About this time two years ago, I sat staring at myself in the mirror. All I saw was failure.
And for the first time in a long while, I cried.
All I could think about was having to get up the next morning and force myself through another day. Force myself to put on a smile and pretend to be happy. Force myself to act like everything was moving in the right direction.
I’d been putting on this façade for months by this point.
My professional career was in a great place, my finances were the best they’d been in a long while, and I felt like I was doing okay by a lot of people.
Yet I felt stuck, broken on the inside, and like I was massively holding something back in terms of what I had to offer the world.
And in that tear-filled moment with the mirror, I knew I had to let go of the career and life I had worked so hard to for.
I spent the next year trying to work out what the hell was going on. I suppose you could say I was trying to find myself, but the cliché-ridden nature of those words makes me cringe even now. So I prefer to say “working my sh*t out.”
I took as much time as practically could as a wife and mother and daughter and executive to step back, I traveled, sought connection, read, listened to podcasts, and dug deep into my soul for answers to questions I had previously written off as too time wasting for me to deal with.
But a key question that kept coming up for me was “what is my purpose?”
I would muse on this for days, weeks, and months at a time, desperately trying to figure out the answer and looking for some Eureka moment.
Almost every book I read, every podcast that I listened to, and every video I watched all seemed to keep coming back to this question in some roundabout way. Each moment of consumption giving me more information on systems, steps, and questions to find out what my purpose is on this earth and what I am “here to do.”
I became obsessed.
And in that obsession I created confusion.
Who was I? What did I want to start? What did I want to talk about? How could I help and serve others without draining my own life force?
Even while spending time connecting with others and trying to figure my own stuff out, I still felt completely lost. Like I was simply shuffling through life with a black hole continually expanding inside of me.
I would dive into things headfirst and keep them going for a few weeks before deciding I was on the wrong path. Some idea would catch my eye and I’d take steps forward before getting bored and slacking off.
Until one day I had what I lovingly like to call a “f*ck it” moment.
I just couldn’t take any more listening to other people tell me how to find this purpose thing that was supposed to be so great.
I’d gone from never thinking about my purpose, to being obsessed with finding it, to just getting fed up with it all. In fact, I was pissed off that all these other people seemed to be living “in line with their purpose” while I was left stuck and still asking questions.
It was like when you’re a kid and your weird uncle does that crappy magic trick, and you just want him to tell you how he did it so you can stop trying to figure it out and get on with your life.
Then almost as soon as I gave up trying so hard, things became a lot clearer.
And I started to realize what a poor, vague, nothing kind of question it is to ask “what is your purpose?”
Because, when it really comes down to it, we as human beings all have just one, universal purpose.
Think about it. We create thoughts and knowledge and content and books and podcasts and TV programs and websites and furniture and iPhones and apps to go on those iPhones and other phones to rival those iPhones and slightly bigger iPhones we call iPads and all sorts of other inventions and relationships and businesses and lives for ourselves.
We even create other human beings!
But we also create fear and negativity and judgment and perfectionism and evil and other bad stuff.
So “What is my purpose?” is actually a pretty poor question when it comes to the kind of answer most of us are really looking for. The answer to that is simply to create.
This brought a huge perspective shift for me. All of a sudden, I stopped asking myself the same question over and over again and expecting a different answer every time.
Now I had a new question: What did I want to create?
Screw purpose! Screw this elusive, intangible, nothing of a question. What did I want to create? And I mean really want to create?
No longer did I feel like I had to find this one thing that I was put on this earth to do. No longer was I searching for this magic moment that would give me a sign that I should definitively label myself as this or that.
All I had to start doing was creating something, anything, several things that would make me feel purposeful.
But this then posed another problem.
What did I want to create?
It’s all well and good saying to go create something, but if you don’t know what or how then it’s still meaningless. Surely, if we truly want to feel purposeful, we must know ourselves first.
So I took a deep internal dive again. Only this time, with this new angle to my questioning at the helm.
I wanted to look deep into the depths of my heart and soul in order to find out what was really in there. To peel back all the pretending, all the bravado, and all the BS so I could just know what was really going on in there.
I asked myself about my beliefs, my fears, what I love, what makes me feel passionate, what doesn’t, my strengths, my weaknesses, and what I would say to the world if I had everyone’s attention for just fifteen minutes.
I wrote everything down, even if it was uncomfortable. And I didn’t settle for superficial, meaningless answers.
But the biggest thing of all, the thing that opened my eyes the most, was getting clear on my values.
Our values are the very essence of who we are as individuals. They are what guide us when it comes to making decisions so that we don’t end up feeling like a tangled mess inside. And they act as our inner compass when it comes to what we should create and put into this world.
So the act of creating something that made me feel purposeful became rather straightforward.
What knowledge or skills or expertise do I have in my head and heart? What do I love? And how can I bring all this together to create something that helps and serves others?
Suddenly, discovering “my purpose” became inconsequential.
Why do we need this one, single purpose? The real answer we want to that question, the feeling we want to garner, comes from creating purposeful and meaningful things. Things that make us feel like we are adding to the world and like we are helping in some way.
But we can only know what we class as “meaningful” and “purposeful” if we take the time to discover ourselves and know who we are.
So, if you’re like me and have struggled, or are struggling, with this whole purpose thing, I invite you to just give up looking. Instead, try going deep with yourself on two questions:
1. Who am I?
2. What do I want to create?
Maybe shifting your perspective like this can help get you unstuck, as it did with me.
And it may enable you to go and create something truly meaningful, whichever way you define that yourself.
Now, I know there may be some people out there to whom this all seems a bit over the top, or maybe even irrelevant.
We all have jobs or businesses to focus on, bills to pay, families to feed, and general life stuff going on. Thinking about all the bother of creating this big, elaborate, purposeful thing may be pretty close to bottom of the to-do list for a lot of people.
But that’s the thing—it doesn’t need to be a big, elaborate thing. You could choose to create happiness, or connection, or laughter, for example.
Sure, you could create a billion-dollar company, an international movement, or a charity helping millions of people. Or you could create joy by volunteering at a children’s hospital, or by making it your personal mission to lift other people’s spirits when they’re feeling down.
We don’t need to go into this with an attitude of having to create something huge and entrepreneurial if we don’t want to.
We can garner that feeling in smaller, yet equally as significant, ways.
Simply bringing ourselves to the present moment and asking “What can I create right now that would make me feel purposeful and meaningful?” can be pretty powerful.
Start small. And maybe you’ll get hooked from there.
Because, after all, we are all worthy of feeling purposeful. We just need to decide what this looks like to us.
See you on the sand on Sunday. xo Shelly