10 Steps to an Amazing INFJ Life: #10 Find Your Higher Purpose

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It’s time to talk about the big picture – who we are in the world.  While self-awareness and self-acceptance discussed in the first nine installments of this series are important, we also need to pay attention to our fundamental need for contribution.  The desire to share our wisdom, values and grace with others can be a powerful force in our lives.

I spent much of my life vaguely aware that I was only part of who I was meant to be.  My jobs most often utilized my N & J skills – I was a whiz at organizing, planning and making stuff happen. But the child I’d been, the “me” that loved helping others, the little girl who played rescue with her Barbies and built tiny homes for pill bugs, had been thrust aside. I was living in survival mode, and, in my desire to succeed in what often felt like a foreign world, I tended to ignore what was really important to me.

I believe that we are all put on this earth for a purpose.  And each individual has been designed to be the perfect combination of life experience, curiosity, ambition, and awareness to fulfill that purpose. I call it my Higher Purpose but you should call it whatever works best for you.

At some level you already have a sense of your higher purpose, whether you’re fully aware of it or not.  It’s an internal awareness – you can identify it by the zing of correctness you feel when you’re on target and by the discomfort and discord you feel when you’re off purpose.  For many people our higher purpose never emerges as more than just a jumble of vague feelings – they’re happy when they’ve done “good” and feel embarrassed or unsatisfied when they’ve strayed.

I want more than that for you.  I want you to get clear on what’s most important to you, and what impact you want to have on the world around you.  I believe that to know our higher purpose, to accept it as such, and to seek to live it, whatever form it might take, is why we are on the earth.

Exercise:  Mining For Your Higher Purpose

Already know your higher purpose?  Great!  Go ahead and skip to the next section.  This exercise is for those of us who aren’t quite clear about it.

Often our higher purpose is right on the tip of our tongue, just out of sight.  We kind of know what it might be, or we know the general category, but it’s still a foggy idea of something that will be great as soon as we figure it out.

Below are some questions that help you start to identify your higher purpose.  Whatever it turns out to be, it comes from what’s important to you.  It can be about the wrongs you want to right or change you want to bring about, or the beauty you want to contribute in the form of art or music.  Its the pure expression of your unique combination of talent, insight and sense of what matters.

Mull over these questions in whatever way works best for you – jot your thoughts in your journal as they come to you or consider a new question each time you exercise.

  1. What did you want to be when you grew up?  While our childhood answers might seem trite and conventional – we wanted to be firemen, ballerinas, or cowboys – even those answers contain information (we want to rescue people in danger, create beauty and grace, or have rough ‘n tumble adventures).  At various times I wanted to run a post office, be a private detective and write books. What leaps out at me from my answer is a love for order, finding solutions and communication.  What information can you extract from your childhood dreams?
  2. What are your “hot buttons”?  When you look at our society what upsets you the most?  I react to any form of bullying – from the tragic high school kids who are bullied into committing suicide to watching Donald Trump verbally abuse anyone who contradicts him.  Our hot buttons tell us what’s important to us, what we feel needs to be changed.
  3. What comes up when you remove all the barriers? What would you do with your days if you had all the money, time and support you needed? If your perfect occupation was instantly available to you what would it be?  So often the logistics of our lives get in the way that we spend our time in maintenance mode and never move into the stuff we planned to do when all the work was finished.

What Now?

Think you know your higher purpose?  Here are some things to keep in mind when you decide what’s next:

  • You don’t have to quit your job to pursue your life’s work.  I have a friend who tutors illiterate adults on weekends, another who works for Habitat for Humanity whenever she can. It’s all about finding ways to fulfill your higher purpose where ever you are, not finding a place where it already exists.  I was still employed when I started training to be a life coach so I tried to use my developing skills to help my co-workers deal with the outsourcing of our department.
  • You don’t need to know how to do what you want to do, you just need to start.  If you wait until you feel you’re ready, chances are you’ll never begin.  When I was training to be a coach, we were encouraged to find clients after our very first class. We had to trust that we’d be ok, and we had to be willing to make mistakes. And even though I goofed up plenty I couldn’t have been that bad – I’m still working with several of those early clients.
  • Living your higher purpose will make you uncomfortable sometimes. Any time we try something new we end up pushed out of our comfort zones in some way.  We may end up having to talk to strangers, travel alone, maybe even make a speech to a room full of people! Creating the impact that we want to make in the world takes courage, resilience and persistence.  Luckily, each of us already have those qualities available, all we have to do is use them.  Feel like you’re not courageous? Take the next step by deciding to do something that takes courage and presto! you’re courageous.  Just like that.
  • Your higher purpose will change as you explore it. One thing I learned in coaching is that as we make progress toward our goals, our goals will continually change.  As we learn what we need to know to succeed, our goals tend to become deeper and more meaningful.  The same is true for your higher purpose – as you bring your passion into the world the world will reward you with more passion, which will fuel a deeper and richer purpose to pursue.

My Higher Purpose isto help everyone (including myself!) become more self-aware, self-accepting, and as confident as possible. Everything I write is about learning about who we really are, and then loving what we discover.  And then simply being ourselves in the freest, biggest possible way.

My gift to you is my deepest and sincerest wish that you experience the beauty and power of who you really are deep down inside.  And your gift to me has been your time spent reading and contributing to this blog.

This is the tenth installment in a series of  weekly articles about making the most of being an INFJ.  For previous articles visit 10 Steps to an Amazing INFJ Life.

 

10 Steps to an Amazing INFJ Life: #3 It’s Your Life – Own It

Going to work had become torture by the time I left the corporate world.  I’d get up in the morning (too early) and drag myself to work only to end up enduring endless meetings and political struggles. With the tender feelings of an INFJ I felt assaulted by the environment, I was overstimulated and underappreciated. I felt at the mercy of the corporate tempest, and my natural tendency to absorb the emotions and environment around me made it worse. I finally realized that the best way to deal with those feelings was to  take control of  my environment rather than letting it take control of me.

Creating a Strong and Powerful Environment

Don’t be an empty vessel – There are two ways to enter a situation.  The first is to come in empty and look for what’s available to fill you up.  We do this when we walk into a party and think “Who do I know here that I can talk to?  Did I bring the right gift?Will I fit in?”  This is an example of coming in as an empty vessel, waiting for others to give you what you need.  You want to make sure you conform, that you’ll be able to align with the party.

On the other hand, if you enter the party “full,” these might be the thoughts that run through your mind as you enter, “Oh, I like that group in the corner, they’ll be fun to talk to.  The food looks great, can’t wait to try that dip.”  Or your thoughts might be “Wow, this is a really loud group, I’m not sure I’m going to stay very long.”

Notice how your thoughts when you enter the party “full” are about how the party measures up to your needs rather than the other way around?  You’ve entered with your personality intact – you know what you like and what you don’t like and that’s how you’ll assess the party.  As an empty vessel you let the party assess you.

A work example of being “full” is asking for the assignments you want rather than waiting to be selected for them, taking lunchtime as an opportunity to get away and do something you enjoy, or not participating in the office gossip mill.     

Dial Up Your Personality – First of all this doesn’t mean to be loud or to impose your personality on the people around you.  What I’m talking about is staying firmly connected with who you are, your preferences and beliefs, in any situation.

Some examples of what I’m talking about:

  • Alerting your hostess ahead of time that you don’t eat meat
  • Accepting invitations only for activities that you like rather than being so grateful to be invited that you’ll go anywhere
  • Speaking up when someone tells a joke that is distasteful to you
  • Choosing to leave a gathering that you’re not enjoying
  • Creating an environment that nourishes you in your office or cubicle
  • Wearing clothes that you’re comfortable in

What do these have in common?  They are all decisions based on what you like rather than attempts to please others.

Make Every Decision That You Can – there are some decisions that are yours to make and some that aren’t. You can have a tremendous impact on your environment just by making the decisions that fall into your realm.

Rather than always deferring to others (“I don’t care where we eat, where you want to go?”) make a suggestion.  If your boss asks you what projects interest you, be specific and clear.  If your mother asks you for the best times to call you, tell her.

Avoid the “trying to please others by guessing what they really want” dance and take other’s answers at face value.  If you feel that they’re handing over their decisions to you, send them a link to this post! Exercise: Love Your Likes Similar to the “Interview With an INFJ” exercise from week 1, this exercise it designed to help you identify and own your preferences. Find a small notebook that you can keep with you at all times, and over the next week keep an “I Like” journal by jotting down everything you encounter that you like.  For example, right now my list be: I like the warm sun pouring in the window and hitting my shoulders, the comfy pajama bottoms that I’m wearing, the fact that my office is clean and neat, how quiet my house is, that I’m going to Arizona tomorrow to visit my daughter, the fact that my house is clean and will be welcoming for my house sitters, the turkey sandwich I just ate for lunch, the TV show “Chopped” that I watched while I ate. So often INFJs get the message either directly or indirectly, that what they like is trivial.  All that ESTP energy, so dominant in our society, can make us feel that we are wrong for liking what we like.  Your like journal is a chance to:

  • Identify your preferences
  • Notice and enjoy how elegant and subtle they are
  • Start to own what you like so you can generate more in your life

A caution: Your “I Like” Journal is not a list of demands – it isn’t designed so that you can impose your likes on other people.  Your journal contains a list of things to seek out, to treat yourself with, to make sure exist in your life.  And, when appropriate, to ask for from others. This is the third installment in a series of 10 weekly articles about making the most of being an INFJ.  For previous articles visit 10 Steps to an Amazing INFJ Life.

How to Impress Others

Photo by beastmanphotos via Flickr

We all want to be smart, beautiful, magnetic. We want to impress others with our charm and intelligence. What’s the best way to dazzle those around us? It’s not what you might think.

First, a simple exercise. Make a list of five things you want others to think about you. Each item on the list should start with “I’d like others to think I’m…” Your list might include things like “loveable”, “intelligent” or “a leader”. Create your list now and don’t read any farther until you have at least five items on it.

Done? Now take a look at the items on your list – it’s likely that these are where you put a lot of your energy and focus. They are probably the areas you tend to stress about, that trigger your insecurities. My guess is that this is where you want to look good but feel that you don’t.

The problem is that wanting “others to think” you’re anything (fill in the blank – smart, cute, charismatic…) puts the focus on merely looking good. And when our efforts go into looking good we can end up convincing ourselves that looking good is equal to actually being good – believing that talking like an intellectual is the same as being intelligent (and who hasn’t found themselves with someone who loves to hear themselves talk as they try to impress others?)

But don’t throw away your list! It’s a valuable inventory of areas that are important to you, areas that you really do want to improve in your life. You can use that information to figure out where to put your efforts and energy to learn and grow.

Using the list you created, identify an action step for each item that will move you towards being good in the areas you care about.

For example using the list in the second paragraph one might work to:

  • Become more loveable by building sincere connections with others
  • Increase your knowledge by reading about an era in history you’re interested in, joining a book club or taking a class
  • Learn leadership skills by asking someone seen as a leader to be your mentor

When we put our focus on merely looking good we often achieve the opposite effect. Plus, our efforts are usually surprisingly transparent to others, and we may waste valuable time and resources in trying to create what is, ultimately, an illusion. By focusing on improving our knowledge or skills in the areas that are important to us, we end up not only achieving more but we also end up looking good naturally and effortlessly.

What Do You Want?

My friend Ann recently ended a 37 year teaching career and, to her chagrin, she’s not finding retirement much fun.  She’s shocked at how hard it’s been to find something to fill her days, even though she’s gotten lots of well-meaning advice.

“One of my friends suggested I go back to teaching, but I don’t want to do that. Another suggested tutoring, but I don’t want to do that either.  And I don’t want to just sit around at home and do nothing, it’s so boring.  Another friend told me that I would get used to just relaxing, I just have to give it more time. But I feel like I should be doing something.   And my art!  I’m not interested in my pottery anymore, I thought when I retired I’d have plenty of time to work in my studio, but now I don’t want to!”

Yikes, it sounds like everyone Ann knows has weighed in on how she should be spending her retirement.  But the only person that who knows what’s best for Ann is Ann herself.

Here’s how she can narrow down her options:

Step #1 – Clear out the “Shoulds”

Notice all the “shoulds” in what Ann said – she should do something, she should relax, she should teach, she should still want to do her art.

When you pile on the “shoulds” your thoughts and feelings get lost under all those other voices telling you what to do.  Ann has so many shoulds that they cancel each other out – she should be relaxing, teaching and doing her art, all at the same time!

Step #2 – Narrow it down by staying broad

The next step is to start to identify what it might feel like if you already had what you want.  If you imagine that you’re in the middle of doing whatever it is you want to do, in a general, non-specific way, you can begin to identify more specific information.

Start by pretending that you’ve already achieved your goal, whether it’s finding the perfect job, spouse, or  fabulous vacation.  Then ask yourself not what it is, but what it feels like.  In Ann’s situation her questions might be:

  • What does my body feel like? (I’m active, sitting, I can feel the wind, I’m warm and cozy, etc.)
  • Where am I? (outside, inside, with people, alone, in an office, in nature, etc.)
  • What type of activity am I engaged in? (helping people, making something, building something, writing, etc.)
  • What emotions am I feeling (love and connection, freedom, silly, relaxed, in flow, etc.)

An example – If I’d answered these questions when I was figuring out that I wanted to be a Life Coach, my answers would have been something like:

I’m working alone, very relaxed, in a quiet, comfortable atmosphere.  I’m helping people in some way, I’m writing, and maybe doing something artistic.  I’m enjoying a sense of freedom at the ability to do my heart’s work.  I’m challenging myself, but in ways that I choose rather than what others might choose for me. 

Step #3 – Use your insights to start your search

Once you’ve figured out what your job/vacation/retirement activity feels like, you have the information you need to start identifying possibilities. You can use your list when you talk to friends and family and get suggestions based on what you want, not what they think you want.  And you can use your list as criteria when you start evaluating your ideas.

***

It’s clear from what Ann said that she has a lot more information than she thinks she does.  When we get rid of all her shoulds, what emerges is the beginning of a very specific and helpful list: Ann wants to DO SOMETHING (all caps, it’s not a trivial something she’s looking for), she wants to get out of her house, be active and engaged, and, clearly, she wants what she does to be new and different.

It’s easy to get caught up in what we think we should be doing, you can see by Ann’s story that when that happens progress can grind to a halt.  But when we start our search by exploring what the outcome will feel like and then narrow down our options, we’re able to cut though the noise and get to the heart of our desires.

 

 

The Discomfort Zone

Map of the East Village neighborhood in Manhat...
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We’re all familiar with our Discomfort Zone.  It’s where we’re stretched, where we’re pushing our edges.  Just the thought of traveling there can make us fearful, and many of us work hard to avoid it.  We try to protect ourselves with a list of  ”I don’ts” – “I don’t drive in the city”, “I don’t make speeches”, “I don’t go to funerals”, or simply, “I don’t know how.”

It’s pretty easy to spot the folks who make a habit of avoiding their Discomfort Zones.  It’s the guy who hates his job but won’t look for a new one.  Or the person who ignores a medical issue.  Or the woman who refuses to go to social events for her husband’s work, leaving him to make excuses for her.

If we go through life dodging our Discomfort Zone our lives get smaller and even, in some cases, shorter.  There are things we need to do to take care of ourselves and manage our lives –going to the doctor when we have those mysterious symptoms, or weathering the stress of interviewing for jobs when we’re out of work.  And there are things we want to do that might require some discomfort – learning a new skill or visiting a foreign country.

The trick to conquering our Discomfort Zone is to simply go there and stay – not forever, not beyond our limits, but long enough to move past our fears and learn what’s there to learn.  I’ve found the more often I go into my Discomfort Zone the easier it gets.  The feeling of “I’ll die if I have to do this” fades and I gain confidence as I move into the experience.

It gets easier because much of what we believe about our Discomfort Zone is fiction.  We dream up exaggerated disaster scenarios – the crowd dissolving into laughter as we make our speech, hysteria at the funeral, getting lost forever in the city.  And, fearing we won’t be able to control what happens, we lose touch with the reality that we are capable of handling difficult situations.

What usually occurs when we venture into our Discomfort Zone is that we do fine.  We even may surprise ourselves and discover we’re better than we thought at navigating the city or public speaking.  But even if our outcome isn’t perfect, even if we’re uncomfortable at the funeral, or give a speech that’s merely serviceable – we still do ok, and that’s often enough to get through the Discomfort Zone.

What’s important is that we don’t let our fears get in the way of our growth.  That we trust in the fact that the Discomfort Zone is only uncomfortable because we make it so.

Because yesterday’s discomfort might just be today’s adventure.

Copyright © 2010    From The Easy Place

Are Your Flaws Really Your Strengths?

grandmother's report card
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I grew up thinking that I wasn’t quite as good as other people.  I was shy, not as smart as my older brother (who was, in his words, “brilliant!”), and I wanted nothing more than to be part of the in-crowd in High School.  Finally, after muddling through college, I found a place in the work world where my organizational skills and ability to learn quickly helped me find success.

My corporate career served me well in many ways – I was able to support myself and my daughter, buy a house, and enjoy a bit of the American Dream.  But I never felt really connected to my work.  Sure I had triumphs, times of growth and recognition, but many of my personal qualities – my sensitivity, imagination and soft-heartedness were, for the most part, liabilities in that environment.

But once I’d moved on to the post-corporate world I found that the traits that had made my life difficult in the business arena became assets in my new role as a life coach.   Actually, they were more than assets, they were necessary for success.

The lesson here, I think, is that those parts of us that we wish we could change, those  “flaws” that show up on our report cards or reviews, are really only our flaws as defined by our current environment.  On the flip side of those “flaws” we often find our greatest strengths.  I struggle with public speaking but love writing.  I have a friend who is considered brash by some, but to those she protects she’s a hero.  I have another friend who believes in the goodness of everyone and would probably be chewed up in a big company, but she’s a leader and a glowing success at the school where she teaches Special Education.

When we wish we were different, we hold back what we have to offer the world, and when we do that we end up a pale imitation of the person we were meant to be.  Every personal quality we have, every quirk, is a gift.  And those quirks, those differences, they’re what make us unique, and in our uniqueness is our beauty.

The Illusion of Control

I love being in control – having things just right and knowing that they’re going to stay that way.  There’s nothing better than the knowledge that if I plan carefully and get the people around me to do things right, everything will go perfectly.   

And that is a summation of the illusion of control.  The belief that by controlling the people and circumstances around us we can make things work out “right”.   And who defines “right”?  We do of course.  Those of us who love control also believe that our vision is the correct one.

You are under my controlIt’s taken me decades to realize the emptiness of that belief.  To understand that it’s all an illusion, that we believe things are in control simply because they’re going as we want them to.  When things go smoothly, we relax, sitting comfortably in the certainty that our planning and preparation has worked.   When things don’t go as planned they’re suddenly “out of control.”

Honestly, it makes me tired just to read this post.  All that energy put into trying to arrange the unarrangable.  The truth is, while our efforts do contribute to positive or negative results in our lives, we can only improve our chance for success, not guarantee it. Most of us can’t pass a test without studying for it, but we’ve all encountered the unhappy truth that studying alone doesn’t ensure an A.

Pursuing the belief that we can control the universe is distracting, wastes our energy and (take it from me) can be extremely annoying to the people around us.  The antidote, I think, is trust.  Trust that others also know what they’re doing.  Trust that catastrophe won’t befall us if we let go of the reins and let life take its natural course.

And trust in ourselves and the knowledge that if things don’t work out “right” we can handle it.

Copyright © 2010    From The Easy Place