I was born a bit of an oddball- an outspoken and creative little oddball. As a kid, it took me a long time to realize that I had to match my clothes for kids to like me. Also, I seemed to feel way more than the people around me. When tension in my family life heated up, I was the one to express it. I was a highly creative, sensitive being.
In my twenties and thirties I may have looked like I fit in and got along well, and even excelled at a few things, but inside, I felt like an outsider. I was intellectually sharp, but it often seemed to others I was also too sensitive and emotional, too artistic, too hard to pin down, and too complicated. My differences made me naturally compassionate and nonjudgemental toward others, but they also made it so that when it came time for me to find my place as a professional and choose a career, I carried that outsider status with me.
I watched my friends choose their career paths and follow them, in a relatively straight line, and experience finding their place in the world and in the economy. I, on the other hand, saw no path where I could see myself feeling at home.
I felt painfully out of place, like a disruption to the system that everyone else operated smoothly within. I could have gone into design, art education or art therapy, yet, feeling like a total reject, I had an intense visceral negative rejection to these sensible options. I pieced together small jobs, conserved as much time as I could to make art, and waited for something to appear.
In my twenties this was easy to justify, but in my thirties, feeling lost caused me pain and confusion. I’d thought I’d “have it” by then, but I still wasn’t finding my way. It broke my heart. I craved belonging and the feeling of doing good work. I was teaching swimming lessons and working as an athletic coach- and I loved championing young people and I was the queen of motivating teams- but that wasn’t the whole story of who I knew I could be. There wasn’t a future for me in athletics, and I knew that.
I had the inexplicable intuitive sense that there was a life out there for me where I’d use my gifts, create value from them, and be valued in return. Somewhere there was a real place for me. And since I was so perceptive and sensitive, I couldn’t ignore this intuition, because it was one tiny area of certainty floating in my sea of confusion. It was something I just knew. I knew there was more for me- a way to feel relief from my frustration, a way to find clarity about my purpose and value- and I didn’t see the answer in any of these conventional career paths.
This inner conflict, however, took its toll. I was clearly capable of success, had no major handicaps holding me back, and aside from some emotional bruises from previous trauma, I was by any account very lucky. But I felt stuck and alienated, and this caused me to feel excruciating shame and embarrassment.
I developed a harsh inner voice that I used to judge myself. It seemed I had a made-up problem. Why couldn’t I get it together? I harbored deep sadness and disappointment, and I was angry at myself for “wasting my life”.
What kept me afloat was my ability to focus on that tiny thread of certainty of what was possible.
This is what I knew: I wanted creative freedom. Joy. Connection. Love. And I didn’t want those to just be personal experiences, I wanted them to be a major part of my everyday life. To me these things weren’t wishy-washy, or pie-in-the-sky, or a diversion. They were real. Central. Essential to life.
In both my work life and my personal life, I wanted to feel grounded, full of purpose, and deeply committed, and I knew those weren’t things I could fake. I told myself I needed to hunt for work that matched my vision of what was possible.
I can’t tell you how I knew this, but deep down I trusted this work- this life– was out there for me.
I had moments that I would recall where it felt like everything seemed to come together. Like in art school, when I performed in front of a small audience at a performance venue in town. I’d been completely terrified in the week leading up to the event, but when the lights switched on for me, so did I. I felt incredibly present, playful, comfortable being seen, both vulnerable and powerful at the same time. It was riveting, for both my audience and me.
I’d had other experiences too, like when making art in solitude, where I’d felt meditative oneness that temporarily lifted all the struggle inside me, or when I gave a personal talk about my art work in graduate school that surprised me when students swarmed around me afterwords, because I’d made a real, personal connection with them.
I wanted more moments where I was able to transcend struggle and separation, and co-create connection and transformation. They were profound and magical and they felt right. But what did that mean I was supposed to be? A zen master?
In my personal life, I was a naturally caring person, and creating value came easily. I could reframe my friend’s problems so that they felt more peace. I could translate my parent’s deeper intentions when they argued so they could hear each other. I sometimes wrote letters so straight from the heart it would bring tears of release from my readers.
But you don’t get paid for being good at loving people, I thought.
So I kept piecing together work that kept me minimally committed and safeguarded my independence, even though none of these jobs felt like they held a path forward. I decided to follow any instincts I had that allowed me to explore my love of (and curiosity about) creating transformative experiences for myself and others. My adventures added up like a series of hypotheses:
Hypothesis #1: Maybe I’m meant to go pro as an artist.
I went and got my graduate degree in Fine Arts in Chicago. While a student and teacher’s assistant, I loved creating experiences for people from the ground up. I collaborated a LOT, and even made objects and participatory installations that caused others to collaborate and work together. Exploring this territory for the sake of experimentation felt great, and I continued to make work and show it after school. But as far as making a living went, I found that it cost me a lot of time, energy and money. Not only that, but my values didn’t align with those of the art world. It wasn’t a culture I wanted to stay in. I was too drawn to helping people.
Hypothesis #2: Maybe I’m supposed to abandon normal life altogether and be spiritual.
I tried living in a zen temple for a couple months, while working at an event production company in Chicago. No joke! I’d long had a zen practice, and really did wonder about a path as a zen teacher. It was transformative, and I even gave a couple dharma talks to the community at that center, but I wasn’t ready to rule out all other options in order to commit to this path, either. I took my meditation practice and moved on.
Hypothesis #3: Maybe I’ll find my purpose in China.
I’d studied eastern epistemology in grad school, and it fed my hunger for expanding human connection, so I decided to go be in China for a while, to really experience how relationships are there. I became an ESL teacher and went to China by myself to teach English for half a year. I did learn a lot about human connection, the limits of our way of thinking, and how insanely collaborative and innovative the Chinese people are, but I didn’t find my purpose. (Or at least I couldn’t see it at the time!)
Hypothesis #4: Maybe my problem is I’m too self-absorbed and I should just concentrate on giving.
This is where I really spent myself in my search, and where I started to lose steam. I thought if I just concentrated on giving what I had to give, something would surely come of it. I returned to Philadelphia, resumed teaching and coaching swimming, and volunteered my butt off. I raised $5000 for Leukemia and Lymphoma Society while training for an olympic-distance triathlon and coaching inner-city kids to run long distance through a non-profit called Students Run Philly Style. I made two summer trips to Ghana, one where I led a collaborative project with students there, and one where I led a trip where American teachers produced summer programs for students.
Each of these involved entering the unknown and creating from my own ideas of what was possible, and that was very in keeping with my nature (and those parts were fun!). Also, with each I gathered more experiences of appreciating the value of other people’s experiences. But after nearly two years at this pace, moving from one exploration to the next, I’d run myself down. I felt hollowed out and lonely. I suffered pretty serious exhaustion, had taxed my adrenals, strained my back, and developed migraines that would consistently put me out of commission several days each month for the next two years.
Then, I had a life-changing experience.
An old love had re-entered my life and soon I was engaged to be married. During our engagement, it became clear that unhealthy aspects of our relationship were getting worse. As the months went by, I started listening to the fear that was building inside me, and saw that the dynamics of our relationship violated my basic standards for kindness and compassion. It was confusing and heartbreaking to work through what was happening and how I felt about marrying him.
This wasn’t who I was, I realized. I valued love in a deep and profound way. In fact, the most important thing to me was love. Love was something I stood for.
I was about to make a choice that would shape the rest of my life, and this was a wake-up call. Was I creating what I wanted?
This crisis brought everything into intense focus. I needed to be honest with myself and my partner about what I wanted and who I was, and I saw that although did love him- deeply- marrying him wasn’t what I wanted. It would have been bad for both of us.
In order to summon the courage to break it off and get through this with both of us better for it, I spent my waking moments focused on love, and this new feeling that was expanding inside me.
What an experience it was. Waves of warmth would rush over me and give me this inexplicable calm. When I was driving in the car. When I walked by the river. When I sat in the park. I felt love. I knew love. Love was everywhere. And, I suddenly knew that it had been there all along.
This was spontaneous healing.
Finding this piece of the puzzle was like coming home to who I was. I was being transformed. In the way that I had changed already, I could tell I was changed for good.
From there, I practiced coming back to this feeling. When I needed a nap, I took a nap. When I was sad, I’d cry. I drew a boundary between other people’s opinions and my life, and gave myself privacy, where I could trust this tender source of inexplicable love and healing.
That was the start of the journey I had hoped for.
From there, I studied books on brain science and emotions. I learned anything I could get my hands on that would help me understand what was happening and build on it. I journaled and meditated. I bought a book on coaching and leadership, and it resonated so deeply I started to know that I would be a coach at some point.
At this point I’d started a business a professional organizer to make money (helping people organize their stuff and their emotions), and I’d found a program that trains people to become organizer-coaches. I entered the program and started coaching my clients. I loved it. It helped me formalize my instincts for helping people value who they are, and free themselves from the constraints of operating the way everyone else did. I gained a solid foundation in coaching and kept going.
From there, I found Coaches Training Institute, and signed up for their first class in life coaching, called Fundamentals. That’s when things really took off.
By the end of the first day of that class, I realized I’d found my people. I felt authentic and at ease, and everything we were learning made total sense to me. All the skills that I’d considered personal and private- ones that were based in sensitivity to others, emotional intelligence, and instincts for growth- were now being framed in a professional context. A new world opened up. I signed up for the next class, and the next one.
I did six months of immersive coaching training, getting to both experience and witness the change that coaching brings. From there, I entered a year-long experiential Leadership Program with a group of 23 others that kicked what was left of my persona of being out of place and lost to the curb.
It was another game-changer.
Over the course of that year, I learned a whole new language of leadership, and looked at my natural passions and skills through that lens. I experienced change and healing I didn’t know were possible, and was blown away by the methodology. For example, I realized that the sensitivity, empathy and vulnerability and I’d carried all my life were leadership assets (not liabilities) and I learned how to apply them in the process of facilitating change. Putting all these things together was downright thrilling.
By the end of this period I’d healed so many internal wounds that I could hardly remember what it used to feel like to be me. I had changed so much.
I’d even stopped having migraines (for anyone with migraines you know what a big deal this is!). I got used to believing in change, and change happening quickly. It still does.
I’ve made a habit of stepping into the unknown in my life, and always so that I could learn or discover something I knew was out there for me. Having started out feeling painfully fragmented, I gradually uncovered my wholeness, and that freed me.
Life is a lot lighter now.
Not only that, but I have purpose. Work isn’t just a paycheck. I know why I do it, and why I want to keep doing it. I’ve taken ownership of my life’s direction, and that frees me to stay creative. My work isn’t just professional, it’s also personal; my heart’s invested, and I want it that way. I get to benefit from the responsibility and growth that brings, and enjoy a deep sense of satisfaction.
Whether I’m coaching, talking on the phone with a friend, giving a workshop at a women’s center, or shopping at the grocery store, I am here to do the same thing. I help champion the magic and purpose of others.
There are a lot of reasons why I’m telling you this, one of which is to live my own purpose: I help people like you find your magic and live your purpose and so you can experience deep satisfaction and success.
I don’t want you to spend your life fighting who you are, or not knowing why you’re here. As you can tell from my story, I’m an outlier- someone who is just outside the norm- and if you’ve read this far, chances are you’re an outlier in some shape or form, too.
Outliers have a unique purpose, and it’s not to fit in. The job of the outlier is to bridge, innovate, heal or create. Outliers are originals, and originals move us forward. But the work of the outlier is internal. As outliers we must overcome what holds us back from full self-expression for the higher good of ourselves and others. We must work out within ourselves the battles, confusion or wounds that follow us, because resolving these things will point us to our purpose in the world. These experiences make us into who we need to be and tell us what we’re here to do.
I want you to know that honoring, trusting and celebrating who you are- not who you feel you should be- will not only bring you peace, but it will also serve the rest of us. If you don’t commit to yourself and your path of discovery, your choice will likely give you- and us- more of the same experiences. We’ll all miss out on the potentially beautiful disruption you’d bring into our world that will help us learn, change, integrate, or heal, and finally move us forward.
If you have a vision that you instinctively know is possible for you, or if you long deeply for something that is fundamentally different from what you have now, you have a choice. What I want is for you to choose not to pass your calling off as a hobby, indulgence, or distraction from “real” life. What I want for you- and for everyone- is to respect this part of yourself, honor it with humility, care, and curiosity, and make a commitment to keep pulling your purpose or longing toward the center of your life.
This takes courage and commitment, yet the payback on your investment will compound over the course of your life.
Journeys toward deeper callings to serve are often difficult to understand, difficult to talk about, and solo by nature. Like I did, we can create our own suffering in the process. If we’re not careful we can prolong our search indefinitely, by unconsciously fighting who we are.
And magic- like the magic I’ve experienced in my own journey- happens, but it doesn’t make sense. Not only that, but will die in the face of control, self-judgment and anger, and force. I’ve been there, and I can help you unhook from stories and ways of seeing yourself that ultimately keep you from what you want. I can help you listen for where your journey is taking you and help you make your purpose a central part of your life, even if you don’t fully trust it yet.
If you have the same nagging feeling that you’re meant for more and are interested in making changes in your life, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org for a free initial consultation. It’s the fastest way to find out if coaching is right for you.