Small Life, Slow Life: 5/100 {Purpose and Practice.}

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None of these photos were taken by me, but by the lovely Olga Zwart. You can find her at @olgazwart on Instagram.

I can’t believe it’s already been a week since I went to Purpose & Practice.

What is P&P? Well, it’s a personal development retreat/yoga + meditation experience/purpose-definining, persona-changing, uplifting weekend of connection. Put on by lululemon, including airfare, food, and accommodations. For free.

I’ve been working for lululemon for six years and I am still astounded by how generous the company is. Nowhere in the weekend was there talk about stretchy pants, how to sell stretchy pants, how to influence people who want to buy stretchy pants. No, P&P is a personal development offering that has NOTHING TO DO WITH THE BUSINESS OF LULULEMON. It is just, simply, beautifully…about you, and who you choose to be in this world.

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The company used to send employees to Landmark Forum, which, for all the hate it gets and its reputation of being a cult, really allowed me to make some giant shifts in my life. (I called C, who was then my ex, on one of the Landmark breaks when we were instructed to call someone we were incomplete with, and get…complete. Two months later, we were back together, and later that year, we were engaged. All because Landmark gave me the courage to finally say, “I’m calling to apologize for who I was when we ended, and for my part in the way things fell apart. I see now that I had a lot more responsibility in that than I previously imagined.”)

But Landmark is really expensive. I imagined that when lululemon moved away from Landmark last year, that part of its reasonings were financial. But I was wrong. Simply put, P&P definitely costs lululemon more. And it doesn’t matter that it costs more, because it’s not about the money. It’s about making good on the promise lululemon has always held high — the employee’s development comes first. Even if that means said employee gets so enlightened and kickass that he or she moves on from lululemon. (That’s actually the intention.)

So there I was on Day 2, following the incredible facilitation of Ali Filmore and Julie Ball, after two different two-hour yoga sessions + two 30-minute meditation sessions and lots of journalling, in a room of 200 people, employees + ambassadors, talking about our purpose.

And I felt completely, and totally…stuck.

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I was completely caught up in the words. I actually had written, as my purpose (don’t laugh):

I am a thoughtful, goal-oriented solutionist, here to use my voice to stand for others. 

We read our purposes aloud to one another. Not surprisingly, mine didn’t emotionally move anyone.

I went back to the room with my roommate Amelia, who knows me quite well, and she agreed that the super wordy, cerebral Websters-type definition-purpose was definitely not, um, my actual purpose. But nothing we brainstormed felt right.

I spent dinner and the rest of the night feeling like the company had wasted its investment in me. My word of the year is Purpose. I came to P&P wearing a necklace that said “purpose” on it. But when it came to understanding my actual purpose, I was totally lost.

We went to sleep. Up at 5:50am for yoga the next day, I still felt frustrated.

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Laying on our mats, on the last day of the retreat, I allowed myself to sink more deeply into meditation than ever before. And as I did, I had a memory of living with my dad during a tough time in my mid-twenties. We were talking about life, and how I wasn’t using my English major degree.

“I thought you could’ve been a great journalist,” he said. “Why didn’t you think about journalism in school?”

“Because my life is about literature,” I’d said simply. “My life is about writing, reading, studying, being moved by, and teaching literature. It’s always been about that.”

Back on my yoga mat, I envied the younger girl who had said that, so simply. How had I formulated those thoughts without even thinking about it? I struggled, realizing that my life no longer feels like it’s about literature, even though literature is still such an integral part of it. (I sneak into corners of the store on my break to read, in perfect silence, for ten minutes. It feels like when people sneak into the fridge in the middle of the night to eat an entire chocolate cake…stolen and illicit.)

It may not be about literature anymore, I thought. But it’s definitely about words.

And then, suddenly, as if the file called “Purpose.exe” had been downloading all night and suddenly finished, my purpose dropped into my head. I mentioned this in Small Life, Slow Life: 1/100 {The Buried Life}, but I’ll say it here again. This is exactly what dropped into my brain:

My life is about words. Reading them, writing them, speaking them, knowing when to stop speaking them, using them through my voice to stand up for what is right, and to stand up for the person who is not in the room.

It just came like that! Wholly complete. I almost rolled out of meditation to write it all down. But then something inside me said, “Relax. If that’s your actual purpose, you can’t forget it. It was always there, and it will always be there. You’ve simply remembered it.”

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The part I’m proudest of is the last part…using my voice. Not too long ago, a co-worker I really trust told me that I can be “sharp.” We were talking about our different intensity levels, and he expressed that mine can be sharp, like a blade. I’d never been told that before, but of course…deep down, I know I’m like that. My words can cut. They can hurt. I’ve hurt a lot of people during times I’ve been emotional, when the truth of how I’m feeling comes out, startlingly articulate, wrapped in words that detonate like bombs. I’ve had to apologize for this habit more than I’ve ever had to apologize for anything else in my life.

I texted him later that night, “I don’t want to be sharp! I don’t want people to think I’m sharp. It’s the part of my personality I work the hardest on, I can’t believe it’s still there! But I don’t know how to change myself.”

He responded, “It’s not a bad thing at all. In order to be a good leader, I think balance is so important. Being able to balance the fun with the intensity. Different emphasis displays the importance of things, and when you’re intense about something, it’s because it’s important.”

I held onto that. It felt right. I get “sharp” when an injustice has been done. When something isn’t right. Or when someone is being spoken about and he/she is not in the room to respond.

Before my complete purpose downloaded in my head, I thought about being “sharp.” Maybe it’s not a weakness, I thought. Maybe it’s just something I need to harness. Maybe it’s even a strength. 

It feels so good to know that my complete purpose includes being “sharp.” I use my voice to stand up for what is right.

And that, like how much I love words (reading/writing/communicating/listening), has always, always been true.

After the long yoga that day, I ran into our ambassador at breakfast. She had been with Amelia and me the night before when I was struggling so much with the wording.

“I was thinking about your purpose,” she said, not knowing that I’d found it on my own that morning. “And it’s definitely something with words. Right? Words. How you say them, how you write them. Your life is about words.”

And for once, the feeling of recognition that someone else saw me, in the way I’d been struggling to see myself…I was word-less. 🙂

{Thank you, lululemon, for the gift of Purpose & Practice, along with all the other gifts you have given me over the years.}

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