Ashton: Hi, I'm Ashton Gustafson, and welcome back to the Loveable Mini-Course. This is lesson four with Dr. Kelly Flanagan. And those of you that have been joining us, you know that we've been digging into the three essentials of a truly satisfying life. Lesson two was about worthiness. Lesson three about belonging. And lesson four is about "Purpose: The thing you never knew you always wanted to do." So let's go talk with Dr. Kelly Flanagan.
Ashton: Okay, so lesson four: purpose, the thing you never knew you always wanted to do. That's a powerful phrase: the thing you never knew, you always wanted to do. You want to kind of hold our hand and chat more about what you're meaning when you say this.
Kelly: You know, that phrase was first given to me by an editor at a publishing house and I remember when she said it - we were talking about this idea of purpose - and when she said it, I was like, "Oh, you get this, you get this book, you get this concept." I think a lot of people come to this idea of, what's the purpose of my life, and there's a lot of baggage tied to that. There is, what if I'm doing the wrong thing? How do I figure out what that is? How do I make it happen? And again, the lightness of: there's a space in you where you already know the things that you're wanting to do with your life. It's sort of embedded in your true self. And as you reconnect with that true self you're going to become more aware of some of those things. Now there's complexities to how you actually get to work those things out in your life, of course. But the sense of clarity that you're going to have...I remember back in graduate school where I'm studying psychology and to be a therapist when I was a TA, if the professor didn't need me, I'd be sitting in the back of the classroom working on a novel. And if you'd asked me ten years later, what do you want to do with your life, I would have never said write books. There's a part of me that knew I did. And I needed to reconnect with that true self in order to get to it. So that's the good news, it's that simple question I ask so many people: what did you want to do when you were younger? What have you always wanted to do? Where do you feel the most joyful? Where do you feel the lightest? Tell me about those spaces and you'll discover you already know at some level. And then we just need to figure out what are the barriers to you moving in that direction. So that's where that phrase comes from. And I think it's a beautiful phrase that captures a great truth about all this.
Ashton: Totally. And it sounds like this is kind of a crossroads between passion and purpose. And I guess my question to you would be, are they the same? And if they're not, what's different between something that we're passionate about and our purpose in the world?
Kelly: Well, I think you gave us the answer to that question back in lesson three, when I think you said, "In many ways, belonging is like a byproduct of learning how to show up authentically in the world." And I think the same is true here. That purpose is a byproduct of getting clarity about our passions and how we want to live those out in the world. And what you see is that a sense of purpose and meaning - that all of this matters - it starts to gather around you when you're getting clarity about how you want to live out your passions in the world. I wish I had it in front of me. There's a great Frederick Buechner quote...
Ashton: The place where your deep gladness meets the world's...
Kelly: Deep need, I think. That's where you'll find your sense of vocation.
Ashton: That's right.
Kelly: And he goes on, it might be in that memoir or another one, to say that we all have a holy place within us, and it gets messed up in a million little ways, but if you can get still and quiet and fully present, you'll notice that something is drifting up from that holy place within you. And to me, that's what our passions are. These inklings about how we want to spend our days that are sort of drifting up from this holy place within us. And so we want to create space to attend to what that is. And once we get clarity about that, start to practice it, and live it out, a sense of purpose begins to follow on its heels.
Ashton: I think you typically clarify passion by talking about what it's not right.
Kelly: Yes. Right.
Ashton: You know, walk with me on that.
Kelly: Well, what's interesting is, this book actually was originally book about purpose. It was originally titled, The Day You Find Out Why. That was the working title all the way through from a Mark Twain quote, "The two most important days in your life, are the day you're born and the day you find out why.
Ashton: How come you and I have the same quote book? And I actually don't have one, but they are the same quotes that found you and I.
Kelly: This is how you know you found your places of belonging, the same quotes.
Ashton: That's right.
Kelly: So that was the idea. I realized, though, that so many of the books that I was reading about finding your passion, you know, finding a sense of purpose they weren't dealing with the shame issue first. And a lot of what we begin to think of as our passion and our purpose is actually defined by our shame, like who we think we need to be in order to be significant. And so Loveable actually was sort of reverse architected, I guess in order to get to the point of discussing passion and have the shame piece cleared away a little bit so we can actually talk about what passion is. So, in it we talk about how passion is not about making other people proud of you, even though a lot of us - it's very subtle, but we start to think about what we want to do, and then we have an imaginary audience in our head and we imagine the reactions to it, and it's like, "I'm not sure people would really love if I did that so I'll quit considering that." Passion is not about saving the world.
Ashton: One of our family mantras is, "No one's watching."
Kelly: No one's watching. I love that.
Ashton: Sometimes Brynn will share it to me. Sometimes I'll share it with her. That moment where you just feel like I have to do this. Do that. Be there. Be this. Hey, friendly reminder. No one's watching.
Kelly: I think I told the story in Loveable about my daughter Caitlin taking piano lessons, and I heard her playing down in the basement, and she comes upstairs and in all of the sweetness and innocence of a true self that is just starting to develop.
Ashton: Just teeter-tottering.
Kelly: Just teeter-tottering on shame and false self. She just comes up to me and says, "Daddy, it's really hard to play the piano when you're thinking about how proud your mom and dad are of you that you're playing the piano." She's literally saying it. So, if that sense of trying to impress others or make a difference or make people proud of you is sort of hanging on to your passion, it'll sap it of its joy. And this is why passion and purpose comes at the end of Loveable, is that, "Hey, you're worthy. You don't need to do anything to make yourself more worthy. Now you get to do what you love, what you feel called to. And oh, by the way, the people that you've drawn to you, they'll support it because they love who you truly are." And now you're just free to go do what you want, and nobody's watching. I ask my younger people, I say, "What would you do with your life if it got zero views on YouTube?" You know, what would that look like if it just didn't matter? So that's the kind of thing that we're talking about.
Ashton: And I'm going back a little bit here, but one of the big ah-ha's I just had in this passion/purpose dialogue is, how significant the shame narrative has to be addressed or everything that you consider passion and purpose is jacked-up from here on out. And if shame is there, if shame's driving, passion and purpose will not be dialed-in will not be lighter, and brighter will not be in the vein. It's words I like to use. Obstacles ahead. You will be forcing it. But when you get that awareness, when you have that space and you can silence the voice of shame, I think there's the invitation to the narrow path. That's the great invitation. It's like, yeah, there's your path and it's narrow. It's not wide. Not everyone else is going to be on it because it's your path. There you go.
Kelly: Can I ask you a question?
Kelly: We all know what the algorithm is now, right? Like when you get on social media, the algorithm that's at work behind the scenes it has one outcome criteria, which is to keep your attention on that platform. And what you just articulated is that when it comes to passion and purpose, if shame is still operating, if the shame algorithm is still operating, then your passion and purpose will be designed to alleviate that shame, to prove that I'm worthy enough, to prove that I'm good enough, to attract people to me who will love me. And so it's being robbed of its true, you know, it's true essence. What's the algorithm? If you could replace the shame algorithm with one outcome criteria for your passion or your purpose, like, what would it be? What's the one guiding principle?
Ashton: Well, I didn't know you were going to invite me on your mini-series to ask me a question.
Kelly: I know. I put you on the spot there.
Ashton: I feel like you got a lean on Henry Nouwen, right? And it's the juggling of be, do, have. Most of the world's narrative is, if you just do this, then you'll have that, and then you'll be that. Or, if I just had this, then that would let me do that, and then I would be that. We've got it all messed up. And so I think it is, you know, I am what I have. I am what others say of me. I am what I have. I am what I do. I am what others think or say about me. You better get after that right out of the gate every morning.
Kelly: What a beautiful response. And it brings us to something that is so important that if I have, like, a weekend to work through this with people, we eventually get to, which is that your passion ultimately isn't even a passion for doing something. It's a passion for being something. So if you ask me today, what are you passionate about doing? I would say things like being a therapist, being a dad, being a husband, being an author, being a speaker, being a consultant. But if I was asked, what are you passionate about being, I would say I'm passionate about being someone who speaks in the tender voice of a father so that people know their worthiness. And I get to do that as a therapist, as a dad, as a husband, as a writer, as a consultant, as a speaker. And I think there's probably a couple of doing activities in our life where we get to sort of embody our essence, the passion most clearly, I think that's a reality. But the deepest expression I think of our passion isn't even something we do, as Nouwen would point out, and as you just pointed out, it's how we want to show up in the world. It's a way of being that we can embody in any situation. And to me, that becomes like a mission statement for a person's life. Like, how do I want to show up in any situation? That's my true passion. Yeah. Thank you for bringing us to that with your thoughtfulness.
Ashton: I've looked back at a lot of my reflections and journal entries. I don't journal a lot, but I have written over and over and over - probably ten to fifteen times in the last couple of years - "You can either choose to be love or you can choose to be light. When you choose one, you'll be both." And I really think that, what is love? What is light? That's the great mystery, right. And when you ground yourself in your being, I'm going to be a loving presence. I'm going to be light in the world. The doing takes care of itself.
Kelly: The doing takes care of itself.
Ashton: The consciousness of one that is grounded in love and light. They can run a company, they can be a therapist, they can run a school. It doesn't matter what they do, because the energy at which they are doing it is beautiful.
Kelly: You just sort of saved our purpose from becoming - to use a term in the addiction literature - a dry drunk. So, a dry drunk is somebody who no longer does drinking, but their essence, their being hasn't been transformed. And this is why we know people who seem to have a clear sense of purpose. They have things that they're doing in their life. But they see everybody as an obstacle to that thing. And by the way, the man in the mirrors is as responsible for this dynamic as anybody. They have a harshness, there's a bitterness when things aren't going in their way in that. And so what you're pointing out is that if we can show up to what we're doing with love and light, our being itself is being transformed. And the doing will follow on the heels of that. I just love that. Thank you.
Ashton: That's right. After that, peace and patience and kindness and goodness, they just happen. It flows, you don't have to force them.
Kelly: Got it.
Ashton: Beautiful. I love this lesson on purpose. As we move into lesson five, we're going to be chatting about kind of just putting a bow on all this as we conclude on what you call "circling the mountain."