On Wednesday I participated in a leadership conference with 10 of my girls. An interesting layer to the conference was that the middle and high schoolers participated, and facilitators–like me–were able to participate while leading. Teaching is most rewarding when your kids are learning, receiving some intellectual gift, interacting, growing, having fun, building with others, and all the while, you are typically on the sideline. Sometimes, we get to work together, teachers and students. But, for the most part, being a guide on the side makes for a great teacher. Meaning that a chance to learn and grow with the kids, was pretty special.
The conference was about leadership and purpose and was run by Ross Wehner of World Leadership School, someone I have worked with once in the past, also about purpose. Wehner (who is one of these incredible people who just radiates good things, opportunities, and genius) bases his learning, speaking, and ventures entirely on the huge concept of purpose, and I smell what he is cookin’. Without going down the purpose-rabbit-hole, Wehner talks about how when purpose is central to education, learning increases, applications to the larger world become essential to the learner, life-long scholars are born, and the evils of unhealthy stress, anxiety, and meaninglessness, all decrease. Wehner links stress with meaninglessness, asserting that, and citing others who assert the same, stress is often imposed on those who don’t believe in what they’re doing. This speaks to me in more ways than I can go into.
I also learned that hedonic happiness is happiness that has to do with the self—pursing pleasure, eating pleasure, getting “mine.” Eudaimonic happiness is “based on the premise that people feel happy if they experience life purpose, challenges and growth.”
Throughout the day, using multiple exercises and funneling those results, we came to our own purpose. After what Shar and I thought was an appropriately timed lecture (less so for the teenagers with us), we were able to use these Calling Cards (which I just ordered on Amazon). We narrowed down the activities that most felt true and appealing to us and got down to five–the cards included activities such as “organizing things,” “exploring the way,” “creating dialogue,” “adding humor,” and one that felt very true for me: “making connections.” Short of recounting the entire conference and giving up Wehner’s “aha factor,” from the cards, to a movement activity, to a long conversation with a stranger, and so on, we were able to whittle down a purpose statement. Like a one sentence vision that says: here’s why I am alive.
I am still somewhat workshopping mine but the best I have right now is something like “Using creativity and connection so that we can become better.” The we, in this case, is everyone, anyone, my girls, me, you, Baltimore, the world. A concept that feels very present to me is connection. If I wrote my own version of “My Favorite Things” from The Sound of Music it would contain a line something like, and imagine the tune in your head as you read this,
“Trader Joe’s flowers and whiskers on puppies,
bright social justice murals and Emma’s fleece mittens,
Connecting people I care about, and sometimes complete strangers,
with helpful resources around Baltimore or anywhere I can find them,”
or something more or less broad.
I love making connections among people, among ideas, among opportunities and nonprofits and jobs and yoga studios, long form nonfiction articles, podcasts, my book club, and things I haven’t even thought of yet. I have this narrative in my head that I know and have the best of everything, but rather than a “false narrative,” it’s more of a half naive/half true narrative.
In Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point, Gladwell starts chapter two, “The Law of the Few” with the story of Paul Revere, and his lesser known fellow revolutionary, William Dawes. Dawes essentially took actions similar to that of Paul Revere, but lacked Revere’s “rare set of social gifts” (p. 33). Revere was what Gladwell calls, a Connector, with a capital C. Revere had a large social network, he was gregarious, and as Gladwell says, his funeral was attended by “troops of people.” He had a slew of hobbies and interests including fishing, hunting, card playing, theatre-going, drinking, business, and he was active in the local Masonic Lodge. History knows Paul Revere. There are poems about him, stories, he’s in history books. We all know, “One if by land, two if by sea.” And who is William Dawes? I know as well as you do. In history, he’s a nobody. Revere caused what Gladwell calls “a word-of-mouth epidemic.” His role as a Connector became essential when, the British were coming.
I feel like I have a few traits in common with Paul Revere–and I’m not talking about the fact that we both have long brown hair, generous cheeks, and a penchant to rest our chins in our right hands. I think what I have in common with Paul Revere is partially due to the fact that I’ve lived in Baltimore City my entire life and continue to milk it for all it’s worth. I have a lot of people here, and I have a lot of hobbies here. Gladwell says, “In the case of Connectors, their ability to span many different worlds is a function of something intrinsic to their personality, some combination of curiosity, self-confidence, sociability, and energy.” While I do think at my core, I am an introvert who recharges alone and gets irrationally angry at the drivers of luxury vehicles, this speaks to me. And what’s crystalizing in my head following Wednesday’s conference (see the post from April 3), is that my role in the world is that of a Connector. I feel a jolt of the truest joy any time I think of, make, carry out a helpful connection. I love when people turn to me for ideas, people, advice, and that’s increased when or if I can help.
Generally, I think most people really enjoy helping others. In other words, this does not make me unique. From a completely selfish perspective, helping others, making a connection, launching someone into something, recommending a job, giving away a free gym pass, passing along an email address, these things feel good for the helper or connector. I am glad we are wired this way–it’s truly helpful to society, and I urge you to look for ways you can connect and lift up others. There’s a high to be had. Baltimore is a great place for it because we are a small city. We’re insular. Everyone knows everyone. Scary, but also incredibly helpful. It’s easy to connect here. And maybe that’s another reason I fell into this role so easily. I live in an incubator for connection.
Knowing some semblance of my purpose in this world is helpful. It’s funny that Gladwell’s book, which came out in 2000 and which I read more than a decade ago, popped into my head when thinking about this concept of connection. Somewhere in the deep parts of my brain Gladwell’s idea and the description of the “Connector” lived for all these years ready to pop out and take hold. It’s like I knew to remember the concept for when I was ready to be who I really am. Like I knew I would be a Connector.
I was never a die-hard Sex and the City person but I like this summation in the form of a quote from the show: “Enjoy yourself…that’s what your 20s are for. Your 30s are to learn the lessons. Your 40s are to pay for the drinks.” While I’m only 31 and I know I have umpteen more realizations to make, I think I have learned a few lessons already.
Know who you are. Know your purpose. Mine is to use creativity and connection so that we can become better.