The «purpose quest» Volume 2.3 ̶ Elementary school, improv theatre, and values

In this series of articles, I would like to shed some light on my personal pathway, acknowledging that yours may look very different. The objective is to give you ideas and spark your curiosity so you can start finding out for yourself where your own purpose quest could start. If you want to check on prior articles, you can find volume 1 here and work your way forward from there.

Look at old school assessments and talk to your parents

This “exercise” made me smile big time. While cleaning up I came across a folder with old reports from elementary school. In the first couple of grades, at least in Germany, where and when I went to school, we got a couple of lines of prose as a feedback every 6 months. And while going through them with my husband, we found that these short lines were so telling and so fitting to some of my behaviour patterns and tendencies; I was very touched. There were sentences like “Sonja loves to take on responsibility”, “She needs to respect the conversation rules of the classroom,” (very bubbly :-)) “Sonja has a wild imagination”, “She often finishes exercises early and then invents own follow-up exercises for herself.”

All of these things are still true today. I wondered what that might mean. Is it that in a way I learned lots in the past 30something years and then again not so much? Or rather that the essence of what makes me me is unchanged? Or was this elementary school self in the end not the essence of the real me but already influenced by my role models and upbringing? Like so often with topics like this, it’s probably a bit of all of the above. 🙂

Also talking to parents and grandparents if they’re still around may reveal something about what you liked when you were a kid, what you were naturally drawn to. For me it was creating and performing, I loved to be at centre stage and I enjoyed that there was so much going on in our house with visitors coming and going.

Improvise, act it out and work with what’s there

I very much enjoyed the improv coaching session I had with Martin. We met at a theatre in Berlin and started out with the journaling responses from the Theory U exercise that I had brought along. Then I identified key words around which Martin invited me to play. Just getting up and acting out what you associate with certain words or values is also a great one that helps you get out of your head and into your gut. In a setting where you’re encouraged to explore the extremes of the topics you brought in, there is a lot of fun to be had and also insights to be gained. For instance, I found a nice analogy for my will to please which had given me a hard time in many situations in my life: It’s like getting a box of chocolates and then while trying one you get a flavour that you find disgusting, so what do you do? The most extreme thing I could think of is to discreetly let the chocolate slide out of my mouth into a napkin and hide it. But you could also spit it out with a retching sound and swear and shout – that can be great fun and feels very liberating!

My spontaneous work of art with me writing my notes in the background. I later left the theatre with a spring in my step, my heart full and my head light.

Martin also invited me to create a piece of art, a sculpture just with the furniture in the room and my own stuff. Without thinking, I assembled what was there and together we marvelled at the sculpture I had created and interpreted it, fining that this could resemble my past, present and future. I felt reminded of the tarot cards where you’re presented with an image to spark your thinking around what that could mean for you. In the side we dubbed the present situation, my handbag represented me, hanging around on centre stage, looking a bit helpless. Upon opening it to see if there are any hints on the resources I have and the first item I could touch without even looking was chimpy, a power bank that you can rent against a small fee at any kiosk in Switzerland.

“Hey, could I be energy for rent?” I thought. Having heaps of energy is something I have always been getting compliments on by people. Even those who hardly know me remark that I seem to have a special kind of energy or an ordinary kind but lots of it.

In the side that represented my future, there was one shoe propped up in the air which lead me to conclude “Fortschritt muss nicht immer auf dem Boden der Realität passieren” which is a play on words that kind of gets lost in translation but it’s something along the lines of “progress doesn’t always have to take place on the stable grounds of reality.” This I saw as a self-encouragement to dare and try and not be held back by old rules or norms. Fascinating how if you just work with what’s there – no fancy props needed – you can still create something amazing.

Reflect on your values and go one level deeper

Inspired by my coach I also reflected on the topic of values. Which values do I want to live and in which way? Now, this is an interesting one, because my first answer was “innovation, integrity and humanity” and for all of the three I had tangible examples on what that means in terms of behaviour. Now Claudia challenged me to go a bit deeper and ask why these things are so important to me and what the motivation behind them really is. There are lists of values such as this one from Brené Brown which you can use to hone in on what resonates most strongly with you. You can read through and mark all values you feel strongly about. Then you narrow it down further and further until you end up with a few that carry a lot of meaning for you.

I did not do this exercise straight away but let it marinate for a while. A good week later, I listened to René Träder’s 7Mind podcast (German). The current episode at the time was about values as a compass and the related, prior episode was around the question how free we really are in choosing what we want. This then made me think again and led to the biography work (see below) and ultimately resulted in me having a stab at the lists and revising my values based on the insights I had gained.

Values can be something to shine down upon you and for to get orientation from. How you then place your steps to act out these values is your choice every day.

I also found that for each value there are many ways to live it and I have choices how to display my values and in which contexts. Now I am more aware of the fact that all values have a “flipside” to them, so that if you go down a certain route of living them or you overdo it, you may inflict harm on yourself or your environment. The revised three values I ended up with were: “Belonging, making a difference, excitement”

Turns out that “belonging” is a very human and commonplace longing – nearly everybody has it. Just the ways we choose in trying to achieve this are so different. At the end of the day we all want to be loved and accepted. Some buy designer clothes to get there, some create a blog, others think they need to become the best in their field. This, I find, takes the edge off many of the “difficult” people (and autocratic managers) I have met in my life. On the inside, many of them are just 5-year old kids who long for a cuddle; and when you see it like this they are half as intimidating. 🙂

Next volume: 2.4 ̶ Biography, meditation, Ikigai and others

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