Seven years ago, I stumbled upon my purpose in life: to help people reveal their fullest potential. Since then, I have literally designed my career around this mission.
It has been a long and winding road. One filled with challenges and anxiety attacks – as well as huge breaks and celebrations.
In talking to people on the subject of purpose, I get the feeling that many people might be confused as to what purpose in life really looks like. So today, I’d like to share a bit about my journey with the hope that it will dispel a few myths about how a purpose led life takes shape.
This is the “un-Photoshopped” picture of purpose, if you will.
Though many people often assume that you must “find” your purpose, I did not.
I actually stumbled upon it by accident during the most difficult time in my life. As a college junior I was binge eating candy bars three at a time and going to counseling for personal matters from my childhood. In three months I gained 20 pounds, lost all of my self-esteem, had a constant negative loop of self-talk going on in my head, and desperately wished Dr. Spock could beam me into Perfect Jess.
I desperately wanted to abandon everything about myself and just Be Better. Be Perfect.
Not surprisingly, that didn’t happen.
Instead, day by day, I had to pick myself up from the pit of self-pity and negativity I dug for myself. This is where The Seven Habits came into my life. I picked up a dusty copy of the teen version while home from college and found a foundation that I could build my actions and values around.
While in this self-discovery phase, I also happened upon a passage in The Art of Possibility that described how Michelangelo said it was easy to create the statue of David because he saw the figure within the stone and simply removed what was not David.
This passage was a huge paradigm shift for me: I didn’t need to seek my completion, happiness, and potential by adding to my life, I needed to subtract all the not-so-great habits and things that blocked my potential from unfolding.
That simple a-ha moment hit me so squarely in my heart that I knew it was the lesson I was not only supposed to learn in my own life, but was one I was meant to share with others as well.
My mess became my message.
Once I found my purpose, I didn’t automatically know “what to do.”
With this purpose in place, I set about learning everything I could on the subject of success, achievement, intention, and fulfillment. For the past seven years I’ve devoted my reading and my learning to this topic.
That said, I didn’t know exactly how to bring this mission and the principles I was uncovering to the world.
I debated back and forth about getting a job after graduation. At the time (2007), I was convinced that I was going need a TV show to help people.
You know, like Oprah and Martha.
After a little research, I realized that Martha wrote a book called Entertaining that sold so well that it launched her career as we know it today.
With this in mind, I decided to write a book. I worked on it in my dorm room and in the evenings during my internship at Macy’s in New York.
As I neared graduation, I decided to take my part-time jewelry business full-time in order to pay the bills and continue working on the book proposal.
I moved to a tiny, not-so-nice studio apartment in Chicago and grew my jewelry company to pay the bills. I started with $700 in the bank from college jewelry sales and grew the company to over six figures in three years.
Though this might sound like it was effortless, please know: I’m just sparing all the the awesome and scary details to keep this story going. You can read the whole story of this phase in my life here.
Eventually, I decided to do what I could, right where I was.
About 14 months into the business, I realized I was climbing the wall of entrepreneurship and needed to start pursuing that book proposal. I hated the idea of being a super-successful jewelry company owner that never pursued the real reason for being self-employed in the first place: to write a book, get a TV show, and help people!
At the time, I was learning about blogs and decided to continue my proposal on a blog, rather than a blank Word Doc.
Due to a completely unrelated giveaway I did on a major blog, a trickle of people started to click from the jewelry site over to the new blog.
Seeing readers respond to my posts, I suddenly realized I didn’t need a TV show or a book to help people. I could simply help people one day at a time, writing online to whoever would listen!
Blogging changed everything. I dropped the need to write a book and poured my heart and soul into the blog. I spent half of my day focusing on blogging related content and the other half on Jess LC.
My day job benefitted my purpose.
Though many didn’t understand that Jess LC was never my ultimate goal – it was a very pretty, sometimes risky day job – that day job happened to help me transition into my purpose as a career.
This was huge. I know a lot of people think that I started off with my purpose full-time right out of college, but really, it was Jess LC as a day-job that allowed my purpose-based career to take place gradually over the last five years of blogging.
People started asking me for help… and paying me!
The first stream of income based on my purpose (beyond a few hundred dollars here and there for blog ads) was business consulting. I realized early on in blogging, during the peak of the recession, that people craved entrepreneurship online as a way to live intentionally.
So what started as blog posts on the topic of business, eventually turned into one-on-one consulting sessions. Over time, I added traveling workshops, an ebook, and the Workshop At Home.
The revenue I was making from the business services eventually equalled what I was making from Jess LC. At that point, I was able to close the successful accessory line and focus on my purpose full-time.
The whole transition took five years altogether, including four years of blogging.
Over time, how I fulfilled my purpose shifted.
As I closed Jess LC, I was so excited to help people full-time that I got distracted from my ultimate purpose- to help people find a better way to live a better life.
So there I was in November of 2012, full-time helping business owners with strategy, marketing, and branding.
It was nice, but not quite the fulfilling my complete intention.
A single email from a reader asking me to help her with her life helped me reconnect with the a-ha moment that started this whole journey.
I then expanded my workshops and one-on-one offerings to include life with intention options and straddled both business and life for much of the past 14 months.
Finally, I asked my gut what to do.
Last spring, as I stood in line for the bathroom in an Austin restaurant, I asked my gut what I should do next. I expected to hear something like “more workshops.” But instead, I heard a different, unexpected response.
And while I have been working on fulfilling that decree over the past year, I found it impossible to focus while juggling everything on my plate.
What once seemed like a really fun and super awesome career in doing everything that I liked (business consulting, blogging, workshops, writing, speaking, interior decorating, and re-branding a hotel) turned into a huge distraction from my gut’s simple direction.
I stopped doing some purpose-based stuff do do other purpose-based stuff.
To get serious about following my gut and evolving into what I am meant to do at this point in time, I dropped the business consulting.
This was difficult for some people to understand as many had come to see me as “a business person who sometimes talks about life topics.”
But really, it is the truest expression of my purpose to date.
I am so excited to see what 2014 brings in this area. It has been a long and winding road with many twists and turns waiting to reveal themselves in the years to come.
As you can see, this whole purposeful journey has been fuzzy, unexpected, sometimes clear, risky, and never-ending.
There is no “a-ha moment followed by a permanent and clear vision of what you are meant to do for the next 60 years.” Purpose is not a straight path.
You simply must do the best you can today to help the people in your life through your talents, ability, and love.
Keep going. Keep growing. Keep following your gut.
The rest will be shown to you.