50.3 – The Journeyman

I’ve had some coaching conversations as of late, and one of the things I’m still mulling is my mission/vision/purpose. I’m pretty clear on my talents, but I’m always looking to investigate my impact. I’ve spent many years cycling through a variety of thoughts and emotions about the work I’m doing or could have been doing, and so on. So it’s interesting that I came across two videos last week that struck dramatically different cords with me.

Colman Domingo at the 2024 Oscars. GEORGE PIMENTEL/SHUTTERSTOCK

One featured actor Colman Domingo. He has been doing deep and beautiful work for many years and this is truly his season. He had several huge projects all at once, and was nominated for an Oscar for his 2023 portrayal of political activist and Civil Rights leader, Bayard Rustin.

I had the pleasure of spending a couple of days with Colman, long ago, and I have it on good authority that he’s still the sweet, genuine person he was then.

At the Oscars, Colman gave a red carpet interview with Laverne Cox wherein he described himself as a journeyman actor.

“I’m a journeyman actor – someone who’s just been dedicated to the craft of doing work that matters.”

~Colman Domingo

I looked up journeyman to confirm my understanding, that he was a person who was devoted to his craft, to toiling, to doing the work. That maybe he wouldn’t be the lead of Mission Impossible or a huge, commercial franchise, but he would do meaningful work and do it well.

A fellow children’s author who embodies this for me is Nikki Grimes. She has published or appeared in over 100 books and has won numerous awards (including a Virginia Hamilton Lifetime Achievement Award!). For many people, she is not a household name. But if you follow her social media accounts, you will see her talking about yet another project she’s writing or editing or submitting for publication. Head down, toiling, creating good work.

Autor and Poet Nikki Grimes
Photo credit: Aaron Lemen

Journeyman. This is me. Sometimes I do wish for a little bit of breakout success as a new author. That maybe I’ll get paid higher advances, win awards, garner attention and signing lines at book festivals. But when I talk to kids or teachers or parents individually, they tell me how much my books (two published as of this writing) mean to them.

As I think about the project coming out later this year and the new one I’m conceiving now, I know they matter. I know they are meaningful contributions to the world of children’s literature. They will touch at least one heart and represent another step on my journey.

So I felt kinship with Colman and Nikki. And then I saw something completely different. I came across an author who ostensibly writes middle grade (for ages 8-12) as I do. I saw comments about how kids loved her books and based their description, I felt surprised and disappointed I hadn’t heard of them before. I wanted to know more about this author and about her books! So I looked her up.

In brief, I found her showcasing her children’s books in a way that highlighted them only as products. Commodities. She seemed so disconnected in fact, that I had the strong suspicion she didn’t write them at all. I soon discovered I was right. Her books were ghostwritten by someone else. I don’t have a problem with ghostwriters, as everyone involved consents to the arrangement. But I felt genuinely hurt at the portrayal of books for kids as lifestyle props for adults. I was sad! But it helped me understand myself better. Gave me another lens for viewing the work.

It clarified my reason for doing it at all. My books are not just for social media likes, to show the glamorous life of an author. Hint: writing middle grade books is real work, not glamor, lol! I write books about being true to yourself, to help kids become more fully human. To help them be more courageous, compassionate and wise. Some people write books to make kids smile, or think or learn something new. But as journeymen, we’re doing the work because that’s what matters.

Happy New Year!

This is the year I turn 50.

More than any other milestone birthday, I’ve found this one to be a north star. Magnetic. Orienting.

A few months ago, I began reflecting on how I was feeling, what I was doing, and what I wanted to be different at 50. I discovered burn out and overwhelm and the profound desire to dig deeper into the work I’ve been assigned.

Freedom and impact presented themselves as key words during the introspection. And while neither is likely to be my one word of 2024 (I’m still mulling on it), they remain as beacons, helping to illuminate my choices this year.

What’s driving you at this moment? And where are you heading?

Food for thought

The Japanese word for mission (shimei) means to “use one’s life.” For what purpose do we use our lives? For what purpose have we been born in this world, sent for from the universe? ~Daisaku Ikeda

Some people spend years seeking, but never really finding, their mission. Others seem born understanding their place in the world. I believe each life, no matter how many breaths allotted on this this plane, is here to accomplish something. Perhaps  some are more fortunate than others in being able to discern (and even work to fulfill) their mission early in life.

When you can’t perceive your mission, you may feel your life is meaningless. But this is false. Reflecting on the events and the nature of your life can provide a window.

Even when, or especially when, your overwhelming experience is pain, you can find a way to use the events of your life to create more peace – for you and for those around you.

This is I think is the key from the statement above. It says “For what purpose do we use our lives?” This implies choice and effort rather than a passive anointing.

You needn’t await permission or a special phone call. You can look at your current circumstances and ask yourself, what can I do where I am, as I am? How can I create value here and now? Your answer may evolve over time, and based on your capabilities. It can be as simple as creating a more hopeful environment at work, or as complex as finding ways to eliminate lupus.

The point is to use your life in a contributive way. In so doing, you can better discern what you can do best; how you can help best.

For what purpose do you use your life today? How will you develop yourself to do even more tomorrow?

On Mission

You will not find your mission by standing still. The only way to find it is by challenging yourself in something – I would almost say it does not matter what. Then by making consistent effort, the direction you should take will open up before you quite naturally, just as wide, new horizons open up before someone walking up a hill. Little by little you will come to understand your mission. That is why it is so important to have the courage to ask yourself what it is that you should really be doing right now, at this very moment.

It is likewise important to set your sights high. The greater the tasks you chose to take on – one step at a time – the more rewarding and joyful your life will be. A person with a strong sense of mission is a source of light. For such a person, there is no darkness in the world.

– A Sense of Purpose in A Piece of Mirror by Daisaku Ikeda

Departing Aspen, the view from my airplane window.
Departing Aspen, the view from my airplane window.

Two days after my 41st birthday, I ventured to Aspen, Colorado. I had never visited the state, nor participated in a Socratic seminar. Most of the texts we digested in preparation for the week-long session were “classics,” yet foreign to me for one reason or another. In more ways than one, the experience was an education.

Although I wrote primarily of the texts and our conversations around them, I also made heartfelt connections. Several of the women stand out, and two of them left me with words of encouragement related to mission. I spoke with them separately and about very different things, yet their guidance was quite similar. Although I “know” what they shared, it was a warm nudge and a great reminder to take action. Do the work, don’t just think about it, or wonder about it. Don’t just dream it. Live it.

If you discover an idea in a moment of inspiration, that’s your story to tell. Tell it! ~Stevie Kallos

Hermana, we are in this world together to create the opportunities that matter. ~Lisette Nieves

In short we all have something to contribute – something to do. Not only that, we don’t have to walk that road alone. Allies are nearby if we are open to them.

So it’s Monday, which is a great day for beginnings. It’s time to get moving. What is your work? How will you be productive this month, this week, this day?

Here’s the round up from the series:

  • The Aspen Seminar. Things get underway this evening and I plan to document my experiences while I’m here.
  • Opening. We just concluded the opening session of the seminar. We’ll be here another six days so there’s a lot in store.
  • First Full Day. Today’s session was on human nature. Our readings included Aristotle, Hobbs and Darwin.
  • Toklat. Today’s readings investigated individual rights and liberty.
  • Three Poisons. In Nichiren Buddhism, the three poisons are greed, anger and foolishness.
  • Over the Hump. Our morning focus was equality and social welfare. Notably today also featured poetry, fiction and writings from women.
  • Antigone. Perhaps the highlight of the day was our late afternoon performance of Antigone.
  • Leading from Within. Today was the closing session of the Aspen Seminar.

What is your heart’s true desire?

Pele, a Hawaiian goddess of volcanoes, “shows us that fire can purify, release us from the old to make way for the new, and ignite our passions.” I pulled this goddess card just before the new year. It was divine timing as the cold days of winter are the perfect time to consider what warmth we can create and incorporate into our daily lives.  Pele suggests a few things to get your life in alignment with your heart:

  • IMG_3969Make sure your career matches your true interests
  • Take a class or start a hobby that really excites you
  • Change jobs
  • Go on a wonderful trip
  • Invest time and money in manifesting your dreams
  • Give yourself permission to go for it
  • Start a new business
  • Make an honest assessment of how you spend your time
  • List your priorities

Every so often, I ask myself how I want to feel or what I want to accomplish. Those moments of clarity are sometimes breathtaking, pushing me to reassess the choices I make on a daily basis. Why would I make choices that hinder or even sabotage my desires. Is it fear? Disbelief in my ability? Perhaps I don’t really want to do/accomplish {fill in the blank}.

I allow myself a short while to consider, but not wallow in these ideas, and then I make a new set of decisions to break through the deadlock. As we begin the new year, I am embracing the vigor and enthusiasm that come with exploring and cultivating my passion. I’m excited.

Given your true desires, do you use your time wisely? Are you clear about what’s important to you? Is there something new you want to learn this year? How will you fire up your life in 2015?