Finding Purpose? — A Kind Of Mini-Memoir

“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 that a physician friend taught me, I resolved to stick around, and see how things worked out.

And to try to live a life of purpose.

WHAT IS LIFE PURPOSE?

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 bring into being, in my life, work, and world?”

A clear and compelling purpose ignites passion, and empowers you to persevere and persist, as you create results that matter deeply to you.

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.

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

Along the way, I discovered that you don’t so much as find your purpose, passion or bliss—you create it by bringing into being the results that matter most to you. Purpose emerges.

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.
Western Canada High School, Calgary, AB

Teaching School

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

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

Though I wanted to empower kids to think critically, and create lives that mattered to them, “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 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 teaching job fell through, I took a hiatus from to write a history for a YMCA outdoor centre, and develop an environmental curriculum for that centre. I also co-directed the Y’s Leadership Training Staff Camp that summer.

Seven 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.

They 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” again.

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, one noon hour, a student gave me a copy of Carlos Casteneda’s A Yaqui Way of Knowledge, in which Don Juan, a Yaqui shaman, becomes Carlos’ teacher.

I was not into woo-boo stuff, but my heart jumped, 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 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, character-building programs for teens and adults.

Originally the Calgary School Board’s Drug Education and Prevention Office, it was radically different than other such programs.

Instead of a problem-focused approach, ASI took a “show them something better” approach. Programs had kids (and adults) participate in adventure activities and experiential programs—learning, for example, to carve, weld, sew buckskin, make pottery, rock climb, and how to survive in the backcountry, in the depths of winter.

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 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, for three years out of a semi-wilderness, back country camp.

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 combined ASI’s character-building approach with IEE’s ecological understanding, and mountain adventures such as hiking, climbing, soloing.

Those three summers at Earthways stand out as highlights in my life. They showed me that I didn’t have to rely on an external system to show me a path. I could create my own path.

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.”

Living Simply

During the summer of 1977, in the Summer edition of The CoEvolution Quarterly, a spin off from the Whole Earth Catalogue, I read the original “Voluntary Simplicity” article by Richard Gregg.

First penned in 1936, and revised in 1974, Gregg says:

Voluntary simplicity involves both inner and outer condition. It means singleness of purpose, sincerity and honesty within, as well as avoidance of exterior clutter, of many possessions irrelevant to the chief purpose of life. It means an ordering and guiding of our energy and our desires, a partial restrain in some directions in order to secure greater abundance of life in other directions. It invokes a deliberate organization of life for a purpose.

Richard Gregg

The passage struck a resonant chord in me.

I resolved to live that way, intuitively realizing that, if I want to create and walk my own path with heart, living simply would give the freedom from “they system,” and the freedom to create what I truly cared about, and wanted to bring into being.

Little did I realize that almost everything I did after that would informed and guided by that passage, and the Voluntary Simplicity article.

Creating My First Business

Another big step along my 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 the environmental curriculum, using IEE principles and activities. But the school was failing, and about to be shut down.

I was hired to see if it 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 to life and work, rather than merely solving problems. 

I trained and worked with Robert for 9 years, shifting from a problem-driven, “freedom from” stance to a powerful one, 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 Fritz’s 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 Canadian Rockies based 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 executive, managers and employees in the “creating framework,” and coached them in how to apply it to their organizations, and lives.

“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.

By then I’d learned that life purpose 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 conveying the basics skills and structure of creating desired results, 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 to consistently apply the principles and skills to their lives, work, and relationships.

I widened my scope to coaching any individuals who wanted to make changes in their lives, work and relationships.

Twenty years later, coaching is still my day job, writing has become 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.

In this area, I failed to practice the creating skills and structure that I taught, and coached others in.

Instead, I focused on 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 blogs. 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.

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 mattered most to me—and then bringing my desired results 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 , and following your path with heart.

With a caring, supportive, personal life coach to help you, you might find that you can create your own path much 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.
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