One of the projects that's closest to my heart is my year-long "Live a Life You Love Club" program, where I work with people from around the world on systematically building a life that feels more fulfilling, balanced and meaningful. The foundation of the curriculum is focused on living more authentically, built on identifying core values and developing a sense of purpose.
This is the first year where I've been working with so many people at once across common themes, and it has been very interesting to watch them process the topic of purpose. Some had started the year already having a sense of their calling and biggest dreams, but many had entered the program carrying a blank slate. They felt lost and disconnected from their true selves and wanted to begin walking a more authentic life journey.
As I've written before, it took me a long time to figure out my purpose (I now believe that the reason I'm here is to give hope to people worldwide, by helping them live a healthier, happier, more meaningful life). At first, all I knew was where I had gone wrong. I was not supposed to be an ER doctor, though unfortunately I was already two years into the residency training program. I didn't really know how to be anything else other than a doctor, but my heart burned with a longing to find a new path.
I started following every clue I found about what might bring me joy and meaning. For the next few years I toyed with different passions and talents, starting to dream big dreams and testing out the possibilities. It wasn't until about seven years into the journey that it all came together into a recognizable whole that had shaped itself into a viable full-time vocation. Not that your purpose is necessarily tied to vocation or income generation, but it has been for me.
Anyway, watching the members of my Club explore the topic of purpose and hearing about some people's frustrations reminded me what a long, challenging process it can be. Purpose typically doesn't become clear right away. This also highlighted for me that the process of searching for purpose does not "serve its purpose" if it causes you to be frustrated and annoyed with your life for a long period of time while you search. That is not the point! Frustration and even despair about your current circumstances can be excellent motivators (they certainly were for me, as I drowned in depression while trying to turn myself into an ER doc) but that's not a place to live over the long haul.
For me, while I tried to figure out and build a life with a great overarching purpose, I found everyday purpose in something new and really special: dancing. I didn't like practicing medicine but it was the way I was paying my bills for the time being (I'd quit my residency and had gotten my license as a GP) and I was starting to dream big dreams about writing and teaching that still felt so far away. Thank goodness that in the meantime I'd discovered that what made me happier than anything else was dancing.
So I danced, first salsa and then flamenco. As I slowly and methodically built up my writing career and started gradually to speak and coach (hitting obstacles all along the way), the dancing kept me going and full of joy. It even proved to be a surprisingly good source of income, during the years when I lived in Mexico and had my own dance company.
These days, dancing is a very small part of what I do, even though I still take private flamenco lessons whenever I can and am excited about learning a challenging new choreography. I see myself much more as an inspirational teacher than a dancer, the former is my true purpose. But dancing is what got me here.
Rediscovering and living out my love of dance reconnected me with my true self and taught me how it felt to feel truly alive. Dancing got me out of my rut, out of my preconceived notions of how a 30-something doctor should be living. Dancing revealed to me that I was actually a creative person, an artist at heart, and that creative pursuits had a real and worthwhile place in my life. This opened the door to pursuing writing wholeheartedly.
I was reminded of my own process by one of the women in my Club, who wants very much to live a life with great overarching purpose but keeps coming up empty when she searches. In her exploration of what she loves, however, she has connected with the deep knowledge that she is passionate about photography and family.
When I work with people, I encourage them to make time in their non-stop obligation-driven lives for things that bring them joy and a sense of accomplishment , regardless of what anyone else thinks. I have people make lists of things they want to stop doing (why not take out a piece of paper and write your Stop Doing List right now?). I also have them make lists of things they want to do that keep getting shoved out of priority by the endless life "to-do's".
The aforementioned Club member decided to take some time in her busy life to finally make some headway in a project she'd been putting off forever: organizing family photos. She told us that she was surprised and delighted by how fulfilling and even purposeful it felt to work on this small, seemingly insignificant project. While she was immersed in it, it suddenly didn't seem to matter so much that she hadn't yet found a "big purpose" in life. Engaged in the moment, it was enough that she loved photography and her family and she found herself filled with appreciation and passion for both. Her entire day was infused with the joy that came from the small amount of time spent on this little project.
What small act, project or pastime might make your ordinary days feel more purposeful?
What would you love to find time for, that you have been putting off?
If you're feeling a lack of purpose and meaning, don't get all worked up about it. Figure out what matters to you now, that you can start doing now. It's lovely to have a big dream or vision for your life and to be working towards it, but life is so much more than that. Every day matters.
Even though I have been so blessed to have my platform increase to the point where I do really get to help people from around the world, it is also deeply meaningful and purposeful to give hope and encouragement to the people I come across in my day to day life, in the city where I live.
It is who you are in your day to day life, every day of your life, that matters more than anything else. No matter what your limitations are and how far you might be from your dreams, you can be purposeful in how you spend your time. Even if it's just half an hour that you're able to carve out for yourself. And even if that half hour is simply spent journaling your thoughts and trying to connect with who you are at your core, and what life means to you.
Trust that the more you consciously choose to live a life that feels right and meaningful to you, the more information you'll learn about why you are here and what (big or small) you are called to do.
Dr. Susan Biali, M.D. is a medical doctor, health and happiness expert, life and health coach, professional speaker, flamenco dancer, and the author of Live a Life You Love: 7 Steps to a Healthier, Happier, More Passionate You, dedicated to helping people worldwide get healthy, find happiness and enjoy more meaningful lives that they love. Dr. Biali has been featured as an expert on the Today Show and the Ricki Lake Show as well as many other major media outlets, and is available for keynote presentations, workshops/retreats, media commentary, and private life and health coaching.
Copyright Dr. Susan Biali, M.D. 2014