There’s a quote that goes something like “when the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” A few years back, I was deep into an internet rabbit hole avoiding my real work, when one suddenly did.
It was in the form of a TEDx Talk, by the film producer Adam Leipzig, and it was much more interesting than the task I was supposed to be doing, so I watched the whole thing. In five minutes, he assured us that anyone could discover their life’s purpose by asking themselves five things:
- Who am I?
- What do I do?
- Who am I doing it for?
- What do those people want or need?
- And how were they changed as a result…
I doubted this but played along for the remaining 4 minutes of his talk because, as I mentioned, I was supposed to be working. Leipzig went through this list of questions with his audience and asked us all to just shout out our answers as he did. My husband Ben, was in the room, and he decided to join me because he was supposed to be washing dishes.
And it worked.
The best part was that it didn’t require any heavy lifting or personal exploration other than shouting out the first things that came to mind when you look yourself in the eye and ask these questions.
Who are you?
Just say your name. That’s enough. You are enough. While there are many deep, reflective responses to this question, your name really can just say it all. I am Heather. Easy.
What do I do?
Well, I do a lot of things, and most likely, so do you. I’m a teacher, I like to garden, I do things to take care of my family, I read and I write. To help us narrow this down, Leipzig asks us to think about the one thing that we, ourselves, would be uniquely qualified to teach others. Okay, easy. I love plants and people ask me questions when their succulents are struggling. In one word, shout out this one thing you do best.
Who am I doing it for?
This one was trickier. I think I do a lot of what I do for others, but I also get a lot out of it myself. Whom directly did I serve, then? How about you? Who do you do your one thing for primarily?
What do those people want or need?
There is something that you bring to this world that only a few can. It is something that this place needs and it would be a shame if you were not here to do so.
And how were they changed as a result…
At the end of the five minutes, we each had a personal mission statement.
I help things grow.
Ben fixes things.
Okay, so nothing earth-shattering, but these simple sentences resonated so strongly with both of us. I help things grow. Ben fixes things. As complex as we both knew each other to be, what we actually did, in one way or another with our time here on Earth, could be summed up in these sentences.
This revelation has given us a quick response to that question you get asked at parties… “so, what do you do?” I help things grow and Ben fixes things.
More than that, it’s become a mantra in our lives whenever we are making decisions. There are many choices of how to spend our time, and sometimes it’s hard to say no, but this becomes easier when I ask myself if what I’m about to take on allows me to live out my personal mission. If it does, then most likely, it will be a valuable use of my time. If it doesn’t, then perhaps there’s an opportunity for someone else to live out their personal mission.