Are You Struggling to Find Your Purpose?

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Welcome to Good Enough Creative, a podcast for creative people.

Hi again! Welcome back. I’m your host, Marie Greene, and today we’re talking about purpose – we all have one, but not everyone knows how to tap into it. Where do you find it? And how do you know you’re on the right track?

The truth is – we can make a really big deal about figuring out our purpose. I mean – it feels like a big deal, right? It’s huge.

But what I’ve learned (and I’ll tell you how I learned this in a minute) is that sometimes we make things harder than they need to be. Someone I know and love had struggled to find their purpose – and I remember one conversation we had when they said, “I feel like I’ve been searching for a needle in the haystack. And now I’m realizing maybe my needle in the haystack IS the needle in the haystack.” And what they meant was that searching for their purpose had pretty much become their purpose.

So many of us are born with an innate curiosity to seek and know and develop to become the best version of ourselves possible. Tapping into your purpose so that you feel like your life is in alignment is one way to do that.

More than twenty years ago I was deep in the trenches of trying to start an online business. I look back now and realize how little I knew about what I was doing, but I was committed. I had developed a process called Live it UP (capital UP – an acronym which stood for Uncovering Purpose). I wrote an e-book, which I have no record of so I can’t even tell you what was in it, I built a website from scratch, and I taught workshops for an empowerment program with other facilitators. My specialty – you guessed it – was teaching professional people how to find their passion and their purpose. And I loved it. If my husband and I hadn’t moved out of state for him to go to school, I would probably still be doing that very thing.

I had used my own system that I created decades ago (and which I will summarize for you today) to determine that my purpose was this: to lead, inspire and create. And those three words – those core values that represent my purpose – have guided me and my decisions ever since.

I didn’t know at the time that – but just a decade later – I would start a knitting design business and build a community of like-minded, warm-hearted makers. I didn’t know that knitting would be the vehicle that led me to live my purpose in a bigger way. But it makes sense, doesn’t it? You can see how someone who had identified their purpose to lead, inspire and create would end up designing knitting patterns, teaching workshops, and leading a community of makers.

When I first started this podcast – I think in 2019 (but obviously I took a long break), my goal was to get back to that other part of my purpose that I knew wasn’t being fully realized in my regular daily work. I love knitting – don’t get me wrong. I love teaching it, I love designing and I love the connections I’ve built with my community. But I also felt a missing piece – do you know the kind of feeling I’m talking about? Even if you love what’s happening in your life, there’s just this sense that something is missing. I felt that. And starting this podcast was like finding a missing piece to the puzzle of my purpose. And the more I show up here, the more I feel that alignment. When you’re living your life on purpose (or in line with your purpose), you can feel it all the way down to your toes.

There are clues – hiding in plain sight – that can help you find clarity about what you’re here to do. Not knowing your purpose or feeling like you don’t have one is a lonely place to be. It’s like walking around with a missing piece.

Does everyone have a purpose? I think we do. And I don’t think anyone else gets to tell you what that is, but you.

So in today’s episode I want to walk you through the brief version of the process that I developed (at least what I remember of it) from way back when – for gaining clarity about your purpose.

First, write down at least 10 experiences, activities or ideas that you love, that make you feel the most like yourself. They don’t have to be groundbreaking – we’re looking for everyday things that are just totally YOU. Don’t worry if it feels inconsequential; just put it on the list. I’m going to share some examples so that you won’t censor yourself or leave off something that might seem irrelevant to you. These are the kinds of things that might make it onto your list but remember – this is your list and what I’m about to share are just examples of things to get you thinking. I’m just throwing some random things on here, but I’m going to show you how to take this list and distill it into some insights that you can use to identify your purpose.

So here’s our sample list:

  1. Creating a physical, tangible product. My best friend and I were just talking about this and so much of my work is digital and intangible, and we talked about how satisfying it is to be able to see the results of your effort in a tangible or quantifiable way.
  2. Attending conferences. Do you love it when you get the chance to attend a conference and hear from a variety of inspiring speakers?
  3. Work in your community. Do you love getting involved in local causes and organizations?
  4. Give handmade gifts to others.
  5. Teach a class for the local Girl Scouts or 4H group.
  6. Talk to people about your hobby/interests.
  7. Make lists and keep a calendar
  8. Read inspiring books
  9. Plan new projects
  10. Work in the garden

You can list more than 10 things – this list can be as long as you want to make it. But you’ll need at least 10 so you can look for patterns. If you want to pause this episode and work on your list and come back to it, go for it. And I’ll wait here. I also created a free download to go with this episode, which you can find on my podcast website at podcast.oliveknits.com/purpose and I’ve outlined this exercise and provided a list of words to get you started. That way if you’re listening to this on the road or on a walk, you can download the worksheets and do this later when you have time.

So… moving along, if you had to describe each thing on your list using just one word, what would it be? That might feel a little hard at first, but let me show you what I mean. We’ll go back through the sample list we just went over and identify one word to best describe each item.

Creating a physical, tangible product might be summarized with the word – Make

Attending conferences = Learn

Work in your community = Volunteer

Give handmade gifts to others = this one could be Make or it could be Give

Teach a class for a local group = Teach

Talk to people about your hobby = this could be Connect, Communicate, Share – you’ll know the word that fits you best

Make lists and keep a calendar = this one might be Plan or Organize

Read Inspiring Books = Learn

Plan new projects = Plan or Make

Work in the garden = Move or Grow

Once you’ve identified the words that summarize the things that make you feel the most like you, jot down just that list of words. Look for patterns. Look for words that have similar meanings and identify the ones that most resonate with you. For our example list, those words would be: Make, Learn, Volunteer, Give, Teach, Connect, Communicate, Share, Plan, Organize, Move and Grow.

Some of these words share common meanings, like Volunteer and Give. If this were your list, you’d ask yourself which of these words most resonates with you? If you’re eager to share in any capacity, whether it’s time or resources, then your word might be Give. But if you find that this mostly shows up in opportunities to pitch in and help with your time and energy, the word “volunteer” might be a better fit.

Refine your list until you come away with 5-6 words that really stand out as the most representative of you – these should be rich, juicy words that have layers of meaning. You want to be able to see their relevance in many different areas of your life, and if you feel like you’re close but you’re not finding the right word, use the list of purpose words provided in the free worksheets (which you can find at podcast.oliveknits.com/purpose). For our imaginary list, we might say the words that really stand out are: Create, Volunteer, Connect, Grow, Share and Learn.

Notice that some of the words on this list could still be condensed. We’re looking for themes – Grow and Learn could have similar meanings. If this were my list, I would ask myself – which of these most deeply resonates with me? (And if it’s neither, go back to the list of purpose words to help nudge your thinking. This is one moment where the right word will make a difference. And you’ll know it when you land on it.)

Volunteer and Share and Connect all have some similar themes. If this were your list, you’d want to ask yourself a few more questions: what’s really at the core of this? Is it that you love to share of yourself with others. Is it about the actual time with other people or is it about the action that you take? If it’s more about the people, then maybe Connect is the right word. If it’s more about the action, then maybe it’s Volunteer or Share.

What we’re doing is whittling this list down to three key words – three words that represent your core purpose values and will act as arrows to help you live in alignment with your purpose.

When you think you’ve settled on your three words, it’s time to journal to see if you’ve landed in the right place. Sometimes it takes a few tries to cut through the noise of what we know other people expect from us, vs what is really important and meaningful for ourselves. It’s very common – especially for women – to have pressure from society that tells us who we should be or want to be, and what should be important to us. But only you know who you are designed to be and what matters most to you, so if you feel like those outside voices are clouding your perspective, take a break, go for a walk and think about the experiences that YOU love and feel most connected to. Then sit back down with your notebook and try again.

As you look at your list, as yourself what do each of these words mean to you? What do they represent in terms of time and energy and priorities?

If you know very much about me, then you know that I’ve always been a community builder – and I’ve known that about myself. But you might be surprised that the words community or builder aren’t the ones I chose. But my words: lead and inspire absolutely make sense, right? Because I don’t just build communities, I build communities that inspire. Better yet, I do it around the topic of creativity.

Do you see how powerful these three little words can be when you settle on the right ones?

I used to work through this process with those who came to the workshops where I taught my process, and I know from working with them that it’s not always super easy to distill yourself and your purpose down to a few words. It can take some time and some journaling, so don’t expect to arrive at this in the next hour, or even today. But what’s interesting is that – when you do – it becomes a barometer for decision making. It can make it so much easier to know if the next opportunity is the right one for you.

And it might seem overly simple to land on three words to be your guiding purpose, but what we’re really doing is getting to know what’s already in there. We’re not inventing a purpose out of nothing. We’re drawing from inside ourselves, and I think you’d be surprised to learn that you probably already know what your purpose is. I’ve never done this exercise with anyone who came up with three words that shocked them. There’s usually a quiet knowing – it’s already in there – this process just helps you bring it to the surface and give it a name. And that’s words are for. I love words!

The goal here is to land on three words – your three words- that represent your core purpose values. As I mentioned before, my three words are Lead, Inspire and Create. Those three words have been my guiding principles for almost 25 years, and although I’ve changed as a person, and my whole life has changed during that time, those core purpose values have not changed. And that’s the awesome thing about this process – the clarity and confidence that comes from knowing why you’re here and what you are meant to do is unparallelled.

But it all starts with spending a little quiet time and a journal to write down a list of things that bring you the most joy and the most feeling of alignment. That list can be as long as you want it to be, but as you work through the process, keep distilling those ideas down into their most condensed form. And then do it again. And again, until you finally land on three.

Why three? Well, I don’t think two is quite enough, and I think if we make our list too long it’s a little hard to keep it at the top of your mind as you move through life. Three has always felt like the right number to me and in history and science there’s a lot of data to support that powerful things happen in threes, but you can adjust it if you want to. I would just encourage you not to make a list of 5 or 10 things because you’ll forget them and you’ll lose sight of the goal. It’s a little bit like making a long list of New Year’s Resolutions – in a few weeks, you’ll forget what they were.

When you have clarity about your purpose, other decisions get easier. If you’d like to try this exercise at home, download your free worksheets below.

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Until next time, my friend – you’ve got this.

Download Your Free “Finding Your Purpose” Worksheets Here

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You’ll receive your free copy of your “What’s my purpose?” worksheets via email – so keep your eyes peeled!

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