Marcus Buckingham is answering the big questions women ask about discovering their purpose and finding balance in work and in life.
How do I discover my purpose?
That word "discover" is a sneaky one, isn't it? It implies that your purpose is there, intact, just waiting to be found like Fleming discovered penicillin. But your purpose or destiny is not something that is going to dawn on you one day in a Eureka-type moment. Let that go. Goals, dreams and vision are important, but they do not provide the answer to living a fulfilled life. The answer lies in your strengthening moments. You have to pay attention to the activities, instances and events in your life that fill you up. They teach you, guide you and sustain you. Like small flames, they can be fanned into bigger fires with a little attention. Your strongest life is built through a continuous practice of designing moment by moment.
Everyone has heard the old adage: Life is what happens when you're busy making other plans. Are you actually registering your experience as you live your life, or are you always looking into the rearview mirror pining over what happened or staring off into the distance imagining what will happen—all the while missing out on what is actually happening?
Moments matter most. Build off of a few strong moments, follow the path they lay out for you, and trust your direction. They will not let you down. How do I know if I'm on the right path?
The best way to find out whether you're on the right path? Stop looking at the path. André Gide wrote, "A straight path never leads anywhere except to the objective." To know whether you should be turning from the path you're on, you have to be alert to the signs you see along the way. The practice of looking for the strong moments in your everyday experience and tipping your life toward them will serve you immeasurably. Here are some indications that you're moving in a strengthening direction:
You are engaging your strengths most of the time.
You think about your work outside of work hours, solving problems, considering new approaches.
You feel a sense of contributing to something greater than yourself.
You share your work experiences with the people you care about—speaking about them, writing about them. The stories you tell are filled with positive feelings.
You hunger to learn more about your chosen career and seek out ways to grow—you don't need to be given incentives to learn.
You seek new and creative ways of tackling routine tasks. You have lots of ideas on how to approach your work.
You have the energy and creativity to tackle any setbacks that you're faced with.
No one needs to dangle a carrot in front of your nose to motivate you or inspire you to contribute extra effort.
When you wake in the morning, though you may be tired, you positively anticipate what the day holds for you.
It's a continuous practice finding your strongest life. It takes attention, care, curiosity and fluidity. You will be surprised at times at what you find. You may find moments that lead you in a direction that doesn't fit with the vision that you initially set for yourself. Trust your moments. Stay open to their messages. They are incredible guiding gifts. How do other women seem to have it all together? Am I missing something?
Yes. You are missing something. But at the same time, you already have everything those enviable women have. However it may seem, they didn't receive an engraved invitation to a secret club. They don't have a special recipe. There is no special tool, specific process or computer program that has vaulted them to the next level. No, in fact, it's nothing external that's promoting their happiness at all. It's their trust in themselves.
Women who are making it work are ascribing their success to intrinsic causes rather than extrinsic. They've discovered their strengths, they seek their strong moments, and they apply them with courage and diligence. They trust themselves beyond anyone else and they take themselves very seriously. They take a stand for their strengths.
A note of caution: We can never achieve goals that envy sets for us. Looking at your friends and wishing you had what they had is a waste of precious energy. Because we are all unique, what makes another happy may do the opposite for you. That's why advice is nice but often disappointing when heeded. What works for your friend may not work for you. Focus on yourself and the small wins that you're achieving daily. Pay attention to your feelings and hunt for moments that engage you. Hang on to them and know that they will start to build on each other, that momentum will kick in and before you know it you'll be building your best life. Believe it. How do I balance it all?
Try typing the word "balancing" into your word processor. Nothing unusual there. Now try typing the word "imbalancing." Your computer doesn't like that word, does it? You get those squiggly red lines underneath telling you that it's not really a word. You won't find it in the dictionary. Although we all know what it means to balance things intentionally, we don't really understand the idea of intentionally imbalancing anything. We all need to start working on our imbalancing acts.
First, stop chasing that elusive balance. It doesn't exist. Chasing it does not serve you. If anything, the pursuit of it is likely draining you. Think about the last time that you actually tried to physically balance on something. Didn't it take massive amounts of effort, focus and skill to achieve a moment of balance before you lost it again? Women who are leading happier more fulfilling lives actually focus on intentionally imbalancing their lives toward the activities that make them feel stronger, more engaged, fulfilled and alive. They seek the moments that they know fill them up and they engineer their lives to experience more of those moments. They do not kowtow to anyone else's vision for their lives. They choose confidently those experiences that will make them feel happier. They trust themselves.
Many of us feel stress and get overwhelmed not because we're taking on too much, but because we're taking on too little of what really strengthens us. The more weakening activities you pile onto your plate, no matter how simple they may seem to tackle, the more you will find your energy and focus being flushed away. The best way to cure stress is to become more conscious of the moment-to-moment experiences of your daily life and begin to make different strengthening choices.
Search your moments. Whenever you consider taking on a new responsibility or commitment, investigate and be certain that there are opportunities for strengthening moments within it. If the commitment doesn't offer you the chance for such moments, DO NOT TAKE IT ON. Do not take it because you are worried about letting someone else down or concerned about not doing enough. You do enough. You ARE enough. Accept yourself. You are at your best when you're committed to activities that strengthen you. As you take more of these on, you'll find yourself more energetic, focused, clear and happy. Stop prioritizing your goals and start prioritizing your MOMENTS. Will my kids be better off if I stay home to raise them?
That depends. What situation will enable you to be the best version of you? That's what your kids are really looking for. In fact, when 1,000 school-age (third through 12th grades) children were asked what they wanted from their moms, only 10 percent said "more time." The most common request? "I want my mom to be less tired and stressed." They want to experience the best of you.
Now, for many women, the option of not working is not even a choice. They must work to support their families. In this case, having a career that is energizing, challenging and fulfilling will help ensure that you have vitality and enthusiasm to share with your kids. Believe this: When it comes to your children, they do not want more of your time; they want more of your happiness. Is there a trick to multitasking effectively?
Yes, and here's the trick: Stop doing it. Multitasking makes us dumb. Even though you likely have a friend who claims to be a master at it, casually discussing her ability to take care of her toddler while she repaints the guest room, cooks a salmon quiche and responds to e-mail. (She's probably nodded a vacant yes to her 8-year-old's request to make his own dinner of mini doughnuts. And then 12 minutes later, realizing what she's agreed to, screams "NO!" just as he licks the last bit of powdered sugar off his chin.) What's actually happening is that her brain is using all of its resources to figure out how to switch from task to task efficiently rather than on accomplishing any one of those tasks effectively. Things are getting done, but nothing is actually being done well. And she's compromising her ability to be sharp, creative, insightful and present as she's doing it.
Research has shown that multitasking has the equivalent brain-drain of missing a whole night's sleep. The best way to accomplish the most, if you care about quality, is to connect deeply to one task at a time and devote your attention to it. You're much more likely to experience a flow state in this manner than continuous partial attention to myriad tasks.