I recently attended Emerging Women Live 2017, a conference whose tag line is “live the truth of who you are.” The annual gathering is dedicated to supporting the personal and leadership growth of women in all their many, wondrous forms. It was populated by humanitarians, US and global activists, scholars, entrepreneurs, firewalkers, dancers and all manner of accomplished, impressive and authentic women. Its focus is on building connection and relationship, sharing lessons through storytelling, equipping participants with concrete strategies and actionable goals for their work, and most importantly discovering purpose. By discovering and connecting to our purpose, we are empowered to emerge into our greater selves and define how we will serve a greater good – hence, we are all emerging women.
This is a game changer!
As I walked through the Denver airport after leaving the conference, I watched for women in the security line who might have attended the conference. I looked for the other “emerging women” with whom I could share my enthusiasm and as I looked, my heart spoke “ALL of these are emerging women” – any of them might have been at that conference seeking their purpose and sharing their voice, seeing me and being seen by others while we all connected so openly and naturally over those 4 days. I am steeped in gratitude to have engaged in a gathering such as this. Four days (62 hours to be exact) of acknowledging and witnessing true feminine power gave us all a fresh and unusual opportunity to connect deeply. Those connections remind me that every woman, every day, is a woman seeking to live her purpose – she may or may not know it yet – but she has, we all have, what Dr. Tererai Trent calls the “Great Hunger.” This is the deep desire to live in a way that serves something greater that has meaning beyond self, a deep desire for purpose. When a woman knows her hunger, I can learn from her journey and support her generously, if she has not yet connected to that great hunger, I can share the beautiful revelation that she is indeed emerging and can claim her purpose; as I return to daily life, without the supportive structure of a conference, I am nonetheless capable of radical connection in everyday life; connection that helps me and others find and live our purpose. I did not need the conference to have that capacity, I have always been capable of it, but I needed the conference to amplify the voice deep inside me that has always known yet sometimes needs reminding.
Of course, the crisis of meaning is not limited to women, indeed it seems pervasive in our chaotic, consumption-driven world. Emily Esfahani Smith, in The Power of Meaning, shares the statistic that “nearly a quarter of Americans – about one hundred million people- do not have a strong sense of what makes their lives meaningful.” Without meaning and purpose, we are chasing the “little hunger” of consumerism and superficial accomplishment that does not nourish or provide true sustenance and therefore never fully satisfies. The bellies of our soul swell from malnourishment although to the untrained eye can appear to be full. Social media is overflowing with examples of this. Chasing goals that are not connected to a greater purpose and a true sense of self eventually generates anxiety, stress, burnout and disconnection. Expressing who we think we should be instead of who we truly are is exhausting and not sustainable. In general, society has not trained us, especially women, to listen to and trust our own internal knowledge; our process of emerging is about learning to quiet the habitual thoughts of the mind, unleash our own intuition and voice, let go of “shoulds,” comparisons, and other limiting beliefs, and open-up to the new possibility of our purpose. It is waiting for us and will be ready for us when we open the door. But don’t be fooled, that does not always make it easy to FIND the door.
So how to start?
- Ask yourself “what problem do I want to solve?” What do you see out there in the world that breaks your heart, or fires you up, or makes you say, “I wish I could be involved in that?”
- Follow your curiosity and your interests. What topics, activities or pursuits draw you? When do you feel fully engaged and lose track of time? What makes you cry or laugh or both? What would you do if “money was no object?”
Answer these first two questions on paper, repeatedly, keep brainstorming, don’t self-edit, try to get out of your own head and just answer.
- Ask others who know you what gifts, talents or unique characteristics they see in you. It is not uncommon for others to clearly see things we don’t see in ourselves.
- Reflect on the most meaningful experiences you have had – our “great hunger” often grows from our lived experience. What have you struggled with and overcome (or are in the process of overcoming)? If you don’t feel like you have had “life-changing experiences” ask yourself if there is something you have always wanted to do and try to go do it!
- Expect and accept some ambiguity. You will likely not drive by a billboard that announces your purpose to you – it will evolve and may feel elusive for quite some time (and it may even change over time.) It is not a failing if you do not yet have clarity.
- Just take the next step – whatever is drawing you in, follow it. Trust yourself, don’t expect to have it all figured out in a flash (and don’t expect it to be completely comfortable at first). Take opportunities that present themselves or better yet, go find some opportunities and try them out. You may not know the “end game” and you do not have to – just follow the headlights as far as they illuminate right now.
There is no need to wait for a conference to connect with our purpose and help others do the same. The door has cracked opened for me and for all the other women in those Denver conference rooms, and now I am working to open it fully for myself and hold it open for others to come through with me and behind me. What a shame it would be if after walking through that door of realization I let it close behind me and left the next woman alone to bear the entire weight of reopening it.
As you move toward finding and living your purpose, hold open the door for those who are also coming, invite those who didn’t know they could come, or reach back and push on a closed door for others striving to open it and as we cross the threshold, let us work together to loosen the hinges so that eventually the door will never close again. It will not be easy, the hinges are heavy and rusted in place by all the old stories we have been told and sold, but they will release if we persist and bring our gifts to bear. Helping ourselves and those around us seek and find our “Great Hunger” will bring meaning and connection to our communities and will enrich our lives. It is our quest.
Finally, realize right here, right now, that you are already on the path to purpose simply by acknowledging your desire to find it! We are all connected, we all have a great hunger to pursue, we are all on a quest to live our true story and we are all emerging into our purpose. May you never find yourself pulling the door open alone!
Kristen M. Fragnoli, 2017