Are you really good at what you do, but you do not feel as though you are thriving in life?
One possible explanation is that you are not using your design. You are doing what you were taught to do, not doing what you were made to do. When we work in our design, there is generally a significant level of fulfillment.
I have had conversations with four people in the last couple of weeks who were highly competent, in multiple fields, but were not thriving. Yet because they had been doing what they were trained to do for so long, so well, they had difficulty imagining who they really were, beneath the cultural veneer.
So here is a tool that you can use to peel back the layers and arrive at some sense of who God designed you to be, before the culture shoved you in the odious sausage machine. The art form is to take a large job category and break it down into little pieces, to see which piece of the big picture fits you.
There are two large pools of ideas you can draw from. The first is your life experiences, and the second is the jobs described in the Yellow Pages. Let’s start with a life experience example.
When I lived in Whittier, the soil in our backyard was awful. It had been neglected for a least a decade. The natural soil in that area is clay and this clay had been baked hard for years. In order to make the soil usable, I would dig trenches about 24 inches wide, 18 inches deep, and 15 feet long.
The soil was so hard that I would start by using the pointed end of a pick. It usually took a few weeks for me to finish one trench. After I dug out the old soil I would add a lot of organic material as I replace the now loosened soil. Then I would let it sit for a year while I watered it and buried our domestic kitchen scraps in it.
Economically it was ludicrous to try to use that yard for a garden. The only reason I did it, was because I got a tremendous amount of gratification out of what was brutally hard work.
That is an example of the big picture. Now I break the big picture down into a lot of little pieces. Did I like swinging the pick? Was I expressing some repressed anger through the violence of using the pick? Was there gratification in having a really good garden when I was done? Did I enjoy being outdoors in the sun? Was moving dirt with wheelbarrow gratifying? Did I enjoy not having anyone telling me what do to? Was this an escape from building codes, because I could do it any way I wanted?
None of those things brought me pleasure. The pleasure lay in healing something that was deemed irretrievably broken. This is a clue about my nature. Nobody was pushing me to make a garden in the backyard. In fact a lot of people try to discourage me from doing that. But because my design is what it is, I was compelled to take land that was supposed to be fertile, which had been condemned as unusable, and restore it to its original design.
Now I call this a letter. It is one characteristic of my nature. And like any individual letter which can be used in many different words, this characteristic can be used in many different applications in life. I find myself gravitating towards the irretrievably broken people, and I look for God’s principles to bring healing to them. I’m working in a highly broken city in America, seeking to bring healing to that city just because it is so highly broken. I recently looked at a fairly broken house, and once again felt that engine churning inside as I ached to restore the house to its former glory.
When you take a big event, and break it down into pieces, you can savor each piece to find out which ones bring you pleasure and which ones do not. When you discover the things that bring you pleasure from inside, with no external reward, you have most likely found a piece of your design. This is especially true if it is an area that other people do not celebrate for you.
So you place that individual letter on your Scrabble tray, and you break down another situation. Each situation in life has one or more letters that tell you something about your design. So you can go through school, time on the playground, your family holidays, shopping experiences, your family chores, your reactions to the pets, the different jobs you’ve had since you left home, the dynamics of your marriage, vacation, and a long list of other situations like that and break each one down into small pieces and find where the pleasure is.
For those who find it difficult to be that introspective about your own life, I recommend the Yellow Pages. You can look at the Yellow Pages as a catalog of jobs rather than a catalog of things for sale.
So take any Yellow Pages and begin to look at the different jobs. Try to envision yourself in each one of those jobs. When you experienced strong emotion (positive or negative), stop at that job and try to break it down.
Take for example the idea of my being a policeman. I find that utterly revolting. I am delighted that there are many policeman out there, and I’m sure that God made some people with the personality necessary to be a good cop. But when I break that down into pieces there are two things that stand out to me.
Number one, a policeman in a patrol car is primarily reactive instead of proactive. He is driving around waiting for somebody to do something, and when they do something he will react to what they did. This is an anathema to me. I don’t wait for other people to make things happen, so I can react. I am the instigator. I make things happen. And the strength of my reaction to the idea of my being a policeman, tells me that this is a core component of my design.
The other side of being a policeman that does not sit well with me is the fact that largely a policeman has to look at people trying to figure out what is wrong with them. I am passionately drawn to what is right with people. Most people come to me because something is wrong with them. Many people get very frustrated because I kind of ignore the pain they came with and focus on something I saw about God’s design in them.
So after looking at just this one job description, I have two more letters about who I am. The issue of being an instigator not a reactor applies to just about every area of my life. So does the concept of wanting to find out what is right about a situation. Whether I’m looking at an individual or a nation my line very simply is “God was there first.”
When you have spent a month or two breaking down life situations or theoretical jobs, you should have quite a collection of letters on your Scrabble tray. The more letters you have, the easier it is to spot the word that it spells. That is why I encourage you to spend a couple of months on the breaking down process, before you try to put the pieces back together.
In this process, it is relatively easy to differentiate between reaction from woundedness and reaction from design. For example, if I were looking at being a high-rise window washer, the revulsion would be immediate and very deep. I know that this is due to the fear of heights I have from when I fell off a roof and crippled up my left hand. There’s a very different feel to a wound reaction compared to a design issue.
Similarly, as we look at the things we are drawn to, the question we need to ask is whether we would do that, if no one knew we were doing it and there was no one to affirm us. All of us are codependent to one degree or another. All of us have areas of emotional need and we have learned how to position ourselves to have others affirm us. But when you find yourself consistently doing something, when nobody is looking, and nobody is affirming you, especially when people are criticizing you for it, you could be pretty sure you found a design piece.
The discovery of design is never final. I don’t believe any human being has ever learned everything there is to know about the mystery of the majesty of who God made us to be. It is therefore wise to pause regularly and assess your life. Learn to use the downtime of waiting in line at the bank to explore design. Either think back to a recent event, or visually explore the interior the bank. You can do either one of these for 1 minute or 15 minutes without any props or tools.
By regularly using the scraps of time that we normally waste during the day, to dissect events that happened to us, to find the joy points, we are capable of building a significant profile of who God made us to be.
The resources are there. If you are old enough to read this, then you have enough life experience to begin decoding. As you use your time and your creativity to break big pictures down into little pictures you will begin to find the letters that spell the DNA of your God-given design.
Copyright December 2010 by Arthur Burk
From the Quarterdeck, in Anaheim