Identifying Purpose

When there are so many things demanding our attention each day, how do we identify our purpose? And, how do we make room for a new sense of purpose when we find ourselves adrift?

I recently had an experience that changed my path. I prayed for my purpose and I actually heard an answer. Correction. I heard many answers, and I had to do the work to decide what that meant. Before I tell you the story, I want to tell you a little bit about me, and why I felt unmoored and searching for a renewed sense of purpose.

For ten years, I taught English classes at the college level. While I mostly taught composition classes, English 101 and 102, I also had the opportunity to teach creative writing and literature, and to work as the director of a writing center. This job allowed me creative, intellectual freedom, and the gift of working with a diverse population and making a difference in a field I was passionate about. It felt like a very rewarding job, but it didn’t always feel like my true calling, or my true purpose. I define a true purpose as one that aligns one’s values with one’s passion and causes positive change. It’s the thing God put us on the earth to do.

Yes, I was teaching students how to communicate clearly and effectively in writing, and this felt very purposeful, but it just didn’t always feel like my purpose. Maybe it was because I fell into it. I went to school to become a writer, and ended up becoming a teacher instead. Teaching in graduate school paid for my Masters degree, and gave me a small income to pay my bills. How could I argue with that? I told myself that teaching was a great job for a writer. But teaching became its own creative act, and a very demanding job that, quite frankly, sucked the writing love straight out of me. Deep down, I felt like someone who was pretending at my purpose, when deep down I knew I wasn’t holding up to my end of the bargain to really find it.

Enter children! Why is it that kids magnify all of our best and worst qualities as well as stirring up all of our greatest questions about our lives!? Giving birth to my sons was a game changer. And just before I had my second child, my husband had the completely unexpected opportunity to take a second job teaching. To me, this felt like very bad news. Here I was trying to teach part-time while doing most of the childcare, and housework, and my dream of writing felt like it was buried and covered in concrete. Some days I felt so much rage at my husband, which was really just misdirected rage at myself, for letting my dreams be sidelined. The hardest part was, I wasn’t even sure what my dream really was anymore. It seemed like if I had more time I would find it, but, of course, there never seemed to be any time. Some of you may relate to this feeling!

When my husband told me about his teaching opportunity, I actually said to him, “I don’t support this, and I will not.” As I said the words, I knew that they didn’t correspond with the person I most wanted to be, or the marriage vows that I made. Why was I depriving my husband of this opportunity when he was sitting in front of me telling me this was one of his dreams? Because I wasn’t pursuing my own!

Without exactly calling me out on this, he stayed calm and simply said, “I want you to see this as an opportunity, too.” That grace stopped me in my tracks. I was so bogged down by all the things that seemed to be holding me back, that I couldn’t see an opportunity when it slapped me in the face. When the smoke cleared, I saw that the new income would allow me to quit my teaching job and stay home with our two sons. My husband’s teaching job became the biggest gift to me, because it allowed me the chance to dream again, and to begin to question my purpose, it also gave my husband and I something new to share and discuss. He came to me for my expertise, and gave me confidence in all the skills I had gained through teaching. This caused me to see that maybe I could try a new career path outside of teaching. After all, if he could work in business, but be a teacher, then maybe I could try something new too.

For the next few years, I would go through a process of discernment. I’d pray to God to help me find my purpose, the thing that I could give back to the world. The problem was, I wasn’t hearing any one thing. I was hearing a lot of things, and I wasn’t sure which voice was God’s. The voice was telling me to write. The voice was telling me to teach. The voice was telling me to be an involved mom, to create a happy, organized home, to be in control of our family’s finances, and to support other moms. How could my purpose possibly be all of these things? I even started to see crosses whenever I felt like I was on the right track, but I wasn’t sure what they meant.

So, six months ago as my husband and I flew over Pasadena en-route home from a retreat for me, and a work conference for my him, I shared this very question with him. I’d come off of a month long side project to organize our family finances and come up with a budget that reflected our values, and in the process I’d discovered loads of books and blogs about these topics. The women who wrote these books and blogs felt like a community to me, and I enjoyed the process of reading and organizing our money so much, that I was becoming more productive than I had ever been. How did I suddenly discover all this time? I was following my energy. My energy was telling me to get up early so I could read a particular blog or book, or work on the budget. I’d never been so excited to wake up in my life. And the best part was, doing these things was making my life even easier! We suddenly had the extra money we needed. We were paying off all of our credit cards. I told my husband this as the sky turned orange and then pink and we flew toward our home in Seattle. He said, “It sounds like you’ve found your purpose. You should help people organize.” And with those words, it all came flooding back to me. It was my ton of bricks moment. The happiness I’d had in the past when I’d organized my apartment in graduate school, the rush I got from a good purge, or a well-made list. Even when I was teaching, one of my favorite parts about the job was organizing my curriculum, daily assignment schedule, and online class. I loved organizing our money, not because I’m amazing at budgeting, but because I love organizing! Money management, meal planning, organizing spaces, time management, the journey of marriage and motherhood– it all lights me up! I love reading about it, I love talking about it, I love teaching others how to do it, and I love writing about it. I decided to start an organizing business, Organized by Heart, and now I’m writing this companion blog. I hope it will inspire you to make space for what you love, too.

And, speaking of you, I want to hear your story. Have you sought a higher purpose for your life, and listened for an answer each day? I want to know what your process is, how you hear or sense the answer, and how you respond to the call. Post in the comments below or send me an email and let me know!

Happy journeys,

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