Stop ‘Shoulding’ Yourself

Follow your arrow, instead

I recently watched an interview with a Presbyterian pastor who has built an online spiritual community that is thriving and growing. It was not her intention to build this community. It simply sprung up around her when she began posting short messages on TikTok about how God loves everyone. In the interview, she said she started posting during the COVID lockdowns because she didn’t have a lot of other things to and it just felt like the right thing in the moment.

She says she was shocked that so many people were hungry for this simple message of God’s love for all of us. She now has nearly 295,000 followers on her TikTok and she has created a Patreon page where her congregation can find support, and support her in her ministry.

“I gotta get moving on TikTok,” I thought to myself after watching this interview. “295,000 followers! Man, what are you waiting for?”

In that moment, though, I had to stop myself, because I’ve been in this place before. That moment when you see someone else succeeding and you think that’s the way you must “succeed” too. I do this all the time. It’s one of my repeating emotional patterns that begins with excitement that turns to envy that turns to despair and hopelessness.

“Why can I ever succeed like that?” my ego begins to whine. “Why can’t I hit on that idea that brings in 295,000 followers?”

Then it turns into doom and gloom and wondering what the hell am I doing with my life anyway? Has my time here just been wasted? Why didn’t I think to post about God’s love on TikTok? Why don’t I ever get any 295,000-followers-ideas?

Now, my ego has me spinning around the thought that so many of us have in our lives: “What is my purpose in life?”

Ego’s purpose or Spirit’s purpose?

I want you all to know, that is a trick question. Because the ego will give you a million different responses and you know what? They’re all based on what we think we “should” be doing in the world. We should be doing more for the environment. We should be fighting more political battles. We should be developing some cure for something or another. We should be posting short messages of God’s love on TikTok every chance we get. We should be out there saving the world in some grand fashion.

But, what if that’s not how the world gets saved? What if the world gets saved by millions of tiny gestures of peace, love, and understanding instead of one – or even many – grand, sweeping gestures? What if our true purpose is to simply be about the business of doing one of those millions of tiny gestures that changes the whole trajectory of the world? What if our ultimate purpose is just to be present in this moment – and seek to do the highest vibrational thing this moment demands of us?

As I considered a TikTok ministry, I realized that while it might be a good idea, it didn’t feel genuine to me. It didn’t call to me in the same way that writing sermons or Motley Mystic articles did. When I sat with it in that moment, it felt wrong.

Sure, I can do it anyway. I could start posting with the aim of getting thousands of followers, and hey, maybe I could get enough folks to support a Patreon page and pay to hear me talk. If that is my motivation, though – to get paid at some point – then it’s not a calling from spirit. It’s just another fear-based calling from my ego. My ego wants to get seen, to get recognized, to get paid. If I just want to get my message out for the specific goal of making money, then I’m not following my purpose.

The world, of course, tells you differently. It insists that, yes, your money-making or fame-making ideas ARE your purpose. We’re inculcated to these ideas from birth. You go to school, get an education in a field that makes money and then you go make the money, climb the ladder of corporate success or fame. You find someone to marry, have kids, buy a house, build a life and a fortune. Build a legacy! And if we don’t to do that, we’re failures. We obviously missed our life’s purpose. You’re not a “success.”

What if, though, success isn’t what the ego thinks it is? What if purpose isn’t what the ego says it is? What if what the world says we should be doing isn’t what our purpose is all about?

Let purpose pursue you

Bashar, who is a non-physical being channeled by man named Darryl Anka, says that your purpose in this life doesn’t have to be grand by the world’s standards. Your purpose is something that gets lived moment to moment. Our past is gone, we can’t build anything there, and our future is yet to be built. All we have is this moment and Bashar says, if we take advantage of this moment and do the thing that sparks our passion right now – then we’ll be living on purpose. If we do the things that we are most passionate about in every given moment, then we build a life of purpose. Instead of picking a purpose to pursue, we let purpose pursue us.

This is exactly what this online pastor did. She felt moved to post on TikTok. It was her highest calling IN THAT MOMENT, and from there, she allowed life’s purpose to live through her. Her purpose is to create this online ministry – but the purpose found her through her passion – not the other way around.

When I get caught up in my pattern of “why didn’t you think of that great idea?” or even the next thought of, “you could copy that idea and make money,” I have to step back and look at the trajectory of my own life. If I’m honest, I’ve actually done everything I’m writing about. I have followed what I have believed to be my highest calling in each moment.

The seeming randomness of purpose

I thought my purpose was to be a journalist – but the industry changed to a point where it was too painful to stay. I could have stayed. Many of my colleagues did and they became completely disillusioned with their lives and profession. I could have stayed in academic public relations which is where I went after journalism, but it too, was not satisfying. I’ve floated around and dabbled in other things such as songwriting and performing, I’ve written a book – and may write another, who knows? I felt going to seminary was important, so I did that. The breadcrumbs seem random, but y’know what? Right here, in this moment, I am using the best part of every single bit of my past experiences.

My time in radio helped me develop my speaking voice. My time in news writing helped me hone my storytelling skills. My time in public relations taught me the value of marketing and networking. My songwriting and performing skills have helped me lead and build a band that entertains and enlightens you every week. My seminary training prepared me – mostly – to start and build a spiritual community.

I didn’t know any of this at the time it was happening, but Spirit was building a purpose for my life through the seemingly random choices it offered to me during my lifetime. As I chose the ones that called to me in the moment – even if they seemed disparate and contradictory – Spirit has put them together in a powerful way that I still can’t explain, but am extremely grateful for.

I’m sure, if you looked at the breadcrumbs of your own life, you can see those moments when you thought you were pursuing some purpose in your life, but in reality, life was building that purpose through and for you. We think we fail when don’t achieve that ego-based goal of pursuing the purpose the world says we should aim for, but when we view our lives differently – through the lens of the spirit – perhaps we can see it in a new way. Even if we have failed to achieve some purpose that we set for ourselves – I would venture to say that however our lives have unfolded, Spirit has been building a purpose through us, even if we can’t yet perceive it.

I invite you to stop “shoulding” on yourself – to stop following whatever it is you think the world expects from you – whatever ego-driven purpose you’ve set for yourself as a goal. Instead, seek to follow whatever it is that excites you in this moment – since this is the only moment we ever really have. If you become aware of what you need to do in the moment – whether it’s something as small as phoning a friend or even taking a nap, or as grand as taking part in a project that’s aimed at a bigger goal of improving the world – I invite you to do it.

If you do, you’ll be living your life on purpose, which allows purpose to live through you and create the kind of life for you that not only satisfies you, but helps to change the trajectory of the world from fear to love.

Music for the Journey: ‘Follow Your Arrow’ by Kasey Musgraves