How to Define and Move Towards Your Purpose

May 26, 2024

Trying to determine our purpose or navigating career growth might be the last thing on your mind as a single parent. But having purpose and moving towards something is super important. Being a single parent can feel limiting in so many areas, whether it’s a logistical difficulty like restricted time or energy, or maybe it’s something more personal: self-doubt after our world has been significantly changed. How can we define and move towards our purpose while battling the unique obstacles we face as single parents? 

Growing in our career or moving towards our calling is a big undertaking and one that’s not done easily as a parent, much, much less as a single parent. How can we define and move towards our purpose or grow into new levels in our career amidst the challenges of being a single parent? Today we’re going to cover this in three main points. Number one, we’re going to talk about what we mean by purpose. Number two, we’re going to talk about some things that get in the way of moving to that purpose or to the next level. And then third, we’re going to recognize our value as a single parent. This month we’re talking about growth, and in this episode we’re discussing, defining and moving towards our purpose first. 

Let’s define what we mean by purpose. What is purpose?

Wow, it’s such a big word and when I hear it, it feels kind of weighty. When I think about purpose, it means fulfilling the reason for which something was created. And it’s not always related to career, but it could be that some people’s vocation becomes part of their purpose or calling. Sometimes it’s secondary to that or subsidiary to that, where someone has a career that pays their bills financially, but their purpose is to be an incredible mentor to youth in some type of extracurricular field or various things. So it’s not always financially driven, but it can be. They can be tied. Both are valid and regardless of what our vocational calling is, our purpose is something I think that’s really intrinsic that involves the very unique traits and abilities and design for each one of us.

And I think of it as almost a seasonal thing, whether it’s time of life or things going on, it could even be day by day: What’s my purpose today? Especially in the life of a single parent who was career driven early on when you were married, things change when you become a single parent and you really have to be intentional about focusing on work-life balance. Maybe my purpose for this season is to be home with my kids in the evenings, to be able to cook dinner, to sit down and look each other in the eye, whereas before maybe you were having something going on four nights a week. My point is different seasons and different times of life call for different things. It doesn’t have to be this grandiose idea of fulfilling one’s life purpose overall. It could be day to day, month to month, year to year.

I think fulfilling our purpose is so much about being who we are in every situation and in every season. In the midst of maybe taking time off from a really high-powered career to raise kids, you can still be the other things. You’re called to be an incredible friend. Maybe you’re a great cook or you do a little bit of acting here and there on our reels. I think it’s a neat challenge to consider how I am fulfilling my purpose today, even when circumstances around me aren’t what I thought they would be.

I think when you become a single parent, you can lose a sense of purpose because what you originally intended to be your purpose (like being a housewife and raising a family) is suddenly dashed. It can erode a sense of purpose. Or certainly if you’re a business person and you get divorced, it can wreak havoc on your personal life and it can turn everything upside down. And so I’m glad that you said what you said, Elizabeth, because I couldn’t agree more. I do think it’s seasonal.

Purpose is typically something that is hard for me to define going in. The first question that we ask is: “What job would you have?” And I think that’s fun. That’s a good way to look at purpose or career. But ultimately I’m doing something I never thought I’d be doing in my life—but I’m more fulfilled than I’ve ever been and I have a sense of purpose, but it didn’t start there. It wasn’t my goal, it wasn’t my aspiration. It was an outcome of what I invested myself in. And as we’re talking about this growth idea of defining your purpose and going after it, we have to be open-handed with the idea that purpose really means honing in on who we are and the things right in front of us. And that eventually leads to exposing or unveiling a purpose.

When I started Solo Parent, I wanted to do something. I had no idea how big it was going to grow; I just knew that there was nothing in that space and I wanted to do it. So I didn’t have the sense of “I know exactly what it’s going to look like.” All I did was start blogging what I was learning. I couldn’t find anyone else writing anything about that season that felt authentic. I read some things that said, Well, you should do this and you should do that. But no one really was expressing what it’s like to walk through it. And so those blogs eventually became a book, but I didn’t blog to write a book. I blogged because I wanted to do something. The purpose of those blogs eventually became a book and eventually became Solo Parent, but that wasn’t where I started. I started with what was right in front of me. And whether it’s a career or making a happy house with you and your kids, it’s just identifying that dream or that thing you feel like you’re inherently called and specifically on this earth to do something about. It doesn’t have to be grand.

I thought that I would be a stay at home mom and a wife full-time, and I loved doing that. Pouring into my home and family and community was huge for me. And when I became a single parent, that all changed. And I prayerfully had to think, “Lord, what am I going to do next? What have you equipped me to do? What can I do?” And God led me to get a job part-time at a church, and he started to change the trajectory of my future. I look back now and I think, “Wow, that was when I leaned into ministry work and met Robert. What a gift to have that shift come even through circumstances I wouldn’t have invited. Now I’m moving into therapy and I absolutely love it because one thing leads to another, leads to another. And the truth is that we all have unique gifts and we all have things we bring to the table. And sometimes that can feel diminished when we go through a divorce, but the truth is if we start moving in a direction, that’s where we can start uncovering purpose. 

What are some of the things that hold us back from getting to that next level or experiencing growth or moving towards? 

Confidence in ourselves, and even if our confidence has been shattered because of a toxic relationship—it doesn’t even have to be a toxic marriage—it could also be a toxic work environment. Maybe you had someone constantly holding you down or a bad leader who didn’t see your potential. There are many things that could crush your confidence. And again, it doesn’t have to be career related. It could be across the board, but that can really inhibit your growth and your ability to move forward and grow and step out in faith or move past that fear, especially the fear of being hurt again. One thing I struggle with is imposter syndrome. It’s just feeling like a fraud. Like you don’t belong and you’re not where you’re supposed to be because you don’t deserve to be there. You think, What have I got to say? People aren’t going to listen to me. Or Once they find out that I don’t know what I’m talking about, there it goes. Imposter syndrome is real and we really have to push past that to remember we bring amazing gifts to the table. Some of our experiences are exactly what can propel us forward. It’s funny because the more someone believes in you, the louder the imposter syndrome gets. At least that’s been my experience. When I reached new heights in my career before I left my cushy corporate job, I got promoted to leading the whole publicity team, I was like, “I don’t belong here. I’m faking it till I make it kind of thing. Once they figure it out, I’m gone.” I had so much support and so many people behind me and counting on me—and that terrified me even more (that I really don’t know what I’m doing). 

But at the same time I didn’t want to let them down, so I worked that much harder. It does drive you to perform, but the imposter thing is real. There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t deal with this on some level. I have not been successful at keeping a marriage together. There are mistakes I’ve made as a parent, so what do I have to say to other people? We’re going to talk about overcoming some of these things in the next section, but I think most people deal with imposter syndrome. And I do think that it’s this questioning of whether you have something to give. I think comparison plays into this a lot. Whether you’re looking at nuclear families or leaders of industry, you always think they have everything together. But time and time again, I’ve talked to people in the highest level of leadership that deal with imposter syndrome.

They are about ready to walk on stage and think, If people only knew that this morning I shouted at my wife or I failed in this way and what gives me the right to come up here and say anything to these people? It can really get in the way of us pursuing a career or dream or purpose. And so it’s a real thing. And I think that measuring is a component that really kept me from achieving confidence in myself because I was very aware of my shortcomings, whether it be imposter syndrome or a real thing. Look at Moses in the Bible. He was chosen to lead the people and he’s like, “I’ve got a speech impediment. I can’t speak, get my brother.” This is the human condition. We’re all questioning ourselves and measuring ourselves. Moses is going, “Well, I can’t speak. My brother’s a good speaker. Send him in.” And we lose the beautiful facets that we could bring to a conversation or business or relationship if we’re constantly measuring and comparing ourselves.

I think there are just practical obstacles: limited time and energy or not knowing what next step to take. Before I started the education path to become a therapist, I remember feeling this nudge, Go check into it, Amber, just find out more about getting admitted into a Master’s program. And I was like, No, Lord, I don’t have the time. I don’t have the money. I can’t do that. But I just kept feeling that nudge. We can tell ourselves we don’t have the resources, but if we’re sensing a nudge, it’s so important to follow and just take one step. God has a really beautiful way of being gentle with us. When I made that appointment to talk to someone in admissions, I was like, Fine, I’ll talk to someone, but it doesn’t mean I’m doing anything else. And then the next thing you know, I saw the doors beginning to open and one step led to the other, but it’s normal to wonder, Can I do it? Will I have the resources? I’m already exhausted. But sometimes we let those limiting beliefs get in the way and God might be saying to take a step forward, step out of your comfort zone, go toward growth. Our purpose remains even when our circumstances change.

When you have dedicated your life to being a stay-at-home mom, and maybe you left a career, you can kind of feel like the world has passed you by and you wonder, What have I got to give anymore? Things have changed [in your field] and you second guess yourself and are defeated before you even step into that

Let’s look at recognizing and understand our value specifically as single parents

It was really challenging for me as a stay-at-home mom to have to consider reentering the workforce. And I remember when I reached a tipping point where I thought, I think it’s time for me to get a job. I really need one. The divorce settlement was in process and I thought, It’s time. I remember I was laughing about it to God, but in a self-deprecating way where I was like, Lord, I know how to load a dishwasher. Those are the skills I can bring to the table. And I was kind of laughing and chuckling but not feeling great about it. But I really felt called to pray about it and God brought this beautiful opportunity to work as an outreach coordinator at a local church. And it was the first step. And I think what I learned from that experience is that they were looking for someone like me.

I didn’t have this huge career behind me. I didn’t have 10 years in the industry. My life had been very much interrupted by divorce, but they needed somebody who was willing to be flexible and would fit into the culture. There were so many things I had discounted about myself. It can be really helpful to let someone else speak into your life and see the things that you bring to the table. I think you probably have more skills than you realize. Adaptability, leadership, resilience, being a self-starter—as single parents we’re constantly having to work under pressure and juggle things. I have become a master planner because I’ve had to for scheduling, and all of these things add value. So make sure you’re telling yourself the right narrative. And if you find yourself being really down on yourself or self-deprecating, find some other voices, people who love you, people who know you, who can speak into your life and remind you of your value.

Robert, I don’t know if you remember this, but one of the first times you and I sat down at your dining room table, we talked about building out a communications plan. I was telling you things that I thought were very elementary and came so easily; I felt like I think everyone knows this is and you said, “You’re basically speaking Chinese to me right now. This does not come naturally to me. I don’t know anything about this. I really need you to guide me through this process.” And that hit me like a ton of bricks and actually changed my outlook. I had just started my company when this happened and it really shifted something for me to be able to say, “Wow, okay, I don’t do something that just everyone can do.” And so I just think about that even in the grand scheme of things, you might be diminishing some of your value or some of the things that you bring to the table thinking those things aren’t valuable. And that’s actually not true. It could be like Robert, who doesn’t know how to build out a communication strategy but he brings so many things to the table that I don’t know. What are the things that come easily to you? What feels natural? 

There are traits single parents bring to the table regardless of profession. Give me a single mom or single dad who has been through the ringer and they know something about adaptability, they understand flexibility, they understand negotiation whether it’s dealing with their ex, their kids, they’ve become master negotiators. Legal understanding, the pressures of facing litigation, going through divorce or probate court—there’s another level that you’re being exposed to. People just out of college don’t have any idea how to balance and roll with what’s being thrown at them.

Never second guess the fact that what you have learned during your solo season is of great value to the workforce, to ministry, to whatever it is you want to apply yourself to. Just because you’ve been battered around a bunch doesn’t mean that you’re discardable or that’s diminished. Diamonds are created with pressure. We know that struggle produces resilience, endurance, perseverance, all those things. Besides your natural talent, there is incredible value that you bring to the table because of what you’ve been through. Honestly, I never thought that I’d be doing what I’m doing now. I never thought I’d write a book, never thought I’d be doing a podcast. I didn’t ever want to do that. I loved being the guy behind, the guy pushing artists out, creating other people’s platforms. It’s still a little bit of a struggle for me but I have realized that the things that I know have to do with my story, not anything I’ve learned in school. And that’s what I’m trying to say to single parents. They know a whole lot more because of what they’ve been through. It’s not something you can learn in school and that is of great value to any organization or any relationship, frankly. I also want to say that there are some jobs out there. If you’re thinking, I don’t really know what I want to do but you hear of opportunities that pique your interest, try things on. Don’t be afraid to just go put yourself out there. I wonder what it would look like to be curious, not jumping to conclusions, not saying No, that will never work. I said all of those things. It is amazing how many programs are out there that will work with single parents or anyone who already has a career and needs to complete further education at night or on the weekends or online. There are even some jobs that will pay to train in further skills or get you on the team. There are opportunities out there where you can receive training if you’re curious and explore it and take the next step.

Networking is one of the best things you can do. Find someone who believes in you, even if you’re like, I don’t know who that would be, just go. I guarantee you there are people further along in their careers who want to give back. You reach a level in your career where you’re starting to slow down a little bit and want to pour into the next people coming behind. 

When I was in college, I didn’t set up interviews with PR firms, I set up informational interviews where it was me going in and asking them questions. It had nothing to do with me trying to get a job. I was just trying to learn and I think it’s a great way to just get your foot in the door, get to know people. There are also networking groups around any city. Just start meeting people. Because honestly, the way I’ve gotten just about every job is through knowing someone or meeting someone along the way or being introduced to someone else.

One of our goals as an organization is to provide resources and connect people to each other—and then to empower single parents to reach out to other single parents. We have so many leaders around the country that are so inspiring to me because they’re using what they have, even though they may not feel completely whole right now. In the midst of that, they are finding purpose and speaking into other single parents. I think about the example of the lepers that came to Jesus. He healed 10 of them and they went away. Only one came back. I choose to be the one that comes back and goes, “Okay, I’m going to use what I’ve learned to help other people.”

There are very few examples I can think that are more powerful than the Solo Parent leaders we have out there. They’re choosing to lead other single parents, not because they’ve got it all worked out, but because they realize that they can walk shoulder to shoulder with other people. And that is purpose in and of itself.

1. Even if we’re not a career person, we always have an opportunity to grow to new heights or set our sights on something different. Make that a focus for yourself. Realize that there’s more to what you’re just looking at right now. 

2.Realize that there are specific obstacles to growth that we need to face and overcome in order to begin growing, whether it be in a career or whatever we define as our purpose. 

3. Just don’t discount yourself. Single parents offer so much life experience, resilience, and adaptability. Don’t discount what is being born in you right now, what is being grafted into who you are that brings so much value to other people and organizations. We are here, all of us, for a purpose. 

Listener Question

I have younger kids and know their friends will start asking questions about why their dad and I don’t live together anymore. What’s something I could say that’s easily digestible for younger kids under eight?

I remember being faced with this only by a few friends of Jackson’s when he was younger. His friends never knew us living together, but there were times that kids would come into our house confused or would say, “Hey, can Jax come over?” And I would say, “Oh, well, he’s actually at his dad’s.” And they’re like, “Wait, what?” Just kind of really confused. So I just answered it straightforwardly and said, “His dad and I don’t live in the same house. His dad lives across town” or whatever, and just leave it at that. Honestly, I don’t necessarily feel a responsibility to explain myself to an 8-year-old. I feel like that’s a conversation that their parents could have with them. Maybe you do the courtesy of letting the other parent know, “Hey, this came up. It might be a conversation you want to have” but I don’t know that it necessarily requires too much more than just a gentle “Here are the facts.”

I think a lot of times as single parents, we overscope a lot of things and try to have all the right answers. And maybe even feel more responsible for something than we actually are. And so whoever’s asking this question, I definitely sympathize and empathize for that position because we’ve all faced something similar to that, but it doesn’t require a full explanation to everybody. And in fact, I would say that it is more prevalent now than it used to be. Don’t put the weight on yourself of having to explain it to everybody else. It is not for you to have to try to solve for them. Obviously don’t be flippant about it—it is sad, it is regrettable, but it’s also unfortunately more common. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself.

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