flowing motion

What is the barn that I am building?

Posted on: April 7, 2010

Your life mission in 30 seconds

A colleague of mine at the University of Canterbury would challenge first year students: “Can you stand up and tell the class (of 400 with intranet camera’s rolling) your life mission in 30 seconds?”

No. Of course, they can’t.  None of us can.  Even if we know our life mission, unless we are running as President of the US, we aren’t likely to lay it out for inspection.

It might even be bizarre to lay out our mission for inspection because it is built as we go in negotiation with people around us.

Your current priorities in 30 seconds

What we are able to do is tell you why what we are doing now is important to us.

Let’s imagine that.

  • A student, probably wearing a baseball cap backwards, stands up and says that he is doing a commerce degree because he should have a business degree but he really likes drinking and racing cars.  That’s OK with me.   It’s trifle ordinary but there is nothing wrong with being a regular bloke.  As we take the fellow (and his mates) through various exercises, he will find that he is extraverted, quite likely a Belbin team-player, with high affiliation needs and low achievement needs.  His career will pivot around his power needs (they might be high or low) and his propensity for action (is he a doer or a people person).  Really this is no problem at all.  He is heading towards a marketing-type career.  Acknowledging his life pattern gets him there faster with less angst.  Let him enjoy himself while he has the time and freedom.
  • A young women who stands up shyly and says she is doing a commerce degree because she thinks she can.  Indeed, introverted, with higher achievement orientation than her male colleague, and probably more concientious.  Her career will pivot around her ability to do accounting and finance and her willingness to take up leadership challenges to extend her emotional intelligence.  Funny how need for power comes up so often in commerce.
  • A professor who teaches because he wants to make sense of it all.  Quite high power and achievement needs.  Probably cerebral roles.

Permission to be ourselves

The mission is so obvious to anyone listening, yet not clear to the speaker.  When our mission is reflected back to, when the world says, “It’s OK”, then we relax too, and get on with what we need to get on with.

An ode to our life mission

So knowing that we can follow a plan without really knowing what the plan is, I’ll point you to a fantastic poem by Josephine Johnson that is circulating in poetry week.

Just remember when you read this poem “your barn” is “your unspoken barn”.  Don’t try to make an architectural plan of your barn (unless your are an architect or barn-builder).    Just admire the barn that emerges out of your life work.

Just say in 30 seconds why your current priorities are important to you.  The great and good around you do understand.  Don’t worry about defining you 30 second talk of next year.  It will be time enough then to set your priorities in the time and place that you live.

PS My colleague knew he was setting an impossible target.  But he also knew that students worry that they haven’t got their life mission nailed down.  By putting the goal on the table, he met them on the ground of their own concerns.   Then he led them towards that more nebulous place where we confidently build “our barn”, reassured by the feedback of respected others, and taking the time to stand back from time-to-time to look and say “what is this barn that I am building“?

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