The sight of a meaty newspaper left discarded on the street is pathetic enough.
But, when a strong gust of wind lifts it up and tears it apart into lonely pieces, one wonders if the mindless misery could have been avoided. If only, the reader had left it where it belonged – on a tea table, in the company of a teapot and a beam of sunray caressing it with its morning warmth. But, no…this reader obviously had other priorities than taking care of a used newspaper.
We individuals too, run the risk of becoming a discarded newspaper that has been useful once.
But the newspaper was meant to be used, discarded and recycled…one day. It was created by a few individuals for consumption by many others just like we were created by a few individuals (largely our parents) for their purpose. But there was a difference, we were not created for consumption by others. Unlike the newspaper, whose precarious life and company depends upon the reader who feeds upon it, an Individual – initially dependent upon dedicated and aware parents (if lucky) – may create a purposeful life steered by the choices she or he makes. After all, a human life is almost impossible to recycle.
The appropriate company of a teapot, the tea table and caressing sunrays are available in plenty for us provided we learn early enough the joy of living a life of chosen pursuits. The chosen pursuit could be as simple as enjoying whatever you do or spend some of your planned time upon apart from what we all must do to earn a living or fulfill our responsibilities to those we care for. But chances of getting infected with the germ of making choices and being responsible for the consequences gets more and more remote when we get used to a life of meeting expectations. Living a life beyond expectations is a purposeful life led volitionally.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we had an idea about how to harness the volition of individuals, starting with oneself?
Way back in the late nineties, when I was intensely but selfishly occupied in building up my second line as a manager, I was fortunate to be introduced to the concept of volitional engagement as opposed to motivational engagement through the writings of Prof. Sumantra Ghoshal. This had led me on a search for factors that helps harness human volition. I called them, the volitional buoys. Buoys, because the journey in volitional engagement is not down the beaten track. You need to develop your own personalised guides to avoid the natural temptations of motivational entrapment. When you make a choice about a purpose for your own life, you are the only one who needs to find the way forward. Nobody else is you, your context, your psyche, your HaTaCs* or has latched on to your purpose. The volitional buoys are the few bobbing lights in the sea of complexity that could help you dock into a purposeful life. I will later touch upon two more factors, Family Background and Narcissism that are largely given for an adult individual but too significant to ignore. I call them the Motivational Influencers:
*Habits of Thinking & Action
- Options or Choices (Real Time)
- Habits of Personal Responsibility & Flow (large part of HaTaCs)
- Reflection Time
- Emotional Attachment
- Needs Fulfillment
If you wish to lead a purposeful life, your engagement must be with the purpose, not with what you may enjoy in exchange for your efforts trying to attain the purpose. Purpose does not exist in the present or the short-term, it awaits you out there in the realm of uncertainty and beyond opposition. Once you start valuing the gains or the pains of the present, you will never overcome the minefield of uncertainty or opposition, beyond which lies any and every purpose.
Therefore, a purposeful life entails getting used to the anxiety of dealing with uncertainty and opposition (or lack of agreement). In fact, purposeful individuals are known to hunt out situations that raises their anxiety. They were exposed to the vagaries of dealing with uncertainty and opposition in their formative years and developed habits of personal responsibility to own the consequences of their choices. They had experienced ecstatic highs while being in Flow, a state described by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, where the person would tolerate physical & psychological pain but will not get distracted from the engagement he or she has volitionally hooked on to.
Even with the above buoys in place, a purposeful life would remain a dream without real time options being available for the individual. Making a Choice is an act of free will (volition) while being constrained or restrained to stick with an option decided upon by others (meeting expectations) is an act of compulsion. We act out of compulsion, when motivated by what we stand to gain or avoid as pain while doing our best or worst to meet expectations. Purpose does not exist in the world of acting out of compulsion, however motivated you may be by the gain or pain offered as a trade-off.
In the world of transactional relationships where one grows up with habits of measuring gain/win or pain/loss, we can barely find individuals who are not driven by targets stuck to the tip of their longest shadow at best and no farther. A target is achievable by most, but the reward of achieving the target is available only to the winner. It is a goal controlled by the supply side of life. Purpose on the other hand is an objective created by the demand side of life, a demand that you make on yourself.
There is no reward you work for other than the purpose itself. That is where your ‘emotional attachment’ lies and in nothing else.
To be a winner, you need to beat many competitors so that you can possess what they desire. Your objective is commanded by what they desire. You work hard, practice a lot to win, since you need to be better skilled than the others. A winner is the one who can play a known game better than the others in the same race. A winner’s life is therefore squarely dependent upon others, their desire, their efforts, their skills, their tactics, their expectations. Whereas, a purposeful life is about your purpose, it is not a game where others are competing against you. It is about your life provided you are not distracted by similar needs or desires that others have. Hence, a purposeful life is possible only when your needs are fulfilled as per your own perception of life.
A purposeful life can only remain a dream when our Wants, Desires or Aspirations are all classified as Needs in our own mind. Our all-consuming needs are what set us up for a race for comparative supremacy, a perennial pursuit that leaves us labouring all our lives. Such a life obscures the potential of latching on to a purpose out there in the future. We live in the present, in the constricted world of winning against a horde of similar competitors. A sense of need fulfillment appears nowhere on the horizon as we frantically try to possess or attain anything available on the market. We have no time to reflect or make new choices.
How does one achieve something remarkable without pausing for a while and ‘reflecting’ upon newer Options? We say we live in a changing world but try to win at what others are ‘already’ doing or expecting from us.
How does one spot an unexplored option that could lead to a remarkable purpose, when your gaze is stuck on your competitor breathing down your neck or about to fall behind and make you the winner?
How does one have an ‘emotional attachment’ to a purpose, when you are emotionally obsessed with the reward that others may snatch away from you?
How does one get a sense of ‘need fulfillment’ when our needs are governed by other’s expectations?
Nah!, leading a purposeful life is not about meeting expectations or winning every race against others!
Winning a race is about efficiency or productivity and for quite a few even about chicanery. Even if you win it for the day, another one will start tomorrow, and you will have to practice over the night to win again. It is not exhaustive, it is killing. It kills the potential of an individual to discover, to create something remarkable. A race is about doing better in a known game while a purposeful life is about something new that adds to your identity. Humans are different from other animals due to this very potential, the potential of being an Individual with a unique identity. We are not rats, cows or dogs that we have to accept a life of being a tad better than the one labouring next to you. We are humans, with one but a long enough life to live a multitude of purposes. It need not end when we stop earning or working on a job. It need not end when we have fulfilled our duties as managers or parents or children. Between all the duties and responsibilities towards others and tasks you have taken on as commitments, there is always the need and the priority to reflect upon your responsibility to yourself. No one else is responsible for you and you need to be conscious about that while continuing to be a social animal.
Ours is to live a purposeful life, not to be a newspaper at the mercy of the creators or the consumers.