I believe you have been made the way you are for a reason, and that reason is to find your own individual path to help other people. Whether you believe that or not, I hope you agree that there is something unique about you, including the ways you can contribute and make a difference for others. It’s likely your path to greater purpose resides at the center of what makes you you.
For example, your experiences have allowed you to see things now in ways that you couldn’t before. The skills you have acquired along the way give you the tools to get the job done. Your interests reflect your personality and provides motivation to keep going, even when things aren’t going as planned.
Let’s take a look at each of these aspects to see what you could offer the world.
All that you have experienced in your life makes you different from everyone else on the planet. Nobody breathing the same air has gone through what you have, for better and for worse. Your siblings, best friends, and coworkers may have shared many defining moments with you, but the collection of everything you have seen makes you unique.
If you have wrestled with addiction recovery, for instance, you may find it meaningful to help others who are still fighting that battle. If you spent time in the military, you understand what discipline (or a lack thereof) can do to a person. Those with management or sales experience may bring all they have mastered to a struggling nonprofit that has never provided accountability for their employees.
When I listed out the experiences that shaped my life before my year off, I was surprised to see how much leadership experience I had. From college through the present day, I have continuously been involved in helping some type of organization achieve its mission. When I looked more closely, I realized that at each place, I had become involved in leadership almost instantly. This surprised me until I realized that I have owned my own business for most of my life and have been managing employees for over fifteen years. It made sense. What have you spent most of your life doing? You might have far more experience than you realize.
You have likely become magnificent at a wide variety of things in your life, though they may seem minor to you. If you want to get serious about making an impact in this world, a sober analysis of what skills you picked up throughout your life is a necessity.
Hard skills are easy to demonstrate to others. They are often learned and practiced and can include writing, computer programming, operating machinery, speaking a foreign language, or painting houses.
Yours may be completely different. Don’t stress out if your list doesn’t include singing, walking tightropes, kickboxing, or anything else you have convinced yourself is cool over the years. Your primary hard skill can be accurate data entry, and with the right system, you can add more value to society than any wannabe singer this world has produced. Just be honest here—no judgments.
Soft skills are a little trickier to identify, but they’re arguably more important in the grand scheme of things. While hard skills may grab the headlines (e.g., sick dance moves), it takes a different list of skills to move forward in a world where everyone has their own agenda. These capabilities can include patience, leadership, problem-solving, teamwork, motivating others, cheerfulness, or any other hard-to-define attribute you can think of. Soft skills are what hold teams together and move large projects forward.
Yours may include punctuality, telling inappropriate jokes, accepting criticism, and apologizing (possibly in that order). Your soft skills are unique to you. They are what you bring to every project and every purpose larger than yourself.
How interesting is your job? Chances are it was at least slightly interesting to you at some point, even if it lacks excitement now. Not all of us can work for the CIA, research cures for cancer, or understudy a champion matador. Whether or not your job is tedious, your year off should allow you to explore a path you are truly interested in or walk one that you deeply enjoy. And who knows, this time may lead you to look for a new line of work or side opportunities to keep more meaning in your life.
For me, after creating personal financial plans for nearly twenty years, it would be a stretch to say I find the process as fascinating as I did ten years ago. But I acknowledge my skills and experience in this area. I see the value to others in how I spend my days, and I don’t need to leave the only profession I have ever known just because I’m having a midlife crisis.
Your interests—especially those you rarely have time for or have never let yourself explore—can play a big part in how you want to spend your year off. Perhaps you have always wanted to learn a language, play an instrument, or master a specific technology. Maybe you simply want to share what you already know with the world. Regardless, if your new pursuit is more interesting than how you are currently spending your day, then why hold back?
Look for the Overlap
The goal of this exercise is to find the place where your experience, skills, and interests overlap with each other. Finding an opportunity to pursue that integrates a few areas of your life is truly an “aha” moment. You may feel you are discovering something that has been waiting for you the whole time.
Rather than be cornered into something finance-related, I realized my experience includes developing and implementing new projects quickly. The majority of my skills have a technical bent (finance, accounting, technology, etc.), but one of the soft skills that I enjoy is educating others, which I have been doing as a financial planner for most of this century.
Sounds great, but does any of that interest me? Not really; what interests me is writing. I have always wanted to communicate thoughts and ideas to others in the same clear, succinct manner that so many great writers do. And to do that from my own house (pants optional) is an introvert’s dream come true!
So, if we take a fearlessness in launching new projects, the skills to educate others about topics I have experienced, and a love of writing, what do we get? The Year Off book!
Is this my true purpose in life? I don’t know, but it is inarguably a great place to start. I can’t fast-forward to the end and see what the most important thing in my life was; all I can do is get started now. I encourage you to do the same.