In 2016, I started a new job, in a new town, with a new car, and I was on top of the world.
All my goals seemed to have fallen into place. I had the opportunity to build relationships with a new group of leaders, I had more autonomy over my work and full access to the senior leadership team. Not to mention a hefty bump in salary.
But about a year in to this position, I stopped feeling the high that brought me to that role in the first place. I enjoyed the work I was doing; it was challenging and rewarding. I liked many of the people I worked with (okay – some of the people). So what was missing?
Challenging work and a good team weren’t enough for me anymore. The missing piece was passion. I didn’t feel anything for the work the way I did in my previous position.
Then I remembered something my mentor told me, “things come into your life for a reason or a season.” Was my season up? Was I meant to do something more with my life? But what?
I started doing some research on purpose and passion. I listened to audiobooks on my commute and read articles on my lunch break. The resources all pointed to similar things: asking ourselves deep, thought-provoking questions.
These questions are designed to make us pause and think deeply about the answers. We don’t often give ourselves the luxury of time and solitude to figure things out. But when we do, we have the power to transform our lives.
1. What makes you forget to eat and pee? In other words, what do you get so lost in that you lose track of time?
Often, the answer to this question comes in the form of a hobby or activity. It doesn’t have to be something we are currently doing; it can be something we did in a previous job or before we had kids. Think about something you could do for hours, that when you look at the clock, you can’t believe how much time has passed.
For me, the answer to this question was creating. Creating in the form of PowerPoint presentations, writing articles, making flyers, documents, posters… Anything that tapped my creative side and put my ideas to paper.
2. What can you talk about for hours that when you talk about it, you light up?
The answer to this question is a huge hint about what excites us. We often think about our passions as “what wakes us up in the morning,” but I like to think about passion as what wakes up our souls. This could be something you like to teach others, a topic you enjoy debating, or something you continuously research or read about.
I can talk about personal strengths for hours. Seriously, a great day for me would be one where I spend the entire day talking to women about their inherent strengths and talents and how to use them to unleash their potential. I can’t read enough information or buy too many books on how we can leverage our strengths.
3. What did you love to do as a child?
This is one of my favorite questions because the answers are so surprising and so different for everyone. We’ve all experienced our childhood differently, so we all collect different knowledge and meaning from it. Regardless of how we feel about our overall childhood, there is something we can take away from it. Think about how you played as a child. Another way to look at this question is to think about how your childhood self would view your adult self.
As a child, I loved writing short stories. I remember when we got our very first family computer. I spent hours on the program Creative Writer, knocking out stories and adding copious amounts of clip art as illustrations. I also loved writing plays and acting them out with my sisters and neighbors and writing complex, soap-opera-like storylines for my Barbies.
4. If you could be remembered for 3 things after you die, what would they be?
It can be difficult to narrow down our responses to just three things. Many of us want to be remembered as a caring friend, a devoted parent or a compassionate giver. If we give ourselves the space to think deeper, we can think about what kind of legacy we want to leave behind. Beyond the family-and-friend bullet points, think about what you will do for the world.
I want to be remembered for helping women attain parity in organizations and government around the world; for improving healthcare systems in underdeveloped nations; and for inspiring and educating women across the globe.
5. If you were financially secure, what would you do with your time?
This is a fun exercise in visualization. Picture yourself on a typical day in your financially secure future. What are you doing? Who are you with? Where are you? These questions help to solidify the vision in your mind. Got the picture? Use it to determine what you would do if money was not a barrier.
If I was financially secure, I would travel the world, living in a different country each year. I would learn everything I could about the culture of each country and talk to women about their careers and lives. I would write about my experiences and interactions in the hopes of bringing women closer to equality in their countries.
6. What is working well for you in your current life & career? What do you find fulfilling, meaningful, enjoyable and important?
These last few questions are helpful because they allow us to assess our current situation and surroundings. Not all aspects of our lives need to be changed, nor do we need to change something every year. These questions help us discover what we want more of in our lives, or at least the pieces we want to keep intact.
For me, at the time I asked myself this question, I enjoyed having autonomy in my job. I liked the freedom of making my own hours, not having to check in with my boss every day and being able to create my own strategic plan for what I wanted to accomplish. I also found educating and training my colleagues to be meaningful and important. I enjoyed every day when I could deliver a presentation or training to a group.
7. What isn’t working for you? What drains you, makes you stressed, or wastes your time?
This final question helps us determine what we want less of in our lives or what we want to get rid of altogether. When we feel stuck or unhappy, it helps to think about how much time we spend on activities that we don’t enjoy, and if we are willing to take that with us in the future.
My commute was the biggest waste of my time and the aspect of my job that drained me the most. Even though I listened to podcasts and audiobooks, I always felt like I could use that time much more productively. I knew I didn’t want to have a long commute in my future.