My journey to connect with purpose and passion.

Creators 2.0: The compass of heartache

This is part five of a five-part series excerpted from my book Creators 2.0: How to Find Your Purpose, Build Sustainable Growth and Change the World. Get your free copy here.

Follow your heartache is the simplest and most powerful advice I can give to anyone. This is the compass I turn to when I am lost and the other compasses fail me.

Our basic nature is to avoid suffering. But if we wish to live our purpose and find our calling, we have to stop running from that which pains us. We must walk into the heartache or choose to cocoon ourselves in mindless tasks and hide from what is truly meaningful.

I can no longer remember the source for the phrase “soft sadness,” but it is a principle that has guided my steps for many years now. It is the path of awakening one’s heart and learning to love, even in the face of heartache and suffering.

Soft sadness is a loving acceptance of heartache. It is the active choice to step forward and help those that we might otherwise turn away from. Umair Haque speaks most eloquently about this compass in “How to Let Your Purpose Find You”.

So head past your discomfort zone – right on into the burning tropical isles of heartbreak. Now, by that, I don’t mean: dump the love of your life. I do mean: immerse yourself in stuff that makes you hurt, ache – that maybe even makes your heart break a little bit (or a lot). You’re feeling the stirrings of empathy – and purpose, Big Love, needs Big Empathy like the river flows to the sea.

Haque’s full article is worth a read.

I believe that each of us is called to something in this world. This book is about finding this calling. I hope that the compasses above help you to take action.

You have probably noticed that each of the four compasses is just another way of taking action, a way to move without having predefined the indefinable. It is through action, in thought and deed, that you are able to move toward discovering your talents and your purpose.

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Creators 2.0: The compass of curiosity

This is part four of a five-part series excerpted from my book Creators 2.0: How to Find Your Purpose, Build Sustainable Growth and Change the World. Get your free copy here.

Passion only comes after action. You might be thinking: Wait a minute, doesn’t passion come first? I want to do something, I’m curious about it, and so I do it. Action is motivated by desire, isn’t it?

The belief that passion comes first is directly correlated to the belief that talent is endowed by the gods on a select few. “I don’t feel passionate” is probably the number one excuse I hear from people who are sad and avoiding a fully lived life. They don’t know where to turn or what to do. They feel trapped. They are all waiting for inspiration to strike.

The answer is not to tell them to find their passion, because it won’t just happen. You have to start taking action and then pay attention to how that makes you feel.

It is only in the doing that we feel the spark of purpose and talent alight. Waiting for the conditions to be right succeeds only in keeping us safely ensconced in our womb of comfortable sadness. But to take action is to open ourselves to joy and experiences that feed us.

Start before you’re ready. Don’t prepare. Begin.
— Steven Pressfield, The War of Art

I was speaking to a very dear friend recently and she was lamenting that she never finishes anything. I told her this was just a story she tells herself. I know, because I tell myself the exact same story. In the past six months, I have seen this friend launch into a new career, start to change the direction of her life and even take up painting. We all have a superpower and hers is an ability to devote herself fully to trying new things. Taking action should not be underestimated or devalued as it is the way that true talent and purpose is found.

Follow your curiosity and start saying yes to all the things that arouse your curiosity. This is not about finishing, but rather about committing to the next step and taking action. Did someone mention something about a place that has stuck in your brain? Commit to learning more about that place. Perhaps that’s visiting Wikipedia, ordering a book from the library or sketching a picture in your journal. Each step will either satisfy your curiosity or increase it. Continue to follow your curiosity where it leads you.

What I love about this compass is that even if you don’t find your purpose directly, you become a way more interesting person. You will have stories to stop any dinner party in its tracks.

All posts in this series:

Introduction: Four Compasses
The compass of the good person
The compass of greatest Resistance
The compass of curiosity
The compass of heartache

Sean HowardComment
Creators 2.0: The compass of greatest Resistance

This is part three of a five-part series excerpted from my book Creators 2.0: How to Find Your Purpose, Build Sustainable Growth and Change the World. Get your free copy here.

The day I walked away from my corporate job, relief washed over me. There were moments when I had to sit down as I felt light-headed and dizzy. I wanted to laugh and cry all at the same time. It was a heady time of excitement and opportunity.

It was also when my fears vomited all over everything in my life. My biggest fears were not about money, or at least not directly. They were about not knowing what to do next. Where was I to find my purpose? In what direction did true passion and fulfillment lie? By what would I gauge my decisions?

We are told to follow our fears and, as I said earlier, this is perhaps the single most ludicrous piece of advice ever given to anyone. I’m on board with fighting fear in order to have a life more fully lived. If fear is the only thing stopping you from heading where you feel pulled to go, then by God, fight through that fear. But as a compass it is crude and directionless, a poor advisor to the soul.

The more important a call or action is to our soul’s evolution, the more resistance we will feel.
—Steven Pressfield, The War of Art

Hundreds if not thousands of times, I found myself lost and struggling to move forward. That’s when I realized that Resistance can be my friend.

Resistance, the pernicious goddess of staying safe, uses everything at hand to stop us from leaving what is known and accepted. She is in the thought to put something off for a couple of hours or the impulse to turn off the alarm and get some sleep. She is the voice of the family member who wonders if we should just get a “normal job.” She is the voice inside our heads questioning whether we can accomplish the task at hand.

I now look for Resistance and her artifices. It is a sign that I am on the right path. This book is the most prescient example of this. I had about 5,000 words on paper, multiple outlines and notes scattered just about everywhere. And then I stopped working on it. Days went by. I was busy and clients needed my attention. I stopped getting up at 6 a.m. to write because I was too tired from staying up late to work on my art and other projects. I was just focusing on more pressing issues, right? No, I was hiding from something that scared me and that needed to be done.

I know this because it kept coming up. I would start thinking about the book and immediately write it off with some excuse or another. After a while, I started to wonder if I was ever going to work on it again. It had been weeks with no movement, not one word written. That’s when I realized that Resistance was at work. I was going to have to fight to make this book happen, but the fact that this was a requirement meant that this was indeed the direction I needed to head in.

Before I went to bed that night, I set my alarm for 5 a.m. and grabbed my phone to message a lovely and insanely talented designer named Jacquelyn Tierney. I asked her to design this book, point-blank. I knew that I wanted her to design it, and more importantly, I knew she would move it forward without even knowing the particulars. Most designers would want to work out a budget or some of the parameters.

Jacquelyn got it right away. She gave me a date to have the draft in her hands so she could start the work.

The next morning I didn’t shut off the alarm and go back to bed as I had done every morning for the past three weeks. I had a deadline. Resistance had given me a very clear sign, so I turned my ship into the strongest wind and urged my crew forward.

Previously in this series:
Introduction: Four Compasses
The compass of the good person

Next week: The compass of curiosity

Sean HowardComment
Creators 2.0: The compass of the good person

This is part two of a five-part series excerpted from my book Creators 2.0: How to Find Your Purpose, Build Sustainable Growth and Change the World. Get your free copy here.

Jordan Peterson is a tenured professor at the University of Toronto, a philosopher in the oldest sense of the word, and a practicing clinical psychologist. He is one of the most brilliant and life-changing people I have ever known, and he has devoted his life to helping others understand how they make the choices they make in the world. He presents this model quite cogently in his 2013 TEDxUof T talk.

You have to be in sync with something that’s beyond you, because that synchrony gives you the strength that you need to bear your terrible limitations.
— Jordan Peterson

Before we can unveil this compass, Jordan would have us understand that we have each chosen to walk away from that which guides us. We have had to shut it down as we grew to become responsible members of society. When we were children, we were open to our gifts and talents. Our brain was less of an inhibitory structure, but as we age, “we are closing in and narrowing towards a particular goal and way of being.”

This specialization is not only necessary, it is the responsible thing to do. It allows us to become a good parent, a proper citizen and a productive member of society. But there is a price to be paid. We lose our relationship with “untrammelled reality” because we have chosen to replace it “with the shadows that are only complex enough to let us do what we need to do and no more. In some sense we become more competent, but in other ways we become more blind.”

What I love the most about Jordan is that he reframes what many see as a horrifying reprogramming to conform to the norms of society as a necessary part of our evolution as a fully realized being. The closing down and specializing is expected and needed because it brings us to the place where we can contemplate something larger beyond all that we know. When we come to understand that we can handle reality, we can start opening the doors again – the doors that have been closed by our learning to be a good sibling, worker and citizen. Jordan says,

You do this by paying attention to the things that manifest themselves to you – that shine forth as interesting – that grab you. And where you are grabbed is where the obscuring map you lived in isn’t obscuring the reality that’s underneath. It’s like there is a hole in the map and the light shines through that and you are attracted to that. And that will pull you along. And that’s when your interest is seized by something. That is your nervous system doing that. You don’t do that. It’s an unconscious force. You could even say it was the world itself talking to you.

The flashes—those things that “shine forth”—are a real phenomenon. Like pinholes to another world, they show us something that we learned to live without as we grew cynical, nihilistic and shut down, our lives flat, brittle and distant. To follow these flashes is to put ourselves in conflict with society, and yet we can’t help but to do so. Jordan defines this path as the path of going from being a “good citizen” to becoming a “good person.” What flashes in the light and catches our attention when we least expect it? What causes our heart to leap in mixed wonder and sadness?

I was on my way to a business meeting with the team. We were standing at the curb waiting for the light to change when the creative director kept glancing at me. “Are you crying, dude?” I felt like I had been punched. My head jerked back and I raised my hand to my face. There were tears rolling down my cheeks. I shook it off and blamed it on the blustery winter wind. But a few weeks later, sitting at my desk, I reached up to find my cheeks glistening.

These flashes, glimpses of reality, had started when I began meeting artists and photographers and engaging them in conversation. I had met many artists in my life, but they were so far outside my model of reality that I couldn’t really see them. I avoided interacting with them in any meaningful way.

I’d never paid attention to art before, but now I found myself attracted to the possibility in these people and their work – flashes to the real world outside my existence of boardroom meetings, million-dollar advertising campaigns and clients who killed every good idea we came up with. Something in me had changed. I found myself questing for what these artists had—freedom, time, some connection to untrammelled reality.

I knew it would be hard to give up my current income, but the flashes of something missing, some nutrient my soul needed, were too much to ignore.

Previously: Introduction: Four Compasses

Next week: The compass of greatest Resistance

Sean HowardComment
Creators 2.0: Four Compasses

This is part one of a five-part series excerpted from my book Creators 2.0: How to Find Your Purpose, Build Sustainable Growth and Change the World. Get your free copy here.

Knowing our purpose is a pursuit that unites artists, philosophers, entrepreneurs and creators of all types. I would go so far as to say that the search for purpose is the single truth that unites all of us.

We each have to find our own way to put aside all the self-doubt and the external expectations and begin to explore our potential talents. Only then can we start to grow and explore how we can connect these talents with a “great hunger” in the world.

But where to start? Should we paint? Buy a camera? Play an instrument? Take a sculpting class?

Your Compass

While I can’t provide a step-by-step method that is guaranteed to find the purpose for each and every reader, I do believe I can provide you with a reliable compass. A way to know which direction bears fruit.

People love to promote their compass in catchy little sayings. Follow your passion. Find your bliss. Do what scares you. There are many of these out there and while some have positive benefits, most are not a reliable means of finding our true purpose.

Doing what scares us, for example, is both misleading and dangerous advice. Fear arises to block any path that moves us from the known and comfortable. So doing things that scare us is a great way to explore new territory, but not all that helpful in determining which way to head, because any new direction will raise fear of some kind.

Also, fear can be something we really need to listen to at times. I have no desire to walk into dark alleys in a really bad part of town, alone, at 3 a.m. My fear of doing so is likely a good thing.

Another common piece of advice is to follow your passion. This one does offer some potential fruits, but it is a poor compass to what really matters to you in the world. I have been many things: a juggler, a 3D animator, a gaffer, a strategist, an agency owner, a consultant, a dog trainer, a photographer and more. I was addicted to following my passion and finding my bliss. But in the end, I found myself lost and unfulfilled and working in a high-paying job to pay for all the toys I desired.

What compasses, then, are reliable indicators of what action to take next in pursuit of purpose? I have found four. You can select the one you have the most affinity for or even use more than one. They are simply tools for the explorer of the soul. And there are likely others.

Next week: The compass of the good person

Sean HowardComment