I recently completed a spiritual pilgrimage that opened my eyes, sharpened my focus, and answered questions I’d been asking myself for years. The amazing part? I didn’t leave my house.
Last year I shared an article on the power of gratitude to heal the loss of my astronaut dream. Since then I’ve made huge progress in way-finding and narrowing down my interests as an emerging entrepreneur, but still found myself subject to “squirrel!” mentality. Following several paths simultaneously, I wondered if or how those paths related to each other. I felt pulled in many directions and wanted to bring all my efforts together, to find my unified “theory of everything.”
How to focus? In a small – but not easy – step, I gave myself permission to take a break from working through business development programs, drafting a book, and worrying that I should somehow be further along than I was. Instead I would prioritize one thing: figuring out what I was really about… Who am I in essence? What do I do? How do I make a difference?
I set aside three solid days to investigate the many journals I’ve kept over the years and to take notes on patterns and recurring themes. I asked myself, what have I always known, believed, enjoyed, been inspired by, been good at?
I learned a lot. Things I’d forgotten came back in vivid colors: early attempts at poetry and science fiction writing; how completely obsessed I was with musicals; just how much pressure I put on myself to be perfect. Even with stories I routinely share, more details surfaced: a difficult conversation with a boss about people vs. mission; the importance of having the difficult conversation instead of avoiding it and letting it fester; the bond that deepens through conflict resolution.
There was plenty of comic relief, too… my fourth-grade wish to marry Harrison Ford someday, hoping I’d get sick so I wouldn’t have to go to a square dance with the boys, thinking my pet hamster was jealous of my new fish…
I didn’t read all my journals word for word, but I read enough to distinguish patterns and draw enlightening conclusions. In the evenings I shared my thoughts with my husband (not Harrison Ford), who offered helpful feedback and insights of his own. I spent most of the following week integrating what I’d learned.
What emerged was, indeed, my sought-after theory of everything. I pinpointed my primary superpower. I identified three specific gifts. I developed six identity questions. From this process, I also recognized how to help others discover their own gifts and superpowers and answer their own identity questions.
Not bad for under two weeks and no airline tickets!
Don’t get me wrong, I love retreats and workshops for self-discovery. It’s also great to know that you can do powerful inner work in your everyday environment.
Now, you might say this journey took longer than two weeks, and you’re right. It took a lifetime, in fact. With recurring soul-searching, guidance from others, and input from a vast array of inspirational sources, it’s an ongoing process.
However, the clarity that came out of those few days enabled me to distill fundamental meaning from years of life experiences. I came out with a crystal clear sense of direction and purpose, and with an underlying peace and confidence in my past, present, and future.
How can this help you?
If you’re experiencing an existential crisis of purpose or identity, if you’re in a transition period in your life, if you’re trying to figure out what you want to be when you grow up (at any age!), or if you’re simply curious, I encourage you to dedicate some quality time for reflection. It’s amazing what you can accomplish in a short period with focus, space, and freedom.
If you haven’t kept journals before, that’s ok! You might reflect on each 3-5 year period of your life and ask yourself: What stands out to me? What made me happy? What made me sad or frustrated, and how did I cope? What came most naturally to me in school? At work, what specific parts of the job energized me? What dragged me down? What friends and relationships meant the most to me, and why? Take some notes and see what you discover.
Sometimes we’re asked to pinpoint the “signature story” of our lives, the single moment or experience that most defines who we are. I think it’s just as important to find the pattern across many stories. What types of stories have repeated themselves for you, and why? What do your favorite classes, jobs, hobbies, people, and experiences all have in common? Out of the commonalities may emerge important keys to your core identity.
Certainly, we can’t always be in reflection mode. We don’t live in monasteries at the tops of mountains. We have kids, jobs, grocery shopping, and so on. Yet carving out quality time for a spiritual pilgrimage in your own home, or even creating a habit of reflecting regularly on your experience of life – not constantly but consistently – can help you live in a state of being where you experience the kids, the jobs, the groceries, and everything else more easily, with more joy, and with more purpose and intention than simply going through the motions in the daily rush of today’s world.
If it sounds impossible, if you feel too busy to “waste” the time, consider: How much more time might you be wasting by living out of alignment with your true nature? What would it be worth to you to take that time back and use it to unleash your own inner power? To shine bright and make your greatest contribution?
Dedicating a brief intermission to reflect on my core purpose and power has revolutionized the time, energy, and focus I now have to refine and grow my business and write my book – without sacrificing my relationships, health, or sanity in the process. I’m following the same paths as before, but I don’t see them as random, disparate elements; instead, I see the paths converge as I journey forward with newfound unity of effort and clarity of purpose.
You can, too! Give yourself the gift of time, space, and freedom to reflect. You may find magic – and a giant leap – in that small step.
Melissa Corley Carter, PhD is The Barefoot Dancing Rocket Scientist. She builds exceptional leaders and helps individuals and organizations align with their core identity so they can make their greatest contribution to the world. She speaks both "techie" and "fuzzy" and bridges the communication gap between them with insight and humor. She and her husband have just started learning kendo, the Japenese martial art of swordsmanship -- an embodied practice of barefoot dancing rocket science all its own. Learn more about Melissa and mcSquared Energy Coaching at her website.
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