Deciding what to do with your life is a luxury. If you happen to have this luxury, then read this post. If you don’t have this luxury, I hope and pray that you will someday, and please, still read this post.
I believe that God has created each person with a different purpose. Fulfilling your God-given purpose doesn’t necessarily mean you will spend all your time taking care of orphans, or feeding homeless people. Maybe you’re supposed to open a business and hire one of those orphans one day. Or maybe you’re going to be the doctor who treats one of those homeless people. You get the idea.
Still in my twenties, and still in the process of figuring out my career and planning my future, I’ve recently taken some time to map out my past, my present and my future, creating database of successes (and failures), pieces of identity and lessons learned over the past 15-odd years. The goal? To create a plan that will empower me to be disciplined and goal-oriented in a world with many, many distractions.
I don’t have this process down perfectly, but here’s a roadmap I developed that can help you pinpoint your purpose, create goals to support your vision and develop a plan for success:
Without vision, the people perish.*
Step 1: What’s your calling?
You may not think you even know your calling, or that you even have one. But it’s in there somewhere. Step 1 is where you’re going to have to sit down and identify those pieces that create your calling, so that you can eventually create more concrete goals to get you closer to where you ultimately want to be: whether that’s to open your own coffee shop, earn your real-estate license or support yourself and inspire others through writing (that’s me).
- Passion is what you love to do or learn about. For me, that runs a spectrum (God, travel, food, design), but for some people it may be just one or two specific activities.
- Purpose relates to the larger topic of this post, but more specifically defined, it can mean, how would you like to help people? What would you like to change about the world?
- Prowess is what you are good at. Everyone has been given a gift. Sometimes it’s necessary to think back to childhood to identify what exactly that gift is. What comes naturally to you? What are you skilled or talented at?
Step 2: What have you learned in life?
At this point in the process, I divided my life into major chunks starting in high school. I separated periods of time by place lived, but you may see your life stages sectioned off by job, schools attended or even romantic relationships. Then I wrote down the important lessons I learned during those seasons. The goal of step 2 is to remind yourself of healthy habits or character traits you have developed; in other words, the tools you have to get you where you eventually want to be.
It’s important to remind yourself what you have learned, because sometimes…you forget. Lessons learned don’t always mean lessons retained. The Bible says to live up to what you have attained. For example, in high school I learned to be super disciplined with my time. In recent years, especially having adapted to a “slower” culture living overseas, I haven’t been quite as productive with each hour of the day. But since one of my goals is to be a freelance writer, I want to be just as ambitious as I was in high school, when I woke up at 5 a.m. to study for trigonometry (thank GOD that’s no longer necessary). If one of your goals is to be a personal trainer, you may also have to reach back into those high school years as an athlete to grab hold of early-morning training sessions.
Step 3: Where in life have you succeeded?
This is also going to take a little retro-spection. Look back into your history, 10, 20, 30 (or more) years and identify your greatest successes, as a professional, a student or just as a person. That may mean something more obvious, like winning an award, or it may be as simple as a wonderful compliment from an intimidating boss. The key is to consider those moments that made you extra proud, not necessarily the moments that earned you accolades from others.
For me, that moment was winning an online contest in college for creating a recipe for an almond cake with orange-flower water syrup that got published in a cookbook. It was a small thing- and I didn’t make any money off of it- but it showed me that my interest in recipe-development could be more than just a hobby. And that’s what step 3 in the process is meant to show you: where your passion and prowess have intersected in the past, so that you can see where your purpose may lie in the future.
Step 4: Brainstorming and info-gathering
Don’t skip the step of brainstorming action steps. If you have one concrete goal, you can write that down in the center of a page, for example “cafe“. Then you’re going to create a web of words around it: team, logistics, finances, marketing, vision. And from there, you’re going to think of all the little pieces that fit into each category. You may write down the names of people you think may want to join you in your venture, or the aspects of your personal brand or what you still need to learn (i.e. learn to make coffee). Even if your vision isn’t entrepreneurial, brainstorm. Do you want to work for a specific company, or learn a specific skill? Here’s where you think of any and all ideas or resources to help you get there.
Since my life is somewhat scattered, I had 3 brainstorm bubbles: one for the current PT job I have in the marketing department at my church, one for freelance work and one for this blog. Some of the ideas intersected, so I kept the bubbles close to see how my goals overlap.
Info-gathering is also key. There are several resources I have discovered on the internet that have given me super practical advice and some awesome inspiration. Here are some of my favorites, especially for all you aspiring female entrepreneurs:
- Girl Boss: Sophia Amoruso started Nasty Gal, an online clothing company with over half a million customers in 60 different countries.
- Create | Cultivate hosts conferences around the country for women entrepreneurs online. I’ve actually never been to one of the conferences, but their cute bios and awesome design inspire me to get there one day!
- Buzz Sumo is an amazing resource to see what people are looking for, what they are talking about and what they are ultimately buying into.
Step 5: #GOALS
In step 5, set your goals so that you can get stuff done. Make 2 lists: long-term and short-term. Long-term goals are those you can fulfill over the next 1-5 years, or 10-15 (depending on the size of your vision; for example, owing a profitable business). Short-term goals are those that you can complete anywhere from 1 month-1 year (for example, creating a personal website or business card). I wrote a list of 5 long term goals for the next year, and a list of ten to fifteen short-term goals I can complete over the next few months. Short-term goals are the baby steps you can take to get to the longer-term goals.
Here’s the key: set deadlines. And stick to them. If you don’t do well with deadlines, figure out what it is that makes you accomplish something. And do that.
This last and final step is meant to pour all your vision into doable items, so that suddenly your vision for life doesn’t seem so out there, impossible or unachievable.
One important thing: be realistic about your schedule and what you can achieve! Also, cut out ideas or steps that aren’t keyed in to your ultimate vision. There are a lot of different directions I can take with my career goals, but while learning coding might be a valuable skill, it doesn’t contribute significantly to my vision as a writer. Know when to say NO.
Finally, get excited!
Let yourself dream and get excited about what you want to accomplish. And don’t stress about doing it perfectly. Ultimately, your goals may lead you in a different direction than you thought. And that’s okay too. The point is to take time to value yourself and your calling: what you want, what you know and who you want to be.
A FINAL NOTE: I highly recommend Restless: Because You Were Made for More by Jennie Allen, if you’d like to take some more time thinking about your personal purpose. Super practical and inspiring!