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11.12.2015 Sharon Spano, Ph.D.

How to Re-Ignite Your Purpose in Life

Through the years, I’ve met so many people who’re either very clear on their purpose or they feel as though they’re simply stumbling through life. And, that stumbling can look like a lot of different things.

Maybe it’s a thirty-year job description or maybe it’s moving from one position to another. I’ve certainly had my share of stops and starts. I was one of those people who was never really clear on my purpose. At least not for many years.

Oh, I knew that I had a heart for social change. When I was in high school, I tutored kids with behavioral issues. I imagined myself trekking off to Africa via the Peace Corp to save starving children. But, then a handsome guy with dark brown eyes and a fast Mustang came along and, well, that dream ended.

Years later I would marry a different guy. Our son Michael was born with a rare enzyme deficiency, and I became an activist in the disability arena. It was a natural fit. I could fight for the most vulnerable as I pushed for my own son’s many needs.

But, the actions associated with purpose can morph into different activities over time. Being an advocate catapulted me into the speaking/consulting/coaching industry. Everything I’d learned as an advocate was useful in my transformational work with clients, yet, even so, the fire inside for both would spit and sputter as life circumstances changed.

At the time of Michael’s passing in 2008, our nation was smack in the middle of one of the most devastating recessions the United States had ever seen. At least twice a week, I’d get a call from a former client or “student.” People I’d come to love and care about were out of a job. They were asking for my help, and I had nowhere to send them.

It was devastating.

In my moments of purposeful clarity, I had seasons of confusion. Michael was gone, people were suffering, and I had nothing left to give. I’d lost my voice and my passion and purpose along with it.

Was I wrong on all fronts? Had I missed the mark altogether?

If you’ve ever doubted your own purpose in a season of change, I suspect you’ve pondered these very same questions. Here are a few things that might help you re-ignite your purpose.

Declare a Word for the Year

I’ve been a big promoter of Greg McKeown’s work, Essentialism (2014). Each year I select a specific word to keep me on target. The year after Michael died, the word was Joy to remind me of his resilience and how he’d want me to find my way to laughter again.

This year, the word is essentialism because I need to focus on my purpose.

You see, I’m easily blinded by my curiosity for many things. I’m even more conflicted by a heart that wants to eliminate all social injustice and evil in the world. Do I devote my time to the disabled, serve the homeless, or fight human-trafficking? I can get so overwhelmed that I’m paralyzed.

The very premise of essentialism is to do only that which you’re called to do. Think about your own word for 2016 and watch what this process conjures up.

Accept You’re A Work-in-Progress

Here’s what I believe. We are knit together for a specific purpose. We are fearfully and wonder-fully made. Each life has meaning. How that purpose is manifested may change as we move through the seasons of life.

Whenever I get confused, I remind myself of the Mission Statement I wrote twenty-five years ago: Living from integrity and principle, I will do my utmost to lead, serve, and inspire others to their highest potential.

In past years, I’ve done this as a child and family advocate. Today, I do this via my transformational work. Sometimes it’s about facilitating an executive team through a strategic plan. Sometimes it’s a coaching call with a specific client or a deep conversation with a friend. Sometimes it’s asking hard questions of my niece who’s making her way through the challenges of college.

If I sound like I’ve got it all together, let me quickly confess that even in the midst of this clarity, I still find myself wandering through the dessert of confusion like a blind camel in a sandstorm.

For whatever it’s worth to you on your own journey, here’s what I’ve decided.

Even a blinding sandstorm has meaning. In my confusion, I come before God, and it’s he who further clarifies and re-ignites my purpose. He has prepared me for such a time as this. Everything I know or don’t know, all my skills, talents, faults, and flawed behaviors, are designed to be utilized right here. Right now.

Ultimately, our purpose lies in the one who created us in the first place. The actions may change, but the purpose is ever-evolving as we grow and morph into what’s next. What’s important for me is that God is at the center of it all; He is the compass.

Map Out Your Ideal Day

This past month, I’ve been doing a considerable amount of reflection on what’s in store for 2016. I’m in an eight-month retreat designed for contemplative prayer, and I’m on my knees asking for clarity.

Sometimes God hits us with a 2x4 to get our attention, and sometimes he sends us a gentle messenger in a simple conversation over sushi and salad.

Whenever I’m coaching a client who’s trying to figure out his purpose, I ask him to map out one—just one—ideal day. In a perfect world, if money were no object and you didn’t have a teenager tugging on your pant leg for his own car, what would the perfect day look like?

Map out this ideal day, hour-to-hour. What time would you get up? How would you spend your time? With whom? Why? What time would you go to bed?

This exercise is not as easy as it seems. The first time I did it, I couldn’t even write down what time I’d get up. I was so used to getting up at 5:00 am on behalf of everyone else’s needs, I couldn’t even imagine what I’d do for myself if I had the choice. I didn’t have a choice, but I pretended that I did, and the results were astonishing.

For the last two years, I’ve been working on a myriad of projects with this simple exercise swimming around in the back of my head. Only yesterday, in a lunch meeting with my colleague Paul Rivera, did I actually say it out loud.

“On a perfect day,” I said. “I’d wake each morning without an alarm clock. Do my prayers and meditation. Go to yoga, and I’d write each day, every day, for four straight hours. Then, I’d go about the rest of my day.”

“Well, that says it, then, doesn’t it?” Paul laughed. “You’re a writer.”

Duh! Duh! and Duh, again! Slam me stupid, somebody, please!

Since the time I could hold pen to paper, I’ve been told I’m a writer. At the age of twenty-two I was writing legal briefs. I have an MFA in Creative Nonfiction. I have written a lengthy and intricate dissertation. I blog each week, but even so, I never think of myself as a writer.

I love the craft of writing. I love hanging out with writers. I love talking bout writing. I love reading about writers who have a love/hate relationships with writing because it’s hard. And, we know that if it were easy, anyone could do it, but we have no choice but to write in one form or another because it’s what brings us to life.

I think of myself as a lot of things, but not a writer. And, now I’m working on my second book. I’m writing every single day, and I’ve never been happier. Still, I don’t think of myself as a writer.

I still love speaking, consulting, coaching, and research—but those are more the ends to a means of doing what I love best—Putting ideas down on paper, crafting words that will bring people to another level of awareness about who they are and whom they might become. Writing is the vehicle to help me realize my purpose in this season of life.

So, I’m declaring it out loud: I am a writer.

I invite you to explore the three simple steps I’ve given you and see if you can gain new insight into what you’re called to do in this season of life. Have fun with it. You just might surprise yourself.

Image Credit: © Dollar Photo Club

Published by Sharon Spano, Ph.D. November 12, 2015