Finding a Guru Who Encourages You to Live a Life That's Right for You
Ariel Upton is purpose-driven.
When you first meet her, you’re immediately drawn in by her energy. She has a glow, a shimmering silhouette that hooks you, and if I could read auras I’m sure that I’d find hers to be a brilliant green.
In conversation, it’s hard to miss her innate self-awareness. She can articulate the reasons behind her actions with a clarity that many people do not possess. She is hyper aware of what fits into her life and what doesn’t line up with her values, goals, and dreams.
Perhaps that’s why she, along with her Guru, Betsy Tomlinson, developed @todayididitright, a Self-Connection Journal that launched in 2018 after eight years of planning and preparation.
TODAY I DID IT RIGHT has a near-direct connection to the concept of finding your core purpose, which feels serendipitous in a way. Ariel and Betsy developed a 16-step Approach that has helped hundreds of people identify what feels “right” to them and reflect on the moments in their day-to-day lives that align with that feeling.
Ariel’s purpose can be summed up in a deliciously succinct phrase, “I’m here for the real stuff”. She’s expanded that concept into helping others realize that they can be here for the real stuff too, the deep stuff, the meaningful stuff.
It would be easy to finish Ariel’s story here. She has it all figured out, right? She found her purpose. She made it.
Here’s where we take away our first lesson from Ariel’s journey:
Finding your purpose is not a quest. There is no finish line.
“I’ve never bought into the, ‘Where do you want to be in 3, 5, 10 years’ conversation because that strategy never worked for me - ever,” Ariel said. “What I found out really early on is how you do things on a daily basis, bit-by-bit, piece-by-piece, and you practice it and figure it out. That’s what gets you toward your purpose. It’s individual choices, individual actions, experiences that help you day-by-day to get closer.”
Isn’t it comforting to know that we’re all on this lifelong journey together?
When we’re young, the world has clear steps toward achieving success. We can see the roadmap ahead of us: school, sports, clubs, standardized tests, college applications, traditional relationships, society accepted milestones. We understand what we need to do in order to accomplish our goals.
Many paths open up in front of us as we age, paths with obstacles, shortcuts, and dead ends. Well-laid plans go awry, and we need to pivot in the face of uncertainty. Having a clear sense of our purpose can be a guiding light during these times, highlighting where we should turn when we feel that we’ve lost our way.
So it was for me.
I’d moved to Sweden, and had been planning on working remotely while moving forward with my own project, @todayididitright, when I lost a full-time job that I loved and found myself in unexpected territory, for the first time. Now, I was taking on the challenge of starting over in a new country, one with a language that was far from familiar, with the added stress of a lost stable income and an unclear sense of purpose and what comes next.
Instead of balking at the idea of an undefinable future, I did what my gut told me to do. I pivoted.
No matter what life throws at us, we have the choice of how we react. You have to make a decision that you’re not going to be a passive bystander anymore and let life happen to you.
When we let others decide our futures for us, we’re allowing ourselves to be carried by the universe, unconcerned with the power of our individual purpose. At every fork in the path, we need to take intentional action in order to determine the next chapters of our stories.
Those stories, and our purposes, have the potential to change with every decision we make. That is a beautiful thing.
I don’t want to be fixed. I don’t want to be stuck in one story about myself and what I have to offer to the world. That’s boring to me. I couldn’t even commit to a Halloween costume as a kid - how could I commit to one purpose that would dictate my entire life?
I knew that I was meant for more.
Your purpose is the thing that drives you, the fire at your heels, the reason you wake up in the morning - and, for me, it’s the thing that makes your body feel like it’s physically buzzing, as if you’re existing on a higher plane.
On the other hand, the pressure to fulfill that purpose every day in your career is overwhelming. I felt that pressure from others the moment I accepted my first job out of college.
At the beginning of my career, I was speaking with an old family friend, telling her about working in marketing for a tech company, and she asked me, “But, are you fulfilling your passion?”
I was shocked. I don’t believe pursuing your passion professionally is the only way to find meaning. It doesn’t have to be that you’re not successful unless you’re making money and working through your passion. That’s not the only way to have an impact.
People think that the only way to love work and to experience it on a more meaningful level is to be fulfilling their passion in their job. That’s a privileged concept. Realistically, that’s not going to happen for everyone.
It seems like we’re all given different talents and gifts, and most of us don’t even nurture them. We don’t acknowledge that they exist, so we don’t nurture them, and then we think we don’t have them.
I believe that everybody has them. The question is: how do you use your talents to be of service for somebody else?
You don’t have to be changing someone’s life. It just goes back to being at work. What does it mean to work and be a part of a community and have those relationships? If you’re not doing that, then what is the point? It’s ⅔ of your life! It doesn’t matter how good everything else is.
Doubt is the one thing that pulls me away from my purpose.
There have definitely been times when I didn’t understand the purpose behind my actions. Those times are marked by doubt. In my mind, I see them as foggy, clouded by indecision and confusion I felt when I didn’t understand the reasons why.
Our purpose is at the core of who we are. If, for even a moment, we question that inner intuition, it becomes incredibly difficult to make choices that can affect our larger story.
We can’t find the connections between who we are and what we’re doing. We need to set aside disbelief and allow ourselves to search for what feels right, and, when we find it, pursue it with reckless abandon.
As long as I believe in myself and I’m the one making those decisions, even when I don’t know what the purpose is, it’s okay. I have faith in it, I have trust in it. It’s when I doubt myself, or compare myself to somebody else, that I lose clarity and direction.
When I’m experiencing one of those moments, I tell myself: doubt doesn’t live here.
I use that mantra to remind myself that I’m an entire entity - that I’m not just my brain. I’m a whole being. Doubt doesn’t live here in my body. When it comes, I have to explicitly expel it.
Doubt doesn’t live here.
Doubt doesn’t live here.
Doubt doesn’t live here.
I can’t talk about my purpose, the journey toward finding meaning, without talking about Betsy.
Betsy and I are connected souls, with 40 years between us. We share a handful of favorite things: champagne, deep discussions about complicated and real topics, the #1 from Le Colonial in Chicago, and evenings spent on Betsy’s porch.
I call Betsy my “Guru” (Betsy calls me her “guruette”), and we co-founded @todayididitright as a way of encouraging others to work through their own purpose journeys and identify what felt “right” to them on a daily basis.
It’s a once-in-a-lifetime relationship that is staggering in its depth and enviable in its strength. It has also served as a place where I could test out ideas of who I was without judgment, and, more importantly, without the pressure of living up to someone else’s idea of what I “should” do.
From a really young age Betsy asked me what I wanted, and gave me space to change the answer while figuring out what that answer looked like. Having that person in my life really opened up everything for me.
The people that we surround ourselves with have the potential to massively impact our own sense of self. Having a lifelong friend like Betsy is just one reason that I am who I am today.
Betsy never held me to a standard that she’d created in her head. She doesn't encourage me to follow a path that she paved before me. Betsy absorbs my most invigorating dreams and deepest fears and reflects them back to me to make sense of with that simple question:
“What do you want?”
What could we do if we gave ourselves the space to change our minds about who we are?
What if our notion that we’re “meant” to do something, to give something, to make something, is actually holding us back?
I don’t believe in a destined purpose.
So much of the “finding your purpose” conversation makes it seem like your one true purpose is an entity that’s out there somewhere waiting for you.
We act like it’s your job to hunt down that greater meaning and put it into words.
We talk about purpose like it’s something that you’re missing, that you’re not whole unless you have one.
I think it’s time we challenge that notion.
I believe that our purposes can change. I think we find the purpose of our lives based on our experiences, because our experiences shape us. I think everybody needs a purpose, and if you don’t have one yet it doesn’t mean that you don’t have one at all.
As we experience life, we grow.
We make mistakes.
Our life’s meaning should be just as flexible as we are.
Purpose journeys are imperfect. There is no finish line. There is no prize for “figuring it out”.
Ariel is a woman with exceptional intentionality, and she is also a woman who experiences moments of uncertainty that cloud her direction.
She’s harnessed the power of the pivot, opening herself up to the idea of fluidity within her purpose, her career, and her identity.
She leaned on her Guru, Betsy, for support and guidance without judgment.
In trying moments, she’s expelled doubt from her body in order to bring herself clarity and propel herself into action.
At the heart of Ariel’s story lies a sense of awareness that we could all use a bit more of, a constant evaluation of the things that she spends her time on and puts her energy into.
“What are the things that make you feel fulfilled? What are the things that make you satisfied? You have to make yourself do those things. Even if you love something, you have to make yourself do it. It’s all practice.”
It’s all practice.
We’re all just practicing our way through this unpredictable life. We set goals, we create action plans, we take measured steps toward our dreams in the hopes that they will be what we want them to be once we achieve them.
Sometimes we’re right. Sometimes we learn.
What are you “practicing” right now?
How has life forced you to pivot? Have those experiences affected the way you view your purpose?
Who are the people in your life that you turn to when your purpose feels unstable?