How to Clarify Your Life’s Purpose
with Brooke Snow
Listen to the episode, and see the show notes here.
Rachel Nielson: Through this podcast and my in-person workshops over the past several years, I’ve interacted with thousands of women, and one of those most frequently asked questions I hear is, “How do I find my purpose?” Women tell me all the time that they feel this tug inside of them to do something– something deeply meaningful, whether that is to dive into a passion project or a hobby, to start a business or to get a job in a field that they would love. And yet they can’t quite put their finger on what it is they want to do. They want to use their gifts and their time well, but what is it that they are supposed to be doing?
Honestly, I haven’t had a good answer for these women. I know exactly the feeling they’re talking about– I’ve felt it many times, particularly before I started this podcast. But it’s really difficult to give action steps for how to clarify your life’s purpose. Is it just something that just sort of happens to you, or can you actually take steps to figure it out? I’ve been on the hunt for the perfect guest to address this topic, and my friends, I found her.
I’m here today with Brooke Snow, who’s a writer, speaker, podcaster, and prolific online educator. She’s the author of the book, Living in Your True Identity: Discover, Embrace, and Develop Your Own Divine Nature and a certified optimized coach, helping people to create a strong identity supported by holistic daily habits. Brooke has a gift for seeing the big picture and extracting life lessons from each experience. She’s a wife, a mother of two, and a survivor who has triumphed over PTSD and anxiety. She believes all people can change and that we hold the power to create the life we want. I can’t wait to hear her insights on how we can clarify our life’s purpose and pursue it with joy. So Brooke, welcome to 3 in 30.
Brooke Snow: Thank you. I am so excited to be here.
Rachel Nielson: I’m so excited to have you. I love listening to your podcast and learning from you. And I just feel like that last line of your bio is so powerful that “we hold the power to create the life we want,” and I feel like it’s really applicable to what we’re going to be talking about today.
Brooke Snow: Yes, it is exciting!
Rachel Nielson: Yes. And I feel like so many of us do feel these inner tuggings that I described in that introduction. And we want to believe that we have the power to create the life we want, but we don’t know what that life is or what it should look like, and we kind of get stuck there. And so I’m really excited for you to give us some concrete, action steps we can take to move towards figuring that out.
Brooke Snow: I am all about practical. I am all about taking things that seem really abstract and make it really concrete, and definitely life purpose is one of those things that can remain in that abstract area. And so I want to share some of the things that have helped me in my own journey in being able to figure out how can I make this more actionable, more concrete so that I can move forward and really have confidence that I’m doing what I am meant to do?
Rachel Nielson: Yeah. And I love that you have looked at your own life journey and then figured out what you did to get there, if that makes sense. I do feel like I’ve really found my life’s purpose with this podcast, but when people ask me, well how did you know, it’s hard for me to figure out, how did I know? But you just have to work backwards to think about, how did I figure it out? What were the steps? And could others also do a similar process when they’re feeling stuck? And so it sounds like that’s where these takeaways really come from for you– these are the things you did to figure out your own life purpose.
Brooke Snow: Oh yeah. And I love how you talk about looking backwards. That’s going to be our second takeaway that we talk about is looking backwards. And I think probably the place to actually start is looking in the present and asking ourselves, what am I curious about? Pay attention to your curiosity and your desire.
Rachel Nielson: And that’s our first takeaway.
Brooke Snow: Yes. Takeaway number one: pay attention to your curiosity and your desire. And the reason I say that is to be counter-cultural a little bit to the big idea of “follow your passion.” That seems to be a trendy thing that we have heard a lot about in the last few years of “follow your passion, go create a business or just do your thing that you feel really passionate about.” And I actually feel a little bit different about that. And I admit that some of my feelings have been influenced by two people in particular that are really incredible authors.
The first is Emily Gilbert, and she wrote the book Big Magic. And she says in her book, how “follow your passion” is actually bad advice because you don’t always feel passion for something. Passion is actually more of a fleeting feeling that doesn’t last. And I love that description because it’s true. Even though I have been passionate about certain projects or things in my life, not every moment feels that way.
Rachel Nielson: And if you were just relying on passion to get you through that, it wouldn’t last that long.
Brooke Snow: Exactly. And there are times, even though I’m doing what I feel called to do right now, that I don’t want to do it. There are days that I don’t feel motivated to do it, but when I know that it’s my purpose and it’s my calling basically to do this, I feel the natural motivation that goes along with that.
But passion itself is not something that is a constant emotion that you will feel. Curiosity is much more sustainable and more present than that feeling of passion. And so to ask yourself, what am I really curious about right now? What do I desire to learn about? What do I kind of feel called towards? It doesn’t have to be passionate, it’s just what am I curious about?
The other author that has influenced this concept for me is Cal Newport. And he wrote the book So Good They Can’t Ignore You. And he talks in that book about having a craftsman mindset, which is sort of the opposite. He says to choose something– so you would pay attention to your desires and your curiosity–choose something and then become really good at that thing that you develop the skills, you develop the knowledge; you actually put in the time to be a craftsman in that particular area. And that is when, after the time has unfolded, that passion actually follows later. And I thought, oh my goodness– that’s such an interesting concept because if we’re telling people “follow your passion,” and yet there hasn’t been the time put in, and the experience and all of that creates passion later.
Rachel Nielson: That creates skill, which will then lead to passion.
Brooke Snow: Right. It’s that there’s sort of an order in which things happen and starting with passion is not right.
Rachel Nielson: I really relate to this idea of following your curiosity and I feel like I kind of call it following the breadcrumbs, like these little hints in your life of what you’re curious about, and you’re not gonna know what it’s going to lead to. But follow the breadcrumbs if you have an innate interest somewhere and take a first step into exploring that. It doesn’t mean that you are dedicating your entire life to it yet, but you’re just kind of seeing. And that’s what I did. People ask how I ended up hosting this podcast.
When I was a brand new stay-at-home mom, I was really missing teaching because I’d been a high school English teacher, and I saw an opportunity to write for a website Power of Moms to submit articles. And that was my first step; I just started submitting articles here and there– just a few every year. And then my role within that organization grew, and I became an editor for them. Then I recorded a couple of podcasts with them, and then eventually that came through. Then came the idea for 3 in 30, it’s not like one day I woke up and thought, I would love being a podcaster; this is my life’s work. It was my curiosity and having courage to take steps towards that curiosity just to see: would I like this?
Brooke Snow: I think that’s amazing to look back and to see that because I could say the same thing for myself. I think you could probably interview lots of people who would also say the same thing– that you don’t end up where you thought you would in the beginning of that journey. It really is like following little breadcrumbs, following your curiosity, doing just the next thing. Sometimes we can think about life purpose is this really big massive thing and that we need to have that idea of what the final arrival is, but we can actually bring down the overwhelm around it or even maybe procrastination around it when we just ask yourself: what is the very next step to take? And to find that is by paying attention to your curiosity and your desire.
Rachel Nielson: Yes, that’s beautiful. And have you seen this play out in your life or in the life of any of your friends where they followed their curiosity to find what they’re good at?
Brooke Snow: Yeah, I have lots of examples from my life, but it’s been so fun to watch one of my friends right now because this whole idea of life purpose has been something that she’s been talking to me a lot about in the past year. And it’s been interesting lately to see how she has cultivated some purpose just by looking at the things that she’s curious about. And for her, one of the things she’s curious about is human behavior and why do people act the way that they do? Why do they think the way that they do, why do they make the choices that they do? And because of this curiosity, it’s led her to study lots of different personality type of profiling systems. And tons of different ones; not just sticking with one, but learning about it from an energetic point of view or maybe it’s even astrology or movement and energy, personality systems– all of those things. And she’s just constantly so curious about that. And I have to tell you, talking to her is one of the most fun experiences because I’ll share something I’m going through and then she will naturally start to coach me and to give me advice.
But she filters it through all of these profiling systems that she’s learned, and she knows what my profiles are in all of these things. And she gives me the best personalized advice of all of my friends. And it’s just so fun to see how that curiosity of hers that she’s been driven to find out and learn more about human behavior has really played into this experience of her being able to be a great mentor or coach personally to other people.
Rachel Nielson: Yeah. And she could use it that way in one-on–one interactions with friends and family and find great meaning and fulfillment through that. But if she wanted to, she could take that and turn it into some sort of a business. But once she’s identified that this is really where her curiosity lies and she has a skill set there; she’s good at it, she knows a lot about it, then she can move forward from there.
Brooke Snow: Exactly. And I think one thing to pay attention to and what you mentioned is that it shows up not just in a professional setting. And I think when we think of life purpose, a lot of times we can get stuck or hung up on the idea that it means I have to have a professional career, or I have to start a business in this thing. And I think life purpose is so much broader. Life purpose is something that you’re actually going to have. That very purpose is going to show up in lots of different categories. It’s like very fluid. It’s the type of thing that you’re going to be using in your personal relationships and wherever you go, it’s going to show up in some form or another. Which kind of goes into what you mentioned earlier in your introduction of– it’s not necessarily what you’re doing, but it’s more about why you do it. The “what” can change over and over and over again, but your “why” is going to be that constant foundation that supports you in every facet of life that it shows up.
Rachel Nielson: Yes. And that leads really well into your second takeaway.
Brooke Snow: Ah, yes. Second takeaway is to create a timeline of your life turns and look for the common theme. So here’s a very concrete action that you can do, is to actually look at your whole life from the very beginning up into the present. And I got to give credit here. This is an exercise that I learned from Donald Miller. He created a class probably in 2012 and it was called “Create Your Life.” And he created a workbook that goes along with that. I don’t know that it’s even in print anymore, but it’s called Storyline.
The basic idea is to look at your life and a timeline, plot the moments that have been a life turn for you. And those life turns can be positive or they can be negative. Maybe they were an event that happened. Perhaps it was not necessarily one particular moment, but maybe it was a relationship. But just to look at your whole life and to plot those moments where you are never the same again after this experience, or this relationship, or whatever it was. What were those turning points for you? And to go through that– if you’re in your 30s or 40s you should have at least 15 or so life turns. Maybe if you’re being more detailed, you’ll have more than that. But when you’re finished creating this timeline, step back and to ask yourself, what do all these turning points have in common? Is there actually a theme that I can see through all of these turns? What made it a turning point?
And it was so interesting for me to do this exercise for myself and to see what I wrote down. The people that I even wrote down, the relationships I wrote down, they were all teachers. Some of them were good teachers that totally changed my life. Some of them were terrible teachers that changed it for the negative. But even looking into other life experiences that had made it onto this timeline, it was so interesting for me to see how so many of those things related to teaching– over and over and over again. And so for me it was like, Oh wow. Like that’s the common theme that connects all of these turning points is teaching.
And that was the experience that I took to find what my purpose was. And so for me, my life purpose is to teach. That’s why I do what I do, but how I do it and what I do has changed. Sometimes that teaching shows up and it looks like me teaching someone how to play the piano, or it looks like me teaching photography. I spent all my college education in music. And then after grad school I became a photographer. And then after that I went into personal growth. But the commonality in all three of those things, is I was always teaching.
And yet it’s not even just in my career. I’m constantly teaching in my friendships. I am teaching everywhere I go. When I even learn something for myself, I have to turn around and teach it, which is why I do a podcast. I learn more after I teach it to someone else. So it’s kind of like my little personal growth accountability program is to have a podcast.
Rachel Nielson: Yeah. It gives you a place to teach what you’re learning every week.
Brooke Snow: Yeah. So that timeline exercise is going to be different for every person. But it’s really neat to allow your own life to reflect back to you what your purpose is.
Rachel Nielson: Yeah. And one thing that strikes me about your experience with discovering your “why” and that the “how” doesn’t really matter so much as the “why.” Because I hear a lot of women who will say, “I feel this call to fulfill my life’s purpose, but this isn’t the season because I’m a stay-at-home mom.” And I don’t agree with that. I feel like your soul is going to suffer if you are not pursuing your life’s purpose in any season. What does that mean– I’m not allowed to be myself or to be a human because it’s not the right season? Because what you said is so true there– you can be living your life’s purpose in every season. So once you’ve defined your why and you figured out your theme, then you can start to figure out how can I weave it into this season? Maybe it is correct that this isn’t the season for me to go out and start a business, but that doesn’t mean I can’t be living with my life’s purpose in mind in the tasks that I’m doing right now.
Brooke Snow: Absolutely, and you will be more fulfilled in what you’re doing if you are A) aware of what your purpose is and B) you know how you can adapt it to whatever season that you’re in.
Rachel Nielson: Yeah, you can really take whatever season you’re in and make it very fulfilling and meaningful once you see it through this lens of your life’s theme. How long does it take to do something like this? Like I hear this and I think, Oh my gosh, map out your whole life and put in all the highs and the lows? That sounds like a project. I mean, how long would you say people should give themselves to do this activity?
Brooke Snow: Well, maybe it depends on how old you are. But the thing is, when it’s just on a timeline, you don’t have to write the whole story of what happened to you in seventh grade. You just write a sentence that triggers your memory: this was a moment that was really life changing for me. And so keep that in mind that it’s just plotting things on a timeline. I would block out at least an hour. And some people, it may take more than that and some people an hour is probably good. Maybe some people could do it even faster than that, but I think at least that long is good– to be intentional and purposeful and present– to be seeking to recall to your mind the moments that have really changed you.
Rachel Nielson: Yeah. And I could see myself overdoing this, taking it too seriously, getting stressed out about it when really just reminding yourself– this is just an exercise in getting to know myself. It doesn’t have to be perfect. I don’t have to identify the perfect 15 events. Just, I’m going to spend an hour today doing this and I’m going to enjoy it and be curious about it as I’m doing it and then I can revisit it and look at it tomorrow or the next day and just kind of chip away at it over time and see what themes start to emerge as I think reflectively about my life.
Brooke Snow: I think that’s great. And especially if you set the intention that what comes to your mind is the exact turning points that you need for right now to understand the question that you’re asking yourself which is what’s my purpose?
Rachel Nielson: Yeah. Set the intention. And if you pray, say a little prayer before you begin and ask that you’ll be guided to those things that will help you find answers. And do you have any other common themes for some people who may be thinking, what does that even mean “a theme?” What are some possible themes that people might see come out when they’re doing this?
Brooke Snow: Yeah, this is so good. I think about my friends and for example, one has a life purpose of helping others to heal. And you know, I can see that just as a pattern her whole life. So really helping people heal. Another person is really great at gathering people together and be able to create a space for people to have experiences together. Another friend is super great at being a storyteller; and helping other people to tell their stories and then actually being someone who can bring that story out of them in one form or another. All of these things can be taken into a business or a career or they can also show up in your personal life and lots of different places, right?
Rachel Nielson: Yes, in motherhood and friendships.
Brooke Snow: Right. And hospitality is another one. Helping people feel comfortable. Those are some of the common themes that I’ve seen. Loving people– really helping people to be empowered and encouraging others. That’s a real gift that I have seen in some of my friends, that gift of encouragement. They know what to say to someone and they know how to speak to them about something that they’re going through to help them to have courage, to make a decision and to move forward and have action.
Those are some of the themes I’ve seen among my own friends who have done this type of exercise in looking for their purpose. So I just think it’s neat like I already mentioned, but being able to see how those things can show up in so many ways. Some of my friends have indeed taken those and they do use it in a professional setting. And many haven’t, but they’re very clear on what their purpose is.
Rachel Nielson: Hmm. How interesting. Is learning or a desire to seek knowledge. Is that a theme that you think?
Brooke Snow: Yeah, totally.
Rachel Nielson: Even a love of music or of artwork or like are they those themes or is that more specific to the “what?”
Brooke Snow: I would probably think that might be more specific to the “what,” but not necessarily. Is it connected to several parts of that timeline? Is it tied together? And maybe not every single one of those things on your timeline are going to be that way; you’re looking for an overarching thing that connects several of them together.
Rachel Nielson: Well, this is such a cool exercise. And then what is your third takeaway?
Brooke Snow: Third takeaway. Dun, dun, dun.
Rachel Nielson: That sounds bad. That sounds like a doom noise.
Brooke Snow: No, no, no, no. It was like, “Be prepared, ladies and gentlemen!”
Rachel Nielson: Okay. Okay. Got it.
Brooke Snow: Your life purpose will always be about helping other people. Your life purpose will always be the unique way that you help other people. And Viktor Frankl in his book, Man’s Search For Meaning, he talks about how all of us, all humankind, has this innate desire inside of us to be called to something bigger than oneself. And this is the way that you use your gifts and your talents; it’s your life experiences. It’s your wisdom. It’s how you contribute to the greater good. How is it that you serve other people? And it’s in connecting this to a higher purpose in your life that everything really starts to come into alignment. In fact, I would go as far to say that that’s why it feels purposeful is because it’s about serving others.
Rachel Nielson: I definitely can see that this is true for my personality. Is it really true for everyone? It will always be about helping people, in your experience?
Brooke Snow: I believe so. If it’s a true purpose, then it somehow needs to tie back to, how is it that you are being called to serve others? When it’s self serving, it isn’t long lasting. The only thing that makes it sustainable and truly rewarding and meaningful is because somehow it ties into serving the greater good.
Rachel Nielson: Yeah. And this isn’t necessarily to say we mean that you have a personality where you’re out talking to everyone. It could be something that you do very privately, but that impacts people in the greater good of the world.
Brooke Snow: Right, right.
Rachel Nielson: And how have you seen this play out in your life?
Brooke Snow: I remember the first time that this became really actionable for me. I spent some time as a photographer. I was an event photographer; I photographed weddings and then I did portraiture for families. And I was always learning because that’s part of life purpose is learning and teaching. And I attended this workshop and the teacher was David J, that was his name. And he had created this multimillion dollar product for photographers to help them do slideshows for all of the sessions that they had done. And I remember him talking about the process of developing this product and his dad had come to him and he had told his dad his business idea and his dad told him, “If you make your business about helping others, you will always have plenty of work.” And at that time I was kind of struggling with actually having work.
Rachel Nielson: Having enough work?
Brooke Snow: Yeah, or even at all. I wasn’t super busy with doing sessions for people. I didn’t have a thriving business or anything like that. So to me that was a huge standout, a major takeaway from this workshop experience with him. So I remember leaving that workshop and thinking, if you make your business about helping others, you’ll always have plenty of work. Well, I take people’s pictures, but how could I actually change my experience of that so that I could be serving more in what I do? And I drove home that night and brainstormed ideas and immediately, the next day, I was on Craigslist. I put out a little post saying, “anybody who wants to come on me with a shoot, come along with me. You can come and learn. You can be my assistant and you can learn for free.”
And what I was doing was teaching other people how to photograph. I was teaching someone else through the process of having them be my assistant. And then later on I started teaching photography classes and teaching others how to use their camera and things like that. And it just kinda got the ball rolling in that direction. And it’s funny because someone else could have heard that comment from David Jay and thought, if I make my business about helping others, and even if they were photographer, they probably would have taken it a totally different direction. They probably would have thought, Oh, I can actually serve others and help others through, you know, taking their picture.
Rachel Nielson: Yeah. And the way that I do it, and how I interact with them while I’m taking their pictures.
Brooke Snow: Right! But my brain didn’t even go that way. And it’s because my purpose is to teach– it just naturally went down that road.
Rachel Nielson: And you didn’t know that yet. You hadn’t identified that on your timeline yet.
Brooke Snow: No, no.
Rachel Nielson: Interesting. When you look back, you think, oh, there we go again with the instinct to teach.
Brooke Snow: Right, but anyone else, to ask “how do you make this about helping other people?” That’s going to really spark some ideas, and it’s going to be ideas specific to you and to what your own purpose is. It’s going to manifest differently for every person according to what that theme or purpose is.
Rachel Nielson: Oh, that’s beautiful. So if you make your business about helping other people, you will always have plenty of work no matter what you’re doing, even if it’s not a formal business. Your life’s purpose is always going to be about helping people. So think about how you’re doing that, how you do that well, how you love to do that, and make that more central to what you’re doing in your day-to-day life.
Brooke Snow: Yes. And one thing I want to draw attention to to what you just said is in a way that answers, how are you going to love doing that? Because to me, to be quite honest, I didn’t love taking people’s pictures.
But I loved teaching other people how to take pictures and eventually I actually phased out the whole photography business and it was completely just teaching. And I’d even get people who were free models and we’d take their picture for free. But I had an assistant who was filming me on camera saying, “and now this is what we’re going to do and pay attention to this.” And it was me teaching. So it’s just funny to see how, once can hone in on what you’re curious about, what is your desire, look at your life and all of the patterns that have existed from the beginning to the present. What is the common theme there? And then to look to answer: how does this help me serve other people in a way that fills me up in a way that I love? That continues the process of me being curious and having a desire to do this thing?
Rachel Nielson: Yeah. Oh that’s beautiful. And I’m glad that you pointed that out because I think sometimes we can think that takeaways like this mean that we have to help everyone at all times in all ways. Like, “my life’s purpose is to serve and so I’m going to completely deplete myself in every way.” Just giving, giving, giving. And that’s not what you’re saying.
Brooke Snow: No, it’s not.
Rachel Nielson: What you’re saying is through the lens of what fulfills you and what you’re naturally good at and brings you joy– serving in that way. And maybe that means you can’t serve in other ways that other people do, but that’s their gift, so you can focus in on what you have to offer.
Brooke Snow: Yeah. And also knowing that it is going to evolve, and it’s going to look different. It’s not going to stay the same because we don’t stay the same. We continue to grow, and how and what we do with that purpose is going to continually be changing. But the why is there to support you.
Rachel Nielson: Well Brooke, this has been such an inspiring conversation, and I would like to challenge everyone who’s listening to just start with one of Brooke’s takeaways this week; mull it over and try to take action on it. And so, Brooke, can you remind us what your three takeaways were?
Brooke Snow: Yes. Number one takeaway is to pay attention to curiosity and desire. Number two takeaway is to create a timeline of your life turns and look for the common themes. And third takeaway is that your life purpose will always be about helping other people.
Rachel Nielson: And Brooke Snow, if listeners are interested in hearing more from you and learning more about your work, where should they start?
Brooke Snow: Oh, I would invite you to come to my podcast. It’s on iTunes and it is “The Brooke Snow Podcast.”
Rachel Nielson: And you have an entire episode on finding your life’s purpose.
Brooke Snow: I do! I go into a lot more detail there about my journey and how everything kind of fell together. It’s kind of a fun story.
Rachel Nielson: All right. I will link that and there’s so many episodes on your show that have really made me think and impacted my life. I’m just so grateful for the work that you’re doing. And thank you for coming on 3 in 30.
Brooke Snow: Thank you so much. It was a pleasure.
Links Mentioned In Today’s Episode:
- Free class about starting and growing a podcast
- Episode 31 The Brooke Snow Podcast about Finding Your Life’s Purpose
- Donald Miller Storybrand
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