Chapter 3: Discovering Your Own Story
Every time a person does something that they experience as enjoyable or satisfying and done well, they reveal a certain pattern of behaviour. That design is unique to the person; no one else has one exactly like it. It is like a fingerprint. (Arthur Miller)
This chapter marks the beginning of our workbook. Here is where we turn from principles to practice. We are inviting you to an exciting opportunity – nothing less than examining your own life and how you live it!
We’ve already quoted Paul’s words in Ephesians 2:10. Look at them again, and see what a remarkable insight they give about what God is up to in our lives:
“We have been shaped by God, created in Christ Jesus, to do good works, which God has prepared for us.”
God has designed our “shape”! If God has constructed each of us to a unique, individual design, then we need to know as much as we can about that design. It should tell us a lot about the work we are best fitted to do.
So how do you get a clearer picture of what your shape looks like? And how do you see what kind of “good works” this shape points you towards? Or to put it another way, who exactly are you?
If you had lived in an earlier generation you would probably have found it easier to establish your identity. Who am I? I am a blacksmith … or a shepherd … or a tailor. Why? Because that’s what my father was. Who are you? I am a wife and mother. Why? Because I was born a woman and from my childhood I expected that marrying and raising a family would be the whole focus of my life.
If you’d lived in the past, you would probably have followed in Mum or Dad’s footsteps. And if that avenue was closed you would no doubt have accepted your parents’ guidance. Wayne’s mother, who really wanted to be a dressmaker, was instead found a job in a bank by her parents when she left school. For most people, there was little choice. Fewer opportunities were available. And what there were, were usually decided by the family and tradition that a person belonged to.
Nowadays our society offers us vastly more options, and vastly greater freedom in pursuing them. That, of course, just makes our decisions all the more difficult! The responsibility to find the right vocation can sometimes feel overwhelming, especially for Christians who want to feel that they are doing what God wants them to do.
In this chapter, therefore, we offer you the opportunity to look at yourself, to picture your “shape”, to see what you were designed for, and to identify a future (or a new direction) that will enable you to live out the kind of life you want. How’s that for a grand aim! Grand it may be, but it’s not too much for the person that God wants you to become.
We are each given a limited number of years on this planet. Many people just drift through those years, doing whatever comes to hand. But is that enough? Are there ways we can be more pro-active, preparing ourselves to make good choices? To what extent does God invite us to influence or choose the course of our life? Can we ask God to help us sort through and understand just what it is that we do best, and therefore what it is that we should concentrate on?
It’s our conviction that we can … and should.
But how do we catch a glimpse of the future? We believe that the best place to look for clues about your future, is actually in your past and the present. Rather than speculating about what might one day be, we think it’s best to focus on your personal history (however short or long that has been) and on what you are doing now. Why? Because only then can we really look carefully at hard data that is specific to you.
Only in this way can we be sure, when later we start to use some tools borrowed from other people’s schemes and stories, that we started with you. That we took seriously the evidence that comes from your life. The exercises you do throughout this book will depend for their usefulness on insights gained in this chapter.
Our purpose, then, is to help you identify what you do best, what satisfies you, what gives you fulfilment. When you lie down at the end of the day and look back over all its many activities … which moments are the ones that you recall with the greatest pleasure? When you look back over your life, which are the activities that you value most? What are the tasks you have attempted and jobs accomplished that have given you the richest sense of satisfaction – not only in the finishing, but also in the very doing of them?
But before we rush into this exercise we invite you to stop and reflect for a moment.
Think about your present life situation. Be clear in your own mind that God is with you in what you are doing right now. Where you are at this time in your life is intimately connected with God's purposes for you. This does not mean that you must stay where you are, but it does mean that you must not feel you need to be somewhere else, or be someone else, before you can be part of God's purposes.
Some people battle with the belief that their lives are in the wrong place. If that is a problem you face, our advice is that you begin by giving up fighting who and where you are, and instead embrace the present as God's opportunity to lead you into his future.
The present is where you have to begin. Only after coming to terms with that, will you be truly ready to put effort into understanding what you can learn about yourself from systematically examining your past.
This involves remembering and retelling significant parts of your own story. As you do this your aim is to gain a picture of your shape. To understand how God has wired you, and what journey you have travelled that brings you to where you are now. Seldom is the future God has prepared for us completely divorced from our past. Although there may be changes ahead, it is still essentially the same person we take into the future. And although there may be some things that God is inviting you to leave behind, you need to understand the essence of who he has made you to be, in order that more of the God-given potential he has placed within you might be realised.
Both in your creation and through experiences, God has gifted you. He has done this so that you can work with him and fulfil his purposes by giving full expression to the potential for doing good that he has placed within you. In this chapter we want to help you catch a clearer glimpse of what that potential looks like. You will do it by trying to understand how parts of it have begun to be expressed and realised already, sometimes without your even being truly awake to it … because your central core will seek to express itself in everything you do, even when it feels that the work you are involved in doesn't fit.
The aim, then, of the following exercise is to remember some of the most satisfying accomplishments from different periods in your life – those activities that gave you a buzz because you felt you had made a contribution of real worth, or because you were doing what you really enjoyed doing and were good at.
Note 1: Before you set out on the exercise, read through all the instructions so that you gain an overall idea of what to look for.
Note 2: Although this exercise requires time and effort, it’s worth it. It will lay foundations and will make other exercises in later chapters easier to work through. If you want to know more about this approach, the exercise draws on the insights and work of Ralph Mattson and Arthur Miller, as found in the books Finding a Job You Can Love, The Truth About You, and Why You Can’t Be Anything You Want to Be.
We want you to choose the seven most satisfying events of your life – times when you achieved something especially pleasing (not just pleasing to others, but specifically pleasing to yourself), when you really enjoyed what you were doing, and when you gained a sense of fulfilment in what you achieved. These should focus on what you helped to make happen and not just be enjoyable events that others organised for you.
There are several ways of going about this. Use one or more of the following:
You can divide your life up into a number of blocks starting from early childhood. Quickly list all the most significant things you enjoyed doing in each period.
You can think back over the most pleasurable experiences of your work, your play, and your learning. Write down the most memorable.
You can make a list of the different roles that you have played in your life.
Now look back over what you have listed. Choose the seven most satisfying and enjoyable achievements overall. You may wish to include some that are long-term accomplishments, rather than separate events. (For example, becoming proficient in some activity like fishing, or mathematics, or a musical instrument, or basketball, or truck driving…) Whatever you choose, the common denominator is that sense of satisfaction, that feeling that this is something you were created to do … and you do it well.
Write a detailed description of each of these seven achievements under the following headings.
A one-line summary of what you did.
Details about what you did, clarifying exactly how you personally went about it.
Go back over what you have just written and underline the verbs you used to describe personal actions that gave you satisfaction. (For example: “I drew up a list of jobs that needed to be done. Then I collected the tools/equipment needed for those jobs. I asked individuals to take responsibility for one task…”). Also underline nouns that describe what you particularly enjoy working with.
What aspects of this activity gave you most personal satisfaction?
Read back through what you have written and try to answer the following questions about themes that keep on recurring: (You don’t need to restrict yourself to the words listed here. They only provide examples.)
1. Abilities: What abilities were you using to accomplish the results? Note down those abilities you exercised that keep on recurring in the majority of your stories.
Choose some from the list below or come up with your own descriptions.
Writing Analysing Persuading Strategising
Teaching Designing Negotiating Researching
Organising Evaluating Co-ordinating Networking
Counselling Creating Building Advising
Shaping Problem-Solving Improvising Investigating
Planning Assembling Implementing Learning
Motivating Experimenting Pioneering Entertaining
Promoting Publishing Performing Building Relationships
Synthesising Managing Operating Observing
Interviewing Communicating Training Mentoring
Write down the abilities that recur most often…………………………………………….
Five years into my career as an Occupational Therapist I was offered what was to me a dream opportunity. My brief was to come up with some kind of information package for Rest and Residential Homes in the community, helping them to establish stimulating recreation programmes for their elderly residents.
Six months grew into eighteen as I surveyed Rest Homes and interviewed management and staff to discover their needs. Then I researched and assembled the relevant information, packaging it into a handbook for staff. I followed this up by devising and running an introductory course to train staff, and then published that as well.
I thrived on being given the room to use my own initiative and imagination on how to approach the task.
I enjoyed being able to consult with people, using active listening, coaching, and teaching skills.
I enjoyed the research involved.
I was stimulated by the task of finding ways to communicate and package the information – and then putting it into practice, with the result of seeing people become better equipped.
I particularly enjoyed being able to choose how much time I spent with people. When I needed a break from people contact (pick the introvert!), I could spend time in research.
Searching for ways to improve the quality of life for elderly people in Rest Homes was a way to put my values into practice.
Looking back over the whole experience I now see that a number of these elements are recurring themes in my life.
2. Subject Matter: From working with what objects or subject matter do you receive most satisfaction?
Choose some from the list below, or come up with your own descriptions.
Ideas Money Numbers Concepts
People Tools Machines Colours
Designs Methods Business Schedules
Graphics Symbols Animals Procedures
Policy Projects Language Books
Write down the subject matter that recurs most often…………………………
3. Circumstances: What circumstances do you function in best? What circumstances are most positively motivating for you?
Choose some from the list below, or come up with your own descriptions.
When working on a project
When you believe in the cause
When you are working on your own
When there is a clear goal
When trying to solve a problem
When you can see concrete results
When personal growth occurs
When meeting a need
When you are pioneering something new
When clear guidelines are given
When you have freedom to go about things in your own way
When a whole group or organisation is involved together
When a challenge or test is involved
When competition is present
When you are working to a deadline
When you can take as long as you need to
Write down the motivating circumstances that recur most often…………………………
I thought I was going to be a missionary overseas, but it didn’t happen like that. While I was still a pastor I helped start a mission group with a special purpose. We aimed to mobilise western Christians to live and work among squatter inhabitants of a number of large Asian cities. As it happened I stayed home myself, but I got involved because I identified closely with the dream, and because I had worked closely with some of the young people who became members of the first two teams to Manila in the Philippines. I ended up working with this group for about 11 years altogether, the last four full-time. My role involved a lot of time away from home networking with churches and other agencies, offering pastoral support to workers and mentoring candidates in training. I was also helping to clarify the vision and values of the mission through exploring a combination of biblical roots, theological frameworks, community development theory and cross-cultural understanding. It was a very demanding time, but also one of the most satisfying experiences in my life. Some of the elements that made it so satisfying were:
I enjoy pioneering ventures. I am not a maintenance man.
.I like working as part of a team.
I love to encourage, equip and support young people to pursue their dreams.
I like travelling and teaching groups, but even more I enjoy personal mentoring in a continuing relationship on an action/reflection basis.
I find great satisfaction in both preparing people to undertake a project, and later helping them to evaluate what they have done.
I enjoy doing research and trying to find words to communicate important insights.
I yearn for Christians to develop a strong personal faith and social conscience.
As I look back at this and other similar experiences I’m aware that most of these are recurring themes in my life.
4. Operating Relationships: How did you relate to others to accomplish these meaningful results?
Choose one or two from the list below, or come up with your own descriptions.
Write down the operating relationship that recurs most often…………………………..
I’ll never forget the day I was asked to organise and plan a four day bus trip, taking 130 teenagers and leaders from Wellington to Auckland. My mind immediately ‘’got into gear”. Even while that first meeting was still in progress I was working out how I could make it successful! I was only 20, but I’d already planned and organised a similar event (on a much smaller scale) the year before when I was still a university student in Dunedin. I’d borrowed the idea (and name) from a friend up north, and developed the concept.
Called “Entertainment Plus”, the idea was to travel to another city and do as many fun things as possible. It involved me in investigating the possibilities, and negotiating bus hire, entertainment venues, and accommodation options. Then I had the challenge of scheduling all this (few of the venues could cope with three busloads of people at the same time), doing costings, promotion, etc.
I planned the whole event in detail – down to the last minute. And it worked like clockwork. Everyone had a ball – including me! Looking back, I can see a certain predictability in the way I went about it – predictable because it’s a pattern that has repeated itself countless times in my life since. Some of the factors were:
Rather than create the idea from scratch, I took the seed of an idea from somewhere else and saw the potential, substantially developing it as my own.
After initial encouragement and help from my supervisor in getting the project’s boundaries sorted, I firmly insisted on taking sole ownership of the project. I wanted a hands-off approach from my boss.
A number of values were very important to me. For example I rose to the self-imposed challenge of doing as many activities for the least amount of money. I also wanted kids to experience as many different new things as possible in the time.
I visualised what I wanted to see happen, then used my investigative skills, along with extensive pen-and-paper lists, charts and diagrams, to work out the scheduling of the whole exercise.
5. Results: What particular outcomes give you that pleasurable sense of accomplishment?
Choose some from the list below, or come up with your own descriptions.
Overcoming a challenge Solving a problem Achieving excellence
Seeing something built Completing a project
Fulfilling expectations Receiving thanks Knowing you helped
Learning something Ending up in charge Pioneering new ideas
Organising what was a mess Gaining recognition or influence
Write down the results that recur most often…………………………………………
These factors combine together to give us that unique multi-dimensional motivational design Arthur Miller calls our motivational “fingerprint”. Discerning the shape of this “fingerprint” is a very important key to discovering our SoulPurpose.
Summarise what you have discovered from 1-5 above:
2. Subject matter
4. Operating with people
Here is your opportunity to gain from the encouragement of friends – and perhaps, at times, their wise caution! When you have worked your way through the material of this chapter, meet with your group. Take it in turns to present what you have discovered about yourself. Allow the group to affirm or question the understandings you have come up with, amplifying your own insights by offering their own observations of how you work best.
Allow plenty of time for this. You may need to give more than one session to this sharing, so that all members of the group can profit fully from it.
Arthur F. Miller and Ralph T. Mattson, The Truth About You (Ten Speed Press, 1977,1989) and Finding a Job You Can Love (Nelson, 1982); Arthur F. Miller with William Hendricks, Why You Can’t Be Anything You Want to Be (Zondervan, 1999).
Doing the above autobiographical exercise and making your own analysis will be easier for some than others. Many of us, for a number of reasons, have lost touch with our sense of what we really enjoy. It seems incredible to say that, and yet it can easily happen. Here are some reasons…
We have pursued interests and developed skills according to early influences on us.
Our parents, teachers and other significant people gave us messages that had some degree of bias:
- The mum or dad who wants a child to succeed to the family business... It’s all too easy for parents to selectively encourage their child whenever he or she shows any relevant talent or gifting – and at the same time to ignore or neglect those talents/gifts that don’t fit the mould, even if they are stronger.
- The mum or dad who wants a “chip off the old block”… In the same way, parents may selectively encourage the interests in their child that match their own, ignoring those that don’t.
- Caregivers can easily have biases about what is a good job and what isn’t, with no regard for “fit” between a person and a job.
- The mum or dad who missed out. Dad wanted to be a pilot, but never received the encouragement or resources. Now he is encouraging his son to do so, fulfilling his own ambition rather than his son’s.
This is not to say that as a parent or teacher you should not provide any kind of encouragement or guidance for your children. You should certainly help them find their talents and interests. But you should also be aware of your own biases. You need to learn to “read” your children. The key positive response to look for is enthusiasm. What is it that your child loves to do?
We have received messages that undermine the value of those things we really enjoy:
- The child wants to do creative “work with their hands”, but Mum and Dad think the real money is to be made in working with figures or computers. So they’re steered away from natural interests.
- Or the opposite. Children sometimes positively want to follow in their parent’s footsteps, but all Mum and Dad can see are the obstacles that they themselves faced along the way, or their own disillusionment. So they try to discourage their child.
We have been influenced by stereotypes:
- The woman who has an administration or leadership strength … but she chooses to ignore this because she has been taught or believes that leadership is a man’s job.
- The man who wants to work with children … but is afraid of being ridiculed for taking on a “nurturing” role.
- “All lawyers are money-grabbers” … so a young woman steers away from a career she could have made a difference in.
We have developed competence in areas that don’t necessarily match our own desires.
In conscientiously rising to meet a certain need we have developed areas of competence that we become known for. Before too long we find ourselves being type-cast into certain jobs, just because we showed we could do them:
- Like the woman who takes on the job of treasurer for an organisation when she really longs to be involved in training volunteers… She is competent at handling the finances but she really wants to be involved elsewhere. Even when she joins other organisations she finds herself asked to offer her services as treasurer.
- Or the young father who regularly solves technical and computer problems for his friends, but really wants to be outdoors doing something physical.
What others think takes on too much importance:
- Some people have been raised to believe we should defer to others for all our major decisions. They surrender the responsibility of their own life to those who they think will know better than they do. While others often have helpful advice and information for us, this should be weighed up against what God has revealed to us about who we really are and what we can do with our lives.
- We can become so caught up in what others want of us that we lose sight of what we enjoy.
We have bought into the belief that if it feels good there is no sacrifice on our part:
- Enjoyment has had a “bad rap” with some Christians. They think that the less they like something, the more they should do it – so they will grow in obedience and submission.
The truth is that any job/role/career will bring challenges and demands that stretch us to new growth. Yet if we enjoy what we do, we would be able to so much more effectively express who we are, and grow spiritually at the same time. Yes, there are times when we need to do tasks which don’t particularly match our Fit. Does it make us more spiritual if most of our life seems taken up with these roles? Absolutely not. God has made us for a purpose. A car manufacturer doesn’t design a heavy duty 4WD for use on sealed roads – though it will drive perfectly well on them. It’s built for the off-road. That’s where its unique design will most find expression. So it is with us.
So it’s important to:
- Relish those activities that you really enjoy, that energise you, and that you find fulfilment in.
- Look for clues. As a child what activities did you naturally gravitate towards? What was your favourite play activity, or a play activity that set you apart from most people? Examining your play activities is a good place to start because it usually points to what it was you loved to do and may be a good indication of your own longings. There’s another reason for looking at your childhood. Parents didn’t always associate your play choices with a likely future career and were more likely to leave you to do what you excelled in.
- Identify the voices that try to influence you, and ask God to help you sift them. Pay attention to what you thought or felt about a particular option, not what others thought. Realise it may take time. Sometimes we have made a lifetime habit of taking on activities, jobs, and even careers for the wrong reasons, some of which are listed above. It can take a while to re-connect to the person God created you to be. Commit your future direction and your searching to God, and trust that He will provide the clues you need to keep moving forward. Remember: “Don’t neglect the gift that is in you…”