In December 2017, I was at the Massachusetts Conference for Women sitting in a session called “Drop the ball – achieving more by doing less,” featuring Tiffany Dufu, author of the book for which the session was named. I left there inspired to reevaluate what it is that I wanted to do with my life. I had just come back to work from maternity leave and was struggling with my purpose in this newly changed world. I immediately downloaded her audio book and was determined to apply the lessons within to my life.
But as with most things, my inspiration waned as life trudged on and little distractions piled up around me. Fast forward one year – and I am back in that place. Feeling beaten down, lost and overwhelmed by the pressure of my aspirations, my to-do lists and my shortfalls.
One of the things I remember most from Tiffany’s book was that the root cause of burn out for women is not that we have too much to do, it’s the feeling that the things we do aren’t meaningful or don’t reflect who we really are. And women who understand the larger context of what is important to them are more positively motivated at work and less stressed overall. Spoiler Alert- I am not one of them. And I’m not talking solely about my professional career. I’m talking about feeling that sense of purpose that permeates every aspect of your life. Understanding and believing in your purpose serves as the north star for everything you touch. That purpose makes the bad things sting less and the good things even greater.
So, this time I set out to make my purpose a priority. I’m going to figure out what matters most to me and let that guide the next steps I take in life. It starts with four exercises; three from Tiffany’s book and the fourth from a friend’s suggestion (Wheel of Life).
Exercise #1 My Legacy: the imprint I wanted to leave on the planet
Exercise #2 My Gift: the passion that drives me to great things
Exercise #3 My Time: how I use my legacy and my gift to make the most of my time
Exercise #4 My Truth: the values that hold meaning for me
So that’s the bird’s eye view of the exercises, but what do you get out of it? What did it look like for me? Keep reading…
Exercise #1 (My Legacy)
Visualize your funeral. Imagine three people: a family member or good friend, a community member and a work colleague. Visualize their testimony about the person you were and the things for which you stood.
At times, Kristin was hard to get close to – but when you did, it was so worth it.
She was honest – at times to a fault – but that means that when she said something, you know she meant it. It was genuine. And You could always tell when she cared because in those moments she was all in. There wasn’t anything that I felt I couldn’t come to her with. Sometimes she had answers. Sometimes she just listened. She helped when she could, and she told me to fuck off when she knew I could do it on my own.
She was a fighter. She fought for those she cared about – always stood by my side on the lines of battle. She fought because she wanted to make me better. And she helped me see that fucking up wasn’t the end of the world. She shared her experiences so that I knew I wasn’t alone. She was funny. But not in an obvious way. Despite all the sarcasm and snark – and there was plenty of it – she had faith and hope for a world that could do better. Be better. For everyone.
Mere would say that I have always been her safe place. That she saw me as the person she could come to for comfort when she was scared, for advice when she needed it and for celebration when she was happy. In her heart, she knew ONE unwavering truth, that no matter what – I would come for her. I would show up. For her. No matter what.
Exercise #2 (My Gift)
Speak to 10-15 people in your life and ask them to share with you a time when they have experienced you at your best. Transcribe the stories that they tell and circle the words and phrases that are similar. These are the strengths and qualities you possess that have the greatest impact on others. Below are some quotes – these are not my words, this is straight from the mouths of my people.
Strong and Resilient. You fight back. A warrior. Committed. Challenge the status quo. You get shit done. You never give up. A relentless woman who wants to do the best job she can at work. Fiery and hard-working.
Wise and Real. You see weakness and strength. You read people and tell them what the need but may not know it yet. A trusted adviser. Super direct – honest. An insightful friend who is always available to listen and give solid advice. See through the bullshit. Unapologetically genuine.
Compassionate and Nurturing. A natural mother. You help me to be my best. Tough with a great heart. Being a mother lights you up. Willing to share in order to lift people up. A good teacher. You believed in me. You gave me encouragement.
Exercise #3 (My Time)
Synthesize exercises #1 and #2 to help you understand how you want to spend your time and energy?
What matters most to me is…
- Inspiring confidence, compassion, integrity and resilience in Meredith
- Modeling what it means to “Show Up”
- Amplifying the voices of those who would make our world better
- Helping others find their strength within
Exercise #4 (My Truth)
Rank your satisfaction (on a scale of 1-10) with eight different aspects of your life. Then imagine what a 10 would look in each category and write it down.
These values are the most important for me to aspire to and how I want to use my gift and my time to create my legacy.
Family & Friends: They never doubt my unabashed love for them
Significant Other/Romance: We are strong together because I am present in the relationship
Fun & Recreation: I prioritize play – as a family and on my own
Health: I have the energy to experience the world with Mere
Money: Debt (or fear of it) doesn’t keep me from trying new things
Personal Growth: My mind is constantly challenged with new perspectives
Physical Environment: I have flexibility to succeed in work and at home
Career: I’m supporting a change in the world
Neat! So what does it all mean?
Honestly, I’m not entirely sure. What I know is that this all rings true to me. I know I feel really good about it. I know that it has given me direction. Now I just need to look at some of the things around me through this lens. Some things will stay the same because they support what matters to me. Other things are going to have to change. But change is good… right?