Approach and Focus
What Can We Learn?
This past week I’ve been struggling. Publicly you likely wouldn’t notice it. That’s part of the deal, isn’t it? Keep producing content in the manner and aesthetic that you’ve come to be known for over time and keep the internal struggles to yourself. It is the way of achievement-orientation. There is an analog in Tap Dance Land, oddly enough. Executing the most regular of rhythms – imagine a series of evenly spaced notes – requires a physical engagement that feels more like a rollercoaster than the anticipated series of evenly spaced movements would let on. The evenness of the outcome is belied by the frenetic work needed to bring the step to life.
I’ve never liked the reality of that bifurcation – the separation between the output and what lies underneath. I started talking while tap dancing for the specific reason of bringing others – particularly non-tap dancers – into the experience I was having while tap dancing. I wanted to at least offer access to my inner experience. To drive the point even further, in the past five years, I’ve made specific choices to shift the nature of my portfolio of projects from the more performative to the more expository. Instead of innovating in the technical area of tap dancing alone, I’ve experimented with the stories my dancing can tell. If you’ve been following along for a while now, this isn’t news. You’d have already heard about Identity, What We Leave Behind, and Rising to the Tap. This fall, I’m going even deeper.
The transition has been an adventure and was especially focused during the restriction on live performance during the COVID-19 pandemic. There is something in all of this that I’m still working out. Encouraged by my training in tap dancing, I have been formed into the kind of person who is exceptionally outcomes focused. I have a habit of dreaming up an end, and working towards that end. This happens on the smaller scale of my weekly step and these notes, and the larger scale of developing multi-year projects. This can scale even larger when my mind begins to focus on the stuff of life. At the same time there is a process involved in all of this. A way of pursuit that often guides the way. How we treat our relationships as we pursue ambitions is part of the process. Relationships that are meaningful and important and that I care deeply about have often taken priority for me. So deeply, in fact, that I have found myself foregoing a desired outcome in the pursuit for the sake of a relationship. High pressure pursuits have the potential of breaking things, including people. I know this firsthand.
There is something inside all of this that is worth working out, I think. It is something around the connection between our approach to purpose and focus. If, for example, the approach I take to understanding my purpose is intrinsically connected to outcomes in different areas of life, my entire focus will be on achieving particular outcomes in those particular areas. If, however, I define my purpose differently, my focus will dramatically change.
Purpose and Outcomes
We are living, growing, people. We make choices on a moment-by-moment basis. Those choices are based upon many contributing factors including a prioritized set of goals and a particular view of the world and how it works. We may think of our lives in particular areas – work, family, hobbies, and the spiritual for example. Where we believe we receive the greatest fulfillment with regards to our purpose will eventually become our focus. Maybe it’s our work? If it is, we may become focused in being a success in our field of work, notably as defined by that industry. In that way, our purpose will have been fulfilled in our work. Maybe it’s our family? If it is, we may become focused on ensuring that our family is reflective of the vision of what a loving “successful” family is in our mind. Hobbies? We may work to become the greatest collector, builder, or maker, we know. The spiritual? We may work to become the most righteous person we know. These goals are not inherently evil, although I’m sure some of us have already begun to think about how these pursuits can go horribly wrong. What happens if we feel our purpose is not fulfilled in anyone of these areas? What happens if our work in these areas does not lead towards the desired result, thus putting the fulfillment of our purpose at risk? What happens if we feel that our work is being hindered by someone else?
These are important questions. The pressure is real, if we accept the premise that we each do have a purpose and that that purpose can only be fulfilled with success in these areas of life.
A Different Way
I think there is a different way. As someone who has been formed to be high-achieving and purpose-oriented I have found greater fulfillment in the propositions of Jesus. Namely that our initial purpose is simply that of being in loving relationship with God. To be in community with God. That the work necessary to set that relationship in good standing, to allow us into that community, is something that only God could do, and in Jesus has already been done. In realizing this, we have access to a different kind of life – literally. A kind of life in which the ways and things of this world, do not have the kind of impact on us that they may otherwise have. That in the smallest of actions and longest view of our life, we may find fulfillment in abiding in an overwhelming cosmic love, experienced in the most individual of ways through communing with God. Our purpose then, is to respond by becoming the kind of people who are clearly formed by this experience and reality. This formation by extension will have no choice but to affect other areas of our life. Our work, families, hobbies, and spiritual nature will all be affected. The outcomes will be as they need to be for the continued outflow of God’s love to occur. After all, we are not alone in this. We are with God, and others, in working out all that we begin to see as true as we accept the reality of God’s character and disposition towards us.
This reality can deeply affect our approach to purpose, and what we then see to be our focus. The choices we make with regards to fulfillment of purpose, become easier when made from within a loving community. Instead of thinking about success, we can think about goodness. Instead of being pressured by achievement, we can think about what we already have. Instead of being pressured by a lack of time, we can think about the best possible timing. Our focus fundamentally shifts from the ways of thinking we have been formed in, to new ways of thinking informed by God’s love. We begin to more regularly and clearly set our focus on God and the testimony of God’s character in Jesus.
Our basic approach to fulfillment of our purpose and the related focus of our life can change. We can change. It takes significant effort, and might seem like an impossible proposition. However, we are not alone in it, and the work that is given to us to do is the easier part. It is to respond to a reality of love that surpasses even our wildest imaginations. When we do, everything can change.
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