February 23rd, 2011

The Power of Purpose

This blog is third in a series of reflections on Managing Thought – lessons learned during the sudden move of my parents from their home that also apply to big changes and challenges we face every day at work and in life.

Picture this: My father is 85, recovering from two minor strokes, fatigued and stressed from caring for my mom, 83, suffering from dementia. Now he and I are faced with the daunting task of downsizing and moving in just three weeks.  As we looked around the house filled with forty years of stuff accumulated because “we might need it someday,” my dad could feel the blood pumping in his neck.

Dad said, “Maybe we shouldn’t move.”  When I asked what he meant, he said, “It’s just too much. Where’s the furniture going to go? It won’t fit. What are we gonna do with all these books? And the garage and basement – how am I going to get through all that? Maybe we should just stay put.”

I exhaled deeply, acknowledged his fear. At any age, moving is a major task, a major life event and a major source of stress. For my dad, caring for my mom, taking care of the house, managing the house, and worrying about their future is also a major source of stress.  To him, with moving or staying put, he was choosing the lesser of two evils. Using logic, he decided to move forward with the move because the stress of moving lasts a month and the stress of staying put continues to build for the rest of their lives.

I asked Dad to tell me the purpose of living at the retirement community. What could it bring to him and mom.“ He said, “Mom will feel safe. I can run errands and visit with friends and know that if she needs help, there is always someone there. We get to “go out” to eat and go for walks every day. It’ll be like we’re dating again.  I can make new friends. We can have company and invite them for a nice meal. When it’s time for Mom to move into the special care facilities, I can see her every day …”

As his list grew, Dad’s eyes grew brighter and his posture straightened.

Then ideas started flowing. “I can pick out the books I want to keep and the rest I can donate to the friends of the library. I might be able to get back to painting – do you think there’s room in the new place for my art supplies? There are some tools I want to keep. I can invite my grandson and my neighbor to pick out what they want. Are there companies that help with selling stuff?”

What we feel and what we experience depends on our focus. When Dad focused on the difficulties and choosing “the lesser of two evils,” his thoughts caused stress and shut him down. When he focused on his vision and purpose, he became inspired. When he became inspired, he became energized and creative. Instead of contracting, he expanded in a direction that served his purpose.

What’s your focus? What’s the purpose of what you’re doing? What does it bring you and others?