How to Find Purpose After a Hard Fall in Life
Last week a course participant shared with me that she just had a hard fall in life.
She recently lost her baby, left her job, and has been working on her startup in the past year which has not taken off in the way she wanted.
She asked me if I have any thoughts on reshuffling, reprioritizing, or finding new purpose in life, as she is not really sure if what she thought she wanted before is worth it anymore.
When I heard what happened my heart immediately went out to her. I have already responded to her privately but I thought to write this post in case any of you are going through a tough phase in life.
1) Give yourself space to grief, to heal
Firstly I’m not going to tell you that what doesn’t break you will make you stronger.
Instead I’m going to tell you to grieve and take some time out for yourself first. Our society today is very much about doing. Do, do, do. Move on. Get over things. Get over yourself.
Yet we are humans, not robots. When we fall we need time to heal and climb back up. When we have an emotional fall the wounds may not be visible, but they cut so much deeper than physical wounds. Trying to “move on” when we are still hurting and feeling lost not only hurts us, but may cut us deeper and leave us more broken.
Take some time out for yourself. To heal. To recover. To find yourself. Give yourself the space to grieve, cry, and mourn over your loss.
I recommend to journal your darkest feelings. Pour your heart out on paper. Talk to your loved ones and share your pain. Spend some time alone, by yourself. If you are working, take a few days of no-pay leave (if you don’t have paid leave left) to rest and get a timeout. Work can continue for a while without you. But you, you need time to rest, recuperate, and heal, before stepping forward.
2) Think about the things that matter
Maybe you feel lost because you have been working so hard on something that amounted to nothing. Maybe you just lost your job. Maybe your marriage ended in shambles. Maybe your business is not doing well. Maybe you just lost a loved one. Or maybe you just lost your baby, a pain that no one should ever have to go through in their lifetime.
In these darkest of times, think about the things and people that matter. Your parents perhaps. Your sibling(s) if you have one. Your partner. Your passion. Your beliefs. The people you care about, whom you’ve touched. Your children, if you have any.
And then there’s someone you may have forgotten. Your higher self. He (She) has always been there with you, quietly watching you, comforting you. He (She) has been with you through everything and wrapped his (her) hands around you and tightly hugged you in times of pain, even when you thought you were alone.
When all hope seems lost, remember that you are not alone. If you find it very hard to think about someone or something you care about, close your eyes and ask yourself, “What matters to me? What matters to me in this world?” Write down all your answers in your notebook, and write until you cry and until you can cry no more. As you lie in a state of darkness and grief, think about the things that give you light.
3) Reflect on your future
When you’re ready, and only when you’re ready, think about your life ahead.
As you stand and see your life before you, what do you wish to do moving forward?
For example, 5 years from now, what do you wish to see in your life?
- Do you want to start a family, if you don’t have one yet?
- Do you want to work on a new career?
- Do you want to run your business or start a new one if your previous business failed?
- If you’re single, do you want to be married or be in a relationship?
- Where do you see yourself living? Do you want to be living in the same country or elsewhere?
- What do you want to be doing?
It doesn’t have to be one answer but a few answers.
Doing this envisioning exercise is about getting clarity of what you want. Defining a direction that you care about. This direction can be the exact same one you were working on before. It can be a similar direction to what you were doing before but altered based on your new priorities in life. It can be a totally different one. Take this as a good timeout to think about what you want vs. just going through the motions.
For example, my course participant L told me that she felt lost because she had been working so hard on her career/business all this while and made sacrifices, yet the people there for her during her darkest hour were her family and husband. While she is working on her business today, all she can think about is her baby and family. All these things that I was chasing, that I thought that I wanted, what for? she couldn’t help but wonder.
I told her to think about what she wants to see down the road. “What do you want to see in your future, 5 years from now?” This future can involve being a full-time mom. It can involve running a successful business. It can involve having a family and running a business of meaning to you. Alternatively, it can involve returning to employment while starting a family. There are no right or wrong answers, only what inspires you and what you want to do.
The most important thing is to know that there is no right or wrong answer, only what matters to you. There is pride and joy in being a full-time mom and caring for the household. There is great fulfillment in being a single business owner. You can also be a multi-tasking parent and entrepreneur, managing family and business. Or you can be married with no kids by your choice, dedicating yourself to your goals, career, partner, and family members.
Your vision can also change along the way, and it is okay. L said to me, “I don’t want to set [a vision] that I realize I don’t really want, or that if I set a mediocre one I would feel restless after a while.” Know that our visions are meant to be dynamic reflections of what we want at this current moment. We will change, and our goals will change, and it is okay. What’s more important is that we have a vision that inspires us enough to take us forward, and we continuously update that to reflect what inspires us now. Read: When Goals Stop Working
Likewise if you are a guy, you can be a full-time dad if this is what works for you. You can be a full-fledged entrepreneur building your business. You can be a family man having a stable job and raising your family. You can be a nomad traveling across countries and speaking at different places where you go. This is no one fixed path, but the path that holds the most meaning to you. None of the path is better or more superior than the other, just different.
If you haven’t, do my life purpose exercise where you write your life purpose for 30 full minutes until you cry. It will give clarity of your overall life direction and where/how you should steer your life as you step ahead.
4) Start to pick up the pieces
When you return to life after a hard fall, it may feel disjointing. You may do X but think about Y. You may feel like you are at a loss. You may feel distanced, like you are far away from the things you are doing even though you are trying to move full steam ahead.
Start with the things you enjoy and that give you meaning. What did you enjoy doing before? Start with these.
- Maybe you enjoyed writing. Start writing a few articles. Pen down your deepest feelings. Write not for others, but for yourself.
- Maybe you liked going for walks with your partner. Add this to your routine.
- Maybe you liked watching movies. Pick a few new releases and watch them.
- Maybe you liked to travel. Plan your next vacation. Or go for a quick weekend getaway. If your finances allow and you have no immediate obligations, go on a trip for a few weeks. Clear your mind and realign your priorities.
- Maybe you enjoyed volunteering, which you find purposeful as you help out individuals in need. Go for some volunteer work that you care about.
- Maybe you liked to work as working keeps your mind moving and your work allows you to do very meaningful stuff. Take on projects that inspires you the most, that get to create the most impact.
The goal is to reintroduce the things you liked about your life back into your routine, at your own pace. Also, focus on doing things that interest you vs. doing things out of obligation. Let yourself be guided by what you want, what you love, not what you feel you have to do. The former is to be driven by love while the latter is driven by fear.
5) Start rebuilding your life
Once you are ready, it’s time to rebuild your life.
Ready meaning you are ready to reintegrate with the world. To give life your all again. To be your true authentic self.
Remember the vision you have painted in step #3? How can you get started with that?
Perhaps you lost your child and you are grieving over his passing. You still hope to have a child one day, to start a family.
When you are ready, try for another child with your partner. I know someone who lost her baby but subsequently conceived again and gave birth. Their newborn fills them with joy each day. Yet he could never have entered the world if they (the parents) didn’t decide to try again, for another baby. He doesn’t replace his lost sibling in any way, but he brings joy and love to his family all the same.
Maybe you just ended a marriage. You are still hurting but you have decided that it’s time to move on.
There’s no need to jump right back into the dating scene if you’re not ready. In fact, use this time to focus on yourself. To work on the goals you couldn’t when you were married. To date yourself and fall in love with life again as a single.
Maybe you just went through a crushing business failure or your business is tanking. You feel ashamed and you’re not sure what to do next about your business.
Remember that businesses fail all the time though. Colonel Sanders was rejected 1,009 times when he tried to sell his now famous KFC recipe. Richard Branson, business magnate and billionaire, has failed in many businesses, from Virgin Cola to Virgin Brides to Virgin Cars. Steve Jobs got fired from the very company he founded, and very publicly so. (He would be famously rehired later.)
That your business has failed or yet to take off is hardly the exception but the norm, especially in today’s ultra-competitive marketplace. In fact every entrepreneur almost certainly fails a few times at least before succeeding. As Richard Branson says, “Every person, and especially every entrepreneur, should embrace failure with open arms. It is only through failure that we learn.” The focus here isn’t “How can I not fail?” but “How can I fail quickly, learn from my failures ASAP, and use these lessons to achieve my next success?” Read: Can Everyone Be Successful in Starting Their Business?
If income is a concern, get a job or do some part-time work first. Budget and save up while you work on your business on the side. Quit when you gain enough traction to make a living from your business. Read: Pursuing Your Passion With No Money
Maybe you just got retrenched. Your previous company is the only thing you’ve ever known your entire working life.
Take this as a fresh new start. Your previous company is not you. What are some goals you’ve always wanted to pursue? Hobbies? Take this chance to explore them. Is there a different industry you’d like to dip your toes in? Create a plan that safeguards your financial risks while paving your new path. Reach out to your friends, industry contacts, and headhunter agencies to understand the industry status and job openings. Attend recruitment events. Use sites like Glassdoor, Vault, and Linkedin to research and understand the inside scene of the industry better. Read: How to Start When You Have Nothing
To you reading this, I’m terribly sorry that you had to go through this. I wish that things could be better. I wish that I could make the pain go away.
While I can’t say that things will get easy because they may not, here’s one thing I do know: We are alive right now. You and me, we are alive. Because of that, it means the possibility to create what we want. To be with our loved ones. To touch them, cherish them. To pursue what we love. To impact others. To make a difference in the things we care about. To show appreciation to the people we love, while we still can. To create life, for some of us.
I hope you’ll be able to find the strength to carry on soon. I hope you’ll be able to break through this darkness to find light. When you do, you’ll find that the whole world has been waiting for you to re-join it all along. That everyone around you, including the people you care about and love, has been waiting for you to join them. That no matter what you think, you are never alone. That even in times of darkness, you can see a light. A light that is inside you, that is burning brightly within you.
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