Our colleague, Andy Hoffman wrote a book, Finding Purpose: Environmental Stewardship as a Personal Calling. In the first chapter he describes how many of his students do career selection by asking themselves conventional questions, usually having to do with things like money and impact. He suggests that they would be better off if they were to do a deeper exploration and focus on finding their calling in life. He says that their calling is their purpose in the world. He then connects purpose to the concept of social exchange and suggests that purpose determines how we see other people. Andy writes:
Are your relationships transactional or relational; that is, do you treat people and the natural world as a community that sustains and includes you, or merely as objects for achieving the success of your own pursuits?
The social sciences tell us that it is normal for people to be self-interested. It is normal for people to see each social interaction as an exchange, transaction or contract. This means our job in life is to negotiate each contract so as to obtain the things we desire. These assumptions are at the center of every conventional culture and we are all continually trained to live by them. In conventional social theory we live to acquire and survive.
Andy makes a point about the unexpected. After citing Thoreau on the point that, if a person confidently pursues his or her dreams the person “will meet with success unimagined in common hours.” Why would this grand claim be true?
Purpose is linked to learning. When we have a purpose that drives our life, we leave the conventional path and we do things others will not do. Purpose takes us into uncertainty. In uncertainty we are forced to pay attention to every cue. Andy speaks of it as “opening up to the unknown.” Our purpose does not take us to a stable end point and certainty. Instead it takes to the “continual pursuit of growth and awareness.”
As we move forward, into unknown territory, we have new experiences. As we ponder our new experiences we acquire new ideas and we develop new capacities. In our own writing, we often refer to this forward moving process as “building the bridge as you walk on it.” Purpose tells us where we are going, but moving forward is what drives the learning process. The bridge emerges from real time learning. We have “success unimagined in common hours.”
Andy makes an even greater claim. He says that by taking control of our lives and embracing a higher purpose, we begin to experience “pure joy.
When we have a higher purpose, we are no longer living to acquire and survive. We are living to contribute. When we live to contribute, acquiring and surviving is a means to a greater end and our life becomes more meaningful. In our work we experience the emergence of a better self and our emerging best self is contributing to the emergence of a better world. In doing work that creates a better self and a better world, we experience “pure joy.”
As we experience this kind of joy, we are transformed. We take a different orientation to life. We begin to see life in terms of dynamic wholes and our orientation to relationships become altered. We begin to “treat people and the natural world as a community that sustains and includes you.” We sense that we are part of something bigger than ourselves.
This new orientation expands our old orientation. Instead of being driven by our culture and the social expectations within it, we become, paradoxically, more independent and more interdependent.
We become more independent in that we begin to question conventional assumptions. Instead of accepting that culture determines behavior, we begin to ask why the culture cannot be shaped to achieve the purpose we desire. We have a more internal locus of control.
We become more interdependent because we are experiencing the unfolding of our own potential and discovering that we can be more than we assumed. This joyful discovery leads us to see others differently. We look at them and we suddenly see potential in them we did not see before and that they do not see in themselves. We not only recognize their potential, we also recognize that they can only realize their potential by the exercise of their own agency. Instead of coercing them, we begin to seek to attract them to their own highest purpose. We no longer merely see them “as objects for achieving the success of your own pursuits.”
This profound shift in outlook turns us into leaders of transformational influence. We become culture creators. We seek to create relationships, teams and organizations that are tied to a higher purpose. In these elevated contexts people can hear and dance to new music. As they collectively learn to build the bridge as they walk on it, it becomes easier to see how they can also do it personally.
What does it mean to treat people and the natural world as “objects for achieving the success of your own pursuits?”
What does it mean to “treat people and the natural world as a community that sustains and includes you?”
What does it mean to be a culture creator?