. We still rent movies. We still buy new clothes, though if I could find a consignment store that sold stylish men’s suits, I’d be all over that puppy. There are probably some things that we go without that other people enjoy, but quite honestly we enjoy our life, all of our needs are met, we’re able to set aside some money for the future, and we’re able to share some of our blessings with others. Are we perfect with our money and do we always get this one right? Nope. In fact, if you know me very well, you know that I’ve made my fair share of dumb financial decisions, but I don’t let those things hold me back. Every day is an exercise in financial discipline and I know that if I make a mistake today, I can always start trying to fix it tomorrow.

I know I kind of went all over the place with this post, but to tie it all together, I believe that a big part of being a man means simply being responsible with what you’ve been entrusted with… and money is no different than anything else. For most men (though I know there are probably a few exceptions) living beneath your means is not only possible, but probably closer than what you might think. You may have to make some sacrifices to get there, but if this is a N.U.T. that is important to you, the things you give up really won’t seem like sacrifices for very long.

N.U.T. #2 – I don’t text or email while driving.

Oh man have I been guilty of this one in the past, but I’ve decided to turn over a new leaf.

Several studies have attempted to compare the dangers of texting while driving with driving under the influence. One such study was conducted by Car and Driver magazine in June 2009. The study used two drivers in real cars and messured reaction-times to the onset of light on the windshield. The study compared the reaction times and distances of the subjects while reading a text message, replying to the text message, and impaired. The study showed that at 35 mph, reading a text message decreased the reaction time the most, 0.12 and 0.87 seconds. Impaired driving at the same speed resulted in an increase of 0.01 and 0.07 seconds. In terms of stopping distances these times were estimated to mean:

Unimpaired: .54 seconds to brake
Legally drunk: add 4 feet
Reading e-mail: add 36 feet
Sending a text: add 70 feet

I would never get behind the wheel of a car while intoxicated, and yet, every time I read or send a text message or email, I’m actually a lot more dangerous behind the wheel than if I was legally drunk. This paradox just doesn’t fly with me anymore. I’ve got to stop.

It’s not going to be easy because, in many ways, I’m basically addicted to the act of using my phone while driving. I don’t know if I will have to resort to putting my phone in the glove compartment or what, but I’m determined to beat this.

I am not a man who puts other people’s lives in danger and so I can no longer be a man who texts and emails while he’s driving.

If you happen to ride with me at any point in the future, please feel free to hold my feet to the fire on this one. All you need to do is mention N.U.T. #2 and I will know what you’re talking about.

N.U.T. # 1 – I am faithful to my wife.

This one was at the top of the list of examples I provided in my intro to this post and I have chosen to put it first on my list because of how important I think it is.

Obviously being faithful to my wife means not getting involved romantically with any other woman, but it means so much more than that. It means being faithful to her with my heart and mind as well as my body. It means not staring at other women. It means not flirting with other women. It means not thinking about other women. It means not putting myself into situations where there might even be an appearance of unfaithfulness. It means not looking at pornography. It means not betraying her confidence to other people. It means always taking her side when other people are involved. It means always sticking up for her and watching out for her best interests. And it means doing all of these things and so much more NO MATTER WHAT.

In many ways, this N.U.T. doesn’t have anything to do with my wife at all. Sure it affects her, but my being faithful to my wife is really about me. It’s about who I am as a man and the content of my character. It’s about me placing a high premium on the value of fidelity.

I’m confident that a lot (not all, but a lot) of the problems in our world today could be greatly minimized (if not eradicated entirely) if men would simply honor their commitments to be faithful to their wives. Think of how many divorces, broken homes, and kids growing up without a dad could be prevented if men everywhere made this one of their non-negotiable, unalterable terms.