What is my purpose? Most of us want to know what we were placed here to do, what are our intrinsic gifts and talents and how are we meant to use them in our lives. For those of us who feel called to a specific purpose, we often wonder if our purpose can be the way we make our living. We yearn to understand, especially when we are early in our journey, how this “thing” fits into the bigger picture of our life and if we have the bandwidth to do “it” and have the success that we want; could our passion even be the vehicle for our success. Is it possible to have both?
Purpose & Passion
Defining a life’s passion or purpose is a very individual process. For some people it is rooted in the things that they are good at doing; for others it is what they love to do. These two things are not always the same. However, if we were to find what Samara Stone, branding expert and business coach, defines as the “sweet spot,” we’d be connecting ourselves to the things that we love to do and that we can do with relative ease. As ideal as this sounds, I find that it is the very thing that most people shy away from. The idea that what you seek is actually already present and that the journey to “that thing” is not that hard is a baffling concept. Most of us have things in our life that we LOVE to do; it is the thing you find yourself doing in your free time, the thing you dreamed about doing as a child and you still dream about doing. Over time, somehow we have internalized that this CAN’T be it. It doesn’t make sense for your life. It’s too easy, too simple, not grand enough or you feel like there must be some external validation to confirm your interests.
Growing up in highly structured environments will teach us who we need to be, how we need to get there and what we need to value about the life that we are creating. Whether we receive this messaging from school or home, it is an external ideal that we learn to internalize very young. For many of us, how we interpret this messaging is what determines if we allow ourselves to engage with our passions or see the things we love as our purpose.
For many, the belief is that the thing that they love is too trivial, it is not good enough. Your purpose has to be connected to solving a social problem or another “righteous” cause. What we fail to acknowledge in these situations is that it takes all types of energies and interests to make this world dynamic, beautiful and functioning. Those different energies and unique perspectives are embedded in us for a reason. When you allow yourself to embrace what is inside of you, you give yourself permission to add to the tapestry of our larger society. How dope is that? What bigger or more righteous purpose could there be other than allowing yourself to be what is divinely created in you and contributing to the world based on that?
There are also others who have been so connected to external ideals that they never give themselves permission to explore. In order to find what you love to do, we often have to try many things. Sometimes it is the activities that our parent or caregiver place us in and encourage us to stick with. Sometimes a teacher or a peer saw a strength in you and recommended an activity. Sometimes we hear about something that ignites a spark inside of us and we decide to give it a try. All of that is exploration. It is trying out a new thing, understanding if that thing is a fit for you and then taking that information and applying it to your future decision making. There are times when the things that you are encouraged to do, you love immediately or you learn to love. There are other times when it isn’t the right fit for you and so you want to do something else. The journey of exploration gives us so much information and experience that enhance your understanding of self in a way that can lead you to your passion and purpose. If situations are overly structured where you have no opportunity to explore and/or you are limited to doing things that other people want you to do, then your ability to engage with your purpose or passion is limited. When this happens often as a child, we don’t give ourselves permission to explore as an adult and we often find that we feel something is missing. Giving yourself permission to explore and looking at all experiences as lessons is an excellent way to connect to your passion.
Getting the paper:
Once we locate our passion, the next question is often where will this lead? Can I make money doing this? Can I start a business? Can I/should I leave my full time job? With entrepreneurship growing immensely over the past few years (and Black women leading in this area), using your passion for income is very enticing. Whether full time or a side hustle, we often find ourselves wanting to be engaged in what we love so much that these questions persist.
When deciding how you will include your passion in your life consistently, it is really critical that you understand your definition of success. How do you want your life to unfold? What do you want it to look like? How much of what you think you want is rooted in societal expectations and spoken/unspoken ideals? Am I trying to keep up with others? Why do I want these things? What am I willing to sacrifice? Are my daily steps aligned with the big picture? Is the big picture and what I do aligned with my personal and professional values? Really doing a deep dive to understand yourself and what you want is so important. Many of us are easily driven by external validation. We are taught from very young that we need to meet the expectations of others to be accepted and praised (grades, behavior, life goals). These ideas don’t just dissipate when we become adults, and we often find ourselves really searching for that validation and structure; unable to connect to or accept our own thoughts and desires when we get older.
How you engage with your passion will be based on what you discover when you ask yourself these questions. Entrepreneurship is not easy and for some industries incredibly fickle. If your personal values and ideas of success are rooted in financial stability, your passion is in an industry that makes it difficult to achieve that and your emotional capacity to withstand discomfort is limited, then your passion may not be in a field you can make your sole source of income. It may be a side hustle. For someone who’s personal values and ideas are rooted in freedom, independence or they have the emotional capacity for discomfort, then this may be an option. Once you are able to unpack your understanding of what you want and need it can help guide your decision making in this area.
Ultimately, connecting with your passion and understanding how it can bring you success requires you to get closer to you. It requires you to explore and embrace who you are, understand what you want and make decisions based on this information. Limiting external messaging, and retraining your brain to understand how you have internalized these ideas and seek validation are necessary tools on this journey.
Melissa Ifill, LCSW