With the endless distractions of modern living, many of us don’t make time to navigate our inner perplexity – including our desire to know what we desire.
I recently tried a new journaling exercise to help gain clarity around my true path in life. Reaching a point of frustration, my aim was to burrow deeper than surface thought loops and emotional holding patterns. I wanted to hear that quiet little authentic voice which always speaks the truth.
I needed a lens through which to coalesce my answers to big questions, such as:
- Who am I, really?
- How do I want to show up in the world?
- What will I stand for? What will I commit to?
Getting to the nub of something, and blasting through knee-jerk clichés, often requires quantity over quality. I learnt that quickly during my stint working as a copywriter.
That said, here’s the exercise: write down 100 answers to the following question: “If I was truly showing up as my best self in this world, and I could create any impact I wanted, what would I fight for?”
Sit down with a sheet of lined paper, and just write.
Take as long as you need, but don’t leave the chair until you hit 100. Don’t censor yourself either. Throw down anything that pops into your head, however grandiose or trivial it may sound.
Always dreamt of helping people play the banjo? Write it down.
Want to help humans get to Mars? Write it down.
Worried because Elon Musk already took that one? Write it down anyway.
The point isn’t to figure out your perfect ‘why’. It’s to flex your daydreaming muscle and delve ever deeper into your inner world, your inner truth. This means repetition is allowed. Whatever bubbles up is fair game.
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My experience of the exercise
When I tried this, it was quite revealing – I learnt about myself not only through the content that surfaced, but also through the process of writing. Here are three learning points.
1. Dropping perfectionism
I often fall into the trap of thinking I need to have my purpose completely figured out before I can take another step forward. This can feel completely stultifying.
Very quickly, the exercise helped me let go of the perfectionism and reconnect with my imagination. It loosened my attachment to any single idea so that I wasn’t getting hung up with how each one sounded. Before my monkey mind could dismantle the idea, it was time to move on.
As I wrote, I was aware that some answers were goofy, some highly ambitious, and others rather surprising. None of that mattered. What mattered was that I got to experience the joy of exploring the nooks and crannies of my emotional truth.
2. Plumbing the depths of my soul
The first 20 answers flowed quite easily. The next 20 were a lot harder. By number 55, I’d hit a wall.
But I pushed through, and by number 100, I felt creatively dried-up. I had to spend a full 10 minutes eeking out the last 3 or 4 ideas, for fear of needing to come up with something exciting and original as a grand finale.
Then I remembered that originality wasn’t the point. The point was self-discovery, and an excavation of my hidden depths. Maybe that wall I hit at number 55 was a liminal zone of sorts. Because post-55, I had a stretch of zen-like flow where images emerged without conscious intervention. They also began to feel more resonant, such as these lines I wrote towards the end:
- I want people to stop numbing so they can reconnect with the raw joy of being alive.
- I want the expression of emotions to be celebrated rather than feared.
- I want people to pierce through suffering and feel empowered to reinvent themselves from the ground up.
3. Teasing out dominant themes
Some answers confirmed what I already suspected about myself, such as my core values. But others surprised me. To make sense of it all, and extract real value from the exercise, I finished by teasing out obvious and not-so-obvious patterns.
Scanning through, for instance, I noticed many answers were about helping people establish a healthier relationship with their emotional life. Next to those answers, I put an ‘E’ in the margin.
I also noticed a pattern around men’s issues, and so I put ‘M’ next to those answers. I repeated this for other categories, putting misfits into a ‘miscellaneous’ group.
Then I tallied up the categories and created a simple pie chart displaying the frequency of each category. Since doing so, I’ve have a fresh sense of who I am and what I care about deep down.
This exercise only takes 45 minutes or so to complete; you won’t lose anything by giving it a whirl, and you might even amaze yourself at what flows out of your pen.
Who knows, you might hit on something that one day ends transforming your life, or someone else’s life, for the better.