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Three words can guide a life.

I struggle with keeping up. I don’t mean consuming the so-called “news” that has devolved into a virtual K-Mart ad brochure of disconnected events, product offers and disempowering clutter. I mean organizing my day so it’s the most productive and peaceful it can be.

I find myself thinking back to grad school days in Stockholm, Sweden. It was a pre-internet world where landlines, paper, pens and stamps were part of our lives.

I was in an English-speaking international program at Stockholm University focused on the social sciences and had an inspiring instructor from India teaching the course on mass media and propaganda. After one of his earlier lectures I made an appointment to see him during his office hours. I don’t remember much about our conversation except that what started as a dialogue on where I might focus my studies, ended up being an intense conversation about the complexities of the world and creating a life of meaning within it.

When I left his office I pulled out my journal to write down his key points. My brain was whirling with words and images but my hand would only write down three words: Purity. Clarity. Purpose.

When I got back to my dorm room I looked closely at my journal and thought, “That entire conservation with one of the most brilliant professors I have ever encountered and all I write is this? Purity. Clarity. Purpose.”

What about all the course objectives, communication theories, recommended research, or a working hypothesis to guide my studies abroad? Did the professor even say these three words?

Over the weeks I spent time thinking deeply about the conversation and how it distilled down to three simple words. In later journal entries I would create definitions that resonated with me.

Purity would become freedom from anything that pollutes. The concept evolved into freedom from toxic people, substances, activities, thoughts and places. (I’m a work-in-progress with this noble goal.)

Clarity was about avoiding delusion. The concept would guide my career as a communicator, writer, illustrator and facilitator, bringing clarity to a situation, a problem to be solved, and helping people see what is really happening.

Purpose meant I had clear intentions, a way to guide my daily activities and set my goals. This evolved into seeking a life (and livelihood) where I can achieve community work that’s measurable and meaningful.

Many decades later, amid our world of colliding crises, I can tell you that the three words have guided me through the best and worst of times. The AIDS epidemic in San Francisco. Watching the towers fall on 9/11 from the sidewalk in Manhattan. Working to end adverse childhood experiences, family trauma, social adversity, benign neglect and injustice. It’s a long list and getting longer with our nation’s complete incapacity—and unwillingness— to address the pandemic and economic free fall.

When I find myself overwhelmed and wanting to disengage, I have my mantra. Purity. Clarity. Purpose. Just saying the words has a calming effect, bringing a sense of empowerment so the work can continue.

Consider one small exercise. If you were to sum of your life philosophy, inventing three words to live by, what might they be?

*The future is what we make it. Join the evolution.

Please excuse any typos as I construct an article at 3am on only one cup of Joe. These stories are mine and mine alone. I do not represent any organization here. If one of my illustrations looks like a real human or three-headed hydra, that’s total coincidence. Words and images ©Dominic Cappello but share with everyone you know. Questions? The Plan Forward awaits you here:

A NY Times bestselling author, social justice activist, Oprah guest, co-author of Attack of the Three-Headed Hydras, 100% Community and Anna, Age Eight.

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