October 14, 2013

Life’s Work or Mission Statement? ~ Nyleen Lacy

A sweet friend said to me the other day, “I feel like spreading happiness is my life’s work.”

I loved that! I know her to be a naturally happy, encouraging person. For her to feel that spreading happiness is her life’s work is one of the most self-aware statements she could make because she does spread happiness. From the core of her being, radiating outward, people feel at ease and more optimistic when she is around. She has a lovely soul.

A bit later, she backpedaled, rephrasing her gift of happiness to be a mission statement.

A few days after that, another friend kept saying to me that we need to make up a mission statement for a group we hope to make.

Suddenly, from everywhere, came the idea of mission statements. My soul just balked! I did not understand why.

It soured me.

By education and experience, my entire professional history has been in areas where I was working for and with people. I’m familiar with the underpinnings behind the idea of mission statements. Organizations do need to have a purpose—an express, overarching goal—and to express that goal both to the people who labor for and with those organizations. Mission statements speak to the goal, they speak to product. They inform decision-making.

I think the thing that rubbed me the wrong way was that the phrases “life’s work” and “mission statement” set against each other highlighted a dichotomy that I always hold in tension, but never think about.

We are human beings, not human doings! (Cliches become such because they are true.)

Because a mission statement speaks to a product or a goal, they are necessarily temporary. My friend that wanted to create a mission statement for our group was right. A finite group of people, working toward a certain outcome, at a certain place and time. That’s the place for a mission statement. However, happiness is so core to my friend’s being that I believe that she was more correct when she said that spreading happiness is her life’s work.

During an introductory talk to what would become the doorway to an ethos and philosophy that I came to love above all else, an instructor asserted that, “we live our lives from deep inside ourselves; from a place we call thenous’.

In the Philokalia, the nous is understood to be a person’s deepest center—the heart, the eye of the soul. In English, it has sometimes been (unfortunately) translated into “intellect.” But the nous is much more than that.

During a graduate class, an instructor asked us to write three to five things that we would want people to remember about us when we were dead. I dutifully wrote down the intents of my deepest heart, my nous; the things that I so much want to participate in throughout my life.

We were then given five minutes to write down everything we do each day.

I was shocked and dismayed to see that the two lists had almost nothing to do with each other.

Our busy lives pull and tug at us. They make demands of us that are utterly necessary, like how will I keep a roof over my head? Food in my belly? How will I relate to my family and others that life puts in my path?

Our lives also try to demand of us things that are utterly unnecessary. There is the demand that we be a consumer of these products, participate in popular media, be all things to all people at all times, and, whatever we do, chase the idea of being relevant. Have a utilitarian view of life. Deny our need for silence, nature, beauty. Constantly ask, “what’s in it for me?” Demand to be entertained at all times.

I don’t want to live another day with my lists so foreign to one another.

I hope that when I die, my life has added up to more than the sum total of my mission statements. I hope that I have lived out of my center, my nous. I hope that I have found my life’s work and done it—been it—well.

Of course, it doesn’t matter at all if my friend understands her spreading of happiness as her life’s work or her mission statement. She lives from the heart—from the core of who she is. We all should be so lucky, so self-aware.

Those of us who are fortunate enough to live in her world reap the deep benefit. Rather than being soured, we live in the sweetness that she exudes.

May we all come to be as she is: one with her own heart, her own path, her own nous.


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Asst. Ed. Jane Henderling/Ed. Bryonie Wise

{Photo: via LiebeGaby on Flickr}

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