A lovely comment from Julie in last week’s post about sneaking into visibility reminded me about a bunch of questions I’ve been meaning to answer.
Like “What if I don’t have a thing?” And “What if I don’t know what my thing is?” And “Do I even want a thing?” And:
“How do I know which thing is my thing? There are sooooo many — how do I choose?”
This whole theme is actually one of the big scary anxiety meltdown-triggers that worry my people the most, so it is high time for some Helpful Explain-ey-ness.
First: where we get tangled.
When I say “thing”, I’m generally using it as shorthand for anything you want to share with the world.
It’s just easier to refer to your thing than “your art or your music or your Etsy shop or your poetry or the fact that you do coaching sessions or your blog about things you think about while riding the train.”
A lot of my people also think of “thing” as more of a “soul purpose” type of deal, which leads to the existential crises of ohmygod I don’t know what my thing is.
When I say that you don’t need to know what your thing is, I mean: you don’t need to be able to say “I’m a blah blah blah who helps blah blah blah do blah blah blah“.
And — more importantly — when I say you don’t need a thing, it’s because you already have a thing.
Now let’s get to what that thing actually is.
You already have a thing.
In a deeper, broader sense, your thing is made up of four elements. Everyone has these.
Your thing = [+ qualities] [+ experience] [+ needs] [+ message]
And all of these are already inside of you.
Thing Ingredient #1: Qualities.
Qualities are the distilled essence of what you have to give.
For example, if you hang out in my insanely endless archives, you’ll notice that a lot of what I talk about has to do with safety and sanctuary.
Other qualities that are part of my thing: support, quiet, playfulness and love.
It’s not important to know what these qualities are. They’ll emerge over time.*
* Though if you want help with this, I like the Finding Your Jewel exercise in Mark‘s book.
Thing Ingredient #2: Experience.
Experience refers to everything you know. Everything you’ve ever seen and done and internalized.
It’s your wisdom, and it’s also your pain.
That experience of pain that gives you the ability to meet people where they are. And it gives them the ability to trust you and connect with you.
When I think about my experience, it includes (among other things):
- things exploding and the terror
- the depression and the tripping over things
- the unbearable outsider syndrome and living as a foreigner in three countries
- becoming a yoga teacher and a Shivanaut
- all the people who believed in me and all the times I didn’t have anyone to do that.
We do not stop being one thing and then become something else.
At various times in my life I have been a bartender and a grappa taster and a factory worker and a choreographer and a tree-climber and a cow-milker and a secretary and a cog and a waitress and consultant and a meditation teacher.
I have fixed tractors and attended conferences and fried eggs and cried in bathrooms.
And I use the skills I learned in these spaces every single day. It’s all part of me. And therefore, it’s all part of my thing.
Thing Ingredient #3: Needs.
Needs are the things that help you feel safe and supported being yourself. What sustain you.
The need to be heard, acknowledged, appreciated.
Comfort. Support. Love. Sovereignty.
The things you need to feel connected to yourself are also part of your thing. And making them a priority is hugely important.
Hint! Your needs are the same as the qualities you have to give (here the focus = absorbing them internally as well as giving them out).
Thing Ingredient #4: Message.*
This one often especially trips people up.
Because it’s easy to think ohmygod I don’t have a message and how could I possibly know what it is if I had one gaaaaaaaah?!
But you do.
Here’s what “message” means:
Everything you really care about.
And I mean everything.
If you can’t stand it when people drink beer out of cans, that’s part of your thing. Even if your thing was mostly about sewing dresses for dolls. It’s now also about how bottled beer is the only way to go.
If you think you don’t have stuff to say, listen to yourself when someone says something that you know is wrong. You care.
That’s part of your message. Add that to the Book of You because it’s important.
* Message is something I took from the brilliant Barbara Sher, and I appreciate both the word and concept because I didn’t have a good thing to call this part other than “passion” (blech).
The short version.
- Qualities = what you have to give
- Experience = what you know
- Needs = what supports you
- Message = what you care about.
All four of these combine to become “your thing”.
You can choose to do something with it or not. It’s still your thing.
And it’s more than that.
These four elements combine to form your essential you-ness.
That unique collection of thoughts, feelings, ideas, wonderings that is yours.
Imagine a kind of essence-of-you. Like a scent or potion that infuses everything you do.
Though you might not be sharing them with your people yet, these things are already part of you.
Your you-ness is not a thing that needs finding.
It just needs things like safety and acknowledgment and all the rest of the good stuff that we talk about here.
Conclusion and reassurances!
I apologize if anything I’ve ever said has lead you to think that I think that you need to have a defined thing. You don’t have to choose a thing.
Because you already have a thing. And it encompasses vastnesses.
We only think we need to pick a thing because people are always saying stuff like “what’s your thing?” And because the biggifiers say we need to be able to tell people what we do.
Most of my people currently agonizing over what their thing is don’t realize that I don’t know exactly what my thing is either.
That’s why I prefer think of it in terms of qualities + experience + needs + message.
Because honestly? I have not the slightest idea what I do for a living, and I still make really good money doing it. So being able to define your thing really cannot be as important as we all seem to want it to be.
And comment zen for today…
We all have our stuff. We’re all working on our stuff.
We don’t give advice, but we are supportive and appreciative of the fact that talking about our stuff can be really hard and painful.
Kisses to the commenter mice and the Beloved Lurkers and everyone.
And an unrelated postscript!
There’s still time to visit the Fun Brewing: Phase 2 page to donate love and good wishes (which also gets you a recording of Copywriting Magic) and support the Playground!