When I was a young boy the playground was where I felt most alive. Life made sense there. Everything was adventure, fun. And importantly, others kids were there to share the experience with.
But as I grew older, the games grew more serious.
We’d play sports. Teams were picked. I was often last or near last. I began to question whether I really belonged.
“Was I just someone to tolerate having on your team?”
The thought hurt. I swallowed it down.
On the playground and in class, other kids – having their own internal struggles – grew meaner. Those innocent days on the playground were long gone. I closed up, shut down. I didn’t trust others much anymore.
About then was also when school became serious too. Fun-filled learning turned into tests and homework. I internalized that in order to belong I had to achieve. So I got good grades in school. I did everything I could to get into a good college, then to get a good job, then to start companies. Everything to succeed so that no one could question me. All of it quite painful as I repressed what I most wanted in the name of fitting in.
But it’s in that pain, in that wound, where my truth most clearly lies. That little boy had a deep need that didn’t get met by the world.
That unmet need is the bedrock on which my life has been built. It is there where my life’s mission is revealed.
It took a weekend retreat hosted by the ManKind Project for me to slow down enough and feel safe enough to encounter my life’s mission:
I make the world our playground by offering connection and belonging.
You see, all that little boy ever wanted was to feel connected to others, to belong, and to play. Missing out on that left me with a deep wound. One that I didn’t and wouldn’t go near. It hurt too much to recall because it’s hard to completely honest about the thing that I’ve always most wanted from life. The thing that I never got.
What Happens When We Live From Our Mission
All that little boy ever wanted was to belong. To be connected to others. To play. As an adult I can create a world exactly like that. Or at least I can do my damn best to.
And when I do – when I truly live out my mission – amazing things happen. I reach out to people to see how they are. I invite people into conversations. I seek out ways to make life more playful, especially the parts that often feel less so (e.g. work, challenging relationships). And by offering connection, belonging, and play to others I get the same myself.
In healing others, we heal ourselves.
What Happens When We’re Disconnected From Our Mission
I’ve spent most of my life avoiding that mission – pursuing a shadow mission instead. Our shadow mission is the opposite of what what we most long for. This happens for all of us to keep that young one safe.
For me, he learned long ago that the easiest way to stay safe is to withdraw. To stay disconnected. To not risk finding out that he doesn’t belong. To hide.
My shadow mission would best be articulated as:
I create a world of loneliness and seriousness by isolating myself and isolating others.
When we’re deeply wounded, and we all are, we created behaviors and structures that conspire to keep that little one safe. There’s no freedom nor peace living this way. We have to come out of the shadows. We have to come face-to-face with what’s most painful so we can heal.
Discovering Your Mission
It’s in your wound where you find your mission:
- What was that little boy’s or girl’s deepest unmet need?
- What kind of world did they wish for but not get?
- What actions or offerings from others didn’t they receive?
Your mission is to create exactly those things. A framework like “(What kind of world do you create) by (what action or actions do you take)” can help you create a memorable statement.
And if you’d like help in finding your mission, the weekend retreat that helped me discover mine was the ManKind Project’s New Warrior Training Adventure. I imagine similar organizations for women like HER and WomenWithin do the same.
But please, do come out of the shadows.