The secret to living a life full of purpose is to find our very own sweet spot. It is surprisingly easy to do.
A few years ago, I visited the city of Bakersfield, CA. My purpose in being there was to interview local entrepreneurs for a piece titled “The True Spirit of the West” that I was writing in a local news journal. The first person I was meeting with was a 35 year old woman named Lyndsey. She had just launched a new business and I was planning to talk to her about it. I was interested in understanding how she found the courage to go out on her own. Walking in, I expected it to go like most of my interviews. I would hear her story, get a better understanding of who she was, and learn when her tipping point happened.
I was curious to understand at what point she had her “that’s it, I’ve had enough” moment that gave her the courage to walk away from her current situation and boldly go out on her own.
Instead of getting the story, something unexpected happened. I walked away with a new, brilliant, actionable idea of what it means to follow your path.
As Lyndsey started talking, she shared how she was feeling. She was scared. Two months prior, she had quit her longstanding, stable job as an elementary school teacher. She had worked for the school district for over a decade and it was the only type of work she had ever known.
But, in the last couple of years as a teacher, something changed. She noticed a shift in her attitude. Instead of being excited and eager to go to work, she found herself starting to dread it. She was waking up in the middle of the night feeling anxious.
A typical evening for her would go like this:
She would wake up in a cold sweat, heart racing, with an overwhelming feeling of anxiety. She would jolt up quickly, shaking uncontrollably. She found that during these episodes, she couldn’t go back to sleep. She would lie awake for hours, trying to clear her mind of all the racing thoughts. Lyndsey would try to understand the source of the abrupt startle in the middle of the night. When she took a closer look, she found herself ruminating. There were endless thoughts that were pouring through her mind:
Night after night, she couldn’t understand why this was happening. Why was it so freaking hard for Lyndsey to just get a good night’s sleep? The loss of sleep always meant that the next day she was a total wreck. Exhausted, tired, cranky. She couldn’t perform her best at work when she was like this and she was no fun to be around. Lyndsey didn’t understand why she couldn’t be like every other normal person in the world and just sleep through the night?!?!
Finally, she had enough. She was so over this.
So, she decided to do something. She went to her doctor. Telling him the situation, he thought she might be depressed and may be suffering from a chemical imbalance in her brain. He recommended that she see a psychiatrist. “This is insane” she thought to herself. As she was telling me the story, she said that she had always been a happy, sweet, outgoing woman! She wasn’t depressed. This couldn’t be what was happening!
It had to be something else.
Wanting to learn more, she went to the psychiatrist. He diagnosed her with anxiety and depression. What?!? Anxiety? But I am not anxious, Lyndsey thought. This isn’t me, this isn’t the way I am wired. I am a content, calm, peaceful individual. This isn’t right and it isn’t me.
He prescribed her anti-anxiety medication that would help her get through the night. But this was not what she wanted. She didn’t think that drugging herself out into a numb state was the answer. She said no to the medicine and instead endured more sleepless nights.
The next thing that happened changed the course of her life forever.
She picked up a book a friend recommended about depression and anxiety. The book talked about exactly what she was going through. It explained that people often overlook their jobs as the source of their discontent. It mentioned how being unhappy at work was caused by three key things:
As she read the book, she started to think that maybe there was something there. There had been quite a few changes in the last couple of years at work. She had a new boss that she didn’t exactly love. Her school curriculum had changed dramatically. It was no longer about educating children but instead it was about making sure they passed their standardized tests. That was now how teachers were evaluated and she didn’t agree with it.
The cause of her problem, she realized, was based on her unhappiness at work. Her job no longer aligned with her values or beliefs.
So now what?!?! That’s great and everything, but it’s not like she could just stop working! Lyndsey had bills to pay!
In the book she was reading, it talked about the concept of finding out your reason to live. The idea was that to have a fulfilled life, you ask yourself 3 key questions. Use the answer to those 3 questions as the direction to your reason to live.
The trick is to understand where there is overlap – the sweet spot is where the reason to live is.
Lyndsey did this exercise and learned what her sweet spot was. She loved to teach and to educate. This came really easy for her and she really enjoyed working with children. So she wanted to do that but in a way that she could be in control. So she set up an after school program for kids to help them in the areas of math & science. She is still getting to teach, she is still getting to interact with kids, but she is in control.
Now I’d love to hear from you. What is YOUR sweeeet spot and how did you find it? Share in the comments below!