People can get pretty depressed when they say no to their mission. Psychotherapy can help unravel what someone’s mission is, but it can’t do the mission for anyone. It might sometimes seem that a therapist is “curing” a client. In truth therapy is simply leverage. It is an opportunity to change, not a guarantee. The bulk of the work in therapy is done by the client. As has been stated before, we all have to take a hundred percent responsibility for our lives before things can change—including responsibility for finding and executing our mission.
So, what is a mission and what does it matter anyhow? A mission is something you have innate talent for and that calls you. It is, as they say, “a calling.” Further, you are either doing your mission or it has been drummed underground by the beat of conspicuous consumption—either way, it is still with you. That “beat” has been going on in the background of our lives since childhood. Our society generally plays the drums of a clear message: life is dangerous, forget this mission / passion stuff, get a job, make money, and build a bunker. Then you can play golf, drink, eat, and of course, go shopping. In other words, “gain wealth forgetting all but self.” Material gain as an end goal to life also gets drilled into us by what author Gore Vidal calls one of the only true American art forms—advertising. “Hawaii, Mercedes Benz, the Bahamas, the beach, champagne, mountains of food, diamonds, tennis—what more could you want? Just pay us and we will deliver your dreams.”
Mission is something else. It lives on the edges of society’s thinking. It calls to us. It is that thing that brings passion and meaning to your life. It is something that not only serves your heart, it serves the greater good.
A mission is commonly well known by children. “What do you want to be when you grow up?” “I want to be a fireman.” “An artist.” “A writer.” “An astronaut.” “A brain surgeon.” “I want to study the ocean.” “I want to own a fishing boat.” “I want to be a physicist.” By the time they reach adulthood many of these same children are satisfied with, “I want a retirement account.” “I want to be a millionaire.” “I want to retire by the time I’m 50.” “I want to have a big house.” “I want to play golf and drink and forget about the world.” While none of these later goals are necessarily bad, they are often replacements for mission. They are goals that ring more of giving up than of living our life purpose.
If someone is on mission few people wonder why they don’t retire, least of all themselves. Has anyone asked Steven Spielberg why he doesn’t retire from the headaches of movie making? Is Bill Gates ever going to give up this computer / philanthropy thing and end up on a cruise ship for his remaining days? Did anyone ask Hillary Clinton why she would want to go for the presidency when she could retire ten times over? Should Carl Jung or Sigmund Freud have found an easier gig so they could spend their old age drinking and lawn bowling? Is Meryl Streep trying to make her 401-K stretch so she doesn’t have to take on another role? If asked about why they didn’t retire these people would probably answer something like, “Why would I give up what I most enjoy doing in life?”
In the seventies TV show, Mission Impossible, every show starts with “Jim Phelps” going into a secret place to find a tape recording of his latest mission. He looks around to be sure he is alone and presses the “play” button. The mission’s obstacles are described in detail. Then he’s instructed:
“Your mission, should you decide to accept it is to (save the world in such and such a way—there’s a new way each week!) As always, should you or any of your IM forces be caught or killed the secretary with disavow any knowledge of your actions. This tape will self-destruct in five seconds. Good luck Jim.”
Jim turns the tape recorder off, looks pensively into the distance, and the tape bursts into smoke. We know that look, the eye of the tiger. He’s going to go for it!
The same could be said of our lives. We are given a mission known only to us. It is found in a secret place that we have to go to alone—within our own hearts. If we choose to accept it there are helpers that will come along (our “IM forces”). If we fail in our mission the responsibility will be all ours, no one else can take the blame. The mission is ours, the work is ours, and the success or failure will be ours.
Will Jim Phelps accept his mission? What kind of show would it be if he looked at the tape recorder and said, “Forget it. That’s way too dangerous. I’m going to Disneyland.” . . . Yet many of us do go to Disneyland. Our life show goes on, it’s filled with entertainment, but in the end it’s pretty boring. After all, how many times can you go on the teacups? We can end up spinning around, confused, and in a gnawing state of unfulfilled mission. What happened? We said no. Our mission’s tape seems to have gone up in smoke. But wait, something inside you still wants to say yes to the mission, risk it all, and take the consequences. The good news is, it’s a new week, and the world still needs saving. Look in your heart. Your mission is waiting . . . should you decide to accept it.
Below Jim Phelps faces the ominous message: