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, written by Jeremy. Read the commentary.

What do people invite you to do? I don’t mean parties or jumping off cliffs; I mean those slightly bizarre requests that bleed between professional things and personal things.

I get invited to help people understand themselves. Often the requests sound different but the root is the same. “How do I explain what I’m good at and want to do?” “How do I choose between all these options and make sure things align with where I want to go?” “How do I figure out where I want to go?”

The questions come from people younger than me, older than me, sitting in school, teaching at school, starting careers, and finishing careers. I get this question from people who admire my success and, most startling, people who I’ve sought out because I admire their success.

These questions are beautiful and fragile. Every time I’m asked, I feel like I’ve somehow been tricky – fooled them into thinking I’m more than I am. I’ve become very careful with my language, how I express confidence, and what I volunteer. I worry about abusing this thing I’ve been given. There is something I can’t name that calls out to people, allows them to trust me, and suggests I somehow see things inside of them that they haven’t been bold enough to accept but are desperate to embrace.

So, there’s my thing. What’s yours?

And now what?

If we know what it is, what do we do about it? I could spend the rest of my life working with those people I meet … I could even make some kind of consulting/coaching practice out of it. But should I? Just because people invite me to do it – does than mean I ought to?

It is worthwhile, joyful, gratifying, selfless, and lovely. But it leaves me slightly unfulfilled. I feel … a bit hollow while in the midst of it. What does that suggest?

And strategically, is it the best way … the most whole way to use that gift? It might not be below me to be some counselor for the rest of my life, but is it below that knack for seeing brilliance inside of people?

This is nothing like rolling out a string of credentials. I can walk into any room with my Associate of Arts in International Studies, Bachelor of Arts in Economics, and Masters of Science in Environmental Economics and people know (or think they know) which categories to pop me into – especially if I tag those certificates with experience in consulting, international policy, and venture investment. But I couldn’t generate enough mustard to walk into the same room and explain what I see in each person around the table … or even just say I’ve been invited, all my life, to do that exact thing and they ought to invite me to do the same.

If we would do as only we can do, what do we do now? How does this get started? How do we rein in our options and tailor our path to do more things in that seemingly bizarre category of gifts/knacks?

I’d love it if you’d wade in. Speak up if you have something to add or even another question to ask. I’d like to see comments from Dave Pollard (he’s working his way through), Hugh MacLeod (he seems to have found his feet), and Chris Corrigan (he’s looking from a totally different angle).



This is a lovely post and a lovely question. Can I share an answer I shared with a friend last year who asked the same question? Here is what I wrote to her…

This process of writing about what we do is actually a practice. I revisit all the time. This is why I use a wiki for my website: it’s easy to update!

And so having said that, here is something like a practice I might use.

I usually work with draft text like you have and then I ask a few questions about what I want to say and who I am in the world and then I write poetry. So take it from the first step:

1. This draft material is good. I would write more though. Think about all the offers you make (you do body work too…add it to the list). Think about the intangible stuff you do, the stuff that happens when you lend your presence to it. Get a sense for the flavour of YOU within your work, your gift as PG and not anyone else.

2. Start with a fresh sheet of paper and create some fierce questions for yourself, like:

* Who am I in the world?
* Who do I want to be?
* What purpose burns in me?
* What good do I make, what legacy do I leave daily and as a lifetime spent in practice supporting others?
* What do I want to offer to others, and what invitation do I want to create for others to join me?
* Who do I work with and what do we offer one another in the deep mutuality of partnership and collaboration?
* What am I inviting people to do with their work and lives?
* How do I support the floursihing of deep intention and the profound needs of people who want to make a difference with their work?

Something like that.

2a. Having created that list of questions, go and sit on the beach an hour before low tide and ask them into the world and listen for the teachings that come in when the tide turns and the ocean delivers the answers to you. Don’t leave the beach until your feet get wet. You have to have an experience of dipping your feet into the ocean of possiblities for the shiver to travel up your spine and confirm the ground you are now standing upon.

3. Harvest the poetry of this experience and find language that captures your heart and explains yourself to others.

4. Repeat as necessary.

Thank-you Chris. I was waiting for you to come.

Your insight that answering these questions is a practice, rather than a single answer, is a beautiful expression. In moments where these questions burn brightest, there is such a deep longing for a single, clear, sustaining answer. Like so many questions, these ones are paths, and it’s exactly what I hoped you’d explain.

The silence, loneliness, and timelessness described while waiting for the waves is just the right sense. I’ve always felt like I was invited but still waiting for the door to swing open. That I had to show intent to walk through but still had to sit by the door.

The questions you list are all the big ones – the heavies. One I would add, “What am I uniquely able to give, see, or ask?”

I almost just asked if you hadn’t only used more words to put us where I left us. Points 2a and 3 are so small, tucked in underneath the weight of 1 and 2. It’s easy to overlook what happens in the last three points.

All of us burn to answer these questions. Few actually ask. And of those few, nearly none sit down to hear the answer.

Do you agree that if we would do as only we can do – we must simply ask and listen?

Set our selves into those questions. Exude intent to know.

Let those questions guide our ears, eyes, and thoughts. Listen. Attend to that knowing.

Then the answers are like paths, revealing themselves as one short stretch at a time.

Another question, when you’ve got time: As you’ve asked your own questions and observed others doing the same, each with intent to live within the answers that are found, is there a struggle to remain consistent? Or is inconsistency more a product of misunderstanding?

Saturday Links for the Week – April 7, 2007…


What a beautiful question. I’m leaping with things to say about it; you struck a whole series of rippling chords in me.

I’ll start at the beginning.

I’m no stranger to these sorts of questions. People feel drawn to ask me about the same sort of life-piercing issues, from how to bring about change, to how to find their path or their calling, to what do to about the death of a near friend. I have no problem with these sorts of pleadings, and this is in part because I recognize, fully, that it is not ME who has the answers. It is the person who’s asking who is carrying the knowledge within themselves.

So when it comes to these inquiries, I am not some arbiter or deep seer. I merely act as a still and clear mirror in which they can catch a glimpse of the truth they’re already holding. Or, put another way, I need only hold the space for them to explore their way into that truth. Sometimes this space-holding involves voice and dialogue; sometimes it sounds as though it’s “me.” But I know, in my heart, it’s the questioner who really knows. That I can see something they can’t yet is no more special than me being able to tell the color of their eyes–and it recognizes that I might need them to tell me the color of mine.

Could I offer that perhaps your hollowness is because there’s a lingering part of you that wants credit for this, or who sees it as being something that’s “yours” instead of a gift that needs to be given? I’m not sure I’m putting that well. I’m not sure I can. Forgive me if I leave that for now.

I’ll go on.

I loved Chris’s response. (I seem to, always. Chris? Your questions are such gifts.) And I loved your own following question. “As you’ve asked your own questions and observed others doing the same, each with intent to live within the answers that are found, is there a struggle to remain consistent? Or is inconsistency more a product of misunderstanding?”

I would venture that it’s neither. Like Chris, I ask these questions of myself with something that would border on obsession, save for the fact that it flows from love. And I recognize, in the asking, that who I am and what I offer changes from moment to moment to moment. Trying to craft an identity around a stable sense of work is, to my mind, as problematic as any other project of the ego. I do not see–and do not expect–the later to be something permanent and unyielding; my self is in constant flux and change and so the answers to these questions flicker and dance in the same way that any fire cracks and sparks and changes shape. But the fire burns nonetheless, and the questions and self that fuel that fire are lasting. For me, the inconsistency is part of the joy of it. Why struggle to remain consistent? The world is always changing, and it seems only reasonable that we change alongside and in response.

Thank you, though, again, for a beautiful question. I only hope this all was not too abstract.

Thanks Siona. I hope to give this a more thorough response in the next day or so but wanted to make sure I acknowledged the gift of your comment.

Nothing you’ve said is “too abstract”. It’s all good.

I’ll get a better response up when I’ve got the time it needs.

Siona, again, thank you for your comment.

Why do people feel drawn to you? This seems to be a key part of understanding how to do only that which you can do. Recognizing why we are invited to do things is as much a riddle as what we’re invited to do.

Like you, I feel it isn’t me that people are seeking – they are asking for my questions. Socrates is a great example for me in these things.

I’m glad you brought up holding space – I know it has a specific meaning to some, including Chris. I’ve a less edified, more generic sense of its purpose. When I was thinking about these things, I kept thinking of the circle Chris often describes.

A circle lacks any distinction by hierarchy but it still means that each attending holds a spot. Chris talks about the space he holds and I often think of the space held by the others. If I would do only what I can do – I must choose my space. Come into it fully. Hold it. Hold it in that empty, Tao-like way, that allows filling and flow – but intentionally choose what is so easy to take without knowing.

Anyway, it’s one of the reasons I hoped Chris would share his thoughts.

Regarding that hollow feeling – I’m no stranger to self interest, pride, or a desire for recognition. I’m king of those vanities … but I don’t think that’s the kicker here. Of course it’s impossible to write what I intend to next without seeming vain but …

… I always feel like this way of being was meant for bigger things. More complex. More sophisticated. More potentially catastrophic.

Imagine taking one of those bigs guns of Navarone – those huge cannons used to sink battleships – and loading it to target seagulls floating about in the bay. A thousandth of the gun powder, a marble for the cannon ball, a tiny weak pop for a cannon blast.

It is still a cannon, it is still firing, it is still fulfilling a “kind” of its purpose … but that is not what it was made to do.

I feel like I am made to sink battleships, but I’ve only learned how (or given my self permission) to shoot at seagulls. More than that, I know hordes of people who haven’t even got a feel for what they’re for … and that’s what this post is about.

Now for the last bit about lives in flux. Fire is an interesting metaphor here – thank you for suggesting it. We enjoy fire for its heat and beauty, but its purpose seems to be burning. The heat might rise up as an inferno, the light may die down to those fragile blue flames … but it burns nevertheless.

It seems to me that there is purpose and expression of purpose. I sometimes get so hung up on the expression, I ignore the purpose the underlies it. When I first read Chris’s questions I saw answers that were expressions … reading them again now, maybe a few, at least the first, are questions of purpose.

Questions of purpose interest me. It’s something Dick Richards and I batted around before too. Those questions seem to lie at the heart of what we’re discussing here.

Well, this ends up much larger than it began. I was asking about expression of purpose (what I do that only I can do) and that’s what you were answering. In some ways I agree with your answer – that it needs freedom to remain responsive. I’m still not sold that it needs to be inconsistent.

Oh, Jeremy! There is so much richness here. Again, I’m just going to write, and see what comes.

I’m not sure why people are drawn to me. Perhaps it’s because I don’t want anything from them, and because I don’t want them to be anything other than who they are. Perhaps its because I can recognize a need without desiring to do anything about it. Perhaps it’s because I see in so many people a need for love, and a need for nonjudgmental understanding (which for me amounts to holding space). Perhaps it’s because the people who come to me come this way to everyone, and I’m the only one who recognizes what it is they’re asking. Perhaps it’s all this; perhaps none. Perhaps because of the interdependent nature of purpose; to be true purpose, it must be recognized by others as well as myself. I’m not sure.

I was struck by your cannon metaphor. Are you meant for something bigger? What’s the biggest target you can imagine? What target scares you most? Perhaps all this is just practice; perhaps you need to learn what it means to commit to a “smaller” purpose before your true, grander calling reveals itself.

I’m not sure.

And as to the question of purpose you finished with. I can speak only of my own experience, and with the caveat that it involves a certain paradox. Yes, purpose is constant. It is also constantly evolving. My purpose has remained them same, but as I’ve grown and deepened and learned, my purpose, too, has unfurled. It looks different now than it did in the past; not only does it manifest in different ways, my understanding of its demands has grown more rich. So perhaps inconsistency was the wrong word. Perhaps something like emergent is better.

I could say much more about this, I’m sure; I have some empathy around the fact that many people are scared to explore their purpose, because discovering your calling demands responding to that call, and what someone may be called to do might be far, far beyond the scope of their sense of themselves. And I’d want to add two more questions to Chris’ list. What am I afraid of? What do I love?

Thanks again for your comments and response.

I think, “Perhaps it’s because the people who come to me come this way to everyone …” is probably your closest answer to why people seek your advice. I think that you are one of the few who recognize this is why you have found a way to provide insight.

Most people don’t notice themselves and others looking into life for more meaning. One of the reasons I like Henry David Thoreau is that he calls this out of nearly everything. His insight is rare enough that this quote is easily recognized, “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.”

Am I meant for something bigger? I’ve always imagined I was. Maybe you’re right though – start small. Thing is, I’ve been doing that for a long time.

I’ve wondered if doing that which only I can do means in part doing that which I am invited to do. That these things might be best if not forced or strived towards. Not sure about that. What do you think?

What does “what am I afraid of” reveal?

You guys are talking about presence. It’s a lovely thing, completely unteachable (as I am finding out) but absolutely essential. Of course it can be cultivated and it’s a practice. Ain’t it all.

Jeremy; quite the crowd you have assembled here.

My view is that once we are all called to something bigger…though some hear the call stronger than others.

I think if you research the so-called great lives, you will find that they started with doing small mundane things well, then moved up the food chain.

One thing I remember about Thoreau, he wrote about utopian societies, but his wife would have nothing to do with it…so he didnt act on the idea…which was probably a good thing.

Peace and love to all wisdom seekers!

Randy (gazing out at Dows lake)