In service vs In purpose

Over Easter we went camping in Coloundra, only 200 metres from the crash of waves and rust of shipwreck. Like most campers, we brought with us the usual accoutrements: tent, tarpaulin, ropes, poles, mats, etc. Over several hours we crafted and created our home away for home for the next week and when we were finished, we were mightily impressed. It was a great layout: shade from the afternoon sun, plenty of room for the boys to play under cover, table in the middle, privacy yet cool ocean breezes wafting through. Then, as it inevitably does at Easter, the clouds gathered and the winds began to blow. The rain graced with its cool embrace on and off during the day. But under the cover of night, it pummelled us.

Wednesday night will stay with me for some time. The winds picked up and coming from the South-East were really blowing our tarpaulin. Pegs were being pulled out of the ground. Ropes were popping out of their clasps. Poles were falling. Our tarp was becoming a great green sail, billowing fantastically, desperately trying to bring free from its restraints and sail away into the sky. I spent the next 6-8 hours hammering pegs, re-tying ropes, adjusting poles. I was out in the wind and the rain and the dark, circling constantly, constantly vigilant.

And as I continued my circle around the tent, I watched my wife and the boys playing snap within a warm circle of light. They seemed relatively safe and warm and happy in the centre, away from the wind and dark. I felt cold and I was getting blisters on my fingers from pulling ropes. I could just go inside and enjoy the time with them. But, if I did that, inevitably our camp site would be demolished. But if I spent the night holding ropes, then I would miss out on being with them.

And then the insanity of it all struck me. In life, if we continually focus our energy and efforts on tightening ropes, hammering pegs, adjusting tarps and keeping everything together, then our experience is one of hard work, of labour, of difficulty. Even though we might be sustained by the knowledge that we are working for a higher purpose: to maintain a good space for ourselves and our family, or to “get ahead”, the actual minute by minute experience is often just not fun. The more we focus our energy and efforts on keeping the tent safe, the more it starts to dominate our thinking. We start to worry about it more. We become more vigilant and sensitive to the nuances of our tent and tarp. We end up missing out on what’s going on inside. We miss out on the purpose of the whole thing. This is insanity.

However, if we just let go and go inside and sit down we can enjoy the space and the place that we have created. We can relax, let go, belong, be at peace, connect and love. While this is fulfilling, the world is falling down around us, inexorably. Things fall down. The centre cannot hold. Even as we try to connect with this space, we are aware and mindful that it is collapsing, which is also insanity.

This really struck me, because if both paths are insane, in that they both represent a type of thinking that ultimately does not get us want we want, then what? Is the answer to be a pendulum and swing from one to the other? Maintain the space, go inside and enjoy the space. Go back and maintain the space. Go back inside and enjoy the space. I suspect that this is what many leaders do with their teams and their business: constantly alternating between work and play. However, I also suspect (and this is born out by data from global diagnostic profiling) that most people prefer to work rather than play because it gives them a sense of purpose. They are working in order to create “something” and while they are hammering pegs and holding onto ropes, they are serving the purpose. Which also explains why people prefer to be busy doing things rather than just sitting in the space in the middle, enjoying the moment.

Of course, the pragmatists amongst us would simply offer that the solution is to pull down the tent, tarp, etc. and move to a better location. Another way of thinking about this is finding a better venue for your dream. This is good advice, but not always possible.

So what do you choose? Where would you spend your time? Outside in the wind and rain, hammering pegs and serving purpose OR inside enjoying the space and the moment and being in purpose?

By chris

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