Not long ago, I was sitting at church and our pastor was preaching on the subject of purpose in life. He noted he used technology to get answers as part of preparing his sermon. An iPhone user, he asked Siri how he could find his purpose in life. Siri searched the web and brought up several recommendations, including several religions to try. One recommendation that stood out to him was trying the following steps:
1) Sit in a quiet place.
2) Meditate on what you think your purpose in life might be.
3) Write this down.
4) Repeat steps 1 to 3 and see if you come up with the same answer and repeat till it makes you cry.
Our pastor was not convinced this was going to work for him, especially since he did not see himself as one who weeps easily, so he asked Siri again in a different way, changing the question to how he could find the meaning of life. There was a slight pause, then his calendar popped up on his phone and Siri started to dictate his upcoming meetings. Our pastor’s initial reaction was to rephrase his question again, but then it hit him: Siri was on track about how Western thinkers have defined the meaning of life; it’s often based on the meetings we attend.
As I pondered this, it made sense to me both in the spiritual sense and in our everyday family and work lives. Many times we tend to meet with others to get the end results we want as fast as possible. I argued with myself and asked what’s wrong with that, especially if it gets the job done? As I struggled with this idea ever so briefly, a thought hit me in my core: “It might work this time, and maybe the next time, but did I make a difference that lasts?”
Building the Future
My wife and I are the proud parents of two wonderful girls (7 and 11 years old), and last year we gave them a somewhat unusual Christmas present. We promised them a playhouse in the backyard. This was no ordinary playhouse and we blew every expectation our girls had by building it so it could serve as daddy’s “man-cave” when they outgrew it.
As the process to build the playhouse got underway, the girls let it be known that they wanted to be part of the hammering, drywall patching and painting. They knew it was best to let dad take care of getting the electrical, insulation, sliding glass door, window and drywall up by himself.
In six weekends, we progressed from framing to painting the interior, and laying the hardwood flooring. Eventually—a year later—we painted the exterior. It took us that long primarily because the interior was done and the girls were happy with being able to use it with their friends, despite having an unpainted exterior. My wife motivated me to finally push to complete the project and once again, my girls were more than eager to help paint.
One Saturday, the girls took turns at the paint roller and brush, but we did not get the painting completed. Later that night, my wife and I were talking about how I could have completed the job in one weekend if the girls had just let me. I could have put a layer of primer and couple coats of paint had I not had to do over what our girls had admirably accomplished.
Then it hit me. It is not about getting the playhouse done, nor is it about how much more efficient I could have been. It is more about building a lasting difference in my girls’ lives and the journey in making them people who can one day convey the thinking and skills they have developed. And it is about building confidence in these fine young ladies.
The Deeper Purpose
I realized I have a tendency to drive others and myself “to get the job done,” e.g., get the computers running; get the service completed so we can do our work and be productive. While these actions meet the requirements of why I get paid, I still wondered if I have made a lasting difference. Do I want to one day be remembered by others as the guy who got the job done or is there a deeper purpose?
I’m not asking this question to get a response that’s spiritually motivated, although I believe that part of anyone’s life is fully relevant. I’m thinking more about how our relationships affect our purpose.
Many of us who work tend to spend as much time with those we work with as with our own families. We all get paid to “get the job done,” to improve efficiencies, to deliver results and get products to our customers. All of those are lofty and very important goals. We meet with our colleagues and we share ideas, but in the process, have we made a lasting difference?
Here are some questions I’ve pondered:
• Are we really cultivating meaningful relationships or just “meeting-ful relationships?”
• Do we have an attitude of “just get the job done” or do we truly “equip and allow others to shine and get the job done?”
• Are our relationships real?
• Have I made a positive lasting difference in others?
To get an honest picture, often these are questions we need to ask others we trust and allow them to safely give us their feedback, the good news and the bad news. It is often when we humble ourselves to allow others to “criticize” us that we learn how to best grow. This takes investing in relationships that are real. It takes effort and patience. Most of all, it takes the courage to be willing to change our relationship with ourselves and be real.
I am not advocating that we do away with our meetings and our efforts toward efficiencies and delivering results. We need to simply look beyond the transaction with others around us and put some effort in the transformation with those around us. Colleagues will come and go, but relationships can last beyond the job. Why not work on building a connection with those around you by genuinely learning about them? They may actually begin to like you as well.
I.T. Manager at Datron World Communications, Inc.