What is your life’s purpose?
My life’s purpose is to help others, regardless of age, to learn through their experiences how to find passion and purpose beyond themselves.
How are you living your purpose?
As someone who is committed to lifelong learning, I am passionate about helping people understand the many options they have for growth and change. I believe this starts at an early age and continues for the rest of our lives so it does not matter how old you are or where you are or who you are. I like to connect people to the best version of themselves that they can imagine; whether they do that through introspection, reading and writing, relationships, or their chosen work, they need to know that they have opportunities that they have yet to discover. It’s a process of exploration, reflection, contemplation, consideration, and making choices.
Regardless of family background or where you came from, regardless of economics or social standing, regardless of race, religion, national origin, or sexual identity and preferences, you can aspire to goals that you might have thought previously unreachable. You might call it maximizing your human potential or you can give it any name you want. What you call it is not as important as what you can do when you invest yourself in the growth process mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. That’s being all in.
My 50-year career has been primarily in education, including four years of university and seven years of graduate school. I remember being 48 years old and thinking that half my life had been spent in formal learning in a school of one kind or another. I also often worked outside of school while I went to school.
Much of my professional work has been teaching and leading at every level, K-12, college, and university, including graduate and post-graduate courses since 1962. I have also conducted numerous professional seminars and workshops around the topic of choosing where and how you invest yourself in your own work for the greatest returns. I also invested seven years as a psychotherapist and counselor in private practice.
Today I continue to teach, counsel, consult, coach, write and work with people and places that can benefit from my training and experience to advance their own goals and purpose. I do this in a number of different settings, virtually through the Internet, in person, in classrooms, conferences, and gatherings and through personal contacts and conversations.
How did you find your purpose?
I suppose it goes back many years when I discovered that I loved learning, not only in school, but also from life experiences that included working from an early age. This continues to be a work in progress.
My first seven jobs, starting at age 10, were: pin setter in a bowling alley, berry picker, door-to-door salesman (selling small cans of Renuzit spot remover), railroad laborer at age 15 (working on the tracks), lifeguard, construction worker, and bus driver. I could add a few more such as being a grease monkey at a car dealer on Saturdays, putting Christmas decorations together for a small city, and working on farms feeding animals, making hay and putting it up in a barn, spreading manure and driving tractors and trucks.
I discovered that there is a difference between work that reflects your passion, that which you care about the most, and a job which may be more of an occupation. It may also be the difference between an occupation and a vocation. In other words, ask yourself: What is it that calls to you at the deepest parts of who you are? If you follow that, then what you do will be because of who you are-rather than who you are being defined by what you do. I found that it can be life-changing to discover the difference. I have been fortunate to do what I love and to love what I do. Sometimes you have a job or jobs to do in order to get to the real work.
As Joseph Campbell puts it so well in The Power of Myth, “If you follow your bliss, you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. Wherever you are, if you are following your bliss, you are enjoying that refreshment, that life within you, all the time.”
There is also, as Campbell reminds us, a sacred quality to that kind of life. To follow through on that source, the conversations between Bill Moyers and Joseph Campbell are, from my perspective, inspirational. I talked with Bill Moyers about that one time and told him I thought he was a very good scholar and teacher. His response to me was, “No, I am the student/learner.” That was a Eureka moment for me because I knew I was then—and still am and will always be—the student/learner.
What advice do you have for purpose seekers?
I don’t generally give advice. There are two reasons for that: If I am right and it works, the credit doesn’t belong to me. If I’m wrong and it doesn’t work, it’s not my fault. So, what do I do?
I talk with people (and organizations of people) and see what might be blocking them from discovering “passion and purpose beyond themselves,” and then together we figure out ways to take a different path. Or, I might suggest taking time to ask some penetrating and probing questions that can clarify the issues and connect people to untapped resources that could be readily available. The big questions are, often, what kinds of changes do you seek and, of course, why?
I am a big proponent of planned change whenever possible, taking specific steps to ensure that the most effective and successful change is implemented. When change is precipitated by unplanned external factors, the response to the experience may need additional support and guidance in order to embrace change in the best possible way. In addition to crisis management, there are numerous other responses available. It may sound obvious to say, but why not design the change you want?
The change you desire may seem similar to others’ but each person and each organization is unique because each has a different history, varying personalities, and specific cultures. Therefore, your approach needs to be unique to you and your specific and particular situation.
What resources do you recommend?
My own book list goes back to Dag Hammarskjold’s Markings which was really a kind of literary journal that inspired me for several years. And, if I go back further, there was a poem my mother read to me at bedtime by Eugene Field called, “Wynken, Blynken and Nod” and I believe that became so ingrained in me, going to sleep, that my mission became to respond creatively to where I am going and what I wish to have happen in my life. It’s the place where dreams are born and nothing ever happened unless it was first a dream.
I had the benefit of being influenced by some giants in the field of theology, Paul Tillich, Karl Barth, Reinhold Niebuhr, Martin Niemoller, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and two professors of homiletics named Paul Scherer and George Buttrick. Then I met Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968, about a month before he was shot and killed. That was a redefining year for me.
So back to school again and I learned from the writings of Carl Jung, Felix Adler, Albert Ellis, and Carl Rogers. More recently, my book list has included Louise Erdrich, Wendell Berry, Paulo Coelho, Fred Beuchner, Barbara Kingsolver, Oliver Sacks, Malcolm Gladwell, Daniel Pink, Anne Lamott, Atul Gawande, David McCulloch and Tom Friedman. Tom Peters remains a guiding light in the field of leadership and management.
I am currently reading The Remarkable Ordinary: How to Stop, Look, and Listen to Life, a recent work by Fred Beuchner and It Won’t Be Easy: An Exceedingly Honest (and Slightly Unprofessional) Love Letter to Teaching, by Tom Rademacher. I read The New Yorker magazine regularly although no longer cover to cover as in earlier days, more selectively now. And when I see articles of interest in major newspapers such as the New York Times, I usually gain something from those.
I also listen to audio books when traveling and a couple of those that have been very engaging are The Last Days of Night by Graham Moore, a historical novel about Edison, Westinghouse, Tesla, and a lawyer named Paul Cravath. Fascinating. Another one was The Island at the Center of the World: The Epic Story of Dutch Manhattan and the Forgotten Colony That Shaped America by Russell Shorto; it’s all about the beginning of New York City. And then there was, for pure entertainment value, a poignant book, A Man Called Ove: A Novel by Fredrik Backman. It became a movie and as in most cases, the book was better than the movie, at least for me. I tend to like what goes on in my mind better than what I might see on the big screen.
TEDTalks that are specific to your interests are usually worth 18 minutes, and along with gazillions of others, I have found those by Ken Robinson, Brené Brown, Simon Sinek, Tony Robbins, and Sheryl Sandberg most interesting.
The Center for Courage and Renewal is worth a look, based on the work of Parker Palmer. I think of it as a “heart-centered” kind of program. I love the idea and the experience of “courage” and “renewal.” The Center for Creative Leadership, based in North Carolina, also does some very good work.
There is a plethora of personal retreat centers designed to help people focus on their core values, beliefs and practices. I found a couple of Benedictine monasteries good places for that kind of activity. I was led to one of those by Scott Peck, the author of The Road Less Traveled: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values and Spiritual Growth. He told me about a place deep in the woods in Nova Scotia called Nova Nada; while it’s no longer run by the Benedictine monks, it’s still a personal retreat center called Birchdale Lake. It is described as a peaceful getaway and that it is.
The word “Center” reminds me of a book I want to include by someone, now gone from us, called Centering in Pottery, Poetry, and the Person by M.C. Richards. M.C. became a friend just before she moved to the Camp Hill Village at Kimberton Hills, Pennsylvania, where I took a pottery class from her. I keep saying I will get to pottery some day but as yet, that hasn’t happened. I will, eventually, get back to clay one way or another. Life is indeed grand.
Connect with Gary Gruber
Seven Decades: A Learning Memoir
Your Child, Your Choice: Finding the Right School for Your Child
Dr. Gary Gruber has served in leadership roles for many years. He has taught in middle school, high school, college and university settings, and co-authored a book Understanding & Enjoying Adolescence (1988). He has also published two recent ones, Seven Decades: A Learning Memoir (2013) and Your Child, Your Choice: Finding the Right School for Your Child.”(2014). He currently has another one, Pearls From An Irritated Mind in the works. He is sometimes confused with the other Dr. Gary R. Gruber, the SAT guru and ironically, this Dr. Gary Gruber is actually opposed to most standardized testing, as well as labeling, categorizing, and boxing people by scores or diagnoses.
Gary grew up, or as he says, got older, in a small town in western Ohio, and graduated with degrees from Miami University, Princeton Seminary, and Penn State University. After being on the staff of two churches, one in New Jersey and another in Michigan, he returned to graduate school for the second time to earn two more advanced degrees. After seven years as a counselor and psychotherapist in Pennsylvania, he served as a chaplain, coach, counselor, teacher, and Department Head of Behavior and Ethics at Choate Rosemary Hall in Connecticut. He was the Head of School at The Shipley School in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, from 1985 to 1992, and was the founding head of Bosque School in Albuquerque starting in 1994, where he was more recently the Interim Head of School during the 2010-11 school year.
Gary was the founding Board Chair of Monte del Sol School in Santa Fe and for 19 years he has been a consultant and adviser to individuals, schools, and non-profit organizations in the United States and abroad. Gary spent two years (2007-09) as the Interim Principal at the American School in London and fulfilled three other interim assignments in Princeton, New Jersey, Hershey, and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. In November of 2015, he facilitated a workshop in Barcelona for the European Council of International Schools and in January of 2016, conducted a similar workshop in London.
As the founder of a non-profit organization, the Southwest Institute for Educational Research and Professional Teacher Development, Gary was instrumental in that entity evolving into The Santa Fe Leadership Center. That consulting group merged with “Leading is Learning” to produce the current organization known as Leadership and Design. He served on the original boards of all three groups and is currently one of the collaborators for Leadership and Design. He has been active in The Santa Fe Seminar each November under the auspices of Leadership and Design.
Gary continues to be an active teacher, coach and consultant in the area of transition management, a description of which may be found on his website. He also keeps a fairly active blog there, with 300+ entries since 2011.
Gary and his wife, Susan Richardson, a writer, live in northern California between Sacramento and Yosemite. They are the parents (and step-parents) of seven adult children and grandparents of fourteen grandchildren.
Personal interests include travel, reading, walking, writing, fishing, and other outdoor activities.
Gary sounds fascinating. What an astounding career. I can imagine that he’s a great teacher and coach.
Thanks, Rebecca. It has been and continues to be a fascinating journey and career. Whether or not I’m a great teacher and coach I must leave to the judgment of others. I appreciate your generous compliment and wish you the very best.