Big life questions answered...
As a startup there is probably a high possibility you are not currently doing what you planned to do when you were child. ‘When I grow up I want to create my own business’ isn’t heard as often as policeman, astronaut or pilot we surely all have to agree.
The questions ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ ‘What are you going to do with your life?’ ‘What’s your purpose?’ ‘Your raison d’etre?’ can be very difficult to answer. I have a love/hate relationship with these questions. On the one hand, I hate how big these questions are. They feel inaccessible and carry a huge weight of expectation with them. On the other hand, they are incredibly important and merit serious consideration.
Even though I love what I’m doing now, a couple of years ago I would have had no clue what I wanted or where I was going. If you had asked me any one of those questions... On a good day you would have been met with a blank face. On a bad day, potentially frustration, anger, defensiveness.
The question of purpose has never been easy for me, except for when I was maybe five years old. My life experience at that time was limited and I hadn’t been influenced by the ‘shoulds’ and ‘what ifs’. Back then, it was simple, I wanted to be a potter - not that I’d ever done any pottery but I loved building stuff with play dough so obviously my life’s work was to build clay masterpieces!
As I grew up, my certainty faded. As someone who lacked confidence and was easily influenced, I looked to others for validation and direction. I rarely made any big decisions without family input or without asking anyone and everyone that would listen. I had no clue what I really enjoyed or wanted to do. I had learnt to stifle my own individuality.
My university degree was picked through a process of elimination and a fear mind-set. What should I do in order to be impressive? What will ensure me a safe and successful future? It didn’t matter that I had very little interest in the subject.
When I started my career in investment banking, it was thrilling to be part of the working world. I didn’t really mind what I was doing because I was young, I had met great people and I played as hard as I worked. As my career progressed and the novelty of city life wore off, when I allowed myself to be still, there were glimpses of discontent. I knew I wanted something different.
I’m not going to go into the full details of my story, but if you want to read about it you can do so here. The important thing to say is that ten years on I feel like I’ve finally found purpose, doing a job I genuinely love.
Has it been easy getting here? Nope. Was it worth it? Every second. Have I learned lots? Absolutely - not least, I’ve learned that these bigger questions of purpose need to be broken down. The weight needs to be lifted. Be patient, be curious and above all be willing to make some wrong turns.
Here are five simple tips to get your started within the startup journey if you are feeling lost and overwhelmed:
1.Give yourself permission to kiss some frogs
Realise that you don’t have to get it right the first time. I know how it feels to be excited to try something, thinking it could be the answer that I was looking for, only to realise that actually it wasn’t me.
There are no rules to this, despite what you might be telling yourself. There’s no time limit, you haven’t failed and you certainly aren’t beyond hope. You are just learning, and that is part of the adventure.
Things that I’ve tried before becoming a coach - teaching, being a chef, being a nanny and training as a nutritional therapist. Since I had been used to doing what I thought was expected of me, I had to relearn what I did and didn’t like.
Work experience, evening courses, part-time jobs, volunteering, talking to people doing those jobs, reading books. You don’t have to quit your job and start job-hopping, bills have to be paid after all. All I’m saying is give yourself permission to experience different things. You aren’t magically going to figure out what you want to do by doing the same things you’ve always done.
Adopt that curious, child-like mentality that isn’t bound by self-doubt and expectation. Take it less seriously.
2. Shift your perspective and look for clues
Often we are so consumed with what we don’t like doing, that we forget to look at the bits that we do. For example, when I was a Nutritional Therapist, I was so consumed with worry and guilt that I wasn’t enjoying certain aspects, that I forgot to look at the bits that I actually loved. The human connection, having real conversations with people. If I had beaten myself up less and allowed myself to take clues from what I was enjoying, I would have saved myself a lot of time and heartache. Luckily I had my own coach who helped me see this.
Take clues from your everyday - past and present. When do you feel most content? What do you find yourself daydreaming about or reading about?
3. Cut out the noise
By this I mean both the external noise from others - your friends / family / boss / society / social media. And the internal noise - the limiting beliefs of what we are and aren’t capable of, or the rules that we assume about life. Widen your scope of possibility.
I’m not saying ignore other people, rather learn to tune into what you want and be sure of it yourself, before seeking opinions. Once you are firm in your own stance, you are more likely to be able to filter the opinions that matter to you rather than be constantly swayed and confused.
Before you tell yourself that it’s not possible (or anyone else does), question if that is really true. Could it be possible if you broke the bigger goal down and worked towards it?
4. What are your values?
I could literally write a whole blog post on this topic itself. I cannot overestimate the importance of figuring out your values.
Before I go on, let me explain what values are. I don’t want to assume, as I myself didn’t know not so long ago. Your values are the things that drive you and the things that you stand for.
For example, does creativity motivate you?
Is compassion important to you?
Leadership? Autonomy? Knowledge?
Your top 3-5 values are your core values and are the heart of you. They are what make you tick.
How are you currently fulfilling those values? What are those values telling you about what your purpose might be?
Figuring out my own values has been a game-changer for me and it is an exercise I do with every single client. It is also an exercise that can bring up feelings of overwhelm if you have been so used to listening to everyone else instead of yourself. Be patient, keep refining the list and allow yourself to be completely honest with yourself. This exercise is only for you.
5. Realise that your life isn’t your career
Finally, please don’t forget that life isn’t just about your career. Your life is composed of so many different things and feeling fulfilled or having purpose can come from many different areas. Maybe you like your job but giving back is a big part of who you are. Perhaps feeling more fulfilled is simply volunteering once a week.
Maybe being creative is important to you but your job doesn’t fill that need. Why not join an art class?
I hope that gives you some inspiration and helps you break things down a bit. Ultimately, the sooner that you realise that it is as much about the journey as it is the destination, the more you will enjoy the process. Allow yourself to take “wrong turns”, to be uncomfortable, to discover what you truly want.
If you have any questions, or want some support getting clarity for yourself, I’d love to hear from you.