Chatting to many different friends recently (we’re all firmly in mid-life) I was struck at how much the pandemic had fast forwarded a need for change. It’s like long held hopes and dreams that had always been comfortably held somewhere in the future had suddenly burst forward into the here and now and become much more urgent.
We’ve been talking about moving to the sea for a simpler life. Travelling to places we’ve had on the bucket list but never got round to going to. Of doing humanitarian work. Contributing to saving the planet. Doing a job we actually like.
Not one person said they wanted to get a promotion or earn more money. It was all about purpose.
They were burning out and having one of those “life’s too short” moments.
When I talk about burnout, I always say it’s not just the physical symptoms of stress and exhaustion that need dealing with. The real cause is a deep sense of unfulfillment – a lack of purpose in life. The need to feel like you’re making a difference in the world. That you matter. That you stand for something bigger than yourself. That you are truly living.
Unfortunately, most of us spend so long trying to be someone else and living by someone else’s rules that we run out of time to do the things we really wanted to do. Conditioned by the past, fearful to be who we really are. And sometimes, a victim of our own “success”. How many of you feel stuck in careers you don’t like anymore because you have done well to get where you are and you’re worried you’ll never be able to do anything else?
The pandemic has forced all of us to take a good look at how we’re living. And for a lot of us, it aint pretty!
“Purpose – how you use your experiences, talents and passions to better the lives of those around you.”I Peterson
I’m often asked how do you know what your purpose is? How do you find that “thing” you’re meant to do? How can you get off that hamster wheel you’ve created for yourself?
If you created it you can create something else. But you need self-belief, and a will to start with the smallest step. Or if you’re brave, a big leap!
And how can you start to discover your talents and passions? The clues are often in your past.
What did you enjoy doing as a child? What were your natural talents? When did you feel in flow?
For me, I always had a love of ancient history. I was fascinated with Egypt and dreamed of being an archeologist, with visions of being out in the desert discovering a new tomb or some ancient bones. I loved Greek mythology and Latin classes. I always thought there was so much the ancients understood that we seemed to have lost connection with. Translating ancient stories from the past and understanding where our modern words came from was fun to me.
I always wanted to be in charge. School frustrated me because I was being told what to learn and how to learn it. My mind was too curious for school. Funny that, I’m sure that was the original intention for education, to tap into innate curiosity and a desire to learn. But now it’s become more about the school, ratings and money than teaching kids how life works and letting them be the best version of their unique selves.
I was a great listener, and loved helping people work through their problems so they could have a better life and tap into their own amazing potential.
I set up clubs for my friends, organized tours and made matching stationery for everyone. I wrote stories, poems, and painted pictures of the countryside.
So how did that translate into my life now?
I’ve created a growing coaching and therapy business. A membership club for women who want to make a change in their life or set up a business. I blog, write poems, create courses. I’m on a mission to educate people on how the mind works and how to create a life they’ll love. I study ancient philosophy and healing practices. And I have a lot of matching stationery. Obvs.
If I’m making it sound like it’s been easy for me, that I just segued out of childhood into an adult life filled with my passions and dreams, then know that couldn’t be further from the truth.
As soon as I got a job my childhood dreams stopped. I was earning money, so that meant I was on the road to success.
Fast forward to 2013 and I’m having a breakdown. Yes I was exhausted. Yes I was stressed. But at the heart of it was a lack of purpose. It didn’t fulfil me anymore. My creativity had long disappeared and with that my passions, hobbies and enthusiasm for life.
The biggest mistake people make is to seek answers “out there”. To believe external circumstances are in charge of their life and therefore they must stay on the hamster wheel and wait for something to change. Maybe they’ll get redundancy or win the lottery. Maybe a miracle will happen and they’ll suddenly find themselves.
Well that’s probably not gonna happen. Because you have to look inside to find the answers. They’re there. You just lost them or are actually too afraid to listen to that little voice that’s screaming out telling you what you already know.
And the biggest fear? That you are responsible for your own life. Sometimes it’s easier to go along with the charade that life is what it is and you’re just a helpless victim of what fate has in store for you.
That’s not meant to upset you. Life is hard and to be honest the hand I’ve been dealt over the last few years makes me question what I’ve done wrong in a past life!
But you can either settle for what you have or create something different.
So where do you start?
Here’s 4 things you can do to start to re-discover yourself, your passions and your purpose.
Finding Your Passions
Start by going back to your childhood. What did you enjoy doing as a child? What were your natural talents? If you spent your time doing one thing what was it?
What did you let go of in order to enter the adult world of success? What “shoulds” started to replace the “wants”. Who’s beliefs did you have to take on in order to make a go of your life?
We all start our as shiny diamonds of potential. But at some point it gets eroded or dulled down by other people’s beliefs and opinions, societal pressures, a need to make money, to get on the housing ladder, to be successful.
Make a list. Start a journal. Push past those thoughts of “I don’t know what I want to do”. Just make an unedited list. Don’t judge. Don’t start working out how you can make money out of it. Just get it out.
Be Your 7 Year Old Self
This is the only time I’ll suggest you do this. Mostly I talk about how your 7 year old self is running your life and that’s not a good idea. But for this, you’re allowed!
Kids have an ability to ask the most obvious questions. And “why” is one of their favourites Because if an adult is unhappy, to a kid it’s obvious they just need to do something different!
So imagine you’re that 7 year old you, full of hopes and dreams about the future. With that innocence and curiosity of a child, look at your adult self and ask:
Are you happy? Why?
Why did you stop doing the things you enjoy?
Why won’t you change it?
Work Out What’s Stopping You
Really. Not the usual excuses. Some of them may be valid of course, but often it’s limiting beliefs and a fear of the unknown.
Here’s some questions to help you do that more honestly:
If you did have time what would you do?
If money was no object what would you do?
If you believed you were good enough/deserving what would you do?
Start Living More On Purpose
You don’t have to ditch your whole life and start again. You don’t have to save the world.
Someone I know has finally felt ready to get a new dog after losing her beloved companion because she remembered she found purpose in morning walks on the beach and connecting with other dog walkers. To her, this simple pleasure had been missing for too long.
What could you do right now to bring more joy into your life? To make more time for your passions?
It may not be possible for you to find your sense of purpose in your job. But where can you get it from? A hobby? A side hustle? Volunteering?
What small changes can you make in your life right now? Prioritise it. Prioritise yourself.
“Be happy with what you have, while working on what you want”Helen Keller
I feel more “on purpose” than I have before but I was surprised at how much this has been changing along the way. Some things work well, others don’t. Sometimes what I thought would make me happy has not. And vice versa.
Purpose evolves over time. Keep doing the inner work and your outer world will start to change.
And you might not get from A to B as quickly as you’d like, but isn’t it better to know you’ve started your journey to get there?