what to do when you don’t know your purpose (yet)

As promised on Monday, I’m going to share something that I realized while talking to Stephanie, an MML reader, who recently left the job she knew wasn’t her calling in order fulfill her purpose. The only problem is, she doesn’t know what that purpose or next step might be…


As we talked over coffee, it became clear that she was serious about fulfilling her purpose, and equally bewildered as to what that might actually be.

At first, I was perplexed. I meet a lot of people who know what they want to do but haven’t actually designed their life around that intention. In those cases, I try to help them remove the personal barriers blocking their dream. Usually there is some kind of mental obstacle that they feel is compelling them to stay in their dissatisfied situation rather than taking the leap of faith.

In Stephanie’s case however, she jumped in trusting that she was making the right move. But once she made the decision, her purpose didn’t magically materialize. I think that there are many others out there who also, like Stephanie, don’t know what they want to do just yet.

It’s like being in a dark room without a crack of light underneath a door to lead you to the next stage.

Once you see a speck of light, your eyes can adjust to the darkness and guide you to the door and you can walk into the next room pretty easily. But how do you find the doorknob in a pitch black room?

You start feeling around.

Though I’ve mentioned the ego vs. spirit before, I will recap really quickly: I believe we have two voices in our heads, our ego and our spirit/gut/intuition. Both messages are present at all times but we often hear the ego’s rationalizing, fearful, and prideful voice shouting over the spirit’s cool, calm, knowledge and understanding.

When you are in a “dark room” in your life, instead of frantically looking around with your ego’s eyes for a light source, a rationale, a prescribed set of beliefs about your purpose; take a moment to start feeling from your gut. In the dark room, use your your spirit to guide you towards what feels right for your life in the same way that you use your hands to feel for furniture in the darkness.

Start to have faith that your gut will lead you towards the door when the time is right. Start to pay attention to the feelings you get in your stomach which drive you towards some things and away from others. Try to ignore the white noise coming from your ego. You can even do what I do and pray that the white noise is drowned out by the spirit’s voice. (Yep, there is no secret formula, I still struggle with the spirit/ego thing too, I just ask for help to pull the voices apart from one another – and turn up the volume on my spirit so loudly I can’t help but follow it.)

In the darkness, if you learn to identify and follow your spirit with faith and patience, you will be rewarded with the clarity you are looking for when the time is right (which is not necessarily when your ego wants things to happen). And even more importantly, you will have then developed the spirit muscles needed to lead you once you open that door and follow your path to the next stage. Otherwise, it’s too tempting to just let your “ego eyes” do all the work and never really reflect or produce what is truly meaningful for you.

Think of it this way, if we are never forced into a situation that causes us to find a way to deal with uncertainty through faith, we will never develop the skills needed to blaze a trail that is truly our own, truly our destiny.

So please treat this phase of your life reverently, it is going to build you up and take you farther than you ever imagined if you consistently listen, trust, and follow to your spirit.

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  1. Jill

    oh boy… I’ve been there. Truth be told I have quit jobs TWO TIMES to follow my passion in the past 10+ years and have (as far as I believe) really only just found it. Eek! That’s scary! But I think you are SO right Jess… combine this post with yesterday’s post and you just have to trust your gut, feel around and then TRY (do, do, do!) things! Ask, my husband I have “tried” several career paths along the way and theorized and dreamed and also been very frustrated. But now I can say that they all in some messy and jagged way lead to where I am now…

  2. Molly

    I had a big night in my prayer journal yesterday fighting with my ego. This post could not have been more needed this morning. Thank you so much Jess for your positive outlook and insights.

  3. Kat

    I feel like I’m in that dark room right now. I had always planned on going to law school after college and having a successful legal career. I tailored my education and work experience during college to lead up to it. I did not plan on falling in love with and marrying a soldier. Unfortunately for me, the military life style does not make practical a legal career…or any career where setting up a solid foundation is necessary. At this point I am working in the same capacity as I did when I first graduated college 4 years ago and am actually making $10K less a year (thank you for moving me from DC to GA). I know I should count myself lucky that I at least have a job in this terrible economy; however, I know for sure I am not living up to my full potential and for sure am not pursuing my passion. I am struggling right now to find a career I am passionate about, but that also can be portable. It’s a challenge and I know I will at some point succeed, but it is very frustrating being in that dark room and not being able to find the door knob. Thank you Jess for your posts, I look to them for inspiration.

  4. Stephanie

    And I’m still feeling around, but at least I’m feeling! It’s a good lesson in patience and trusting myself. I’m just so excited to see what will come of this! Thanks for everything!!

  5. Ann

    You posts are so often very relative to what I am thinking at any given moment. I’ve told you before that I’m in a transition period of trying to find my next adventure. I’ve been patient, I’ve consulted every self-help book and blog I can find about happiness, following my dreams and finding fulfillment. I have meditated and asked myself all the questions about who I really am and what I really want, but I still don’t know! It’s very frustrating! I’m ready to take that step, but I don’t know where to put my foot! Just this week, I decided it’s time to get out of my head and DO something! So I’m very literally starting with exercise, since i can’t think of anything else. I will begin by moving my body and hope that it will open a pathway between my heart and brain. Simply walking is the action of moving forward. Unless of course, I listen to those people who say running backwards is beneficial! Haha! We are only listening to ourselves this month, and I am certain that is a bad idea for me!

  6. Kate

    I am LOVING your feisty new attitude Jess! These posts, for me, have been way more inspiring in the past 2 days than my general impression of MML since I’ve been on. Keep sharing this awesome KICK ASS-ness with us!

    I am not hating my job, I know it’s not my passion, but I think it’s on the right track. I’m just jumping on opportunities that ‘feel’ right and I’m trying to learn what feels good. Posts like this make me feel that’s the right thing to do! Thanks for the pate on the back!

  7. LauraB

    oh my gosh Jess… and all of your wonderful readers… I always follow your blog at work because it makes me remember there is life outside of my cold, dark cube. I am a free spirit stuck in a dreadfully boring job and I just KNOW I can make it with some sort of creative, small business… someday! Thank you for helping me realize I’m not alone, and for giving me a LOGICAL excuse to listen to my gut (which of course is right). this is so encouraging!

  8. hannah

    Great post and exactly what I needed to hear at this moment! Thanks for shining the flashlight on the other side of the door, if only to reassure us that the light exists. I gotta get me somma that!

  9. I love the fact that you say that the spirit, not the ego, is what knows what our purpose in life is.
    When we are growing up, people try to help us find our careers by rationalising what we are good at, what we do well, what we enjoy doing. But sometimes - I daresay more often than not - those things aren’t our purpose. *And that’s O.K.* But we go about trying to find our paths by rationalising, by asking our egoes what it is we should be doing. And let’s face it, our egoes talk a lot of rubbish most of the time; but that rubbish is coming from natural fears and worries.
    Ignoring the ego and listening to the spirit instead is a scary and counter-instinctive thing to do - but it’s so *right*, and we will never understand how right it is until we do it.
    Thank you, Jess.

  10. erin

    I came across your apartment tour on apartmenttherapy.com and I am SO GLAD I DID because one click brought me to Jess LC, and then another click, to MML. I have pored over post after post for days, soaking up everything, and feeling so much better for it – about where I am in life and where I’m headed. Thank you so much for giving me some motivation and a little direction, and for inspiring me to go ahead and take life by the horns (AND to drop off four huge bags to GoodWill this past weekend!). 😉

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