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Lisa Messenger: "I drove myself to my funeral. And it changed my life."

This is an extract from Lisa Messenger’s new book, Purpose. 

Why Have a Why?

“The two most important days in your life are the day you were born and the day you find out why.”

Studies show that a sense of purpose makes us more resilient, improves health, increases life satisfaction and, according to one medical study, even helps people with chronic conditions less distressed. Research from North America even found that people who said they had a sense of purpose lived longer than those who didn’t – regardless of what age they found their sense of direction. Need any more convincing?

Having a Why gives us direction. It gives us something to long for, to yearn for. An end point. A reason for being. When times get tough, if you don’t know why you do what you do, it’s really easy to give up, to throw it all away – and to believe it’s not actually worth all the struggle, heartache and pain.

Have you ever questioned why you put yourself through this?

Why you go to the same place, day after day?

Why you endure the same frustrations?

Why you return to the same problems?

Or why you feel unsure a solution even exists for you to find?

When you have a reason for being, it’s so much easier to keep going. It gives you reserves of hustle that you didn’t even know you had, which give you the fight, energy and willpower you need to move mountains and take the next step in your journey, whatever that is. Even in the darkest, hardest moments of despair (and there have been many for me) my Why resonated so deeply and held so much meaning, that I simply had no choice but to keep going.

79% of leaders think their Why is central to business success, according to a PwC survey.

66% of leaders think distinction and differentiation is an important part of their organisation’s purpose.

83% of employees say having meaning in their day-to-day lives is important.

Lessons I Learnt from My Own Funeral

I drove myself to my funeral. That’s not something that many people can say! But, in 2004, when I enrolled in a life-changing self-development program at one of my lowest points, that’s exactly what I did. Let me explain…

This course uses various techniques and borrows from many different belief systems and philosophies – from Eastern mysticism and deep meditation to group therapy, visualisation and more – with the goal of condensing a lifetime of analysis into just eight days. No mean feat, right?

On this particular morning, the last day of our program, we were told nothing about where we were going, what we were doing or what was happening next – the exact formula that had been rolled out during the entire eight-day program. (It was a wonderful life lesson in trust, surrender and letting go, a concept I’ll cover in more depth in the next chapter.)

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The next thing I knew, a series of black, sombre cars pulled up. If I didn’t know better, I would have thought we were off to a funeral, as they gave off a distinctly morbid and solemn vibe.

How strange, I thought as I silently hopped into the car… Only it wasn’t strange. It was spot on. A funeral was exactly where we were going. The really interesting part was, it was our own funeral we were going to and we were driving ourselves there.

If that doesn’t blow your hair back, I don’t know what will!

So there we were, not allowed to talk, completely in silence, getting into funeral procession cars with a bunch of strangers we’d met only days before. In hindsight, the drama of it is what made it so incredibly impactful.

When we arrived at the cemetery – yes, a real cemetery, no props or pretending – we climbed out of our black cars and were told to go silently and find a gravestone that would represent us. I walked around the cemetery with an open mind, looking for a gravestone so I could lie down next to it and pretend I was… dead.

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I remember feeling strangely calm as I lay down and made myself comfortable on my, ahem, gravesite. In reality, I should not have felt calm. My life up until that moment (let’s call it ‘pre-cemetery experience’) was pretty much the greatest train smash you could imagine. I was drinking myself into a stupor most days, I was in a marriage with a guy I had nothing in common with and I hadn’t spoken to any of my family for three years. I had no semblance of who I was and I felt truly, in every possible definition of the word, lost.

As I lay down by that gravestone to reflect on what my funeral would look like, it was a profoundly confronting experience – one that would change my life forever.

For those of you who know me as the ‘Lisa Messenger’ of today, what I am about to tell you is a far cry from where I am now. Hopefully, it serves to truly show you that anything is possible and anyone can change and evolve their situation.

As I lay there picturing my own funeral, I could imagine possibly 10 people (at best) hovering above me, shaking their heads, saying, “It was only a matter of time.” I was on such a journey of self-sabotage and depression that in my mind, at that time, I assumed my funeral followed my suicide. There was no legacy to be left – only disappointment, shame and a sense of waste.

In that moment – and it gives me shivers writing it now – I decided absolutely, unequivocally, to turn my life around.

LISTEN: ‘Impostor Syndrome’ is the new career buzzword. Post continues after audio… 

Now, I’m not saying you need to do something as dramatic as this in order to shake things up and start asking the deeper questions to get to your authentic truth! But, I am a huge advocate of becoming comfortable with being uncomfortable, of putting ourselves in purposefully counterintuitive situations on the path towards living our best and brightest life.

 When all is said and done and you’ve breathed your last breath, what will your impact be?

 What legacy will you have created?

 What will people say about you?

 What contribution will you have made in this world?

These are big-picture questions. They can be confronting to ask yourself, and even more confronting to answer. While the answers can be incredibly revealing, they can also be incredibly empowering. That’s because the best thing about imagining your funeral now is that you’re still full of life and have the power to change it. Don’t waste a single breath!

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What’s Your Excuse?

I recently had the good fortune of meeting Turia Pitt, an Australian ultramarathoner who survived being caught in a bush fire. We were both selected (alongside the insanely talented Indigenous Australian actress Miranda Tapsell) to feature in Disney’s ‘I Dare to Dream Big’ campaign.

Turia suffered burns to 64 per cent and was told by doctors it was unlikely that she would ever walk again, let alone lead her old life.

She has also mentored more than 6000 people through her online life-coaching programs.

What’s your excuse for not reaching your full potential?

There are many things that can hold you back from finding your true purpose. Things like your upbringing and the family values you were raised with, your community and relationships, your life circumstances, your income, your career, your experience… the list goes on.

We can all probably name at least 10 factors that should or could stop us from achieving our purpose. While it’s true that starting a business, travelling around the world or launching a not-for-profit is a lot easier if you have a six-figure bank balance and a bulging contact book, not having these things doesn’t make it impossible. Not at all!

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Ultimately, these are just excuses for living a life that is anything less than spectacular. You deserve spectacular! No matter what circumstances you perceive to be standing in your way, do not use them as a get-out-of-jail-free card. Don’t waste your time and energy giving too much attention to people or circumstances that you can’t control. Instead, work out what changes you can make that will have a positive impact on your life.

You have one life and one opportunity to make it count. So, don’t waste it – no matter what life throws your way.

EXCUSE MYTH 1: I DON’T HAVE TIME!

The facts are right there in front of us: there are 24 hours in a day, 7 days in a week, and a certain number of years in your life. We can’t make more time or control how many days we have in our lives – but we do have control over how we use the time we have.

We know this, but all too often we don’t live consistently with this belief. We waste time on things that are unimportant.

Equally, we find ourselves experiencing time in different ways.

Consider how long 10 minutes feels when you’re stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic. And you’re running late to pick up someone from the airport. And that person happens to be your lover, who you haven’t seen for weeks and you’re jumping out of your skin to be reunited with them.

Does that feel like the longest 10 minutes of your life or what?

Now, consider how quickly 10 minutes flies by when you’re engaging with someone about a topic you’re both really passionate about. You might be at a meeting or chatting with a speaker after a seminar, and 10 minutes of conversation feels like 2 minutes.

In both situations, the same amount of time has passed – but our experience of that time is completely different. We can’t slow time or find more of it, but we can choose to spend it consciously, powerfully and also gently (because nourishment and relaxation are as important as action).

We all have enough time to achieve anything we want in life, if we use it wisely.

EXCUSE MYTH 2: I’M TOO OLD!

A woman came to our office for a book signing recently and in conversation, she casually remarked about something that happened “back when I had a career”. She said it like her life was over, like there was no chance for something new or exciting to happen.

“Out of interest, how old are you?” I asked. She was 53! Hardly over the hill! The founder of the transformative TED conference series didn’t even come up with his idea until he was almost 50.

This woman’s best years could very well still be ahead of her. It’s a matter of adopting the right attitude and perception to put you in a positive headspace for growth and change.

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EXCUSE MYTH 3: I’M NOT EXPERIENCED

This is the easier point of all to fix. Do you know the best way to get experience? Seek out experiences! You don’t even have to quit your day job to do it! These days, thanks to the Internet and the abundance of technology at your disposal, you can give yourself a crash course in your chosen industry, without even leaving your living room.

There are also amazing courses you can take to up-skill virtually. In 2016, Collective Hub partnered with Torrens University to launch a graduate diploma in entrepreneurship. Our students learn ‘real life’ industry skills from experienced industry professionals, and all of it is delivered online so they can learn whenever and wherever it suits them best.

Of course, hands-on experience does count for something. Do you know how you get hands-on experience? Seek out experiences! Sorry to repeat, but it’s really that simple.

What’s Your Favourite Flavour of Sh*t Sandwich and Does It Come With an Olive?

Or to put it another way: what flavour of sh*t sandwich would you be able to tolerate eating?

This is one of the questions best-selling author Mark Manson asked himself as he searched for his own purpose. And here’s the truth he’s trying to get at: everything sucks, some of the time. Nothing is ever perfect and you have to let go of the idea that, when you find your ‘one thing’ – your purpose, your Why – when that happens, everything in your life will suddenly fall into place and you’ll run off and live happily ever after.

Spoiler alert. This is a fantasy.

Everything involves sacrifice, hardship, challenges and difficult periods, at one stage or another.

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As Mark Manson writes:

It’s easy to look at someone else’s life – especially in the filtered age of Instagram – and glorify a profession, vocation or existence. I’m even guilty of it sometimes (in my book Life & Love, I have a whole section on social-media perception versus reality). Of course, we take more photos of the glam dinners, cupcake deliveries and team trips to Body Barre class than we do of admin duties and stocktakes.

As Mark Manson also writes:

So, think really long and hard about this:

  • What unpleasant experiences are you able or willing to handle?
  • How uncomfortable are you willing to get – physically, financially or emotionally?
  • Are you able to stay up all night and give your weekends over to your passion?
  • Do you need some big boundaries in place, so as not to affect your family, in your quest to find your Why?
  • Do you have the courage to be laughed off the stage over and over again, to be rejected, to hear ‘no’ and to get back up and try again anyway, until you get it right?

Note: I’ve done all of the above and more… you name it, I’ve lived it and felt it now, in pursuit of my Why. And yes, I’d do it all again.

lisa messenger purpose

Purpose by Lisa Messenger is available at selected bookstores and newsagencies across Australia and online at collectivehub.com

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