how to unlock the Big Meaning of your life and find your vision
I had a question for Ashley Sinclair (of Self-Activator). I wanted to know my why, as a writer and as a person.
Or rather, I wanted to put my why into words. Because I can feel it in me when I write from that ‘emotional sweetspot’. Everything aligns: my purpose, values, work, audience.
But you can’t communicate your why – the Big Meaning that drives you and your content – with just a gut feeling.
So I wanted a different kind of clarity. I wanted words.
Later, I did some reading and learned that your why is rooted in the limbic part of your brain. It’s the part that deals with emotions – and it’s nonverbal, delivering information in feelings and hunches.
When your why meshes with someone else’s limbic why, magic happens. You feel connection and recognition. You know you’re of the same kind.
Your why is the drum that you beat, the call you send out across the landscape so that your right people can find you.
It’s also the thing that sets you apart. Call it your brand, or your point of differentiation, except it goes deeper than either of those. It comes from the bones of your identity. It can’t be invented – it can only be discovered (or maybe recovered).
It’s the defining vision of your life.
When you live in alignment with it, you embody a strong and particular point of view, whether you’re Steve Jobs or Coco Chanel or Stephen King or Donald Trump or Joyce Carol Oates or Indra Nooyi.
You stand for something. People will join you or align with you or rail against you accordingly, or use you as a kind of symbol to express something about themselves. They might love or hate you (the most fascinating people tend to be the most polarizing.)
You find your why in your life story. You sift through your past. Often it originates in some kind of childhood wound, like – to use a theatrical example – a man who becomes a district attorney because his mother was murdered when he was a boy. His why involves the need to seek justice.
You examine the people, places, events and influences that shaped you. You recall the turning points of your life. You look at how you connect these things into the story that you tell yourself (and others) about yourself. (You might need to change the angle, update the story. I recommend Michael Margolis for this!)
You look into the different chapters of yourself and see the things that repeat, the themes and values.
You look at who and what you are drawn to (since we are what we’re attracted to).
You study the meaning that emerges.
Your why is a strategic insight into you. It is the bend in the road that links your past to your future. It suggests a destination and a course of action.
When you know your why, it can liberate you from your ego because you’re in service to something bigger than yourself. You have a vision (and you can share it with others).
Your why becomes your true north. So long as you’re heading in that general direction, you can be adaptive, flexible and experimental in the way that you get there. You can change course when new information requires it. You can experience mistakes and failures – in fact, you seek them out, because you know they provide valuable information that you need in order to learn as much and as soon as possible, adjusting your assumptions and revising your map to more accurately reflect the landscape.*
Your why is your brand…and you need to live your brand, to be in alignment, to work in your sweetspot. It’s your challenge and your call to power.
It’s your constant reminder to refuse to play small.
I received a new Tesla Roadster in my divorce settlement (glacier blue with beige interior, utterly gorgeous) and I’m giving it to the nonprofit organization V-Day — committed to ending violence worldwide against girls and women – to auction off, possibly at an event in late September. Proceeds will go to the City of Joy in the Congo, a community that shelters, educates and empowers female survivors of brutal sexual violence. It’s a place for these women to heal, and to learn to lead a movement.
* Eric Ries writes about these ideas in his book The Lean Startup — they’re applicable to other endeavors.
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