“Life owes us little; we owe it everything. 
The only true happiness comes from squandering ourselves for a purpose.”

William Cowper

Clients often ask me if I practice what I preach—if I live a life of purpose and meaning. I do. I try. Sometimes. Mostly.

But to get here I trod a long and winding path, with many wrong turns, and more setbacks than I care to remember. But, after nasty depression, a brush with suicide, and getting on top of things by practicing The ABCs of Emotional Mastery I learned from a physician friend, I resolved to stick around, and see how things worked out.

And to live a life of purpose.

WHAT IS LIFE PURPOSE?

Graphic showing 3 hands reaching up, fingers spread. They are covered with multi-cououred words, such as create, try, change, act, do…

Purpose: noun
1. the reason for which something exists or is done, made, used, etc
2. an intended or desired results: end; aim; goal.
3. determination; resoluteness

Purpose answers the question, “What do I really care about—and want to see exist?”

A clear and compelling purpose ignites passion, and empowers you to persevere and persist in pursuit of your purpose.

You can create some results without a powerful purpose.
BUT I’ve found that as I, and my clients, create desired results, purpose grows clear.

So, What’s My Purpose ?

Man sits on the end of a rustic dock, above a dark pond, surrounded by heavy foliage. He wears a beige ball cap, a blue pullover and kaki shorts.

My purpose is, through writing and coaching, to help people develop the skills and structure to create what truly matters—and give their gifts to the world in a simple, successful and ecologically harmonious way.

To get this clarity, I struggled through missteps, mistakes and failures, exploring and experimenting with different versions of what mattered.

Slowly, I realized that I might not “find” my purpose. If my life was to be purpose driven, I might have to create purpose for myself.

Here’s glimpse at the crooked path(s) I took.

Early Interest in Prevention and Empowerment

I started my career as a Criminologist, focusing on prison reform and rehabilitation.

But a year in the Family and Juvenile Court convinced me that my path more likely lay in prevention and empowerment.

Working with delinquents and criminals was not my purpose in life. I wanted to focus on positive approaches, not negatives.

So I went back to school, got another degree, and became a high school teacher.

Photo a red brick high school. 3 stories. A walkway up to the doors flanked by trees and hedges. A flagpole to the right of the doors.

Teaching School

I loved teaching. I loved kids. I loved the challenge. 

I did well as a teacher, in the eyes of students and some teachers and administrators.

I wanted to empower my kids to think critically and to create lives that mattered to them and the world. However, “The System” forced me to teach school more than teach kids.

Thinking an answer might lie in teaching teachers, I enrolled in an Education Master’s program. But, alas, there I saw teachers were socialized to fit into “teach school” systems.Later, I taught high school again. Had awesome success the first term, working part-time with students that other teachers refused to work with. Much fun. Great success.

Camp

When my second term job fell through, took a hiatus from teaching to write a history for a YMCA outdoor centre, and develop an environmental curriculum for them. I also co-directed the Y’s Leadership Training Staff Camp that summer.

Those months in the mountains, working with kids and adults, opened my eyes to the power and impact of experiential education—programs and activities from which learners learned from their own experience.

There were among the most productive, learning-filled and enjoyable times of my life.

A view across a marsh surrounded by aspens and large spruce tree, looking up the rounded ridge and rock face of Mt Baldy, on the edge of the Rockies, in the Bow Valley, Alberta. The sky is pale blue, with white wisps of cloud encroaching from the right of the framework.
My Quiet Place. Marsh and Mt Baldy at Camp Chief Hector

Descent Into The Depths of Despair

The next fall, working full-time, with mostly with academic kids, I found myself limited by the dreaded “system. Feeling trapped, and doomed to live out my days in the confines of a classroom, I suffered the debilitating depression described in my Emotional Mastery eBook.

Then, a student gave me a copy of Carlos Casteneda’s A Yaqui Way of Knowledge, in which Don Juan, a Yaqui sorcerer, becomes his teacher. I was not into woo-boo stuff, but something twigged when I read, “A warrior chooses a path with heart, any path with heart, and follows it.”

And this:

Before you embark on any path ask the question: Does this path have a heart? . . . A path without a heart is never enjoyable. You have to work hard even to take it. On the other hand, a path with heart is easy; it does not make you work at liking it.” 

Don Juan, Yaqui Sorcerer/Teacher

I began searching for my “path with heart.”

After experimenting with Environmental Design, I joined the Action Studies Institute (ASI), a Calgary think tank that developed experience-based, personal mastery programs for teens and adults.

Still later, I taught and supervised student teachers at Simon Fraser University. That gig finally convinced me the school system would not be easily changed, if at all. 

Experiences in Personal and Environmental Exploration

On the side, I’d become a Board Member and trainer for the Institute for Earth Education (IEE).

With IEE, I increased my ability to design experiential ecology programs that were fun, engaging, and based on science and solid pedagogical principles.

Shifting from institutional to experiential education opened new worlds for me. 

I also became the Senior Trainer for IEE, and got my first taste of teaching adults.

My purpose-seeking quest took a leap forward when I designed and ran Earthways: Experiences in Personal and Environmental Exploration.

Teen girl sits alone in rocks above her mountain camp, pondering her life purpose. Sun setting behind peaks. Her tent visible below.
Teen ponders her purpose on a mountain solo

Earthways was a 3-week wilderness camp for teens that combined ASI’s character-building approach with IEE’s ecological understanding and mountain adventures such as hiking, climbing, soloing.

The 3 summers I lived in a tent or a teepee at Earthways stand out as highlights of my life.

During those winters, I ran a Winter Workshop for Earthways grads, and helped ASI design a Freedom Skills program to help all ages develop personal competence based on high-order, character skills that enable us to move from “freedom from” to “freedom to.”

Creating My First Business

Another big step along the path was becoming Director of Yamnuska Mountain School (YMS) l in Canmore, AB.

YMS had been started by climbers at Yamnuska Centre, where I’d developed an environmental curriculum, using IEE principles and activities. But the Mountain School was failing, and about to be shut down.

I was hired as a consultant to see if I could be made to work. But after a year, it was obvious that mixing high-end adult programs with kids’ summer camp programs did not work.

A group of us moved the school to Canmore. I set up the Yamnuska Mountain School Society, and became the first Executive Director of the reborn Yamnuska Mountain School.

Hardest job I ever had— raising money, budgeting, marketing and promoting programs, keeping books, and herding clients and argumentative staff. But I taught myself how to be an entrepreneur. To make money, myself, rather than rely on an institutional cheque.

When I left YMS, it was a profitable mountain skills and leadership school, with a reputation as one of the best in North America. Its legacy continues as Yamnuska Mountain Adventures.

Mount Yamnuska

Creating and the Path of Least Resistance

While researching creativity for the Freedom Skills project, I stumbled on Robert Fritz’s book The Path of Least Resistance.

Cover of the first edition of Robert Fritz's book, The Path of Least Resistance: Principles For Creating What You Want To Create. The cover is textured grey, and the title is dark blue.

Originally subtitled “Principles For Creating What You Want To Create,” it offered a results-creating approach, rather than merely solving problems. 

I trained and worked with Robert for 9 years, shifting from a problem-driven, “freedom from” stance to a stance based on “freedom to create what matters.”

At this point, I stopped searching for a path with heart, and set about creating my own.

I still use the creating-based Life Design Framework Robert invented to help clients become the predominant creative force in their own lives.

Coaching/Consulting

Equipped with sophisticated skills and a powerful organizing framework for action, I became a freelance trainer and coach in the areas of personal, professional and organizational empowerment. 

I designed, marketed and ran the Rockies Executive Retreats for One Step Beyond, an adventure based company and speaker’s bureau.

Image by Laura Shaw from Pixabay

I did workshops for small start-ups, government departments, and Fortune 500 giants. I trained and coached executives in the “creating framework,” and how to apply it to their organizations.

“The best two days of trining I have ever attended.”

Glen Farrell, President, Open Learning Agency of BC

During that time, I also helped individuals master the creative process, apply it to what matters most to them, and create purpose driven lives, work and relationships.

And learned that life purpose often emerges as we create what we most want in life and work.

Coaching

As I discovered that workshops could excite and motivate people, and were a great platform for teaching the basics of creating, I also realized that, without practice and coaching, the learnings often fell by the wayside.

I started coaching people who’d taken a workshop and wanted help applying the principles and skills. Then I widened my scope to coaching individuals who wanted to make changes in their lives, work and relationships.

Coaching is still my day job, but along the way, I’d discovered that writing was my passion.

Writer

Writing had long been a dream of mine. 

I’d journaled occasionally, and written a couple of one-off pieces for outdoor magazines and and scholarly journals. But I never once thought of myself as “a writer”

Blank journal page open on a rough wood desk. A pen lying in the crease of the book
Empty pages.

I hoped, wished, wanted and whined about being a writer, but failed to write consistently.

Instead, I focused things I thought I “should” do. Things to earn time and money so, someday, I might write.

While reviewing my annual Desired Results lists, I noticed that the top result on each page was a different “Bruce’s Trip of The Year” result.

These were important results, and I created many of them. But they weren’t what I most deeply wanted to do and create.

I also noticed that, on every page, Just below that first result was one word: “Writer.”

I immediately moved “Writer/Writing Life” to the top of my List — and started working on a memoir, one hour each morning. 

I took courses, went to workshops, hired a writer’s coach and read dozens of “how to write” books.

Slowly, I began to develop my writing chops. Gradually, I shifted my primary focus, time and energy to the writing path.

I wrote Simplicity and Success, and the four ebooks featured at the bottom of these pages. I wrote writing articles for magazines and blots. I created my own blog, and published a bi-weekly e-newsletter for nearly 20 years.

Writing is now my passion work. Coaching, while still important, is secondary. It allows me the financial freedom to write. The memoir is coming along nicely.

My crooked little path has brought me to a place of passion and purpose

Creating What Matters Most to Me

As T.S. Elliot said in The Four Quartets, “At the end of all our exploration, we shall arrive at where we started, and know that place for the first time.”

 As I got deeper into both writing and creating, I saw I’d traveled full circle.

I’d started with prevention and teaching, moved to Experiential Ed and Earth Education, then to creating what matters, and coaching and writing as a way to empower others.

Finally, it dawned on me that “writing” was my path with heart, that purpose I’d been searching for.

Instead, of “finding it,” I’d created it, by delving deeper and deeper into what most mattered to me—and then bringing it into being.

On grey wooden desk, a laptop is surrounded by a phone, a cup of coffee, a glass of water, a plant, a notebook and a phone. The writer's arms and hands can be seen typing. As can the blue sleeves of the writer's shirt
The writer hard at work.

Need Help Creating Your Life Purpose?

I’d like to share what I’ve learned about Life Design, creating purpose in life, and following your path with heart.

With a caring, supportive, personal life coach to help you, you might find that you find or create your own path quicker and easier than I did.

Email me with “Purpose” as subject, and I’ll send you my Coaching Info Package

 

Books by Bruce Elkin

Thrive! Creating what matters most, by Bruce Elkin.
Simplicity and Success, by Bruce Elkin.
Emotional Mastery, by Bruce Elkin.
Creating Sustainable Success, by Bruce Elkin.
The ABCs of Emotional Mastery, by Bruce Elkin.