Like many companies over the past ten years, the company that I worked for was downsizing -- offering generous buy-out packages as an incentive for employees to leave the company. What a great deal! I had been unhappy in my job for quite some time, and this looked like the perfect way out. My severance package would provide a financial cushion for me to start a business of my own. I was nervous about leaving the security of a big corporation (especially since I was a single mom over 40) while the country was in the midst of a recession. To say that I was concerned would be an understatement.
I had been told that one should have enough money to live on for two years when you start a new business, and I only had enough to last nine months. But still, it was a start.
I set up my home office in the basement, and ordered inexpensive business cards and stationary from Kinko's. I bought a fax machine and a computer. I made up a list of several business ideas -- the kinds of things I thought I might like to do.
As the weeks rolled by, I spent my time doing research on my list of business ideas. I conducted interviews with entrepreneurs and asked them questions about their businesses. I read books and trade journals. I read The Wall Street Journal and magazines for entrepreneurs. I pursued each of my ideas with thoroughness and dogged determination. One by one, I explored each of the ideas on my list. And one by one, I crossed them off the list. They just weren't right for me.
As the weeks turned into months, my list of business ideas got shorter and shorter, and I grew more and more discouraged. It seemed each idea led me down a blind alley to a dead end. I was running out of ideas -- my fear and dread grew stronger. What was I going to do?
Finally the day came when I had exhausted my list of ideas. None had worked out, nine months had gone by, and I was now out of money... and terrified.
I woke up one morning, sat on the edge of my bed, bowed my head and began to pray: "Well, God, you had better tell me what to do because I am absolutely clueless. I don't have the first idea of how to start a business, or even what business to go into. So, God, I'm putting you in charge of my career and my business -- from now on, you're the boss."
I got up. got dressed, and went about my chores and errands.
As I went through my day, a simple question softly, gradually made its way into my awareness. "What are your gifts?" a gentle voice asked.
Stopping my activity to engage in conversation with this quiet voice, I thought for a minute, then replied, "My gifts are teaching and writing."
"Then do that," the gentle voice replied. It was as simple as that. The conversation was over. A quiet peacefulness settled over me.
Early the next morning, the phone rang, and a woman on the other end asked me if I would be interested in designing a new employee orientation program for her company. This woman had known me when I was the training manager at my previous employer. We had a short conversation, made an appointment to meet and discuss details, then hung up the phone.
I got on my knees and began to pray -- this time a prayer of thanks. I knew I had a new employer. My mission was clear: I would teach and write, serving others through seminars and books.
Since that day almost 20 years ago, I have conducted workshops for dozens of organizations and professional conferences across the country, and written over two dozen books. God gave me my marching orders two decades ago... and I've followed them ever since. I found my purpose through prayer.
What can I tell you about finding your own purpose, your own mission in life? Here are a few suggestions:
1. Make sure you have some quiet time in your daily life. I've learned that my God speaks softly, so I have to keep my daily life quiet enough so to hear Divine Guidance. If you're too busy, too active, or working too hard to "figure things out," you might miss important spiritual intuition, messages, and guidance.
2. Tap into spiritual resources -- books, CDs, videos, lectures, retreats, workshops, and more. We are blessed to live in a world with an abundant array of spiritual resources to aid us in our quest for a meaningful, happy life. You can find spiritual teachers from many ancient religious traditions, as well as contemporary gurus, shamans, spiritual directors, and others who are happy to share their wisdom and insight. Check out spiritual resources that attract your interest, stir your heart, make you feel happy about your life's journey.
3. Pay attention to your own energy and enthusiasm when you meet someone who is doing something that intrigues you. When you find yourself thinking, "Oh that looks great -- I'd like to do that too," take a mental snapshot of what it is that attracts and interests you. Your mind thinks in pictures so if you can SEE a model of what your purpose might be and keep it handy in your memory, you're likely to find it manifesting in your life sooner rather than later.
4. Try experiments. You don't have to have one life purpose for your whole life. Your life purpose may change and evolve over time -- heck, it might even change dramatically! Allow yourself the freedom to try things out -- investigate possibilities that interest you. Spend time with people who are doing what you think you might to do -- maybe ask if you can study with them, or be their apprentice for a short period of time. Sometimes it's helpful to "try things on" to see how they feel when you're actually doing what it is that attracts you. Give yourself permission to discover first-hand what your life purpose is. Let experience be your teacher.
BJ Gallagher is the author of "If God Is Your Co-Pilot, Switch Seats" (Hampton Roads)."