When I was 21, I went to New York City for a Technical Communication conference. As I walked through Central Park at dusk toward my hotel, I became acutely aware of some rather shady characters following me. I realized at that moment my desire to see everything I possibly could in this new fantastic city might have well been tempered with a bit more caution. The words “walk with a purpose” echoed in my brain. I held my head high, eyes forward, and picked up my pace with the strength of a soldier marching into battle. I caught up to a group of strangers heading the same direction and stayed close behind until I reached 72nd Avenue and familiar ground.
That day I learned something. I am not invincible, but I do have power…and drive. And I never wanted to be afraid to try. I was a pretty fearless kid, and now as an adult, I didn’t want that to change. That’s not to say I wouldn’t or shouldn’t apply a bit of caution at times…but not too much. If I wanted to see life….then I needed to go see it. If I wanted to learn something…then I needed to learn it. If I wanted to go somewhere or do something…even if there was some inherent risk…then I needed to do it. Sometimes this philosophy has cost me a heavy price. But what has kept me running full speed down this path is my consistent motivation to move in a positive direction …toward helping and loving others and the world…all the time. It makes the price of the effort always, always worth it. But just walking with purpose has never been enough for me…I’ve felt compelled to walk it as fast as I possibly can. Hence, the pictured quote above.
Our life on this Earth is pretty short. As I reach my midline in years, this becomes more and more apparent. If I’m honest with myself, this “risk-taking, go full throttle” philosophy of life has made me pretty tired. On the plus side, I can’t look back and say I haven’t walked, often run, without purpose…and for that I’m grateful. But, now, what to do about the bags under my eyes?
Lately, I’ve started to slow down (I’ve named it failure) and it’s been forcing me to rethink my philosophy. Do I really need to push myself this hard? Is that what “walking with a purpose” really means? I keep coming to the same conclusion. Yes. Until there is no more purpose – until I come to a different understanding of the meaning of life—then I’m in for another tiring 50+ years or however long I last at this pace!
That is, until today.
Today, some 27 years since my New York City adventure, I found myself on another business trip–in the opposite direction—Tacoma, Washington. On the airplane, I sat by an older couple (who held hands during the flight) and needed wheelchair assistance at the gate. The wife told me they lived in Portland and needed to make a connecting flight. But, alas, our flight was 30 minutes late and when we landed it didn’t seem promising they would make it. I thought to myself, “I’ll jump up and tell everyone to sit down and to let them out first so they can make their flight. Then, I’ll alert the flight attendants about the wheelchairs.” As the seat belt signal pinged off and the plane parked, everyone stood up and started disemboweling the plane. The flight attendant announced, “Those waiting for wheelchairs can just sit tight. The chairs haven’t arrived at the gate yet.” I looked at her and said, “I’m sorry. I’m not sure if you’ll make your flight.” She shrugged and said, “That’s ok. You can only move as fast as you can move.”
You can only move as fast as you can move.
I’m not 21 anymore. I’m not a lot of things I was anymore. I can only move as fast as I can move. Sometimes that’s pretty fast. But some days….it just isn’t.
So, my picture quote above isn’t exactly wrong. It still means something to me. I’m still going to push myself and walk with a purpose. What’s different now is the “ability” I’m measuring needs to be based on my ability today and today only. Tomorrow I’ll have a new ability level to judge myself by and it might be better than today…or not.
Sometimes walking with a purpose looks like sitting and waiting.
Thank you my profound Portlander!