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Stirring the Embers


I have never come across a person who, on some level, did not sense that they have a purpose in life.  Whether as a roaring fire or as embers in ashes, everyone has a passion that burns inside them.

When someone tells me they do not have a purpose, I talk with them for a moment and it soon becomes evident that they do have a purpose, but they feel they are disqualified to pursue it.

The thing that I find helps the most is to get people to start talking about their purpose.  It is often pushed down and the act of simply stating it begins a release.  As I ask the simplest of questions about their passion (What is it?  How does it make you feel?  Where have you felt that before?), I can almost see it start to churn within them.  As they once again begin to feel a yearning, it’s easier to the deeper, more intensive questions about their sense of disqualification and move them into a resolution of them.

It’s fairly easy to encourage others along the way.  It’s a little harder when you need to stir yourself up.  That’s why I am big on urging two things:  networking (see March 9, 2012 entry) and journaling.   With networking you’ll find others also both thrive and struggle along the way and (hopefully) become more understanding of yourself.  When you journal, you’ll be able to look back and remember that there were times of great confidence and movement forward, and that hard times can be overcome.   And you’ll be reminded that you can burn bright.


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I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by a conscious endeavor.
(Henry David Thoreau)

A Change in Perspective or What I Learned from The Evil Baroness and Shirley Valentine


The happiest life is that which constantly exercises and educates what is best in us.
(Philip Gilbert Hamerton)



When I was seven years old and watching The Sound of Music I thought the Baroness was akin to the Wicked Witch of the West, attempting to destroy my beloved Maria.  In my twenties I felt sorry for the deluded (albeit much better dressed) gold digger.  But somewhere in my forties I noticed my eyes filled with tears, just as hers did as she said good-bye to the Captain. I felt bad when I realized her hopes and dreams (and hard work) for security had been dashed by a beautiful, younger woman – and I noticed the dignity with which the Baroness gave up that hope.

I started watching the movie Shirley Valentine when I was in my late twenties.  There is a scene where she has an “aha” moment and looks in the mirror and says, “I’m not going to look at myself and say, ‘Geez, you’re 41, Shirley.’  I’m going to say, ‘Shirley, you’re only 41!’”  The sense of that played out differently in my head when I watched it at 29 (oh, poor woman) than it did when I was 41 (preach it, sister), and, again, at 50 (self-acknowledging chuckle).

As you go through your life, your perspective of your purpose will change as well.  That’s a good thing.  As I’ve said before, I don’t think that we see our purpose perfect and whole in the first place.  I believe that God gives us a taste of it to stir our passions up and to get us going.  Sometime the twists and turn come from challenges and circumstances.  But sometimes they come from simply having a different perspective, an “aha” moment that puts a different spin on things.  Don’t let it scare you or stop you.  It doesn’t mean anything is wrong, things are just playing out differently in a different time of life.  When this happens, it’s important to  slow things down a little and allow yourself to take advantage of this gift of a fresher take on things, of being able to keep what you’re focusing on relevant.  Don’t think what you’ve known and learned up to this point should be tossed out – carry it with you, but don’t let it alone define you.

Getting to your purpose is not about racing to the finish, it’s finishing the race well.

Go Back to What You Love


“In learning to know other things, and other minds, we become more intimately acquainted with ourselves, and are to ourselves better worth knowing.”
(Philip Gilbert Hamilton)


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Whether you are just starting to discover your purpose in life or you’ve lost a bit of confidence and you’re unsure of what to do next, there’s just one thing you need  — go back to what you love.  It’s the absolute foundation for where you are heading.  Even if no one else understands it, even if it doesn’t make sense, even if you haven’t paid attention to it in a really long time.  Go back to what you love.  Even if it broke your heart earlier in life.  Go back to what you love.  Even if you feel like you messed it up or missed it earlier in life.  Go back to what you love.  And if you can’t get back to exactly what it was, then find a reasonable version of it.

In one of the first classes I taught on finding purpose, there was a young woman who had always wanted to be an Olympic speed skater.  She had let it run through her fingers when she was younger, but discovered she was still in love with competitive skating. But now this dream seemed like pie-in-the-sky.  She really wanted to train to see if she could qualify, but since she was only a couple of years away from being too old, she let it go.   I encouraged her to do some research and, with the rest of the class, asked questions to discover what this passion was all about.  We discovered she loved the rhythms of skating, she loved speed, she loved the physicality, she loved competition, she loved the comraderie.  We brainstormed what could satisfy those needs in her life.  She determined that as long as she could still do a bit of skating, she could be satisfied with helping others prepare and compete.  Almost immediately she found a skating club and had begun training to see how far she herself could go.  I ran into her a few years ago and she told me she had begun to do some individual coaching at the club.  She was very happy.

Don’t limit yourself by thinking there’s only one way that your purpose in life can be achieved.  That way of thinking discourages you and blocks its fulfillment.

I love the way The Message version of the Bible puts what God says to us:

“I don’t think the way you think. The way you work isn’t the way I work… For as the sky soars high above earth, so the way I work surpasses the way you work, and the way I think is beyond the way you think.” (Isaiah 55:8-9)

What is it that you really and truly love?   Are you blocking that dream by assuming there’s only one way to fulfill it?   What exactly about it stirs up your passions?  What else might satisfy those passions?  What we love may not end up being exactly  what our purpose is, but it is always a good foundation we build to that purpose.

A Little Help from Jane Austen


A few years ago I read a magazine article where a woman wrote about the realization that she was making some of her life decisions based on whether her childhood authority figures would approve or not.  She said she had probably passed over some excellent opportunities due to her concern about what her father, her childhood pastor, and her favorite teacher might have thought about it.   I’ve heard others admit  they also think of those people, but purposely do things that would shock them – an “I’ll show them” attitude.  

All of us can fall into childish behavior now and then, but we need to be particularly cautious of this as we pursue God’s purpose for our life.  We need to be conscious about who we allow to influence us. 

There are plenty of people who have strong opinions about the what/where/how of my pursuit.  But I am the one who chooses whose views hold weight with me.   There are those who I admire, those who are subject matter experts in what I pursue, those I ask questions of and seek advice from.  But I choose who will actually influence my course.   It’s hard not to be swayed by the thought that someone you admire might disagree with you and you risk losing support or respect.  It’s also hard when someone you don’t even know well (or at all) belittles you and your choices. 

In the past I have had painful experiences of allowing people to emotionally control me, whether they were figures from my past that I allowed in my brain, or people who I gave too much weight to (they may or may not have been aware) or, sadly, those who stepped clearly into  manipulation.  I have been awake in the wee small hours of the morning, questioning my abilities because I’ve replayed their  words and opinions in my head. 

Oddly, what helped me is a discourse held in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, where the character Elizabeth Bennett wearies of the  interference of other people outside her appropriate sphere of influence.  She finally states:

 “I am only resolved to act in that manner, which will, in my own opinion, constitute my happiness, without reference to YOU, or to any person so wholly unconnected with me.”

This statement helped me construct a filter that I use when I feel overwhelmed and begin to question my calling.
  • What “constitutes my happiness”?  My answer is always:  Following God
  • Who am I “referencing” in my current thoughts?  Whose opinion/attitude has brought these thoughts about?
  • Is that person “wholly unconnected with me”?  Should this person have any influence at all in the pursuit of God’s purpose in my life?
  • In what manner should I be “resolved to act”?  If I am resolved to act to follow God and, if they should have no influence in this part of my life, I leave it behind.
How do you handle or recover from unwelcome influences in your path?  Let me know in the comments section.


“If you are going to achieve excellence in big things, you develop the habit in little matters.  Excellence is not an exception, it is a prevailing attitude.”
(Colin Powell)


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Rethinking Some Things


A former co-worker’s death last week was unexpected but, thankfully, painless for her. As I was driving to her memorial service I thought about the times that we had spoken and the things she wanted to do in her future.  It was just about retirement time and there were fun things she had begun to think about doing.  Her passing made me wonder about putting off pursuing things and then life getting cut short and purpose being missed.  But at the service, as people shared, I learned some things about my friend I never knew – how she provided supplies to the homeless downtown on a regular basis, how she had not only raised her now grown children as a single mother, but also her granddaughter. I learned of the many and varied ways she helped friends and strangers through life crises, all with her own sacrificed time and finances.

I never knew these things because she never told me. She never told anyone.  Many people who were attending were surprised as well, even her own family.  Some admitted thinking that they had thought she didn’t have a full life – that she had missed out. We now admitted we were wrong.  She was doing plenty of things.  She was doing them under the radar.

It has made me do some deeper thinking.  I often say that your purpose in life doesn’t have to be anything huge, that it’s not about being famous or making tons of money.  But I guess I’ve always thought it was at least about something that was noticed, something that you showed to other people. Maybe not. The sixth chapter of Matthew, in the Bible, is all about playing things close to the vest . . .

I think I need to pursue this further.  I would love to hear your thoughts about this in the comments section.


“Life does not have to be perfect to be wonderful.”
(Annette Funicello)


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Just One Small Step


This weekend I attended the Northwest Christian Writers Renewal.  It was the first time I have ever pitched a book idea and I had appointments with two different editors. I’ve never considered myself a “real” writer, so it felt a little strange — kind of like trying out for a professional football team when your experience is limited to cheering on the game from the grandstand.  It was made sort of easy since I wasn’t emotionally invested in getting published.  While one can’t help fantasize about them saying, “Tremendous! Wonderful!  Here’s a contract worth eight million dollars!”  — at this point I just wanted some feedback on my idea.  Being rejected or hearing something negative wasn’t going to hurt my feelings or ruin my life.

As I began to present my idea to the first editor, I was surprised by the passion I felt rise up within me. My carefully rehearsed three-minute spiel seemed to burst into a life of its own — words and ideas I hadn’t planned on sharing popped out at what felt like a frenzied pace. My mind was yelling, “Shut up!” But I kept rambling.  I didn’t even make my three key points.  I was relieved when the editor cut in and began to give me feedback. I smiled and nodded and took notes.  I truly was appreciative.  She was kind and helpful.

In the half-hour between appointments I had a good talk with myself about keeping calm.  I practiced the three main points that I needed feedback on, which had gotten buried in my first presentation. I also worked in some of the suggestions that editor had made.

When I took a deep breath and launched the pitch with the next editor, it felt calmer and more measured.  He was also kind and helpful.  However, what he said he wanted to see were the very things I had taken out because the previous editor didn’t like them.  And he loved my proposed title, while she suggested I totally rework it.  I smiled and nodded and took notes. Again, I truly was appreciative.

I was glad that I had pitched the same idea to two different editors.  It was good to be reminded that it’s all very subjective.  I liken it to a job interview.  You can research and prepare and create a package that presents your knowledge, skills, and abilities, but you can never know if you mesh with their unique expectations and working culture.  If you don’t, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you failed, it just wasn’t a good fit.

With a job interview, you rarely get a second chance, but you can pitch a book over and over again.  So I’ll redraft parts of my pitch according to the feedback from both editors and fine-tune what I don’t want to change to make it clearer.  The pitch is just one small step in the huge process of publishing.  I can’t get frozen or decide to bail on the process because I didn’t make a first down, much less a touchdown, my first time on the playing field.

How does this apply to what you are pursuing?  Let me know in the comments section.


Excellence is the result of:
caring more than others think is wise,
risking more than others think is safe,
dreaming more than  others think is practical, and
expecting more than others think is possible.



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A friend of mine recently wrote a great book.  The publisher he submitted it to thought it was great as well, however they refused to publish it.  The reason?  He doesn’t have a platform in the area of his subject matter – a way to physically spread his message and he isn’t known as an expert in his subject matter.  The publisher’s suggestion?  Start a blog, publish a few magazine articles, garner a few speaking engagements.   He needs to create a foundation on which to establish himself.

You too, need a foundation for your pursuing your purpose.  Depending on your purpose it may or may not include a blog or speaking engagements, but you do need to establish yourself as a “subject matter expert” in your purpose in the minds of other people.  It’s the way you move forward. There’s a really easy way to do it – realize that you are already are (remember, it’s your unique purpose that stems from your very self) and start advertising it.  That means let people know what you’re up to:

  • When people ask, “What’s new?”  Tell them about your purpose.
  • If people are in a conversation that touches on your purpose in even the slightest of ways, say something like “That’s an area I’m expanding into…” and make yourself known.
  • Start discussions about people having purposes, and make sure to interject  yours along the way.
  • Volunteer for an event or organization that involves your purpose – you’ll expand your experiences, make valuable contacts, and feel great expressing your values.
  • Go ahead, be brave, start a blog and share yourself.

Do you have any other suggestions?  Please leave them in the comments section.


When I first started telling people about my purpose (click here: Burn Bright – The Beginning) I got some blank stares and questioning looks. It wasn’t something I was known for.  One person actually laughed and basically told me that I had nothing to offer. It could have brought me down, but it was actually a catalyst. It made me stop and ask myself a question.  “Why am I doing this?”  It wasn’t “what do I have to offer.”  This made a difference.  When “what” is in the equation, it limits you to the availability of resources, and when those don’t appear to exist, you’re done for.  When “why” is in the equation it brings it back to the heart of the matter – your heart.  Your unique calling.  Your individual path. Your passion. Your creativity.  With that your resources never end.


In the following video clip, Simon Sinek, leadership expert and author, touches on the importance of “why” (it focuses on marketing a product – so think of you and your purpose as the product you are marketing)

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