Yesterday was my 38th birthday. As part of my birthday present, I took some alone-time the day before, sitting in Starbucks by the lake, with a pumpkin spiced latte, a journal and several books, to enjoy a bright autumn day while reflecting on the past year of my life. How have I grown? What have I learned? How my life and my family life is different from a year ago?
My friend, I can’t tell you how thankful I am for the past year. Tremendous growth has taken place in my personal and family life. Today, I want to share three key life lessons I learned in the past year that made me feel more purposeful while navigating the changes and hurdles in life. I genuinely believe applying them will also help you to live a more fulfilled and purposeful life too. Are you ready?
- Master the art of goal-setting
In December 2020, my husband and I took an online course called The Best Year Ever by Michael Hyatt. It is a course about how to set annual goals and reach them so that you can live your best year ever.
I’d never set any goals in my life before, nor did I know how. I only had hopes and dreams and lots of prayers for them to come true.
The truth is, many of my dreams did come true by God’s grace. But by the time we bought the course, our life felt stuck.
With two young children at home and the pandemic, my husband tried to make his newly founded business work with a tight budget. I held dear to a renewed passion for writing and wanted to do something about it to provide for my family. Life felt so busy and chaotic as parents and newbie entrepreneurs that we desperately needed a system to make it work. This goal-setting course was what we needed. It served as a roadmap and kept us focused on the essential things.
In a nutshell, I will summarise what I learned about goal-setting for you (the course covers much much more):
- Break down your life into different domains. Example: work life, home life, personal life, social life. You can always break them down further. For instance, you can break down “home life” into parenthood and marital if applicable.
- In each domain, identify where you are today (A )and where you want to be a year later(B)— your goal.
- Set no more than 12 annual goals. Make sure to set goals in different domains of your life, not just your work, for example.
- Divide a year into four quarters. Spread your annual goals somewhat evenly into each quarter, like 2-3 goals per quarter.
- Make SMARTER goals to get from A to B. (Specific, measurable, actionable, risky, time-bound, exciting, relevant)
Three quarters into 2021, I have only achieved three of my ten goals. Some of the goals I set last December were no longer relevant as I grew and discovered new talents and strengths. And it’s ok to pivot as we grow in self-awareness.
As my family is preparing to move internationally in a month as of this writing, our life will be very different from what we had imagined on new year eve of 2020. Nevertheless, the lesson of goal-setting remains valuable.
Goal-setting isn’t about rigidly ticking off all the tasks on the list, rather a life-giving philosophy and attitude towards life. Nor is it being blind or naive about the unpredictability of life, but a tool to still faithfully live in purpose despite the changes.
2. Do something with your gifts
I read Emily Lex’s book Freely and Lightly at the beginning of the year and fell in love with her creative watercolour paintings throughout the book. The artwork looks cute and simple. I thought to myself: “Maybe I can do something like that too.”
I bought Emily’s watercolour online course for beginners and have never looked back ever since. Watercolour painting, and I clicked instantly.
Under my father’s influence, I’d been learning drawing and traditional Chinese painting as a child, and I was pretty good at it. However, I never took it seriously because I thought it was nothing worth mentioning, surely many people can do better than me. I quitted drawing and painting in high school when academics became heavy. Besides, I never considered making art any more than a hobby.
Emily’s work inspired me. For the first time, I envisioned turning my art into a business, serving alongside writing which is another gift I reclaimed just a few months prior.
Before I realized that writing and painting are my gifts and unique contribution to the world, I struggled with purposelessness. I searched for my calling high and low, fearing having nothing to show with my life. Until I learned that I had to use my gifts to become who I was designed to be, I tasted deep peace and freedom in the journey of searching for my calling. The gifts inside us are the key to unlock our purpose.
If you struggle with knowing your purpose, my friend, learn to identify your gift and do something with it to benefit others. It may look like solving someone’s problem, relieving a pain point, or simply bringing more goodness and beauty into the world.
If you need more help identifying your gifts and living your purpose, I have an ebook called Listen to Your Life. In this book, I wrote my experience of identifying my gifts, discovering my purpose, and teaching you how to do it for yourself. You can check it out today!
3. Focus on the practice, not the result
I feel the idea of developing our gifts and talents has been understated in some Christian communities, or at least it was my personal experience. When someone shares about what they are good at doing, it can be seen as bragging.
When asked by one of my leaders what I was good at doing, I enthusiastically shared a bunch of things, probably extending the welcome. Then, the leader looked at me and said: “That is good. But what’s more important is to be like Jesus in character. Watch out for pride.”
Though there was truth in my leader’s remarks, it inevitably discouraged me from developing my gifts at that time. After all, I was to pursue Christlikeness.
Years later, I’ve learned that our character and gifts are like the two wings of a plane; one can never take us to our destiny without the other.
Without establishing a solid character in Christ, our talents or potential may take up all our identity. We could quickly become human-doing instead of human-being. On the other hand, without using and practising the gifts we were born with, we will lack an appropriate path to exercise our character. We will eventually feel stuck and purposeless.
One tip I got from Seth Godin’s book Practise has helped me balance these two wings to move my life purposefully forward— focusing on the practice, not the result. It took off much pressure to be some great author or professional artist one day.
You see, at the end of the day, unlike the society we live in, God isn’t interested in how much artwork I have sold or how many books I have published. However, I believe what he is interested in would be if I have been faithful in stewarding what was entrusted to me, like the relationships with my family and my gifts.
I love this quote from Gandhi: “It’s the action, not the fruit of the action, that’s important. You have to do the right thing. It may not be in your power, may not be in your time, that there’ll be any fruit. But that doesn’t mean you stop doing the right thing. You may never know what results come from your action. But if you do nothing, there will be no result.“
Therefore, I will keep writing and painting, focusing on the practice. In one way or another, the result will take care of itself.
Dear friend, I hope you have found my thoughts on these three lessons helpful. Let me know in the comments below!
Until next time! 🙂