I am not one of those people blessed to know exactly what they want to be from the moment they’re born. As a kid I had had no noticeable talents or callings. I played with Barbie dolls, played house, made mud soup in the backyard with pilfered Tupperware. I was a voracious reader, gobbling up everything from historical romances to Little House on the Prairie to Judy Blume novels, the 1972 World Book Encyclopedia and the JC Penney Catalog.
I have always had lots of interests, but there was never ONE THING that I could identify with. No ONE THING that I could claim to be awesome at. I was not a soccer or basketball star. I was not a great artist or dancer or singer. I was never going to be featured on Star Search (bonus points if you remember Star Search & Ed McMahon). My grades were a solid B average. I wasn’t popular in school, nor was I unpopular. I was just incredibly ordinary.
I spent my twenties and a good part of my thirties trying to figure out what it was I should be doing. What was my purpose? My passion? I had four children by the age of 28 and even though I loved them so much, I knew that I was put here to do something else along with being a mother (which led to some hefty Mother’s Guilt, I might add).
I finally decided that I wanted to be a writer. And I figured since I liked to read historical fiction, that is what I should write. For the next decade I wrote and wrote and wrote hundreds of stories based in all kinds of settings, from Tudor England to WWII. After a while, I thought I must a bad writer because I never finished a story. The ugly truth was….I liked the idea of being a published writer of novels, but I did not like the work associated with it. At. All.
The reality is that writing fiction is just one of my interests. When I was truly honest with myself, I admitted that writing fiction stories was really just a hobby. It is something I do to relax. It isn’t my be all, end all. And it isn’t something I want to pursue to make a living – at least not right now.
When I thought about the types of activities that I both enjoy and am good at, I realized I’d been chasing imaginary dragons. I liked the idea of writing the Great American Novel or being as outrageously successful as JK Rowling. Who wouldn’t like that? But I sucked at being the lone novelist – I did not have (and still do not have) the self-disclpine to work on the same piece of work day in and day out until it’s done. The thought of editing a 300 page manuscript makes me want to cry. Instead of acknowledging my truth, I kept telling myself lies – “You’ll finish your book when you can work less/ when the kids are older/ etc….”
I’m a firm believer that happiness and purpose go hand in hand. You can’t have one without the other. Oliver Segovia, writing for Harvard Business Review gives the best definition of happiness: “Happiness comes from the intersection of what you love, what you’re good at, and what the world needs.” Once you figure out what you love, what you’re good at and what the world needs, you’ll know your purpose. Being honest with yourself is the first step in that process.
On the heels of some major personal upheavals in my early 30s, I found myself floating aimlessly through life. I was newly divorced, single mom to four kids, working full time and just felt…empty. To fill the void I threw myself into finding my life’s purpose. If I wasn’t going to be novelist, what was I going to do with my creative self? I tried lots of different things including:
• Lifestyle blogging
• Food photography
• Memoir writing
• Magazine writing
• Small business writing (which did become my bread and butter for a long time)
• Career counseling
Out of all these experiences I pieced together what it is that truly inspires and motivates me and brings me happiness and purpose; my passions are no longer just the cherry-picked pieces that I think look better on paper. I finally let go of the idea that we are allowed one passion to focus on and that is what defines us. Instead, I embraced the idea that my core value as a creative person is the fact that I do like LOTS of different things and have LOTS of different interests.
Elizabeth Gilbert gives a beautiful explanation of this concept, “You bring an idea from here to over here, where you learn something else and weave it in, then you take it here to the next thing you do. Your perspective ends up keeping the entire culture aerated and mixed up and open to the new.”
When I read that, it was like a light bulb went off in my head. I had been trying to make all of these hobbies and new ideas into MY LIFE’S PURPOSE– and really I needed to explore my passions that were complemented by what I was good at. Because that’s where my happiness and my purpose lived. That was what I was looking for.
Eventually I sat down and made a list of everything I enjoyed doing AND the things I was REALLY REALLY GOOD AT ….because they aren’t always the same things. (e.g. I love singing, but am not good at it. At all).
I divided the list into two categories: Sexy & Geeky
The Sexy Things are those activities that I enjoy doing and also happen to look good on paper or in conversation:
Writing – though I haven’t written the Great American Novel, I have been published in print and write for some big names.
Graphic design – I was late to the graphics party, but after taking a design class for my graduate degree, I was inspired to communicate through images and color as well as words. Canva pretty much changed my life and my business.
Humor – I love laughing and love making people laugh. Am I good at it. Sometimes. Or my friends are just really nice.
Self-Improvement – I have a library of various self-help books (many of them are listed in the resource section of the Creativity Planner) from how to meditate, to how to set goals, to how to manifest the perfect future (spoiler: it does not involve a lottery ticket).
Helping others help themselves – I taught high school for three years and worked in the Education department of hospital for another five. I like education and I like helping people help themselves. Because that is really what educating others is all about – helping them be the best versions of themselves, by teaching them new skills.
The Geeky Things are the things that I wouldn’t normally considered a passion or talent, but happen to be things I am good at and/or make me really happy. These are not typically things I share in conversation with others.
Lists. I make lists of lists that I need to make. It’s a problem. But I love.
Calendars – I am an expert planner. In my office job, I am charge organizing events and programs. I excel at creating calendars, timelines, budgets and work plans for my team.
Day planners. I love any kind of tool that helps me stay organized and on point. #erincondren4evah
Office supplies. Especially Post It Notes. When I moved offices and had to clean out my desk, I had 36 post-it note pads squirreled away.
As I started pairing up the sexy and geeky things- some strong themes emerged including helping others, organization, self-improvement and time manamgement. When I work in these spheres, time flies. I feel a sense of purpose and contentment that drives me to do even more.
Identifying my passions versus vague ideas of what I thought I should be doing, helped me drill down to my life’s purpose – it helped me answer the age old question of what do I want to do when I grow up?
Do you know what you want to do when you grow up? Need to help? Download my FREE Big Beautiful Goals Workbook, which can help you set the RIGHT Goals for a happier life.
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