My husband has always been a man with a plan. He knows exactly what he wants to mark the success of his life—a published book and a successful consulting agency. 

I, on the other hand, have never really known what it meant for me to be successful. Every two weeks, I lay in our bed and squabble over my general frustration with his ambition. 

As much as his dreams drew me to him, I didn’t like that his ambition was impacting his day to day, particularly in how he prioritizes his dreams over spending time with me. Because obviously, what is more important— watching Netflix with me or making steps towards your dream? 

Answer that carefully. 

One night, we laid in bed and I told him I felt lost. Charles silently looked at the ceiling and then sheepishly whispered: 

“Bullshit. You don’t even know what a lost person looks like.”

My counselor once told me you must choose the people who are allowed to speak to your character. Charles is one of those people for me. 

That night, I wanted his pity. I wanted him to coddle and validate my feelings of loss and hopelessness. 

Instead, I got a pretty aggressive pep talk. 

It became pretty apparent that I struggle with physical markers of success. He encouraged me to spend some time sketching out a timeline for what I wanted my life to look like in 5, 10, and 15 years. 

These types of exercises always have felt a little cooky to me. As much as I may come off as being a Type A Planner, I’ve never been good about planning ahead, especially when it came to life after marriage. 

That’s the thing—my entire life revolved around getting married. And once I got married, sure, it was expected of me to have a family, settle down, and be a caregiver, but I just knew I was itching for more. 

I just didn’t actually know what more looked like. 

A couple of days later, I sat on our couch with my black sketchbook and three colored pens and just started timelining without abandon. A few things struck out to me right off the bat: 

  • I really want to be a mother 
  • I have some career aspirations which would require some real personal and professional growth 
  • I want to tell stories of the grey and I want to tell them to you 

I wasn’t very satisfied by writing those physical things down. While they all seemed fine and completely things I could work towards, it just wasn’t enough for me. 

I turned to a blank page in my sketchbook and started writing down the things I wanted to be known for, things I wanted to say about my life, and the type of person I was. It was the easier thing to do—I wanted to feel I was kind, empathetic, generous with my time and resources, not overextending. The list went out for several more bullets. 

The words on the page satisfied me. I, unlike Charles, am not motivated by the physical markers. 

I am motivated by the way my actions and life steps make me feel about the type of person I am. 

I want to be known and know I’m living up to the values I hold myself accountable to. 

At the core, there are three things I’ve learned from this moment: 

  1. Ambition isn’t bad. Desiring to have physical markers in your life isn’t a sign of greed or cockiness. It’s a point of hot debate in my marriage because my husband has these clear physical markers and sometimes it’s hard for me to see it otherwise. Having real, physical representations of success can help anchor and challenge you to take the little steps to those big dreams. 
  2. It’s okay to be driven by your values. You may not find yourself driven to titles and accolades. You may be driven by your heart. I get that, I am driven by my heart. I am willing to ebb and flow to the beating of my heart— taking turns, and even changing directions. 
  3. Find a person in your life who can speak into your character. I’ve begrudgingly chosen a few people I’m willing to hear out if they call me out on my bullshit. The point here is we shouldn’t be a sponge to every piece of feedback and criticism we hear. We should trust the people we choose to speak into our character do so because we have given them authority. 

Before this moment, as much as I didn’t want to admit it, my purpose had always been subtly defined by the social markers we’re all held to—education, career, marriage, childrearing. 

The adults around me found their purpose in Jesus, their families, and often by the status of their jobs and education. But I believe, if you’re itching for me, there’s something deeper, maybe something God has called you to that you must look for. 

There is nothing linear about learning about your heavenly purpose on earth. It’s not going to look like everyone else’s. 

And if you’re like me, someone who deeply craves purpose, it’s worth it to explore. It is worth it to do the exercises and create the markers, it’s worth it to ask the questions. 

This piece is a series of four lessons I learned in 2020. I’ll be adding new pieces every Wednesday in December 2020.

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Living love boldly, courageously, and without fear.

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