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Pressing On With Purpose

When I read the heartbreaking news of Chadwick Boseman’s death on Friday night, I immediately re-watched his commencement address at Howard University. This line grabbed me by the shoulders the first time I heard it, and it grabbed me again this weekend:

“Purpose is an essential element of you. It is the reason you are on the planet at this particular time in history. Your very existence is wrapped up in the things you are here to fulfill. Whatever you choose for a career path, remember, the struggles along the way are only meant to shape you for your purpose.”

Actor Chadwick Boseman giving the commencement address at Howard University in 2018.

Reconnecting with this wisdom this weekend was a God moment for me—especially hearing it from a hero who brought us so many heroes. I needed the reminder about purpose so deeply, for many reasons—one of them is related to what’s happening in the world and on social media right now.

From the recent comments sections on my social posts to incoming emails, I understand that many of you who follow me, who have read my books, and who have found value in my work are disappointed, frustrated, and even enraged about my activism and about me sharing opinions with which you do not agree. The most common response is, “Stick to research and making people feel better,” followed by threats of unfollowing me, and there are even a handful of posts—mostly on Twitter—that are threats or fantasies of violence.

I want everyone to know that I will never stop sharing my opinions and beliefs to make anyone feel better or more comfortable. Not now. Not ever. If that doesn’t work for you, I agree that unfollowing me is a good solution. There comes a time when shared journeys end.

I am here for my purpose.

I’m not here to make people comfortable or to be liked. My purpose is to know and experience love. This means excavating the unsaid. In the world and in me. Knowing and experiencing love means calling shame, fear, dehumanization, and injustice by their birth name: lovelessness.

It means finding love in beauty, art, music, and nature.

It means not turning away from pain or working pain out on other people.

Knowing and experiencing love requires making connections between experiences and emotions that often feel a million miles apart.

And, for me, love always requires living into courage and faith.

I’m here for love. And I’m not changing course. If this is your time to peel off—please do it. But keep these two things in mind:

  1. You don’t need to announce it. You can if you want. But I don’t care any more than I would if we were driving next to each other on the freeway and you decide to exit. We shared a stretch of highway. You don’t need to roll down your window, lean out waist-high, and scream, “I’m UNFOLLOWING you.” It’s weird, and, by the time you do it, I’m already down the road.
  2. Nothing about my purpose has changed.
I Thought It Was Just Me, Braving the Wilderness, and Dare to Lead

In I Thought It Was Just Me, I wrote about protesting as a powerful form of activism and the relationships between white and straight privilege, shame, and oppression. In Braving the Wilderness, I explained my support for Black Lives Matter and why, as someone who was raised in a hunting family, I think the National Rifle Association’s efforts to radicalize gun owners around race is the worst thing to happen to this country.

In Dare to Lead, I wrote about my experiences spending the past 10 years in organizations working with leaders—from Pixar to U.S. military special forces. I also shared the findings from a seven-year study of courageous leadership where I compared the differences between armored, fear-based leadership and daring leadership.

In every book, interview, and post, I have not changed my beliefs about love and lovelessness. Not ever. Twenty-five years ago, I left UT Austin after completing my bachelor’s degree in social work to get my master’s at the University of Houston because they had the only “Political Social Work” concentration in the country.

In Texas they say that the only thing in the middle is white stripes and dead armadillos. You can add me to that list along with a shitload of other people who you probably don’t hear from very often. I’m politically moderate with centrist leanings. It’s definitely the wilderness in the middle. I’ve pissed off the far right and the far left—both can be punishing in their attacks.

But my purpose has not changed. The data have taught me more about myself and where I need to grow, learn, and unlearn in order to live into love, but my purpose has not changed.

While I have a political identity, my work does not. The concepts and constructs I study, including vulnerability, courage, trust, and shame, are not bendable and elastic. If you’ve found a way to reconcile my work with your support for the Trump administration, you have bankrupted the research for your own agenda. And if you’re wondering if I believe that the left has the corner on the wholehearted market, the answer is no. The work is apolitical. I will say, however, that I’ve never seen anyone in my lifetime—Republican, Democrat, or Independent—who has leveraged fear, shame, and dehumanization to divide our country like Donald Trump has.

Of all the behaviors that stand in direct conflict with my work, one of the most egregious is bullying. While holding the highest office in our country, Trump has continued to use his power to belittle and torment people. Women, Black people, Indigenous people, people with disabilities, trans people, immigrants, Muslims, poor people, sick people—the list goes on. I will not stop speaking out while this is happening. We can’t believe that the playground is safe just because the bully is picking on someone else. We all know that the playground isn’t safe for any of us until it’s safe for all of us.

I absolutely do not understand how someone could read and understand my work and think that I would have any tolerance for the Trump administration’s blatant disregard for science and their full-throated support of white supremacy, dehumanization, and fear-mongering. Not only are the policies supported by this administration and the behaviors of individuals in this administration in direct conflict with the data I’ve collected on courage, vulnerability, integrity, and love, but the shame, division, and violence inflicted and incited by Trump are in direct conflict with my belief that we are all God’s children. Leveraging fear and hatred are unholy acts.

Chadwick Boseman ended his commencement speech at Howard University by inspiring graduates to press on with purpose and offering God’s blessings. I’m going to take that glorious advice and press on with purpose. And if we’re still riding together—wonderful. I love our wholehearted community, and I’m grateful for what we’ve created. If not, that’s OK too. Either way—blessings to you.

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