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Purpose, Ego, and a Colorectal Theology (Podcast)
Season 1, Episode 5 Transcript
This transcript has been edited for clarity
Hey, everybody, you probably are going to hear quite a bit of snoring in the background today. I apologize for that. My puppy is asleep at my feet and as Bulldogs have a tendency to do, he snores so much, but this is my only time slot today where I can record an episode. So, we're just going to do this with the fun of puppy snores going on in the background today.
What I wanted to talk a bit about was the idea of purpose. I've been thinking a little bit about this notion of purpose after a conversation that I had with one of my coworkers. She is in the process of moving to a new job at a new company, and I could not be more excited for her. She's one of those really smart, really talented people where when they like, like you and accept you as a friend, it feels like such an honor because they are just that cool.
That's her. And, you know, as we were talking about her upcoming career shift, one of the things that she mentioned was that, you know, this new role that she's going into feels like it's much more in line with her broader purpose. And gives her an opportunity to leverage a lot of the skills and interests that she has, that her current role does not allow her to do.
It made me really happy to hear her having this conversation and pointing these things out, because I know from previous conversations that that's something she's really been missing in her work life is, you know, having this sense of ownership and being able to take her skills and interests and apply them more broadly.
But coming out of this conversation, it kind of triggered for me a bit of a tailspin to think about the concept of purpose and what it means to have purpose, especially in our professional lives, but also in our personal lives. One of the things that I am pretty adamant about is that I really don't like the concept of, you know, a life's calling or a sole purpose in life.
I think that concept is really misguided and can do more harm than good in terms of getting people to think about what it is they want and what it is that they value. And so I took a step back and thought, "okay, what is it then, that constitutes purpose? How am I defining purpose more broadly?" And this is something I wrote a little bit about in Big Picture Living, insert per-episode, promo for that book here.
Anyway, one of the things that I talk quite a bit about in Big Picture Living is that with the idea of purpose, Often, rather than seeing it as some type of cosmic phenomenon or, you know, higher order calling that is transcendent or, you know, whatever other hippie terminology you want to insert there.
Instead of all of that, I see it as purpose is when we're able to use our core values and become a part of something outside of ourselves. So again, purpose, you know, we, we have our core values. We have these things that are intrinsic to our identity and what's meaningful for us. And we're applying that to something that's bigger than us and extends beyond us.
And again, I know that that terminology-- sorry for getting into like hippie new age territory, and, you know, I don't want to give it any kind of like spiritual or cosmic connotation, because I think that we can apply this concept in a very practical human level-- you know, something that contributes to your community, your local economy, your mental wellness, the health and safety of your family.
That's all something bigger than you. That's a system that's connected. It's a part of your society. That that's what I'm talking about. I'm not necessarily talking about any type of like religious or spiritual higher calling.
And as I was exploring this concept earlier today, I kept going back to two separate quotes that just really, really, really stick with me. I come back to them pretty frequently.
The first comes from Anne Lamott's book, Bird by Bird. Which is actually a book about the writing and creative process, but there's so much of it that I think extends beyond writing and creativity and more into, you know, personal, personal wellness and wellbeing and fulfillment, which is the whole focus of this podcast.
And in one part of Bird by Bird and is talking about. Essentially about the, the process of attentiveness and what it is to be attuned to the world around you while you're creating. And she goes to write, "To be engrossed by something outside ourselves is a powerful antidote for the rational mind, the mind that so frequently has its head up its own ass, seeing things in such a narrow and darkly narcissistic way that it presents a colorectal theology, offering hope to no one."
How brilliant is that sentence? The phrase "a colorectal theology, offering hope to no one" is the first time I read that, just mind blown. It made so much sense. It's somewhat. Almost grow, tasked or read, but it paints such a clear picture of what happens when our thoughts and our, our thought occupation is obsessed with ourselves.
And, you know, our internal state, especially if that internal state is turmoil, as she puts it, our heads get shoved so far up our own asses, meaning like we are only concerned with what's going on for our self that we create this, as she calls it, a colorectal theology. Or I would, you know, expand upon that and elaborate and say a world view that's shaped completely by our own concerns
In her context, this process of being attuned to the world around you and interacting with it in a way that fuels your creativity, you know, that that pulls you out of yourself. Your head's not up your own ass. It's amongst all the assets around you. That's absurd.
I should probably edit that out, but I'm not going to. I'm going to leave that in. You guys get to get wet with my thoughts as they're happening. But you know, this process puts you in relation to others and you become aware of how you relate to others. The other quote that I absolutely live by comes from my all time favorite book. No, not my own book. It comes from Willa Cather's novel, My Ántonia, which was published in 1918, and it is unequivocally the single greatest American novel ever written, arguably the single greatest novel ever written. This is not up for debate. I know I said arguably, but it's not arguable. It just is.
This book is amazing and I'm highly biased because it was very formative. For me during my teenage years, very influential in my own personal development. But regardless, at one point near the beginning, she writes... for context, the protagonist is, or I guess, narrator and protagonists has just moved out to Nebraska to live with his grandparents after the death of his parents in Virginia.
And he's having this moment by himself where he's out in the sun, in the pumpkin patch, and he's leaned up against one of the pumpkins and watching the prairie grasses out beyond him. And the sunlight is coming down on him and he starts to feel this connection to his new home and to the land around him, which is a really important theme for that novel.
But amidst this, she writes, "At any rate that is happiness, to be dissolved into something complete and great. When it comes to one, it comes as naturally as sleep."
Thinking about purpose, the element of happiness always sticks out to me because of how I explained my concept of purpose a moment ago. I see purpose as being able to use your core values, to be a part of something outside of yourself and to meaningfully contribute there. And that interaction between self and outside of self is so similar to the way that Willa Cather defines happiness.
You know, being dissolved into something complete and great you lose that had that lens of ego. You know, I think that that's, what's so great about having purpose and to think in terms of purpose and to pursue purpose is you can't live purposefully while you're obsessed with ego.
Okay? That is the core focus of today's episode is: if you want to live purposefully, have a sense of purpose and have that rewarding intrinsic value of living with purpose, you have to get past your own ego. Otherwise your purpose is going to be through the lens of that colorectal theology that Anne Lamott talks about.
You know, you're not going to be dissolved in something complete and great if you're self absorbed in your actions. So if you want to stop listening, that's your key takeaway. But with that in mind, I really want to dig into something that just gets under my skin so much. And I think it's really important to talk about because it's such a prominent issue and prominent mindset, especially among personal development and entrepreneurial communities, which is like those topics, that's my jam. That's my bread and butter.
But I hate so much of what is represented within those communities, especially on social media And that, my friends, is this trend of what I call the hustle-is-life mentality. So if you follow any like inspiration or success pages on Instagram, you've probably seen a lot, a lot of these posts. And they're really easy to identify because there's a very strong probability that the post features Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, or the movie The Wolf of Wall Street in some capacity. And it's these posts that are like, "Oh, if you want to be successful, you've got to wake up at 5:00 AM and have a cold shower and read three books and then invest 80% of your income in stocks."
And you know, these very formulaic posts about like, "Hey, a billionaire at one point did this thing. So I'm going to say that everybody should do this thing. And if you're not doing this thing, fuck you." Right? Like, those are so, so, so common.
Or, you know, the, the ones that I particularly like to rag on are the ones where it's clear that they've seen like some quotes from Wolf of Wall Street, but either haven't read the book or watch the movie or they did, and they just really didn't understand it. But, you know, they're the ones out there giving some really top notch financial advice, on Instagram and on Reddit. And if you couldn't tell by the intonation of my voice, when I say top-notch, I mean, it's, it's shit, it's garbage,should never be listened to. You know, these types of accounts and posts are so, so common, and they embrace this narrative that says, you know, if you want to be successful or feel successful-- or really just like, if you want to be an important person-- you have to emulate the behaviors of a very small subset of people. You have to focus on, you know, innovation and making money and all of this stuff that's just so vapid. So, so vapid.
It really reinforces this narrative that you should do anything to get ahead or to get wealthy. And along the way, it gives you nothing of value about how to do that. Nothing of value about how to manage money as you get it, and nothing about leveraging your own values and interests to create a life that's meaningful for you.
And, I am always tempted to get in the comments and get in like an Instagram fight with some of these pages, because I get so, so fed up with them. It's just content for the sake of content, and it doesn't really give anybody value. And yet it still seems to be something that exploits and plays with the wants and ambitions of people, especially who are in positions, where you know, making a little extra money would make a huge world of difference. Bad advice, really preys on desperate people. You know, whether they realize that their actions are coming from a place of scarcity and desperation, in many cases, or not, these bad life and advice, accounts love praying on desperation.
And I think that really, honestly, probably most of the account creators, if anything are, you know, coming from a place of insecurity and projecting their own ambitions onto the content that they're creating and putting out into the world. And, you know, I, I got to say like, many of them have built up followings that way, certainly much larger social followings than I have.
And if, if they're profiting off of that, making money good for them. Doesn't change the fact that the content quality's crap, but, you know, good for them. They've... they're meeting that goal. Hopefully they can go somewhere better with it. Right? But. But, but, but, but it's still quite frustrating to see people latching onto that advice, advice rather, and hoping that it works for them.
And I think that we should really try and reframe a lot of the junk that's splashed around in entrepreneurship and self-help communities. And I think rather than saying, "Oh, if you're working on personal development or if you're starting your own business, the sole metric of success is, is wealth and wealth at any cost."
You know, as a, as a side note, those same accounts also frequently frequently post about how smart certain people in businesses are for offsetting their taxes by registering in one country versus another, or, you know, the, choices that a company has made that have like a direct impact on their employees' quality of life, but raise stock value. That whole idea of like profit equals success equals value equals meaning. really gets under my skin.
From an ethical standpoint, I just simply do not agree with it. But I also know from my coaching work and from working one-on-one with folks that when your personal metric for success is wealth and profit, that can really get you into a challenging place in the sense that you're, you're never really going to feel like you've done enough or are enough. Like there's always going to be more money to be made out there. There is no stopping point. Chances are, you're not going to catch up with Jeff Bezos.
And I think a lot of people when they put so much stock in being able to create a profit-- you know, stock, not meaning like stocks like the stock market-- but rather when they put so much value and profit as, as a personal value of theirs, when things outside of their control go wrong, or, you know, if they're not profiting at the rate that they want to be profiting, it can really create a really negative tailspin for them.
Instead, what I have found to be much healthier and productive is to instead put your emphasis and your focus, not on generating profit, but on generating processes that allow you to have the most impact. Let me say that again, generating processes that allow you to have the most impact. I am very adamant about the importance of being process-focused rather than progress focused.
Okay. When you are process-focused, what you're going to be doing is working on building up your skills, your knowledge, your awareness-- the building blocks of whatever it is that you're most passionate about.
So for example, for me, I'm really passionate about creating content and building up my audience online. But I learned very quickly that if I focused on these specific benchmarks of my overall traffic and conversion rate and amount of content published, I just, I never felt like I could keep up and never felt like what I was doing was good enough. Plus, I didn't have any type of. Standard or benchmark to compare that to, so I was just kind of flailing wildly at these goals I was setting for myself without any real context of how to get there.
Once I took a step back and decided to, rather than focus on meeting specific goals, focus on creating meaningful content and getting clear with myself about what that looks like and how to do it and how my own writing style could be further enhanced, that's where I really started to see a lot of gains, not only in the enjoyment that I got out of creating my site, but also out of the money that my site generated and the size of my audience. I don't want to say it's not helpful to have goals. I think goals are critical and they're important and you should be setting goals for yourself that are, you know, realistic and that challenge you in that push you to constantly do better.
But I think in the day to day, rather than staring at like one specific goal and saying, "okay, I have to get to that goal. I'm going to get to that goal. How do I get to that goal?" Take a step back, focus on the process.
What are the building blocks that go into the activity that leads to that goal? Focus there. As your process is corrected, or as you get your process right, that's where you're going to make significant process progress towards those goals. Getting myself tongue tied, saying process and progress over and over again.
So that's, I'll, I'll go ahead and in my rant and say, every time you see really bad, bad advice on social media-- Instagram and Reddit are the most notoriously bad platforms for this type of advice-- keep in mind with that very narrow definition of success and this mentality of profit at whatever costs, like, that's going to burn you out. That's not going to be rewarding. That's not going to embrace your values. It's not going to be fulfilling.
If you want to feel fulfilled, to find fulfillment, what you have to do is focus on getting rid of that ego and using your values to be a part of something bigger, something outside of yourself. You know, to be dissolved into something complete and great as Cather might say, or to avoid having a colorectal theology on the world.
That's what it takes. That's what it looks like to pursue living with purpose. And so that's what I would challenge you to embrace and take into your day. And if you follow any of those Instagram accounts, just unfollow them. Unless you get value out of it-- unless you get motivation like legitimately, which I don't personally see how anybody would. You know, do a cleanse, get rid of bad advice.
And focus on embracing your values in a way that lets you be a part of something greater.