What if I don't know what my "purpose" is in life?

I vividly remember being in high school and having this nagging feeling in the pit of my stomach that I really needed to know what I wanted to be when I grew up. I read “What Color is Your Parachute” (twice) and filled out the corresponding workbook and I enthusiastically completed all the surveys our guidance counselor recommended in hopes that it would give me my Answer to life’s grandest question: What Is Your Purpose? What are you here on this Earth to accomplish, create, carry out, cure, do?

Of course, the only answers I got from these books and quizzes were varied and unrelated, which only confused me more. One test said I should be a social worker, while another recommended “business owner” (vague), and still another mentioned teacher, which has been the predominant thread that runs through everything I’ve done in my career so far (so they weren’t too far off!). It seemed many of my friends in high school had a fairly good idea what they would be going to college for, while others (like me) planned on majoring in something general like Communications and then “figuring it out” at a later date.

(Side note: college was a non-negotiable for me and everyone in my friend circle. The thought of not going to college was not only looked down upon, but unheard of. I don’t agree with this line of thinking and definitely don’t think college should be expected for everyone. I’m a great example of someone who is currently not using any of my degrees and if I ever have children of my own, they’re gonna have to convince me why they want to go to college in the first place. We need to stop pressuring kids into going into thousands of dollars worth of debt for degrees they don’t really care about. Ok, end rant.)

I guess you could say my parachute was multi-colored, and according to Michelle Obama, that’s quite alright. In her book Becoming, she says,

“Now I think it’s one of the most useless questions an adult can ask a child— What do you want to be when you grow up? As if growing up is finite. As if at some point you become something and that’s the end.”

But now, at 34, with an undergraduate degree in Spanish, a Masters in education, and multiple certifications in everything from yoga to health coaching to aromatherapy, and experience in retail, education, health, non-profits, and food & bev, I still have no clue what I want to be when I grow up. I’ve had multiple quarter life crises trying to find the answer to that one question and the more I pushed and tried and forced the answer to come, the more frustrated and depressed I got.

What if I don’t have just One and Only Almighty Purpose and Passion Forever and Always that I should be working diligently toward? Throughout my life I’ve had many things I’m interested in all at the same time and often felt like there wasn’t enough time in the day to pursue all of them. So I’ve sorta become a Jackie of all Trades, Master of None, and only until very recently have I become not only okay with that, but proud of it.

I recently listened to Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat Pray Love, on one of Oprah’s Super Soul Conversations about what she refers to as the “curiosity-driven life” and she summed it up perfectly. Basically, there are two types of people in the world: the Jackhammers and the Hummingbirds.

The Jackhammers, which is what Gilbert says she is, are the people who know at a fairly young age exactly what they want to do in life and then go after it with gusto. They’re very clear on what their passion is and stay focused on that one thing for most of their life without ever veering too far off that path. They’re driven, passionate, and have a single-pointed focus. They can also have a hard time understanding the Hummingbirds…

Which brings me to the Hummingbirds (i.e. ME)…

Hummingbirds have many topics they’re curious about and interested in, but don’t feel like they have One True Purpose that’s guiding their life. They can sometimes feel scattered, flighty, or frustrated with their Jackhammer friends who seem to have it all figured out. They’ll often follow a passion only to find out they don’t feel so passionate about it after all. And then they’re back at square one feeling defeated and defective because they just can’t seem to crack the Purpose Code, despite all the soul searching and personal developing they’re doing trying to figure it out.

According to Gilbert, “Hummingbirds spend their lives doing it very differently. They move from tree to tree, from flower to flower, from field to field, trying this, trying that,” Gilbert says. “Two things happen: They create incredibly rich, complex lives for themselves, and they also end up cross-pollinating the world.”

When I heard THAT, I literally breathed a sigh of relief. Finally! Someone gets me! I’m a Hummingbird! And I don’t have to be *bullied into thinking that I’m somehow defective or less-than because I don’t feel like I have One True Purpose. It’s fine to have many things you’re curious about and to follow them all at the same time. In fact, like Gilbert, I encourage you to. You may not follow through with many of them, but those little sparks of curiosity are serving you. And who knows… by following those bread crumbs, they just might lead you to your Purpose… (aha!).

*To clarify, no one has ever actually “bullied” me about not having One True Purpose in life. It’s just a figment of my imagination. I’m very aware that I’m my own worst bully in my own mind.

To my 20-something girlfriends writing their "30 before 30" lists

I’ve had a few friends who are on the verge of turning 30 ask me recently what they should put on their “30 before 30” bucket lists, which as the title suggests, is a list of 30 things one must do or accomplish before one’s 30th birthday.

It’s a question I had a hard time answering partly because I remember being in their shoes thinking that THIRTY was this magic age where all the hard work of my twenties would pay off and the government would issue me my perfect husband, 3 perfect kids, a 401k, and a two-story house with a 2 car garage in the suburbs and I would spend the rest of my life just sorta coasting…. (insane, I know).

In June of 2009, at 24, I remember sitting on an airplane back from Argentina with my best friend Jess. We had just completed a 10 day trip of drinking way too much Malbec and traipsing around Buenos Aires with Argentine soccer players (living our best lives). I was living in Dallas in the middle of a 3-year long-distance romance with a Spaniard who I was convinced I was going to marry, teaching bilingual 1st grade, and pretty confident that I knew exactly how my life would turn out as Jess and I made our “30 before 30” bucket lists together on that long plane ride home.

Ten years later, just a few days after my 34th birthday, as I was sifting through old journals I found that list.

Marriage, kids, own a house, earn a masters degree, get a tattoo, live near the ocean, travel to exotic countries (none actually specified), run a marathon, and ride an elephant were all among the 30 that made it on there. I even had it mapped out on a timeline, along with the names of my future (hopefully Spanish) children. I was convinced I was in total control of every outcome of every decision I would make and that by 30, I’d have life figured out.

Besides the kids and the elephant, those other “bucket list” items did get checked off my list before 30. But ironically, with many of those bucket list items that I thought would lead to ultimate Happiness, came their shadow opposite. And it was in those shadows that I came to really know myself…

In addition to marriage, there was divorce.

In addition to owning a house, there was near homelessness that followed.

In addition to a Masters degree in Education, there was a complete retirement from teaching and total career change altogether.

There are other examples, but you get the picture.

All of that being said, I write the following 30 items as advice to my younger self. Not so much a revised '“bucket list” that I would recommend to others, but what I wish the older sister I never had would’ve said to me. Some of the items are things I’ve actually done and would recommend to anyone else, while others are things I wish I’d done differently.

Ultimately, we’re all on our own journey so if you’re gonna write a “30 before 30”, only you really know what to put on it…

  1. Wear SPF 30+ sunscreen every damn day no matter what. This is number 1 for a reason because girrrrrrl those sunspots are gonna piss you off later when you can’t get rid of them.

  2. You are the product of the five people you spend the most time with. Choose your inner circle wisely and then hold onto them tight.

  3. Keep a gratitude journal, as cliche as it sounds. Write 3-5 things you’re grateful for every night and watch how it rewires your brain to notice the positive. Your life will be better because of it.

  4. Don’t be an irresponsible asshole with your credit card. The banks never should’ve given you that much credit anyway.

  5. On a similar note, don’t be an irresponsible asshole with alcohol. You don’t need it as much as you think you do, and you’ll actually make some pretty life-shattering decisions under the influence.

  6. Form your own political opinion based on your own morals and values. It may not look like your parents’, and that’s ok.

  7. Call your parents more. You were the most difficult child for them to raise and continue to be the most difficult for them to understand, so maybe call them more— open the lines of communication— to make it a little easier on all of you.

  8. That being said, stop caring so much about what they think and do what lights you up and feels most aligned to you. They will love you no matter what.

  9. The sooner you stop dieting, the more free you will feel. And the more you’ll love yourself and your incredible body and the better example you’ll set should you ever have a daughter.

  10. Develop yourself and stay inspired. Read books, listen to podcasts, or go to seminars that spark your interest.

  11. Stripped bare, who are you? You’ll sell all your possessions and start over 4 different times before 30. I know this sounds scary, but this will teach you that you are not your possessions and your worth isn’t wrapped up in what you own.

  12. In addition to your parents, stop caring so much about what other people think. I promise, they’re not thinking about you that much.

  13. Do that yoga teacher training. Or go live on a yacht or work in a zoo in South Africa or teach English in Thailand or get that Masters degree or run for office or write that damn book. You won’t regret it. In fact, it will have a ripple effect that will change more people’s lives than you can even imagine right now.

  14. Go to Hawaii while you’re still living out West.

  15. And go to Italy while you’re still living in Spain.

  16. Drink more water and eat tons of greens. It literally makes you pretty.

  17. No, there’s nothing wrong with you if you’re not married by 30. You’re not a better human once you’re married, so go ahead and mark this one off the list please.

  18. When your college best friend dies suddenly and you’re living across the country, find a way to be at the funeral (and you will).

  19. Eat real food like, 90% of the time. Learn to cook for yourself and it will be one of the biggest gifts you can give to YOU and potentially pass on to others.

  20. Mind your business when it comes to other people’s relationships.

  21. Keep practicing your Spanish, or whatever your hobby is. It’ll keep your brain fresh.

  22. Set some financial goals, start saving and investing, and live within a budget. Respect your money hunny.

  23. Buy yourself flowers.

  24. Don’t rely on caffeine to wake you up or alcohol to help you sleep. It’ll cost you down the line.

  25. Comparison is the thief of joy. Maybe get off social media and spend that time writing/creating/moving/doing/being.

  26. You may not have any of those 3 children you’re planning by 30. You may not even have one. And I’m sorry because I know not having children is your biggest fear. Being a mother can look a hundred different ways and take shape in hundreds more. Don’t let this break your heart. Trust that any children you’re meant to have will come. Trust. Trust. Trust.

  27. Just. Fucking. Write. (Or create in some way.) Do it for you and not whoever may read the words. You’ll soon find that unused creativity will eventually manifest as overindulgence and depression. Just get it out there.

  28. Forgive yourself. Know that you were doing the best that you could with what you knew at the time.

  29. Detachment. This is gonna sound very Buddhist, but the sooner you’re able to detach from the outcome of how you think your life is supposed to look, the more space you’ll feel to allow the path you’re on to take you in the direction you are meant to go. Not your neighbor or your sister or your best friend. We’re all on our own journeys and it’s ok if it doesn’t look like everyone else’s. It’s actually not supposed to and how boring would this life be if it did?

  30. Life doesn’t end at 30 honey, so you can do all of the above after 30 too. And that’s fucking great.