How I Found My Purpose

Choosing a career was difficult for me because I love a lot of fields of study.  This makes directing so satisfying because in the storytelling I am able to indulge in each minutiae of each character and place and circumstance and it feels good to KNOW a lot of things as this process unfolds for each project.  It’s like, the most funnest thing ever.

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Theater combines the many disciplines I love into one.  The director sits in the middle, so that’s where I found myself.

And then halfway through grad school I found myself married to the man of my dreams with a new baby in my arms standing at the practical outskirts of the virtual compendium of all feminist discourse and diatribe and I was stuck.

To put it simply, where simplicity is obviously inadequate: Career or Family?  Can I “have it all”?

Jumping forward to now, I chose to put family first.  I look at this portion of my life, co-managing a household and bearing and raising children, as part of my career.  It is indeed a part of EVERY mothers’ work experience, no matter how many human resource departments or resume-writing tutorials tell you otherwise.  And as an artist, my life is the subject of my work.  Without living the life I want as a wife and mother, I have no artistic platform.

But it took me a bit to figure this out.  Here’s something that helped me.

I stumbled upon a writing prompt on Steve Pavlina’s site called How to Discover your Life’s Purpose in about 20 Minutes.  His site “helps people grow as conscious human beings” and includes his own take on a variety of topics from How to Build a Strong Work Ethic to How to Cook Brown Rice.  It’s a great website.  You could get lost in distraction there, as I did, when I found this SIMPLE writing exercise that helped me find new resolve within myself to go bravely forward.

*Note: It is worth stating at this point that I am not receiving any kickback monetarily or otherwise from mentioning Steve Pavlina.  I just admire his work and have found some of his ideas helpful to me.  Perhaps they could be to you.*

You can check out the link to see the whole post.  But basically, OH so basically, you make a list of things you think MIGHT be your life’s purpose and you just keep writing, stream of consciousness, until one of the ideas moves you to tears.  Yep, that’s it.  Just write and write until you get so emotional about something it causes you to physically stop.  You’re there.  You found it.  Congratulations, you discovered Your Life’s Purpose.

Seemed easy enough (and a little scary… what if it worked?).  So, on March 12, 2012, I sat down at my computer and did the exercise.  Here is, unedited, what I wrote.

My purpose in life is to
raise a family in Christ
start a church
encourage John to become a pastor
start a theater
write plays
win awards
direct plays
*give birth as many times as possible
travel the world
write music
make the most beautiful home possible for my family
learn magic tricks
become a chef
write poetry
write novels
become famous
write a blog
weave
design clothing for wealthy people
become one of the wealthiest people in the world
design tree houses
*be the best mother I can be to as many children as I can
*give birth to as many children as possible; nurture and educate my children
start a school
start a summer camp
start a theater
*embrace the childhood experience and enhance it for my children
*make my children’s lives as magical as possible
make memories
*give birth as many times as possible; embrace the magic of childhood; provide a safe and creative space for my children to thrive; teach my children the secrets of the universe

It took about 15 minutes.  As items made me choke up, I marked them with an asterisk.  I started combining some of the marked items into a more specific bundle of things and as I wrote the last two lines I just lost it.  Sobbed.  For several minutes straight I was crying aloud, kind of praying, just existing in the moment, rereading the last two lines again and again.  I was there.  I found it.  Congratulations, I discovered My Life’s Purpose.

Rereading the list now, I am not crying.  Far from it.  I feel light.  I feel centered and whole, like walking down the center of the sidewalk in the early morning when no one is around to divert your path or right of way.

I still do many of the things on the list, and many I would like to do in the future.  But AFTER this precious time.  In the NEXT season, when the members of my family are searching for their own purposes and I am ready to sit down with pen and paper and write a new list of ideas until I am again, gratefully, moved to tears.

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What processes have helped you structure your future?  What difficult choices have been made easy knowing you are on the path made for you?  I would love to hear from you.  Leave a comment below and let’s keep the conversation going!

-Allison

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How to Write and Deliver a Eulogy that will Knock ‘Em Dead

WriteAEulogy

It is a privilege and a burden to bear the responsibility of delivering a public address celebrating the life of a loved one.  I recently wrote and delivered my father’s eulogy, and though I have both writing and performing experience, I found the task heavy and difficult to approach.

After several drafts over almost three months (yes, my Dad was still living when I began—read on!), I arrived at a text I was pleased and proud to present at my father’s funeral.  After speaking, I sat down with no regrets about what I had done or said.  I remained confident and poised despite the stress of the experience.  I received many compliments at the reception, and to this day friends remind me of how well I shared my father’s life.

Here’s how I did it.   You can do it, too.


1. START EARLY AND START OFTEN.
 It seems morbid, but the sooner you begin putting thoughts to paper, even just bullet points, the task will become manageable.  My Dad was hospitalized in June, and though at that point he recovered and returned home, I had a gut feeling he may not be long for this world.   So I began writing and I am so glad I did.  He passed away three months later in September.  Writing a eulogy is an emotionally charged task.  If written hastily under duress, you may miss important details, dwell on something that is actually less important, or forget significant moments all together.  However, if the death of your loved one was sudden, you may not have the luxury of time.  Don’t worry, keep reading.  You can still do a great job.


2.  COLLECT EVERYTHING YOU CAN THINK OF IN ONE PLACE.  
Write anecdotes, stories, funny memories, and any details immediately as you think of them.  Have paper by your bedside and in the car.  Dedicate a notes page on your phone (or a draft on your blog!) to anything you know you want included in the eulogy.  When you are staring at the blank page or computer screen, have this comprehensive list with you.  This way, it feels less like writing and more like just putting a structure to your notes.  Use highlighters or post-its to organize like-topics, like Work, Family, Humorous Moments, etc.  You will begin to see a flow, and begin to make choices about what should come first, or what story you want to end on.  It is likely that you will use only a percentage of these notes, but you will quickly notice what subjects need more material, and you will be able to get over the writers’ hump of beginning.


3.  KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE; TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THE UNIQUE OCCASION.
  Unless you’re Tom Sawyer, you’re only eulogized once.  It is a unique opportunity, as the eulogizer, to meet and reconnect with old family friends, co-workers, and distant relations.  After all, your subject is deceased–this speech is for the living.  Unless your loved-one was unusually private, every anecdote or story you tell will already be familiar to someone in your audience.  As you write each section, think about what details are important not only to you, but to the people in the audience who will remember “that time we all met there” or “the day when…”  Don’t be afraid to contact people to get their version of events.  As you write, pretend you are speaking directly to those people who will emotionally connect to those memories.  It will make the story more personal, and others in the audience hearing the story for the first time will feel a personal connection, too.


4.  AVOID CLICHES
OR PLAY OFF OF THEM.
 As a general writing rule, cliches are to be avoided.  There are scads of overused phrases associated with eulogies that can put your audience to sleep.  I challenge you to skip canned sap, like “our dearly departed,” and “he’s in a better place now.”  Think of something better, OR use the lull-inducing language to your advantage.  I chose to begin my Dad’s eulogy with “My father was born.”  This is an expected beginning for the kind of laundry list, resume-type eulogy we have all heard before.  But I chose to turn it on its heel, setting the tone at the start of the speech that this was going to be something different.  This is how the first two sentences of my father’s eulogy read: “My father was born.  And almost 61 years later he died.”  Draw them in with something familiar, then hit them with a twist.  Keep your audience on the edge of their seats. (Cliche intended.)


5.  PRACTICE, PRACTICE, THEN PRACTICE AGAIN.
 First, prepare your text for public reading.  Here’s the best way:

> Format the speech with one paragraph per page, so your pauses to turn the page coincide with the end of a thought.  Built-in, fool-proof dramatic pause.

> Forget grammar rules–Add extra punctuation.  Does it sound better splitting those clauses with a period for effect?  Go ahead.  Start that sentence with “Because” if it makes your speech read the way you want it.

> Make the font HUGE.  I printed mine double spaced with 18-point Times New Roman because I could see it at a glance while standing up straight at the lectern.

> Also, number the pages.  Seems like a “duh” tip, but numbering keeps everything in order so you don’t have your great-aunt Millie getting married AFTER she died in that terrible train wreck.

Once you have your text, read it aloud.  Then READ IT AGAIN.  And again.  And again.  Become super familiar with it.  This is good advice for any public presentation.  But in the case of delivering a eulogy, the repetition will allow you to become emotional BEFORE reading it to the crowd.  Practice reading the words without tearing up.  This is more difficult than you think.  You never know when grief will hit you, but you don’t want it to paralyze you to where you can’t even finish the words you carefully wrote.   You cannot over rehearse.  Trust me.


6. LET IT GO.
 You have chosen beautiful words.  You have formatted your text and prepared well, even if only over a few days.  Know that you will do your best, then let it go.  Let expectation and worry and guilt and WHATEVER STANDS IN YOUR WAY go take a hike.  Honor your loved-one.  Stay in the moment, trust the work, and you will do fine.  Cheers to a life lived, and a eulogy well-delivered!

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I hope this guide is helpful to anyone preparing for this difficult responsibility.  My sincere condolences to you now, or in the future–whenever the task is before you.  What public speaking and speech writing ideas do you have to add?  Please leave a comment below!  I would love to hear from you!

–Allison