On being stuck, getting unstuck and understanding that purpose is ever-evolving.
This is my story on finding purpose: I realized that what I have been doing for ‘work’ the last decade, simply isn’t want I want to do when I grow up anymore.
Someone once told me “if you can remember what it was like as a kid to grow out of a size of pants or shoes, that’s what’s happening right now — you are growing out of a chapter and ready to enter a new one”. Sounded cheesy when I first heard it, but it makes so much sense now.
I’m breaking up the story in 3 phases:
Phase 1) Why
Phase 2) Turning point of how this went into action
Phase 3) Learnings and process ( → Clarity/breakthrough, Direction, Actions)
While one work-experience has lead me to the next-best one, over the last few years I’ve felt a sense of being ‘stuck’. Ideas came and went. I tested some of them, and others never made it out into the world. Friends vetted and approved them; I just stalled and procrastinated. I thought the solution to this stuckness was to get a new day-job. I hit the refresh button on my resume, pitch and goals and off I went to interview. As I went through informational conversations and interviews with companies I was inspired to work at, I was convincing myself that I was on the right path in terms of the type of companies and roles I was after. Through this process, I captured mixed signals: how i was presented on paper did indeed reflect my experience and skills but it did not reflect what I’m actually excited about in life and the change or impact I care to make. This was a deer-in-headlights realization, so I decided to pause on the job hunt and take a good look at myself.
The following week I had a set of memorable conversations with two mentees of mine. These conversations stood out to me because both of them expressed gratitude for our relationship thus far and especially for me helping them through a phase of transition with their careers. The same week I had a lunch with a colleague I admire to ask for advice on my thinking about my next move. She asked me about passion and purpose. I stumbled. I didn’t have honest answers, but I suppose they were honest enough where I opened up and shared a bit more about what I think I do best and what I can offer outside of the context of my job. All my side-hustles either at work or outside have been about bringing communities together, building frameworks and systems to guide folks and lift blockers. Our lunch ended with a recommendation to meet with someone in leadership development at my current company. I munched on all this end-of-week and shared it with my therapist (I used TalkSpace for 6mos and I highly recommend the service). She had been amazing with guiding me and offering tools during this me-trying-to-get-unstuck phase but if it wasn’t for her calling out something specific about the two mentee conversations I had earlier that week, I would have walked right past it! — coaching came natural to me. That’s when I looked back at the conversations and realized I wasn’t mentoring, I was coaching. 99% of my coffee dates or friend-breakfasts over the years have actually and always been about career transitions; either big changes or micro changes. I have been so invested in this topic without realizing it and now I find myself in the same career-transition space!
From here I took some meetings with coaches to listen to their stories on how they got into it; either doing it for a living, or out of joy. One thing lead to another, from chats, to books, to videos, to referrals — and I landed onProject X’s Purpose Accelerator. I would sign up for 1 month to work on my very own personal and professional journey to finding my purpose. Sure, this may sound self-helpy and cheesy but the website copy was very clear to me: I would be offered the tools needed to propel myself forward and would follow the program with a group of strangers that would also become my accountability group, aka what I needed: a kick in the butt. This program was designed with so much detail, passion and care, I cannot recommend it enough. Some are shy or even partially ashamed for joining such programs, and I can respect that. I loved hearing why the founders came to designing the programming and resonated with the value it has been providing many cohorts before mine. These type of programs need to be integrated in schools and companies — period.
Learnings and process
So many people are searching for purpose and it is so important to learn you are not alone on this journey. Purpose does not have a one-time definition, it’s ever evolving. You reach the best version of yourself when what you are doing (for work or in life) is aligned with your purpose. Don’t know what it is? Hey, I didn’t either but I was ready to find out. I was ready to be asked the hard questions, I was ready to step outside of my comfort zone to find out. I have been living this one-track life post school and felt that I had lost my focus. This program helped me look into my strengths and fears, to help me transition from a thinker to a doer. I was doer at work, but a thinker outside of work. Work defined my doing, not my true passions. Project X made me commit to continuous, small experiments. Nothing I was unfamiliar with; I was literally taking years of agile methodologies and design thinking and performing them on myself vs a client. What was different with this program was the power of accountability. I designed, acted, learned, rebuilt, and acted again while having built a system of support that pushed me to see these steps through, week by week, until I got completely comfortable putting imperfect ideas out into the world; and develop techniques to change my career in a more meaningful way.
That one month I was dedicated, focused and had intent like I’ve never had before for my personal and professional growth. It was combination of Project X + TalkSpace + Headspace + the BestSelf.co Journal (reminder: I’ve been a PM for years so this rigorous and detail-oriented combo was my jam; it may not work for you). All my spare thinking time went to reflection and actions on repeat (it was a lot, no kidding, but it was worth it). Here is a snapshot of various exercises I went through to give you an idea of the journey to building your very own authentic definition of your own success:
• Identify your heroes and the values of your heroes
• What brings you joy?
• What situations do you find yourself “in flow”?
• Calling cards (Richard Leider)
• Build your own power mantra
• Death meditation, self-obituary activities
• Future-life meditation
• Dealing with your career and life baggage
• Gratitude and happiness activities
• Dates with yourself without a destination in mind, sans phone/tech
• Reflective best-self exercise *this one was brilliant* (have others call out skills and passions you may have buried or ignored)
Some can work on all this solo, buy reading books, retreats, journaling but something about doing this with a group of complete strangers was my trigger to react and get unstuck. If I had one main takeaway from this is that a vision of the future accomplished is what allows us to commit to relentless experimentation (Jeff Hittner I think you actually said this). I had never ever done this in my life, never thought to nor was I ever provoked to — vision is key.
I’m shifting from ‘solutioning problems for people’ to focus ‘on people development’. It will be two-fold: talent/skills development and coaching. I will apply this direction where I currently work (because if there is one thing my company cares about, it is indeed about the people and their growth) as well as work on external education and practice on the side.
- Out of Project X, I have a product idea I’m working on (and a great community of mentors to leverage going forward). My action is to share with you where it’s at 3 months from now.
- On Coaching, I’m taking a few lay-of-the-land calls with coaches to find the right education/certification program that suits me. My action here is looking at at career transition and life-coaching education options. I will also be looking to put my fluent Greek to use by offering bilingual coaching. (Recommendations welcome!)
- Out of TalkSpace, I have a superb toolkit to use to balance focus, intent, goals, self-care and to be more aware of things around me. I did so much introspection with this service, and my action is to open up my toolkit as needed.
- Out of Headspace, I learned how hard and how important it is to take breaks in your day to slow down, to relax, and sometimes to challenge your mode of thinking. My action is to use Headspace daily.
- On Talent Development, my actions are: taking intros, calls and meetings with various folks that work in or have retired from HR to get more perspective in a rather new industry for me.
- Out of the BestSelf Co journal, my action is to visualize my entire day and not let work or my inboxes dictated the planning of my day. The journal is designed as such where it sprinkles goals, lessons, wins, areas for improvement and gratitude as to make it a ‘natural’ way for you to think about your day. My action is to use this daily for 3mos (but to also not beat myself up if I skip a day or two ;)).
Thanks for reading. I believe sharing stories is important — it creates space to talk with others going through similar journeys.
If you have questions, want to chat on any of the above or want discount codes to any of the services above, reach out!