When I was 10 years old, I used to love it when the mail came. I’d run to the mailbox, hoping to find my magazines inside. If one came, I’d run to my room, sit down at my desk while listening to Whitney Houston’s new album on a cassette tape (yes, I’m old). I’d put my weekly allowance into the little white envelopes that were stapled in the back fold of the Amnesty International Magazine. Every time I asked my parents for a stamp they looked at me like I was from outer space. I once wrote a letter to Greenpeace. I wanted to work for them. It was all I wanted to do in life. I wrote quite a poignant argument stating why they should hire me, if not as a 10-year old, then prospectively as an adult. Sadly, I never heard back from them. I’m still kind of pissed. Anyway, my point is, I knew back then what really moved me. I wanted to make the world a better place. Injustice really bugged me. Slavery really made me mad. Environmental pollution? Grrrr. My purpose was clear to me: I needed to do something about the crap in the world.
Let’s fast-forward to my post-collegiate days: I got a German degree with a minor in international relations, and then an MBA, and began my work as a management consultant. I worked like crazy trying to make money for other people so they could finance their Porsches. Not quite what I set out to do, right? Rewinding a few years, when I was about 18 years old, I had decided to study music. My parents were not thrilled. “Study business. You’ll never get a job with music,” my dad said. I also sat my parents down and told them that I wanted to join the Peace Corps. They laughed. Loudly. I never joined the Peace Corps (but still check out their website regularly for job opportunities for future retirees). And that’s ok. They’re entitled to their own opinion. Do you want to know what the real tragedy was? I listened to them. It took me until I was in my 30’s to finally realize and accept my passions. It took a lot of work to find it again. I had stuffed that part of me so deep down inside that I couldn’t find it anymore. I think many of us have similar experiences. And maybe some of you still haven’t found that little spark that makes you feel ALIVE. Here are the things that helped me find my true purpose.
I listened to the nagging voice inside of me. I had a voice that kept making me feel unhappy. It wasn’t really an actual voice; it was more like a nagging feeling of dissatisfaction and frustration. But for the sake of simplicity I’ll call it a voice. I ignored that voice for so many years. In fact, I told myself that I was just an unhappy person and I’ll never change. I told myself that my feeling of emptiness was only because my homesickness (because I live in Germany and they are in the USA). I told myself that if I just bought more things, I’d be happier. At some point in time, I realized that my yucky feeling inside was because I hadn’t been doing what I was supposed to be doing. I had missed my calling. After mourning that realization, I pulled myself up, and set my mind to finding out what made me feel alive and passionate.
I wrote my “morning pages” everyday. I found a book called “The Artist’s Way” by accident on Amazon. I highly recommend it! It is not just for artists, by the way. One cornerstone of the author’s concept is to write 3 handwritten pages every morning, before you do anything else. Sit down and write whatever comes to your head. If all you can think about is, “I don’t know what to write”, then keep writing that over and over until you’ve reached 3 pages (I guarantee if you keep going you’ll start to write some pretty interesting insights that have been hiding in your head). The key is to write everything that is going through your head during that time. It’s like taking out the trash for your brain! If you stick to it, you will begin to become very clear about what’s going on in your head. You’ll start to notice something quite fabulous: About halfway through (about 1.5 pages) writing your morning pages, awesome insights will pop out of nowhere. Just keep writing. I know it sounds weird but it really works! I have given this book to several friends who have felt “stuck” in a rut, and they all have come back to me with nothing but praise. It works! Try it!
I let myself try things out. I live in a culture where most people see life in a linear way. You don’t switch studies. You don’t go back to school when you’re 35, especially if you’ve already gotten a degree. You do not do a 180. You choose your path, and stick to it. Period. There are always exceptions, but this seems to be the general rule of thumb. Regardless, I think many people in all cultures often feel afraid to try new things out. They don’t want to fail. They don’t want other people talking behind their backs. They don’t want their résumé to look disoriented. I went back to school to study psychology. It fits perfectly with my own passions. I’m good at it. I LOVE it! I actually hid the fact that I was studying from everyone but my own husband because I was afraid what everyone would think. After a couple semesters I told people. Do you know why? I felt comfortable myself with the choice I had made. That is the ONLY thing that matters. And I continue to tell myself that my résumé will make total sense at the end of my life.
I had a partner who accepted my soul search. I also think it was important that my husband supported my search. He always knew that I wasn’t living up to my potential and he supported it. When I had to study on the weekends, he took the kids to the swimming pool. I couldn’t have done that without him. When I felt like quitting, or I asked him whether he thought I was being childish for thinking I could start over at my age, he always said, “No! Keep it up. It’s what you should do.” I think having at least one important person in your life support you is almost as important as believing in yourself.
I kept it all a secret until I knew. Like I mentioned, I didn’t tell anyone about my studies for a while. I also never talked much about my “search” for my purpose. If I had, I might have gotten all kinds of opinions—whether well intended ones or not—and I might have started listening to other people instead of my own inner voice. I forced myself to linger all alone in this often-uncomfortable state until I knew for sure. I continued to tell myself that I was the only one who could figure it out.
I meditate. Meditation can shut up that inner critic who tells you how dumb you are for thinking you could change things. It quiets that inner voice that says it would be too hard to do. Meditation stifles the inner voice that keeps telling you that it matters what other people might think. Brain studies have shown that meditation truly changes your brain. If you meditate regularly, you can literally become better at controlling your thoughts. In this case, you can more easily control those negative, counterproductive thoughts and focus on the ones that are speaking your truth.
I went to a coach. Since I wasn’t talking to anyone else about it (for good reason), I decided I needed to talk to someone about it. What better person than a completely neutral individual, who just happens to be trained in helping others figure themselves out? It’s awesome. It is not a cure-all solution, but it does help clear your head and structure your issues. I think everyone should do it before they apply for college or further educational path.
I accepted the fact that only I know what’s best for me. It is so easy to let yourself get distracted by everyone else in the world. I cared so much what everyone was thinking, partly because I truly thought it mattered what certain people thought. But also because it effectively distracted me from simply biting the bullet and working hard towards my goals. Furthermore, caring about what other people think puts the responsibility on their shoulders. By refusing to care what other people thought, I finally took full responsibility for my own future and myself. It was both scary and cathartic, and it was the key to finding what I really loved.
These are just a few things you can do to find your inner truth and start living a life of passion. When you are aligned with your own innate skills and qualities, you will feel lighter. You will feel energized. Try spending a little bit of time doing something that truly makes you excited. And if you’re not sure what it is, don’t be afraid to find it. Don’t freakin’ care what other people think! Life is too short to just exist. I am sure that those of you who have found their spark, their inner purpose, will attest that it gives you an energy boost, which is close to that feeling you get when you’re in love for the first time. Butterflies and heart flutters!
If you would like to share your own story of how you found your spark, I’d love to hear it in the comments section down below!