Alex Tom is executive director of the Chinese Progressive Association and a 2016-2017 National Yearlong Leading From The Inside Out Fellow. This post originally appeared on Diary Of A Baba, his blog about fatherhood, parenting, and politics.
Yesterday, I woke up at 4 AM to get ready for my flight to San Diego. This is on top of traveling to New York and New Orleans the past two weeks. It’s all important and inspiring work, but I need to keep coming back to my purpose.
That morning was another test. As I was on my mission to leave the house, Collin yells, “I want baba!! I want baba!!” I tried to prepare him the night before that I was leaving (again), and he was not having it. He was also super itchy and irritable with a bunch of random bug bites. My guilt kicked in, I rolled my eyes a bit, but I then took a deep breath because I knew I needed to be present for this transition before making my exit.
“BREATHE,” I tell myself and I do.
I also had to come up with something quick. I told him that I was going to San Diego, and that I would make a video of all the planes at the airport. He stopped crying immediately and his face lit up. He started talking about the airport and going to Vietnam (mind you, he is still not fully awake; it was almost 5 AM). I asked him if he could wait to watch the video when I come home at night. I also requested for him to be “nice” to mama and grandma and he said, “Yes.”
Instead of trying to get out of the house, my purpose for those few minutes was to be HELLA present and true to him during this transition and I was. Collin teaches me how to stay on point everyday. And YES I made that video!
As organizers, we are trained (sometimes over-trained) on having a process. Sometimes we have rigid and automated responses to situations. I’m guilty of this, too. How to make a meeting agenda, how to do a workshop, how to analyze and deconstruct, how to respond in a campaign. No doubt these are still important skill sets, but often, we are stuck in processes and/or our own ways that drift from our purpose.
Imagine a one-month process that could be done in two days, or even a few minutes. Imagine winning a campaign by changing tactics because you centered your purpose.
We want to be purposeful AND nimble at the same time. This is not easy, but is actually the task.
Of course, sometimes the purpose IS to have an intentional process because there is not enough trust. Many movement folks call this moving at the “speed of trust.” Some like to POP (Purpose, Outcome, Process) everything!
Sometimes though, we have everything we need. Like Bruce Lee used to say, “The answer is within us.” For example, when conflicts emerge, a direct and courageous conversation may be more effective than anything else. And based on the trust built, this could be even more powerful.
In the end, my purpose is to be a “BOLD, PRESENT, BABA” in all parts of my life. You (and your trusted circle) have the best understanding of your purpose.
So yes, Purpose over process. Purpose over everything.
How do you practice staying on purpose?
PS: Here is the video of the plane taking off in Oakland and landing in San Diego. When I got home that night at 11 pm, Collin woke up and Mychi, Collin and I watched it together. Hope you enjoy!
(Video of planes at 5 am at Oakland airport taking off, shots from the inside the plane while taking off, the clouds, and then landing in San Diego.)
Little Collin is so lucky to have a dad like Alex who is so caring not only for his son, but also for the community & other oppressed people.
I loved the video (esp the sleep-deprived narration and the guy in the hat photo-bombing) and how Alex seems to find such profound TEACHING MOMENTS also not just for Collin, but for himself and other parents struggling with our own children 👶🏿 our own parenting challenges.