What motivates you?
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PIXABAY/CC0

I wonder what really inspires you to do something. We often think of motivation in a binary sense, only one of two options - it's either the "carrot" or the "stick." But in reality things can be so much more nuanced and meaningful. What gets you up in the morning? What makes you keep at something longer than you feel like doing it? What is it that really makes this motivation thing work?

How motivation works

In some basic and primal way, our motivations stem from some kind of desire or need. Maybe it's not so obvious what is truly driving your motivation, but something is - way deep down. This isn't meant to make motivation seem bad or selfish - but it is to recognize the interconnected nature of how we act in the world and how the world responds. I want a cup of coffee and so I am motivated to go make a fresh pot. I need to sleep, so I am motivated to stop the binge-watching so I can rest. 

For some people the motivation to perform well at their jobs is simply for the sake of being praised by their peers or boss. They enjoy the feeling of appreciation and strive to relive that experience through productive employment. For some people the drive to do well at work is just to make it to payday. This kind of motivation trades off the job itself for the external benefit it can provide. People don't just work to get money, they want that money to spend and use on things; perhaps rent or smartphones or a latte. The motivation here is not the accolades of being a good and productive worker, but it is after the thing that you ultimately are striving for and your job is just a means to an end.

Can motivation be changed?

Motivation can indeed be changed, but it takes some self awareness in order to make the change meaningful and lasting. If you don't really know what you want or what drives you, it will be almost impossible to generate motivation to do something you don't really want to do. But like above, the people who think of the rewards that they will get, or the ultimate goal they seek, those people can generate motivation even around unpleasant or boring tasks.

It's all about perspective

The way we see the world determines the motivation we can muster for specific things. If all I see is doom and gloom, then it becomes harder to generate motivation to do something unpleasant or neutral. If all I see is sunshine and rainbows, it may be easier to tolerate unpleasant jobs, but it doesn't fix everything. The key is to connect what we want/need with what we have to do. Sometimes these things line up, like with a job. I want/need the money on payday, so I can generate some kind of motivation to work. But other times we need to build in our own rewards. When I was in grad school I had to write a lot of papers, I mean like two or three papers every week. But I didn't always want to do that - I couldn't always think of the end goal and get motivated. So I hacked my reward system. I decided that I would give myself a small sweet treat for every page I knocked out in my work. In my situation it was some small peanut-butter candies. I would allow myself to enjoy exactly and only four pieces of this tasty treat every page I wrote. this kind of thing helped me to connect my "wants" with my "have to dos" and helped me keep the motivation going.

Sometimes in life we get stuck, we have trouble finding motivation for things we once found enjoyable. If you are struggling with your motivation and would like some help, please reach out. 512-931-4801

Why emotions are important
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PIXABAY/CC0

The simple answer is that they are a part of our human experience and so have value. More complicatedly, they are often manifestations or expressions of our deep feelings; concerns, joys, fears and the like. This kind of manifestation of deeply felt experiences is important to understand in order to know who you are and why you are feeling the way that you are. Because, whether we would admit it or not, our emotions are often deeply entrenched in almost every aspect of our lives. A colleague of mine was fond of reminding clients that our “emotions drive the bus,” so to speak. And if they are driving the bus, we should probably learn a bit more about them and how they impact others. One obvious and important aspect of emotions is how they affect our communication.

How emotions affect communication

Seems obvious enough, right? Well, there is the clear and simple way that yelling at someone when you are angry can affect that conversation (not positively I might add). But our emotions, even the unacknowledged ones, can seriously impact the ways in which we speak to and interact with others. Have you ever asked someone how their day was, only to have them snap at you? Can you remember a time that you saw someone laughing and smiling even though there was nothing funny happening? The feelings that we feel come out, even if we don’t think about it. And the less we think about our emotions and why we feel that way, the stronger they can feel.

When emotions are too strong

The stronger the emotions, the more serious we should take them. Our emotional reactions are like a response to information coming from a deep part of ourselves that we often don’t monitor. And the emotions that we have often come from someplace deeper than we realize. The main top level emotions that we experience and express to ourselves and others often stem from a completely different emotional source. Have you ever been mad at someone who got a promotion instead of you? While you might actually be angry at that person, in reality you were likely experiencing some level of sadness at the loss of opportunity, fear that you really weren’t qualified, and/or a sense of powerlessness. You might act angry at your co-worker, but you might really just be sad and hurt and scared. Well, you might say, emotions are dumb then and I don’t want to have any. Or you might just want to clamp own on them so they do what you want. But it’s not really that simple.

Can emotions be controlled?

This is like asking if you can control the weather. Not really, but they can be anticipated and there are things you can do to minimize their negative impact when they do arise. If you see a storm cloud in the distance and feel the wind in a direction that will push that cloud over towards where you are, you can probably anticipate that rain is coming. There’s not much you can do to stop the rain from coming in the same way that simply willing it to be one way doesn’t stop emotions from happening. But like an approaching rainstorm, emotions can be prepared from and their effects mitigated or lessened. If I know a storm is coming and I have to be out and about, I will make sure to wear a raincoat or bring an umbrella. If I sense that my angry emotional response is on the metaphorical horizon I will engage in activities designed to minimize my exposure to that emotion, to kind of shield me from the rain so it won’t have as big an impact - like when I get hungry. I am a man who loves to eat. But when I don’t get the chance to have food at proper intervals I tend to turn into an angry bear. I get grouchy and mean and let my emotional state dictate how I interact with others. This isn’t healthy. So how could I control this emotional response? I could just pack snacks (which I often do), but when that isn’t feasible I try to remind myself what’s happening. I am not mad at my spouse or kids for whatever it is they are doing, I am actually just hungry and upset with myself that I forgot to plan ahead. Like our weather analogy, in this moment I see the storm coming and I forgot my raincoat or umbrella. So instead of raging at the sky, I try to remind myself that I won’t melt in a little bit of rain and that I’ll have time soon enough to metaphorically get out of the rain and dry off.

 

If you are dealing with emotions that run high, or feel too strong, or you aren’t really sure what emotion is at the root of what you are feeling please reach out, I’d love to help.  512-931-4801

Why change is necessary
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PIXABAY/CC0

It's that time of year again, at least it is where I live. School is starting back up and for many of us that means changing into a new routine. Whether that's starting school again or figuring out how to get the kids to school and then ourselves on to work in time. Maybe it's not a special time of year for you, but you are trying to make some changes anyway; a new diet or exercise routine, a new hobby or trying to restart an old one, or maybe you just want to feel different - not as angry or sad or whatever. But no matter what it is that you are thinking about right now, odds are that you want to make some kind of change in your life. But it can seem a bit tough sometimes.

When change is hard

When isn't change hard, am I right? Change, by its very nature, is not easy. Even in the best of circumstances the shifting needed to adjust the world - in big ways or small ones - takes effort and is often uncomfortable. But that doesn't mean it's not worth it. Once you decide the thing you want to change, or the habit you want to stop or adopt, prepare yourself for the  reality that change is sometimes hard but always uncomfortable in some way or another. But for most changes, things are simply uncomfortable, like an itchy sweater or the feeling of breaking in new hiking boots. It's not great, but not a dealbreaker. But just like the itchy sweater, we sometimes take it off before we even have a chance to get used to it.


Why change fails

Change fails for a few reasons. Maybe you didn't meet the goals you set out for yourself and feeling defeated decided to quit. Perhaps you made some good progress for a bit, but then you fell back into old patterns and just threw in the towel. Whatever it is, it likely includes some variation on the previous. We as a species thrive on routine and pattern and habit. This reliance on routine and pattern is why it is sometimes so hard to get up early. Now I hear what you're saying, "but getting up early is hard because I'm tired not because change is hard." That is partly true, but the reason you are tired is that this waking up time is different than normal for you. If you got up every day at 6:00am it wouldn't be so hard. But if you normally wake up at 7:00am, an hour shift earlier (without changing anything else) is quite a pain, sure. It's all about the getting used to new and different things. This is part of how to really make some changes in your life.

How change happens

To really make some of the changes you want stick, you need to start over in your thinking about just how change happens. Change, real and lasting change, isn't something that happens in an instant, it takes time and effort. It's not about taking big steps, even small steps in the right direction will get you there eventually. 
Start small. One of the biggest mistakes I see people make is that their desire for change outpaces their ability to do it. People want to become whole new versions of themselves and they want it to happen yesterday. This isn't realistic and only sets you up for failure; so start small. Set an easy and achievable goal that's part of your plan. If you want to run a marathon, you're first goal shouldn't be to set a new personal record for your mile time - maybe start with taking a 10 minute walk.
Reward progress. Once you complete your goal, give yourself a bit of a reward. Nothing too big, make your rewards comparable to your effort. For your walk around the block maybe you treat yourself to a coffee from that trendy new chain.
Bigger goals and then bigger rewards. Now that you've started this journey, keep it up by picking a new and slightly more ambitious goal. Next time try for 30 minutes walking instead of 10.
Plan for failure. No one is perfect, don't expect this of yourself. If you don't factor in the times that you won't make that goal in the time you wanted, you will inevitably find yourself disappointed. BUT, if failure is part of the plan, then even when you "fail" you are still on track. Don't plan to walk everyday, only 3-4, that way if you do more you feel great and when you have to take a day or two off, you can still make the original goal.
Wash. Rinse. Repeat. Like I said before, it doesn't take giant leaps, just small steps in the right direction and you'll eventually get there.

If you want to talk more about your goals and how to make them happen, I'd be happy to listen and help. 512-931-4801

Check out this infographic for an overview of how to make changes that last.

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Feeling nervous for the first day of school? I am too.
PIXABAY/CC0 and author's compilation

PIXABAY/CC0 and author's compilation

This week marks the beginning of the school year for a number of school districts near where I live, which means getting up early again to get my kids to school on time. Even though I'm no longer in school, I still feel nervous for others who are - not least of whom are my kids. But in the last few days I have seen all the neighborhood kids and their parents scramble at the stores for last minute supplies, almost in a panic because they can't find that last box of #2 pencils. I can't help but laugh a little (not out loud of course!) at the stress these parents and kids are putting on themselves to be perfectly ready. Not laughing because I don't care, but because the very thing they are doing to try and manage their nerves is only adding to their stress. When we as people get stressed and nervous we tend to try and control whatever we can. Like with starting school again, so many parents and kids are nervous about making new friends or how they will get along or if they'll be able to find their class that they try to hold onto anything they can control - like having all the right supplies and the perfect outfit and the right breakfast - because that sense of control helps them cope with the other things they are dealing with, things that they can't control.

What to do when you feel nervous

Having nervous feelings can be really unpleasant; the tightness in your muscles, the sweaty palms, the racing heart, the butterflies in your stomach. On a side note, I always hated that expression, "butterflies in your stomach." Such a mean thing to say about butterflies...
Like I mentioned previously, a typical response to stress and nerves is to try and lock down control on whatever thing you can actually have any power over - as if the power we wield over our breakfst will translate to power over making new friends and having people like us. But this kind of grasping for control often brings its own kinds of stress and nerves, despite the fact that even if we could control all the little things it wouldn't actually make us feel any better. The obvious answer to what to do when you feel nervous would be to calm down, right? But that is easier said than done, but it's not impossible - it just takes a little effort in the right direction.

How to calm down

Breathe: breathe in, breathe out. Repeat. This is the first step. What makes feelings of stress and nervousness and anxiety so problematic is that they engage both our mental capacities and our physiological responses; and they do so in a cycle that is difficult to get out of. The key to breaking the cycle of becoming mentally nervous and then having your body respond with nervous behaviors which then make you feel more stressed mentally is to break that cycle and stop the crazy ferris wheel of stress in its tracks.There are ways to tackle stress from the mental side of things (figuring out how to be mindful in the moment and realize what can and cannot be changed) and from the physical side of things (that increased heart rate and tense muscles). The easiest for most people to begin with is the physical side of things.
So let's begin.

Breathe: breathe in, breathe out. Repeat. Try to measure your breathing by slowly counting in your head. Breathe in through your nose counting to 4, hold and count to 7, then slowly breathe out from your mouth while counting to 8. Repeat this pattern 3-5 times. There, I bet you're starting to feel a little bit better. Maybe you're still nervous, but hopefully you don't feel quite as tense physically. This kind of slow, controlled, and unusual breathing pattern can help slow your heart rate, increase the oxygenation of your blood, and give your mind something else to think about. This kind of slowing down and helping combat the physical effects of being nervous is a great first step to working through whatever thing you have before you that's stressing you out.

If you want to talk more about what's causing you to feel stressed and nervous, I'd be happy to listen and help. 512-931-4801

How stress affects mental health
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PIXABAY/CC0

Stress is an almost constant reality of most people’s lives these days. Whether it’s stress about the big things like the government, race relations, or the ultimate cosmic destiny of the human species - or the more mundane like too many deadlines and not enough time, the constant stress of wondering if you’re doing life “right,” to the ever-present “why is there always traffic?!” The stressors we feel in life, big and small, all contribute to our feeling of well-being or unease. Sometimes our stress isn’t about external things as much as it is about our internal motivations and perceptions. I used to be really bad about comparing myself to others, and not in some haughty way like I was awesome, but in a significantly unhealthy way where I was never good enough. My mom would often comfort me with this great piece of wisdom, “there will always be people better than you and there will always be people worse than you - at whatever you do. If you compare yourself to others you can always find something to be upset about.” I needed to hear that often, so often it almost became a mantra until one day I really understood. The stress of not being good enough or worrying if I was measuring up was only hurting me. That didn’t make the stress go away, but it gave me a new way to think about it.

Why stress is bad

This seems obvious, right? The tension in your neck, the unpleasant increase in heart rate, the looming sense of dread; stress isn’t fun. But it doesn’t have to be quite so bad. The physical responses we have to stress are often times our body’s way of trying to cope with the problem at hand or to alert us to something going wrong. When your heart starts to race when you anticipate that unpleasant conversation your body is getting ready to respond however you need (fight, flight, freeze, friend, etc.) Your body is trying to give you the raw fuel you might need to do something big and scary. But for all its desire to prepare you, this kind of heightened state can lead to long term health problems physically (heart attack or ulcers or other things like that) and mentally.

Why stress is good

Stress doesn’t always have to be a gut-punching or soul-sucking experience. Sometimes stress can be good for us. You’ve probably heard that expression about coal and stress making a diamond, right? Well, that’s a bit of a silly extreme but the sentiment has some validity. It is the testing of ourselves under pressure that can help sharpen our abilities and skills. Like above, our bodies often respond to our environment with preprogrammed instinctual-like responses in order to serve a purpose. When we meet new people or places we try to suss out if they are safe. When we have to speak in front of a crowd we are concerned about being kicked out of the group and not having a place anymore. When we can figure out some of the “whys” behind our stress, they can shift from being unhealthy and unpleasant, to being unpleasant but purposeful - still not comfortable to experience, but at least doing something for us.

When stress turns into depression

So, sometimes stress is bad, other times it’s good - but even knowing why it happens and having plans to deal with it, stress can still occasionally turn into something more. The shift from too much stress to depression isn’t always an easy thing to notice. It can go from just feeling overwhelmed and overworked most of the time to feeling like you are always behind and drowning in responsibilities and the expectations of others. This is a dangerous shift not only because it is subtle, but because it convinces you that you can manage everything if only you put in a little bit more work, or tried a little harder, or were just a bit more something. This is a deceptive trap which can cause you to begin a spiral into self-doubt and feelings of anxiety. 

The best way to stop stress in it’s tracks is to learn its habits and interrupt the pattern. That way you keep yourself from going from unpleasant but manageable stress to overwhelming and crushing feelings leading towards depression.

 

If you are feeling stressed and want to talk about ways to prevent things from getting worse, or maybe you are already dealing with feelings of depression please reach out. If not to me, then someone; you’re worth it. 512-931-4801

How family shapes identity
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Sometimes family is the people we were born with and sometimes it’s the people we choose to spend our lives with. The people we surround ourselves with, be they blood relatives, or friends of convenience and chance, or people we choose to partner with (romantically or otherwise) - they mean a great deal to us and have tremendous impact on our lives. From our early years of seeing whatever parental figures we had behaving in certain ways, to growing adolescence and striving for independence and autonomy, to maybe being parental figures ourselves, we have countless numbers of experiences that shape who we are. We know from our own experience that people tend to either become their parents or their polar opposite as a reaction against their upbringing. 

Why family is important

For better or worse, family is family - and sometimes family is the people we were born with and sometimes it’s the people we choose to spend our lives with. We humans are social creatures, from our collective history and personal experiences right down to our DNA. We used to live in small tribes that we basically extended family systems. The good and survival of the tribe was important, it didn’t matter if you liked your family/tribe or not, you needed them to survive. But as time marched onward we began to find ways to become more self-sufficient, relying less and less on the societal structures of family and tribe. We began to become independent individuals who can do things all on our own, thank you very much. But as we became more separated we began to draw closer together again because maybe we realized that something was missing. Only this time, we drew closer together through the use of technology. All the FaceTweet’o’grams began and we found a new way to become family with so many more people than we could have ever thought of before. 

This coming full-circle shows us just how integral to our experience as humans a family is. Maybe your family is blood relatives, maybe it’s your adoptive parents/siblings, maybe it’s the friends you associate with. Whatever family means to you, it does mean something. Something real and deep and meaningful that we long for.

Can family be friends?

Sometimes family is the people we were born with and sometimes it’s the people we choose to spend our lives with. This has become something of a refrain in my post here. We have people in our lives that matter to us, and these people are our family - even if they share no blood relation to us at all. Ideally, we would all be friends right? We could live the Mr. Roger’s dream of all being neighbors to one another, the kind of neighbor that is like family should be - people who help and care and are kind. But this isn’t quite as easy as all that. Real family takes work. Sometimes you have to just listen to Uncle tell that story for the hundredth time, and then laugh at all the right moments. You have to go pick up Grandma from the airport and let her tell you about all the times she was just sure the plane was going down. Maybe you have to put up with a younger sibling who annoys you constantly in their effort to be just like you - maybe your the younger sibling and need to try not to be so annoying :) Maybe your friend group has that one person who takes on the mothering role and always wants to make sure you call when you get back home safely. Or you have that group “awkward cousin” who kind of just joined your group and no one really remembers when or how, but they are just part of things now.

Family and friends can be like that. The one group can cross into the other and back again. The people we hold closest to us can go from laughing pal to admonishing parent to joking sibling and back again. This is the beauty and joy that friends/family can be. In truth, the deeper you connect with people, the more these two concepts can merge into one; familends..no…framily? Friemends? Fandley? anyways, you get it.

When family lets you down

Family isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. Sometimes the people we depend on the most can hurt us the deepest. Maybe you have never known what a loving family looks like, your only picture of “family” is one filled with pain and sadness. If that’s your experience then you already know the damage that can be done. Maybe you’re on the other end of things, you have only experienced good times and happy memories with family. For that, be grateful - not everyone has enjoyed that. But you probably fall somewhere in between. You have good and bad memories, happy and sad. You know the way that family can hurt and cut deeply. But family (biological or otherwise) can also be a bright spot of joy in life. Family hurt is unlike so many other types of hurt in that it comes from the people who are supposed to be the closest to us, the ones who care for us the most. Family wounds can last a lifetime, but they don’t have to hurt forever. Maybe things will never go back to the way that they were, but there is a way forward. Perhaps this will mean that your family is radically reformed, or reoriented, or even that you shift from one family to another. But there is a way forward, and it’s one that doesn’t need to stay in a place of hurt. 

If you are having trouble in your family, blood relation or otherwise and you want help finding a way forward please reach out; 512-931-4801

Can arguments make a relationship stronger?
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PIXABAY/CC0

This may seem like an obvious answer to a simple question, arguments are unpleasant and bad and therefore could not possibly make a relationship stronger. But in reality, the short answer here is yes they can make a relationship stronger. Part of growing closer to another person is accomplished through getting to know that person better, and what better way to learn lots about them to to experience a deeply personal conversation with sincerely held beliefs?

Arguments aren’t always fun, but done fairly and kindly, they can help you grow closer too.

Why arguments are good

Arguments don’t always have to be this bad and hurtful thing, they can sometimes be the exact opposite. When most of us hear the word “argument” we likely tend to think of people shouting and yelling at one another, maybe there’s even some name calling and cursing. But an argument is just an exchange of diverging or opposite views; a reason or set of reasons given with the aim of persuading others that an action or idea is right or wrong. At its heart, an argument is an appeal to another person to make a change, either mentally or with actions. Arguments, in this sense, can be ways to appeal to the better nature in another person or discuss something that is deeply important to you that you want to share with your partner.

Why arguments are healthy

One reason arguments are so healthy for us as people is that we are all so very different from one another. Now, that may seem obvious at first, but the differences between us are part of what make us stronger and better. When we argue we talk about things that are important to us. Sometimes these things are small in the Big Picture of life, like “did you leave your dirty socks on the floor again?!” Other times the issues are more serious and personal, “why do you always act like your mother?!” But even these difficult conversations or sensitive topics reveal serious areas that we have serious questions. It’s not about the socks, but never taking care of your own mess tells your partner that you don’t care enough about. The hurtful comparisons to your mother might be connected to a fear of your relationship ending up like that relationship. The prompting to address things and grow is a healthy part of development in life and in relationships.

Why arguments are necessary

In order to make real progress in getting to know another human being, we will run into places where we don’t agree. This is normal and healthy and good for us to experience. The meeting of different ideas and opinions is the necessary framework to help us grow. How else could we manage to become better and different people if we were never challenged or forced to articulate how we felt about things?

Like I said before, arguments aren’t always fun or easy, but they don’t have to be shouting matches or mudslinging. They can be productive conversations that are good, healthy, and necessary to make a relationship stronger.

If you are experiencing arguments in your relationship and need some help getting them from angry and mean to loving and kind, please call to talk  512-931-4801

What's my purpose?
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PIXABAY/CC0

So there I am, sitting in a therapy session when my client asks me this question; “what’s my purpose?” I can almost imagine what I might have felt like if I had been posed this question a few years ago: sweat forming on my brow, stomach starting to twist into knots, hands starting to shake. This is a big question, some might even say the biggest question that we will ever ask of ourselves. A few years ago I might have heard someone ask me this question and just panicked - in large part due to the fact that I was asking myself that very same question and drawing blanks. What I know now that I didn’t know then was that there may just be a way to answer this question, every time…

Why purpose is important?

Knowing why you want to do things in life is a significant part of why you might or might not be doing them. Sports are often used as an analogy for life, so to borrow that comparison; if you had no purpose in your actions you wouldn’t be playing basketball, you’d just be dribbling. If you had a purpose, like playing basketball, your dribbling of the ball is meaningful. Maybe you’re waiting to drive hard to the paint for a quick lay-up (that’s a sports thing, right?) Maybe you’re wasting some time looking for someone who is open so you can make a pass. The reason behind your actions is what makes them your actions and not just things that happen. The difference between having a purpose and not is like the difference between just dribbling or playing the game…

How can purpose be discovered?

Ok great, having a purple is important, but how do I figure out what my purpose is? Finding your purpose in life can seem like a daunting prospect; I mean, what if you get it wrong? Would you whole life be wasted walking down the wrong path not finding the mystical “it” that you are supposed to be doing? Well, that would suck. But let me ask you another question; what if life is less like a play where if you forget your lines you ruin everything and instead is more of a choose-your-own-adventure book? You remember those, right? The books you would read and at the end of the page you’d be left with a choice; something akin to, “if you want to follow the mysterious dragon turn to page 56. If you instead choose to get back in your spaceship and try another planet turn to page 92.” In these books the story that you are telling is changing with every decision you make, life does that too. It is only in the looking back over the course of your life that you may be able to puzzle out the purpose that you are already living - a purpose you have created all on your own without ever realizing it.

Maybe there isn’t some specific and individual purpose that The Universe has for your life and you get to make it up as you go. There is nothing that says you have to discover a purpose from somewhere else, perhaps you are more powerful than you believe and get to make your very own purpose, create your own destiny. You get to pick what you like and want and then pursue that. This line of thinking leads me to this final point…

When purpose meets passion

My dad often said that if you find a job you love you’ll never work another day in your life. While I know that he was using some hyperbole to sell the point, it nevertheless means something real and true for this conversation. When you find something you enjoy, lean into it, do more of it, maybe try to find a way that this thing can make you an income. (Important caveat here, please don’t follow this advice if the thing you enjoy hurts yourself or others, ok?)  Purpose and passion doesn’t just have to be about work, it can be about your leisure time or a hobby or building relationships with friends and family. 

When you understand the importance of having a purpose, put in the work to discover (or create) your own, and lean into it you end up with a fulfilling life experience. Maybe that will last for a lifetime or maybe you’ll need to do it again tomorrow. But either way, finding or creating meaning for your life is better than not, at least in my experience.

If you want to talk more about finding the purpose in your life, feel free to contact me 512-931-4801