Finding vision and purpose when the future is so uncertain
A message at summer graduation time from University Chaplain, Revd Dr Harriet Harris.
A HUGE CONGRATULATIONS to all our summer 2020 graduates, not only on attaining your degrees, but on doing so under unique global and personal pressure!
You have worked so hard and achieved so much. You have coped with library closures; the shift to online classes; assessment rejigs; going home or staying put; friends going home; being ill; family members being ill; being carers and parents; loss of income, or taking on key work at personal risk the world-changing energy of Black Lives Matter, so vital and so consuming; a lack of routine just when routine becomes so useful; loss of face-to-face contact just when personal presence can be most reassuring; emotional balance going out of kilter; job offers going askew; prospects turning shaky.
We’d love to be toasting together the awarding of your degrees – so significant to have reached the completion of your studies and to be turning now to whatever comes next. We cannot applaud you in the McEwan Hall this year or clink glasses in Bristo Square, although there is little that would warm our hearts more.
And we’d drink also to all those who are toiling day and night to make sure that marking is completed on time, exam boards go right, the tech works, people are supported, timetables function, degrees can be awarded and certificates received. And we’d applaud not only ‘frontline’ workers, but those who are working round the clock in our labs, analysing the tests that we hope will give us some purchase on the pandemic.
We have been stretched so thin over this time. We all need some rest, and kindness and understanding from one another – which are always in our gift.
Looking to ‘whatever comes next’ is confusing and uncertain. We don’t even fully know if we can take a holiday, let alone return to studies, or work, or renting accommodation. It can be like looking at a bewilderingly grey and shifting picture.
But with grey and shifting pictures, if we sit with them and do not try too hard to force sense out of them, but instead let life emerge from them, we can start to tell the difference between what matters and what doesn’t.
From amongst the seeming chaos, that which gives life comes into view.
Where are the plants that are flowering in your days at the moment?
Two things we can have, whatever the circumstances, are vision and purpose.
The pandemic is fertile ground for deepening our sense of both the vision and purpose of our lives.
It may seem paradoxical given the job losses, but we can dig into our sense of purpose during lockdown. Our purpose is not our job, any more than it is our qualifications.
Our purpose is our answer to the question WHY?
“Why am I here on this planet?”
Our purpose is about who we are in the world, and what lights us up, and it holds whether or not we are in a pandemic, recession, climate crisis, enjoying relative peace or suffering conflict.
Our purpose can develop and change, as can the clarity with which we express it. It doesn’t just drop from the sky; we need to do some digging to find and articulate it. And when we do, we can live it daily.
Here are a few pointers for finding your purpose and stating it to yourself.
- State it in the positive: e.g.‘fighting injustice’ is a great mission, but you want your purpose to be something you can do every day, and where your default is not combative but inviting e.g. ‘showing welcome to everyone I meet’.
- Let it reflect what you do, e.g. do not say that you welcome everyone, if actually you do not. It might be more that you ‘greet opportunities’, or you ‘embrace diversity’.
- Include how you do it, and let this be an enjoyable state for you, e.g. ‘lovingly looking to bring out the best in people’, ‘joyfully helping people to feel welcome’, ‘sensitively adding beauty wherever I go’.
- Let it be something you can experience every day, so that no day in your life needs to be lived devoid of your purpose. Climbing Kilimanjaro wouldn’t count, though it could be a mission. ‘Delighting in new challenges’ could be your purpose, where you anticipate with delight that each day will bring challenges - and if you live like this you will enliven others too. Our purpose takes us beyond ourselves and is a service to the world.
- You want your purpose to be emotionally charged for you – doesn’t matter if it falls flat for others; it matters that it brings a smile to your face, ‘playfully welcoming opportunities'
If we can answer the question ‘Why am I here on this planet?’, we can, even in the most difficult circumstances, live our purpose every day.
Our vision is also thankfully immune to pandemics. Our vision is a kind of calling, a compass for us that provides our true north. It’s out there, just beyond the horizon, so ‘seeing it’ is not an exact science! The realisation of our vision may be years ahead, even beyond our lifetime, but our vision guides us.
Here are a few pointers for finding your vision
You can start to form your vision by tuning into that which is bigger than you are; whatever helps you to appreciate and enjoy being part of a larger whole – being with nature, or immersed in music, present in meditation, engaged in prayer, watching the night sky, or active in solidarity with those with whom you share a cause. Close your eyes and look out beyond the horizon to what you see and hope for the world. Your vision could be something like:
- A world in which no child goes hungry.
- A world where animals, plants, rivers and oceans are treating with respect by human beings
- A city that is carbon positive
- A world where all are free from threat of domestic or sexual abuse
- A community that genuinely delights in equality and diversity and is a beacon for others
But what do I actually do in life, and how can I turn it into income?
Earning your income by pursuing your vision is a great boon. It is terrific to aim for that, whilst realising that not everybody can pull that off, at least not right away. Doing a job to earn money while you work towards your vision in other ways is quite normal! And remember, you need never be devoid of your purpose – you can be ‘joyfully welcoming’, ‘greeting opportunities’, ‘lovingly looking to bring the best out in people’ however you earn your money. But somewhere in you, there will be a mission which is a particular thing for you to do in pursuit of your vision. As I write, I think about our Sikh Chaplain, Trishna Singh, whose vision is for equality, and whose mission has been to create a community base for Sikh women, and to support Sikh girls in her community to continue with their education. She created Sikh Sanjog in 1989, and has been awarded an OBE for this work, http://www.sikhsanjog.com/
Careers Advisors are best placed to guide you regarding work and income, and can bring so much experience, wisdom and fun to the process.
My encouragement to you here is something different. I would love for you to:
- scan the horizon and then look beyond it
- not be afraid to develop and state a vision
- have courage and take risks, and find supporters who can help you to do this
- know that often it is you who can keep doors open, and choose when to close them
- grow your intuition as well as your trust of your intuition (get into your body, know when you are ‘disheartened’, or facing something you cannot ‘stomach’)
- trust that people or circumstances emerge when you need them to, and so attune your antennae
- and dig into the knotty and juicy difficulties of this pandemic to draw out the rich purpose within you.
The rain will continue to fall on us, and the sun will continue to shine on us. We need them both. These times may feel overwhelming, but dig into their soil and find the juicy nutrients from which your life will blossom.
Revd Dr Harriet Harris, University Chaplain