Why Gratitude is the Best Answer for Difficult Expat Emotions

hands in mittens holding warm hot cup of coffee with gratitude written in bold

Five years ago when my middle child was suddenly diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes, we left everything behind from our life in Antananarivo, Madagascar and headed to my parents house in Texas for 6 months.

It was an incredibly emotional time, full of ups and downs and doubts about what our expat life would look like from then on. And, it was also a time of reevaluating and refocusing. We started to see that we could live quite normally even in the face of challenge and that our international existence would actually return, more or less, to normal.

It was also one of the most wonderful times for my children to reconnect with their grandparents. For just a little while – we saw what our life would have been like had we never left Austin. Baseball and soccer, tacos and live music, Barton Springs and fire ants.

Within a year of our 6-month stay in Austin, however, my step-dad was diagnosed with cancer. He died just shy of 2 years from our emergency evacuation from Madagascar.

There is a part of me that will never fully be able to accept my stepdad’s death. It seems he was too young, too healthy, too much a part of our lives to be gone so suddenly. It seems so wrong to have befallen a man that was so universally loved, a person that seemed to want nothing much more than to love the people in his life…and go fishing…and drink an ice-cold Corona on a sweltering Texas day.

Never in a million years would I wish to repeat the chaos and upheaval of our departure from Madagascar. If I could wave a magic wand, I would take my son’s diagnosis any day so that he could go on living as carefree as a 10 year old should. And yet, because we were in Austin, we had those precious 6 months with my stepdad. I can’t say I’d change it.

The deep, deep well of gratitude I feel for having had that time in which every day my kids got to know their PawPaw offers a sense of peace and acceptance about the way things turned out. My gratitude for those unexpected days in Texas provides a sort of balm that softens the sting of the loss and reminds me that having been loved so unconditionally by this one person is an incredible blessing, even if he wasn’t in our lives as long as we all wanted.

Gratitude serves this purpose in our lives. It’s not that by being grateful we suddenly erase the shittiness of bad things that happen. I strongly disagree with the idea that in our most difficult emotions we should simply apply a little gratitude and everything will be okay. What we can see, however, is that gratitude offers us the chance to see our experiences and our emotions in the context of the larger picture.

For expats, one of the biggest gifts of practicing gratitude is that it’s so portable. You can step into a grateful mindset no matter where you are – from the airport security line to the first loving embrace of a brand new friend. Learning to engage with gratitude provides unique ways in which to deal with many of the difficult emotions that plague our unpredictable international lives – not so that we can always feel exactly the way we want to feel, but so that we can better address the very real emotions that sometimes knock us flat.

Gratitude requires reflection, insight and mindful awareness and these are all traits that help us get a handle our difficult emotions. It helps us to see ourselves at a distance so that we can make clear, thoughtful decisions about how we want to embrace and honor the ways we feel.

Moreover, more than being simply a state of mind, gratitude inherently offers us a chance to take action. We can feel thankful with our thoughts or our hearts (and sometimes that’s enough to help us address our emotions), but gratitude also compels us to act. It encourages us to actually say thank you – to write the letter, to make the phone call, to rephrase the complaint, to offer and to receive the support we need.

If you’re feeling helplessness, sadness, envy, anger, rejection or grief, it can be helpful to process those emotions by seeing them as part of your complex life – a life that also includes good things…even good things directly related to the challenges you’re facing.

If you find you’re in a rut, try these gratitude-centered, self-coaching questions. They might get you started in gaining new space to see, move through and heal from the difficult emotions you encounter in your expat life.

  • What uncomfortable emotions am I feeling right now?
  • What might I appreciate about these difficult emotions? What might they be trying to tell me? What gifts might be hidden within these emotions?
  • Who in my life has been the most supportive and understanding during this challenging experience? How can I acknowledge my gratitude to this person?
  • What skills or abilities do I possess that have helped me to move through this experience? What person or situation has supported my cultivation of these abilities? How can I offer gratitude to that person or situation?
  • Who have I witnessed overcome challenges? In what ways am I grateful for the opportunity to learn from this person?

How has maintaining gratitude helped you deal with difficult expat emotions? Based on your experience, what questions would you add to the list above? I’d be honored to hear more about how gratitude has supported your expat journey in the comments.

Throughout the month of December 2018, I’ll be posting more self-coaching questions on gratitude on my Facebook page. Like the World Tree Coaching Facebook page to join the conversation.

Seeing Through Red Brick Walls – How I Found My Vision at the End of the World

When we moved to Madagascar several years ago, I had three small children. The youngest was just a few months old. My husband worked long hours and I used to dread the moment when our helper left at the end of the day and it was just me there with the kids in a strange place where I didn’t speak the local language or yet understand the culture.

It wasn’t that being without our helper was scary. It’s not like we’d always had a helper. I think it was the feeling that, once she left, the connection I had to the world beyond my own small compound faded away. It was isolating, even if it only lasted a couple hours until my husband would bang three quick, clumsy thumps on the outside gate while balancing, suit and all, on his bike.

In the hours before he got home, I’d often insist, despite the determined swarms of mosquitos descending in the dusk, that we all go out to the front yard. The boys would play in the red, unrelenting dirt and I’d nurse my daughter from a chair on the front porch, holding on for dear life, staring at the jacaranda peering over the brick wall of our compound.

The brick wall.

If you’ve ever lived in Madagascar, you know that for the rest of your life, when you mention it as a place you once lived, people will say, “Woah! Madagascar! How was that!?” I always struggle to answer at first. While we grew to create our very best friendships there and to love our little life on the Red Island, my early memories are inseparable from the fact that we moved there with a newborn and two small kids, that I’d just left a job that I loved, but that spent me emotionally and I felt utterly without focus or vision.

Everything was red brick walls.

But sometimes, we have to get to this place where we feel stuck behind the wall in order to better understand our way through to the other side, to find the hidden doorways. That’s what happened to me.

It was during those early days in Madagascar, when my days were a mix of dreaming and surviving, that I began to see the importance of turning each day towards a vision of who I wanted to be in the world. I didn’t think I’d felt lost before, but in retrospect, I realize that what I thought was vision, was really more like ego combined with a fine dose of optimism and a fair bit of adventure. With small children and a meandering career, I realized those things were no longer enough.

It was there, that I began to see the significance of not only asking what my vision for my life was, but revisiting it often, with commitment and focus. Most of us probably have some sense of the person we’d like to be, yet we consider this as an after-thought – something to take up only during times of struggle or loss, great opportunity or fortune…and maybe not even then.

But learning to see each day as an opportunity to move closer to our vision of who we want to be in the world is something we can engage in at any time. It might even be simpler than you think.

The short exercise below is a modified version of one I do in vision crafting sessions with my clients. While I’ll confess there’s added benefit of taking up these questions with a coach, someone who can ask more questions and help you stay focused on the exercise, there’s really no reason you can’t do this on your own.

Do this…

First, think back to a time when you felt completely on your game. This can be a small moment – like a bath-time parenting win or something bigger like overcoming a professional or financial setback. When you think of that time, what qualities were you most exhibiting? Write down as many as you can think of.

Then, think about the people you know and love – what do you admire in them? Are those qualities you’d like to bring into your own life? Write those down too.

Next, look at all the words you’ve put on the list. Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths. Then, open your eyes and circle the 3 words that most draw your attention. These words are a starting point for defining your vision of who you want to be in the world. This may take some time. You might even choose 3 to try out for a few weeks and then choose another 3 later. That’s okay.

Finally, to see how your vision works for you in real life, try one (or all) these practices:

During a moment of intense emotion, pause, take a deep breath and ask – Who do I want to be right now? Say your 3 words in your head. Use them as your guide.

After you have a stressful experience, a big change, a challenge or miscommunication, think back over the event. Ask yourself – How did my actions align with my vision of who I want to be in the world? If your actions aligned well, spend some time thinking about how you were able to act in accordance to your vision. If your actions weren’t aligned ask – How can I strengthen that alignment?

Write your 3 words from your vision on a notecard. Place the notecard somewhere you’ll see every day. Notice if this helps you become more aware of your vision in your daily life. Alternatively, consider keeping the notecard in a place where you feel you have the most difficulty staying aligned with you vision.

It’s important to remember in doing these exercises that our vision is not so much a destination or a list of wants or dreams. The most useful and adaptable vision is a vision that reminds us of who we want to BE not what we want to DO. Our vision of who we want to be guides what we want to do. It brings us back again and again to the deeper role we play in the story that unfolds before us. It’s a light shining on, and ultimately through, the brick walls.

Relocation Season

It’s May and that means a lot of things for those of us living between cultures.

If you have children, their school year is likely coming to an end.

If you’re an expat you may be planning travel or planning on staying put in your host country…both of which come with their unique challenges.

Or, perhaps you’re relocating. You may find yourself in that weird space of not yet leaving, but not quite still here either.

You may be (once again!) asking why you’ve chosen a globally mobile life. Perhaps you’re even wondering if you actually chose it. You might be feeling a little dragged along. You’re likely also reminding yourself of all the fabulous reasons you’ve chosen to do this.

It’s yo-yo mind and yo-yo heart.

This time of year is always a time in which I spend a lot of time thinking about what it means to keep moving from place to place. For many years it felt like we moved almost as soon as we arrived in a new country. We would take six months to get settled, be comfortable for a year and then immediately move towards repacking and planning for our next assignment.

We’re fortunate to now be coming up on three years in Japan. We had one small move after the first year, but fifteen miles from Yokohama to Tokyo hardly felt like anything. Even the fact that the kids changed schools seemed less critical since they were able to visit their new school ahead of time and our middle son had even played a few soccer tournaments there.

Right now we’re at the place of being “stayers,” but we also have lots of stayer friends. Next year we’ll be leavers again. And so it goes, the cycle of expat life. Something comes up, we see it. Something comes up again and we’re right back where we left off. Learning to be wherever we are…while also learning to move through is part of the process.

So, no matter where you are in your international adventure, be sure to check out the tips and ideas I offer in the articles below (recently published on InDependent and I Am a Triangle) – they provide some really important reminders for maintaining balance during relocation season and beyond.

I often find an uptick in individuals seeking out coaching during this time period. Transition is a surprisingly good time to have a coach – the touchstone of someone to keep you focused on your priorities is important when you’re going through change. If that’s you and you’re ready for some gentle, but unfailing support, a space for thoughtful reflection, an opportunity to sort through what is most important to you and someone to hold you accountable to your goals – I’d be honored to work with you. Click here to learn more about how we can work together.

What Does it Take to Practice Mindfulness?

This past week I had so much fun creating a series of Facebook live videos where I answered the question, “What does it take to practice mindfulness?”

This is such an important topic to me and I love to support people as the learn simple, easy-to-access skills to engage more fully, live more deeply and connect more authentically to themselves and the world around them.

Mindfulness can be an everyday practice – something we do throughout our day in small ways that can lead to big change. These skills take commitment and patience, but they’re actually quite simple and completely doable within your daily life.

Everyone can practice mindfulness!

Below you’ll find the entire Facebook live video series. Day One is an introduction to the concept of mindfulness and the subsequent videos outline the 6 mindfulness practices offered through the Personal Leadership model.

Heads-up: If the videos are muted when you click on them, simply right click to unmute.

If you’d like to learn more about what you see here and get support in putting these skills to work in your own life, here are some ways we can work together:

Day One: What does it take to practice mindfulness? Intro.

A couple of notes for this video: Here is the book I mention – 10% Happier by Dan Harris (ooops, I say Dan Brown in the video). Also, this video cuts a bit short – apologies, but nothing missed other than me signing off.

What does it take to practice mindfulness?

What does it take to practice mindfulness? *The first video of a 7 part Facebook live series. Join me over the next 7 days to learn about the 6 mindfulness practices I use in my coaching and mindfulness programs.

Posted by World Tree Coaching on Tuesday, January 23, 2018

 

Day Two: Attending to Judgment

Be sure to check out the book Personal Leadership: Making a World of Difference.

What does it take to practice mindfulness? Part 2 – Attending to Judgment

Posted by World Tree Coaching on Wednesday, January 24, 2018

 

Day Three: Attending to Emotion

This is the resource I mention for expanding your emotional vocabulary.

What Does it Take to Practice Mindfulness? Part 3 – Attending to Emotion

What does it take to practice mindfulness? Part 3 – Attending to Emotion.

Posted by World Tree Coaching on Thursday, January 25, 2018

 

Day Four: Attending to Physical Sensation

What does it take to practice mindfulness? Part 4 – Attending to Physical Sensation

What does it take to practice mindfulness? Part 4 – Attending to Physical Sensation

Posted by World Tree Coaching on Friday, January 26, 2018

 

Day Five: Cultivating Stillness

What does it take to practice mindfulness? Part 5 – Cultivating Stillness

What does it take to practice mindfulness? Part 5 – Cultivating Stillness

Posted by World Tree Coaching on Saturday, January 27, 2018

 

Day Six: Engaging Ambiguity

What does it take to practice mindfulness? Part 6 – Engaging Ambiguity

What does it take to practice mindfulness? Part 6 – Engaging Ambiguity

Posted by World Tree Coaching on Sunday, January 28, 2018

 

Day Seven: Aligning with Vision

What does it take to practice mindfulness? Part 7 – Aligning with Vision

What does it take to practice mindfulness? Part 7 – Aligning with Vision

Posted by World Tree Coaching on Monday, January 29, 2018

Crafting a Vision for 2018!

Happy New Year Friends!!

I’m a total New Year’s lover! I love the clean slate. I relish taking the time to reflect and think about what’s past and what’s up ahead on the horizon. It’s one of my favorite times of the year.

I also love it because it’s the perfect time to realign with my values and ask myself the important questions about who I want to be – especially when it feels like I’m constantly having to reinvent myself with every move! For me, as you can guess, this is about becoming more mindful. It’s about taking the time to turn inward so that I can be my most engaged self as a reach outward to the world and people around me.

One mindfulness practice that is central to the Personal Leadership® model is Aligning with Vision. This practice is about learning to stop in the moment and ask ourselves, “Who do I want to be in this space?”

I love it because, contrary to simply paying attention, it enables us to see the choices we create by being more mindful in the world. It taps into the idea that we can pay attention to who we are and then choose how we want to connect with the world around us. We’ve just wrapped up the vision crafting section in the beta-test of my Finding Your Way program and it’s been really moving to see how the participants have found their voices in their respective visions.

Part of learning to align with vision is crafting a vision that speaks to you. While there is always a place for goal setting as we enter a new year, this vision is not about the goals you want to reach or the things you want to have. It’s not a bunch of fancy magazine images on a poster board.

Rather, it’s about understanding who you want to be so that your intentions are driven from that place and not from some outside criteria. It’s the kind of stuff we almost never take the time to think about, but when we do – we see things from a whole new perspective. It’s the deep down stuff.

I love it!

I’m excited to share that throughout the month of January I’ll be taking this short little section of my Finding Your Way program and offering it to clients who want to craft a vision for 2018. This is super fun, super deep work that can make all the difference as you move into the new year.

What happens when you join me:

  • We start with a single one-hour coaching session to begin crafting your vision. Think of it brainstorming with a sounding board and lots of questions.
  • After that, you take a week to work on the vision on your own. Think it over. What makes sense? What moves you? Where does your heart feel drawn? I’ll be available via email.
  • Then, we come back for a 45-minute wrap-up session to talk about how you can begin to Align with Vision as you enter 2018.
  • You finish with a vision that is from the heart, connects to who you are at your highest and best and deeply aligns with the way you want to be in the world. Your vision will be the answer you turn to when you find yourself asking, “What now?”

Program Logistics:

Send me an email to register. I’ll send you a little bit of paperwork, your payment invoice and a link to schedule your sessions (we’ll meet online via Zoom or by phone).

Program Fee:

$150 includes both sessions. No additional discounts are applicable.

See you soon and Happy New Year!

New Year’s Reflections for the Globally Mobile

I’m so happy to share my latest article for I Am a Triangle.

Click here to read about how turning your New Year’s resolutions into New Year’s questions can be a great way to tune in and reflect on where you find yourself during this important transition.

And, as always, consider joining the I Am a Triangle online community through Mighty Networks! It’s a great way to meet like-minded, internationally mobile people doing great things. Click here to join.

Coaching Opportunities in 2018

In the past two days I’ve had the incredible pleasure to conduct “get-to-know-you” sessions with the participants in the beta-test of my Finding Your Way: Everyday Mindfulness for Critical Moments program. This 12-week mindfulness skills program will support clients in learning the practical, accessible mindfulness skills offered through the Personal Leadership framework and provide coaching support as the participants implement these skills into their daily lives.

It has been so fun to engage in these conversations! Each of the participants is coming to the program from their own unique desire to live more engaged and more connected with the world around them. I have loved sharing with them the details of how we’re going to be talking about real world skills, actual day-to-day practices and ideas that they’ll be able to implement not just in times of balance, but in times of upheaval.

Please stay-tuned for updates (by liking the World Tree Coaching Facebook page or by joining my email mailing list if you haven’t already). I’m hoping to have completed the beta phase and to begin accepting clients for the program in late-April 2018.

I’m also happy to announce that I’m now booking individual coaching clients for 2018. After some time off for the holidays (and to get my beta-testers moving through their program), I’ll begin seeing new individual coaching clients in mid-January.

If you’ve thought about coaching before, but aren’t sure it’s the right fit for you, please click here and schedule a time for us to talk more. This no-obligation session is a great way to see how coaching could support you in reaching your goals, managing transition, gaining clarity and maintaining (or regaining) balance as you enter a new year. Coaching is a true gift to yourself. There’s nothing quite like it!

As a special offer, all new clients who register between now and December 18, 2017, will receive a free copy of my book The Expat Activity Book: 20 Personal Development Exercises for Gaining Insight and Maximizing Your Potential Wherever You Are (a $20 value) along with a voucher for $25 off the coaching program of her or his choice.

Click here to learn more about how we can work together to make 2018 the year you get moving where you want to go!

My Take on Mindfulness

I first started learning about mindfulness about 10 years ago when my oldest child was a toddler. My initial response was – “No way!” I couldn’t imagine how slowing down and paying attention to what I was thinking and feeling would really make that much of a difference.

I kind of liked being a hotheaded, quick-thinker and gut-action sort of person. I wasn’t sure I wanted to change. And yet, I also had the nagging sense that I couldn’t continue along the path I was on…especially once I had children.

I found myself frequently overwhelmed and exhausted, playing the same stories and insecurities in my head over and over again. It just didn’t feel like that was sustainable either.

So, with the encouragement of a dear friend, I decided to take a mindfulness meditation class. It’s an understatement to say it changed my life. But, while I came to very much value the sense of calm and insight I gained from mindfulness meditation – it was the daily practice of mindfulness – of paying attention to what was real, of creating a less judgmental awareness to what was happening around me – that gave me the greatest sense of my ability to stay balanced and get through challenging situations, especially as we began living a life overseas.

The basic definition of mindfulness is: non-judgmental, in-the-moment awareness. The truth is though, I don’t think that really helps most people gain that much understanding. If you’re considering working with me – either individually or in a group or workshop – reading these common questions and my responses can help you get a sense of my perspective on mindfulness.

Professionally, I find the greatest joy in supporting people in understanding how they can practice everyday mindfulness (what is often referred to as “informal practice”). I help people bring mindfulness out of the clouds and into their real lives. I’m not a meditation teacher or affiliated with a particular faith or religious practice.

Here are some of the most common things I hear about mindfulness:

“Mindfulness? I could never do that!”

I think what people are saying here is that it feels too overwhelming to learn another thing. And I get that – I was once there too. It can feel like there is no way we could possibly grasp what can seem like a pretty esoteric concept.

I believe, however, that we are all born with the skills of mindfulness – to pay curious, deeply engaged attention to our experiences and to the world around us. Just look at babies! Our natural inclination is to look closer. By learning simple, accessible mindfulness skills to tune in to our emotions, thoughts, physical sensations and more – we’re simply reconnecting with abilities that have faded with time.

And sometimes what people are saying is that it seems impossible to find a way to fit this into their daily lives. I’ll get to that in a minute…keep reading.

 “I can’t meditate.

I’ll be honest, anyone can meditate. But, let’s say you don’t want to, or it turns you off, or it feels somehow counter to your spiritual or religious views. That’s okay. Really. Meditation is an incredible tool for connecting in the moment and becoming more mindful. It’s a wonderful way to practice mindfulness. But, from my perspective, it’s not the only way. Meditation is about creating stillness in the mind (not completely clearing the mind) and there are certainly other ways to do that – running, yoga, knitting, cooking, even brushing your teeth(!) – can all be ways to practice becoming more mindful.

“I don’t think it’s normal to be happy all the time.”

This is such a common and unfortunate misconception about mindfulness. Mindfulness is not about being happy all the time. It’s about seeing all emotions as the come, being able to observe them for what they are. It’s true that the practice of mindfulness can help people become less bogged down in feelings like sadness, anger or envy, but that’s not really the goal. Learning everyday mindfulness skills can help you better connect to whatever it is you’re feeling.

“I really need that!”

I hear this a lot. So many people say that they’re interested in learning more about mindfulness, but they’re not sure where to start. Check out some of my favorite resources here. Or join one of my upcoming workshops.

“I’ve been reading about mindfulness, but it’s hard for me to practice. I keep forgetting.”

This is so common! I’ve definitely had periods of time when I felt really distant from my mindfulness practice. This is why I am so passionate about teaching everyday mindfulness skills through the Personal Leadership model.

I fundamentally do not believe that mindfulness has to be an all or nothing experience or that it has to be something lofty or vague. I would like to see mindfulness become less about Instagram photos in Bali (#mindfulness) and more about “Shit! I just spilled coffee all over my shirt and my kid doesn’t have her shoes on and we’re going to miss the bus.”

To me – that’s what it’s really about and whether we sit down for 30 minutes on a cushion or practice taking 10 deep breaths through tears, mindfulness is something we all need more of. It doesn’t mean it’s easy…but it can be more simple.

I’d love to hear from you and learn how I can support you in bringing more mindfulness into your daily life. Please consider joining me in an upcoming workshop or click here to learn how we can work together one-on-one.

Happy Fourth Birthday World Tree Coaching!

I was looking back at some past World Tree Coaching birthday posts and it turns out I write pretty much the same things every year! Seriously. Year one. Year two. Year three.

It’s clearly a birthday blogging tradition and all of it’s still true, so why change now?

Here’s what I’m saying (again):

Yay! I made it!

I love this work!

I love my clients!

This year I’m doing super fun new things (read about some of them here and here and here).

Gush, gush, gush, gush, gush – this job makes me so happy and I’m gonna’ do it forever!

Work With Me! Working with a life coach is awesome! Don’t take my word for it though – check out what my clients are saying. Or read this recent post from another coach friend and learn a bit more about why working with a coach is absolutely something you should do.

I’ve got a couple of clients wrapping up and that leaves 4 individual coaching spots open between now and the New Year. Wait! World Tree Coaching is turning 4 and I’ve got 4 spots open!? What are the chances!?

Seriously – what are you waiting for?

Wondering what exactly I do? Here’s an excerpt from this recent blog post:

As a coach and expat support professional, I help people find home. I whole-heartedly believe that the answer to what home means to each of us is already with us. With age and time and conditioning, we lose our ability to get up close and personal with what we think and feel and that affects our ability to see clearly what home really means. We shy away from the messy parts, we hide the ups and downs and we downplay the things we’re totally rocking. My theory is – it’s all material! I help people learn to be okay with what’s working well. And, I support people as they honestly and gently, refocus towards their inner sense of home when they find what they’re currently doing has stopped serving them well.

How do I do all of that?

I bring optimism and compassion into the space in which we are working together. I believe in my clients – they are whole, capable, experienced and brilliant. Through a lens of love and curiosity, I invite them to step into the space where they can use those traits to get where they want to be.

That pretty much sums it up. Join me and help me celebrate yet another year of supporting people in finding home no matter where they are.

Read more about my one-on-one coaching programs here.

Click here to schedule a FREE, no obligation consult session to see what this coaching thing is all about.

Meaning vs. Purpose…

For most of us, it’s probably not too terribly difficult to consider and describe the ways in which our lives have meaning.

If we are a parent, a spouse, a partner, a child, a friend – then we can recognize that we offer love and comfort to someone. We mean something to the people we love and they in-turn mean something to us. That creates meaning.

If you care for plants or pets or you’re responsible for the upkeep of an organization or the day-to-day workings of a business – your life has meaning. If you weren’t there, the work wouldn’t get done. If you didn’t have the work or the responsibility you’d feel a lack of a sense of meaning.

Most of us can find that sense of meaning without too much searching.

Purpose, on the other hand, can be more difficult to nail down.

Purpose implies a larger reason for why we take time to do the things that create meaning in our lives. For some people, that reason is ascribed to a higher power. For others, it’s simply the awareness that we have a limited time on this sphere called Earth and there’s probably something we’re supposed to do with that time.

I had a client once describe it this way:

She loves her daughter and that is one of the many ways in which her life has meaning. Her daughter needs her and she feels a deep sense of love and connection in being her mother. However, while loving her creates meaning, it does not, in and of itself establish purpose.

My client feels that her life’s purpose is rooted in helping people, in making the world a better place, in teaching and supporting others. She feels as though, in her relationship with her daughter, she fulfills purpose by modeling opportunities for growth, for happiness, for compassion and for empathy. Loving her daughter would probably always be enough for her to feel meaning, but deepening that love through the conscious decision to model the above qualities enables this client to fulfill her life purpose each and every day.

I think this is a great illustration of the difference between the two and the way in which meaning and purpose support and reinforce each other.

It’s really quite a fascinating idea if you stop to think about it.

I find that separating the two enables us to see they ways in which meaning and purpose are and are not connected. The above description also helps us to see that meaning and purpose are related to each other. They don’t run parallel, they are interwoven – one supports the other and vice versa. They are different, but they matter so much to each other.

What I think is even more powerful about this is the way in which recognizing the difference between the two can teach us more ways in which we can consciously choose to live our life’s purpose through the things that bring us meaning. This alignment means that each day really does matter just as much as the next.

Think about it this way – how many times have you gotten to the end the day and thought, “What did I really do today?”

If you could begin to see how meaning and purpose are different but related, would it create a greater sense of integrity in your life? Would you have fewer of those moments that seem to just slip away? If you were able to recognize your purpose, would it give meaning to things that have started to seem mundane? If you look at what brings you meaning, is it possible you would see a greater purpose?

I can’t claim to have the answers here, but I can’t help but think this is something we often overlook. It certainly gets me thinking!

What about you?

Are you inspired to delve deeper into this? Check out the questions below. They might shed some light on meaning and purpose in your own life.

Leave me a comment too! I’d love to hear how you see the intersection of meaning and purpose.

Some questions to help you consider meaning:

  • Who do I love?
  • Who loves me?
  • When do I feel joy?
  • When do I feel sadness?
  • What moments do I most look forward to?
  • In what moments do I feel a sense of flow – as though I am completely in the zone or totally in my element?

Questions that might help you look at purpose:

  • What do I want people to most remember about me when I’m gone?
  • If I were to find out today that I only had one year left to live, what would I want to do with that time?
  • What do people seek me out for? When the question arises, “Who can…?” when am I the answer to that question?
  • Complete this sentence, “I am here to…”

Get started on finding your meaning and purpose with one of my self-paced, online courses.