How I Found my “Thing” (aka Purpose)
A few years ago I felt inspired to create a series of blog posts and videos about my first few years in business, partly to show that slow and uncertain starts are more the norm than the exception, and to show that things are often very different behind the scenes to how they look from the outside.
This particular post was inspired by a question that I’m still very frequently asked:
“How did you come to be doing what you do in the first place?”
In other words how I found my “thing.” So, I’ve decided to share this “pre-business” story with you to show you that successful businesses don’t always come on the breath of an “aha” moment. An instant epiphany may happen, but sometimes discovering your true purpose is a journey that can’t be rushed – having patience and surrendering to a coach’s suggestion that I didn’t actually think I wanted, actually turned out to be my life’s passion!
And let me start by saying – that journey wasn’t easy.
It wasn’t easy because actually there is no step by step formula you can follow for this sort of thing. There is no “one” book you can read or one workshop you can attend – I know because I tried a lot of those things. In the end I mostly got there through trial and error, though I now definitely know that I could have shortcutted much of the journey if I’d got more help (and been willing to listen!)
It also wasn’t as simple as picking my greatest passion and turning it into a business, which is what I was so often told I should do. One of my biggest passions back when I started my business was dancing (ceroc & lindy hop) so of course I should open a dance school, right? But no, the last thing I wanted to do was turn the thing I did to relax and have fun into my work! In fact, thinking I was “supposed” to turn my passion into a business was partly what prompted me to train as a yoga teacher, which was another wrong path I wandered down for a while.
Lesson 1: Don’t assume that you have to turn your passion into your business. It is important that you love what you do enough to want to do it for many years and to push through the hardest parts of the early stage of being in business. But your passion might be best kept as a hobby. And not all passions can easily be turned into a viable and profitable businesses.
I didn’t want to get paid to do my passion. What I really wanted to do was to help people and get paid for it. I just couldn’t seem to find the thing I was going to help them with.
In my case, the journey to finding my thing took me just under 6 years of concentrated seeking – and much of it wasn’t fun, even though it all looked from the outside as if I was living an exotic life, much of it abroad.
I’m not saying that finding your “thing” has to take a long time. But you do need to be patient. It’s not something you can force.
Escaping the City
The journey started in my mid-30’s when I left a city job working in recruitment.
For about 7 years I’d navigated a world of cut-throat sales environments, job dependent targets, and soul-destroying work, where I had to leave everything of myself at the door in order to perform and “fit in” the way my company said I needed to. The whole thing felt entirely meaningless to me – my work seemed to have no greater purpose than churning money for other people.
I knew within a matter of months that this was the wrong work and wrong environment for me. Yet I stayed for about 7 years and worked for 2 different companies. I was the first person in the history of one of those companies to bring in £1 million in sales. In the other I was one of their top 2 salespeople – so the sales I made directly contributed to my two bosses being able to sell their company for a cool £18 million. So I was good at what I did which was satisfying in itself. I felt challenged most of the time and I earned a lot of money!
But I was very unhappy.
During those years I completely lost touch with who I really was. So much so that when I look back I can see that there was probably no chance at all I could have figured out my next steps from within that very wrong life that I’d created for myself. I started reading books about life coaching and personal development, but I was so disconnected with who I really was that none of it left me any the wiser.
Lesson 2: Sometimes you can end up doing something so out of alignment with who you are that you can’t get in touch with what feels true for you anymore. In those cases it might be better to leave and do anything at all (I often thought about leaving to work in a coffee shop) for a while that reconnects you with yourself so that you can start to find yourself and your passions again.
Eventually, the company was sold and I had an amazing opportunity. I could stay on for 5 years as part of a management buy-out and receive a payment at the end that would set me up financially for life.
But instinctively I knew how dangerous that would be for me. It was tempting – I knew that I could easily end up with a mortgage paid off and money in the bank, but I knew I would also be 5 years further away from finding what I was really meant to be doing with my life, and 5 years further away from feeling fulfilled.
So I did what all my colleagues at the time thought was completely insane. I left.
I left to at least give myself a fighting chance of finally finding out what it was that I should be doing with my life.
What my “Thing” was NOT
By the time I took the leap I had a list of all the things I “thought” I might like to do with my life. They included teaching, working in international development, becoming a nutritional therapist, and youth work. And, (although this wasn’t what I’d intended) I ended up spending the next 5 years working my way through that list as I realised that “Nope, this isn’t it either.”
While it was as frustrating as hell, it also wasn’t a waste of time. I found that the more things I tried, the more new things I discovered. For example, running the type of online expert business I have now wasn’t even on the original list – I had no idea a business like this even existed! (And I did have to navigate myself through plenty of hypey “get-rich-quick-make-passive-income-from-a sunbed-in-Bali” type internet marketing courses and seminars before I got here).
Lesson 3: Getting in motion and trying something is better than sitting around trying to figure out that “perfect” thing. It’s only by being in motion that you will learn – about yourself, and about other possibilities you wouldn’t even have known existed.
So I set off and over the following 5 years I:
- Lived in a caravan in Cornwall where I sold ice-cream from a beach buggy on sunny days and learned to surf on rainy days.
- Worked in remote regions of Ghana as a project manager leading young people on development and environmental projects.
- Lived in ashrams and yoga centres in India studying yoga, meditation and reiki, and became qualified as a yoga teacher.
- Studied acupuncture under a leading doctor in Sri Lanka.
- Returned to the UK and enrolled in a Masters degree in Nutritional Therapy.
- Quit the Masters degree part-way through – one of the landmark courageous decisions of my life – when I came to the conclusion that “this wasn’t it either”.
- Worked as a cover supervisor at a secondary school (nope, teaching definitely wasn’t it!)
- Trained as a hypnotherapist, then as an NLP Practitioner & Master Practitioner, and then as a Life Coach.
- Started up businesses as a yoga teacher, as an NLP practitioner & hypnotherapist and as a life coach.
- Attended property investment and internet marketing seminars, took several internet marketing courses, and explored “multi-level marketing” opportunities.
After I did my life coach training in late 2010 I was the closest I’d been yet to finding the thing I really should be doing. I was good at it, I could work from anywhere, and I was helping people to change their lives.
But I cycled through 4 different niches in one year as I tried to find the thing that felt “just right”: helping women around the age of 40 who are unfulfilled, helping corporate women escape the 9-5, a chronic fatigue/ME recovery coach and business coaching.
None of it was “it”.
So what WAS “it”?
I simply couldn’t find the thing I was really meant to do. However, I was very clear on what I didn’t want to do. I didn’t ever want to work in a corporate environment again. I didn’t ever want to wear a suit again. And I absolutely most definitely did not want to do anything connected with sales (ha!).
Finally, I was desperate. I’d worked so hard, tried so many things, and invested so much money in all this training, and yet none of it really felt any more “right” than my old recruitment job – plus now I was earning just a fraction of the money.
I concluded that my block to making my business work must be a block to earning money and signed up to work with a money coach. The first thing she did after putting me through a multiple page assessment was to tell me I had a very healthy relationship with money. “Your problem”, she announced. “is that you just haven’t figured out how you are going to make any”.
Tell me something I don’t know (sigh).
She also challenged me to not be so determined to discount all of my previous experience and threw me a big challenge (as some good coaches do). She challenged me to speak to the founder of the coaching school where I had trained and offer to run a day for his coaches called “Sales Success for Coaches”.
The conversation that went on in my head went: “You’re not listening to me. I’ve told you I don’t want to teach sales. Which part of that don’t you understand?”
What I actually said was: “Yes, but…”
But I then had a good old talk to myself: “Well, It’s not like anything I’ve tried has exactly worked out – and at least I’d be doing something…. I know she’s wrong, but I’m willing to give it a go….”
Which saw me on the 27th of November 2011 travelling into a training venue in Pimlico, London, with a busy narrative running in my brain: “Why would anyone want to learn from me? I’ve got nothing at all to tell them that isn’t just common sense. They are all going to feel I’ve wasted their time and their money”. I wanted the ground to open up and swallow me.
On that day I taught the sorts of thing that I now cover in my flagship Get More Clients Saying Yes! course (although it was a much less finessed version). To my amazement, none of them knew this stuff! It wasn’t common sense at all! There was not one single question I was unable to answer! I was making a difference!
When I’d finished I went to meet the founder of the coaching school to tell him how it had gone. I practically flew in the door and gushed “This is it! This is the thing I’m going to do! I’m going to teach small business owners how to sell and I’m calling it Selling from the Heart!”
Lesson 4: Other people can see what’s obvious even when we can’t. Trust them and be willing to give different things a go – even if you are not convinced.
The rest, as they say, is history…
Except it wasn’t quite. There were still a couple more roadblocks to navigate and I think they are worth sharing too so that the story is complete.
Navigating the Roadblocks
First of all, I still didn’t believe in myself enough. Even with my (by that point) 17 years of sales experience, I still didn’t believe that there was enough value in what I knew to be able to create a business from it. I doubted myself so much that I spent a few weeks reading every decent looking sales book I could get my hands on, and even took a couple of online training courses. What I learned from that process was just how much I did know. It also helped me to really clarify what I had to offer – because so much of what I came across felt so uncomfortable for me and I knew it would be for other small busines owners too.
Lesson 5: Self-doubt is normal. We all have it. Sometimes there are knowledge gaps to be filled in order to get you ready to launch your idea, but most of the time you probably already know most of what you need to know – you just need a few successes to prove it to yourself. Do don’t wait for self-doubt to go away as a pre-requisite for getting started – because it probably won’t oblige.
Secondly, people who knew much more than I did and were way more successful in business kept telling me that my idea wasn’t going to work. In fact I heard the same thing from 3 very established business mentors “that’s not going to work as a business. You should go and do sales training for corporates instead, you’d be great at that and you’ll make great money”.
I probably don’t need to point out that, while this advice definitely wobbled me for a while, coming from people I so looked up to, I trusted my own instincts on this one.
The rest really is history…
Lesson 6: Sometimes you “just know” and you need to trust your instincts. Yes, you need to be willing to be challenged and to try out new stuff even when you’re not sure, and there is a lot to be gained from learning from people with more experience than you. But sometimes you just need to trust your gut – don’t change your vision and direction completely just because someone else who “knows more than you” tells you to. If you follow your heart the worst thing that can happen is it won’t work – but you’ll probably never regret that you tried.
Over to you…
I’d love to hear from you. Have you found your purpose? Or are you still on the journey of figuring out exactly what “it” is for you? Do let me know in the comments below. I always love to hear from you.
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With Love & Gratitude,
Good to know that your journey took so long as it gives hope to those of us in the floundering stage. This sentence from your post is worth putting up on the wall: “If you follow your heart the worst thing that can happen is it won’t work – but you’ll probably never regret that you tried.”
I drop in out out of your materials, most of the time I am out, and I LOVED reading this and stuck with it to the end. Mostly of course, because we had an overlap over some of the time you wrote about and I am pretty sure that I may have been there on the turning point day of your life and that sales training. So that makes for some great reading material. I also loved hearing about the ice cream truck thing – never knew you’d done something like that. I have been trying out different topics to teach on and avoiding niching down cause I really felt I couldn’t (with the orgasmic meditation, the relationships, the intimacy and the purpose topics, whether to coach men on how to deal with women or women to be have more self-love and worth in their relating to men), but these days I am finding myself having new thoughts on this, finding your article here, enjoying Marie Forleo again, so I think maybe my next, or maybe even THE endeavour is to come about. Glad to feel I am not alone in the trying 1000 things and that it can take years to find the right one and sooo glad you did find yours!!!
Much love form Berlin now, Elisa
PS: do you wanna know about spelling mistakes? I saw two in the last sentence of lesson 5. Feel free to delete this part of my comment 😉
Looooved reading this! While it’s scary to think that I might be on this journey for several years, it is also exciting that I already love my work – so the only way is up from here!
Catherine, my journey had some similarities. I did decide to turn my passion into a business but the angle I went at it the first time didn’t work so I decided to stop but it wouldn’t leave me and in time, after searching for what I thought was my thing I returned to walking. What I do though is to use walking as the vehicle that provides women with the space to take time out to think about what they want and that connects them to nature and the benefits that brings. I love what I do and feel so blessed to do something that is completely aligned for me. I wish I’d done it earlier but the me I am now is the me I had to become and the journey took me on that path.
Love that, Heather. A learning in there for all of us: Sometimes trying to create a business from what we love doesn’t work, but that doesn’t mean it won’t. We just haven’t found the right way to use it or we haven’t found the right thing to combine it with yet.
Thank you for sharing that. And I love the final comment “the me I am now is the me I had to become” because that is so true for me too. I probably COULDN’T have found my “perfect thing” any earlier than I did – because I wouldn’t have had all the experiences I did, and so I wouldn’t have become the me I had to become either. And just like for you that took as long as it took – I couldn’t have rushed it.
An inspiring read, Catherine! Your story resonates with what I’m experiencing. Most likely I am somewhere in the middle. Beyond the corporate whirlwind, exploring ways that combine my previous experience with my (still veiled) purpose — although I am sure it is right in front of me. Really like your lesson 6!
Thank you for sharing Roman, and good luck with the journey. You will definitely unveil that purpose – especially if you are willing to keep trying out new things – even if you are not sure they’ll be quite “right”
Thanks Catherine for sharing the details of your background journey…immensely helpful! I feel I have kind of done /am doing a parallel version of yours!
Feeling like I’m on the brink but longing for that clarity because I know that when we’re clear we can move/take action…I feel I’ve been bumbling about for years…my head full of knowledge and info from all the trainings/workshops/courses and yet so full of self doubt as I didn’t know anything…the incongruence creates that wobbly insecurity!
Felt so comforted by your points that this is normal…I’m about to take on a full time job (as a lettings negotiator)to improve my sales and its uncapped commission because I need to pay my sister some money back quite fast and my journey is so slow that it seemed obvious to get a job to create some financial ease even though it would consume 50+ hrs of my week…I do focus well under pressure and so would have to make evenings and weekends really count!
Anyway, it’s like I can’t implement everything fast enough which then leads to paralysis analysis! ? So just plodding on like a pack horse knowing that it’s normal was such encouraging reading…heartfelt thanks ?❤️
I think getting a job is sometimes the best thing you can do for yourself – takes the pressure off. It’s like you are bank rolling yourself until you get you ‘thing’ off the ground. As long as you keep in mind why you’re doing it and don’t slip into doing it long term…
When you are ready there are lots of ways to get that clarity you want. One of the first steps is to ask friends you respect what they think. They may not use the words that inspire you but see if there’s an underlying pattern to what they tell you. Once you have that nugget you can build on it.
I’m sure Catherine will add her own sage advice too!
I’m so pleased you found this helpful, and thank you for sharing where you are at on your own journey. Taking on a job to support you on that journey makes total sense – in the end after all my searching I still hadn’t found “it” for all my trainings and learnings and so I worked freelance in 2 sales roles to cover my overheads so that I wasn’t slipping back financially. I also learned a huge amount by doing those roles and much of what I learned has been immensely useful in what I’m doing now – it got me started selling from speaking, and helped me fast-track some of my own “stuff” about what people will and won’t pay for training and mentoring. So it sounds like a great plan – and as you get clearer on your direction hopefully you’ll be able to reduce your hours to focus more time on it.
Thanks for sharing Catherine, the part with making a business from your passion resonated and rang true. (My passions are singing, reading and cats not really much scope for a business!) and I love them in my life, whereas my purpose, I feel, leans towards helping others, All good wishes to you.
Love how clear you are that your purpose is to help people. When you have that clarity it’s often what will ultimately allow you to feel fulfilled by whatever work you choose. (Look up the School of Service in relation to scientific hand and fingerprint analysis. I think you’ll find it will give you some fabulous insights.)
Thanks for sharing your experience Catherine, I loved the article. Without all that you’ve been through, you would not have been the person you are today.
It’s great to be reminded that it takes time to build a business and that everyone has self-doubts.
Thank you Silvia, and yes we all start in the same uncertain place. It’s why I want to share more about my earlier business journey because I think it’s too easy to see me now and think “oh, well that’s alright for her”. But I started in exactly the same place as everyone else.
I loved reading this Catherine. I’m impressed by all your rounded life experiences – lots of adventures. It definitely makes your superb business success more relatable – as well as seemingly more possible. A very encouraging and interesting read!
Thank Amy! There’s a lot more to it than that – the first draft was such a huge essay of adventures that I had to reduce it down to almost-blog size! It made me realise that there’s probably a book in there somewhere!
Great post! I really agree with your first learning point – expecting to make a living following your passion sounds now very naive (but I did try with no success!). I’m sure there are some people who are out there who have made it happen, but not many. I have found most success by moving towards what ‘works’ because doing what actually works financially, emotionally, practically is extremely satisfying. My passion is being a mum and sadly noone is going to pay me for that. Doing what works allows me to be the best mum I can be. So now I have my own company which offers safeguarding training to the children’s workforce. Like you I went off many blind alleys but really just should have stuck to this . I’ve also learned something else that’s very important which you mention but don’t state as clearly as you could, and it’s this: there is no trick, or secret, or get successful quick thing that everyone just needs to know (and usually pay for!) to guarantee meteoric success. Every situation is a complex mix of factors that will allow you to be successful or otherwise, and success always involves hard work, skill development and time.
Hi Mandy, actually I don’t think it’s necessarily naive. A lot of people do create amazing businesses from their passion. e.g. if I HAD started a dance school I’m sure it would have been a success. It’s just that not all passions make great businesses, and not all passions make happy businesses. And I totally agree with you that doing something that “works” provides so much satisfaction that it doesn’t HAVE to be your core passion for you to really love the work.
Well, I’ve just finished doing some ‘work’ around finding my purpose and passion. Started checking my email and found this post. It couldn’t have been more timely! So now just to be on the safe side I’ll focus more on finding a way to serve that others will pay me for. Very helpful Catherine. 🙂
I’m so pleased that this was such good timing for you! Your purpose could be hiding in the most unlikely place so don’t be afraid to try a few things in pursuit of it…