I’ve rarely quit anything in my life. So when I left my doctorate clinical psychology program after receiving my Masters, it was a big deal.
But my heart just wasn’t in it. I witnessed my close friends — who are now licensed clinical psychologists — get excited about the course work and conducting therapy, about studying the ins and outs of psychological treatments.
All I wanted was for my clients to cancel.
I realized that what I’d loved about psychology didn’t require a Ph.D. What I loved was learning about psychology and writing about it. But I still felt an overwhelming sense of the shoulds. I should finish the program. That’s just the proper thing to do. I should barrel through it. I worried that I was taking the easy way out by quitting. I wondered if I’d regret my choice. I wondered if I was doomed to fail at something else.
People face similar inner dialogues and challenges when pursuing their purpose and passion. They worry about “outside influences,” and focus on “what others think [they] should do,” or on society’s view of success, according to Susan Biali, M.D., life coach and author of Live a Life You Love: 7 Steps to a Healthier, Happier, More Passionate You.
Don’t let your social self dominate your life.
This is similar to the idea of the “social self,” which comes from renowned life coach Martha Beck. If you allow your social self to “dominate your life,” it can stand in your way, said Joy Tanksley, a certified Martha Beck Life Coach, Intuitive Eating coach and Nia instructor.
“The social self is that part of us that’s concerned with fitting in, following rules [and] being acceptable to others.” It interferes with your purpose when you focus more on pleasing others. “You’ll end up making decisions based on what seems ‘good’ and ‘right’ to everyone around you, which is a recipe for feeling depleted and absolutely purposeless.”
Other roadblocks include “your own thoughts about what’s possible in life” and “apparent failure in early attempts” in trying to accomplish your purpose, Dr. Biali said.
We can even misunderstand “purpose” in the first place, a mindset that becomes a roadblock, Tanksley said. “We make it too heavy, too mysterious, too serious.”
Also, purpose isn’t like a soulmate (if you believe in such things). “I don’t believe for a moment that everyone has one magical purpose that must be discovered or else life will be a miserable waste,” Tanksley said.
Instead, Tanksley has a simple but powerful definition of purpose: authenticity. Purpose is “finding your authentic self, and setting the intention to live in a way that honors whatever it is you find,” she said. For instance, once one of Tanksley’s clients was able to shed her tough-girl image, an act that hid her softer and vulnerable side, she “had a major epiphany about her career path and is taking deliberate steps toward starting her own business.”
Finding Your Purpose & Passions
Passion is another word Tanksley believes is often misunderstood. “When I help clients find their passions, I’m not talking about helping them feel hot and heavy about everything they do every second of their lives,” she said.
Instead, passion can feel “like a quiet inner light…an opening in the chest or a soft flutter in the belly.” When you’re passionate about something, it feels like a “yes,” she said.