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Is it What You Do or Who You Are? How Your Identity Changes Your Work

In the quest for deeper meaning and purpose, there comes a moment when you must go from doing your work because it’s what “what you do” to doing your work because it’s a part of who you are.

Steven Pressfield talks about this moment as “turning pro.”

Seth Godin talks about it as “choosing yourself.”

  • It’s when you go from writing here and there to being a writer.

  • When you go from taking pictures to being a photographer.

  • When you go from playing with code to being a developer.

  • When you go from being artsy to being an artist.

  • When you go from helping others train to begin a trainer.

  • When you go from working as a nanny to being an early childhood development specialist.

  • When you go from volunteering at your church to being a pastor.

From the outside, these are all subtle changes— maybe even imperceptible.

You’re still doing the same work. You’re not receiving any kind of clear outward recognition.

It’s an internal switch. It’s a choice to put on a new identity that is deeply connected to who you are. It’s the choice to let yourself be something that you’ve felt yourself longing to become. It’s allowing yourself to be identified as having a particular work in the world.

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Don’t Know Your Passions? Here’s How to Find Them (Plus Guide Download)

In one hour I’m going to be walk into a room of people to begin a six week process to help them uncover what’s next for them in their careers. I’m nervous, but I’m also really excited. There’s something really amazing that happens with groups.

When you get a handful of people you trust and start sharing yourself and your story with them, they see who you really are: your passions, your hopes, your difficulties and challenges, and your gifts. And no matter how well we know ourselves, when we begin to hear from them with openness and vulnerability, we learn about ourselves.

There’s a saying that fits here: when someone "can’t see the forest for the trees". defines this phrase as, "An expression used of someone who is too involved in the details of a problem to look at the situation as a whole…".

This is so true of our identity— particularly when the pressure to make big life decisions is added to the mix. We’re so close to our stuff (both the good and the bad) that we can’t see the whole picture of who we are and the story our lives are telling.

We need others to inform us and our process.

Though you can wait for the chance to be a part of a cohort, you don’t have to.

Here’s how to you (yes you!) can take advantage of the insight that others have about who you are, what makes you come alive, what makes you come alive, etc.

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How Your Past Connects To Your Life Purpose (A Letter to my 23 Year Old Self)

Dear 23-year-old Dan,

Man. Your hair is way longer right now than you’ll be keeping it in 10 years.

I have a lot to say to you, so get comfortable. You’ll need it, because this might get uncomfortable.

Marry Stacia. That’s the best decision you could ever make. That goes without saying.

That job you’re about to take is almost going to kill you. That’s ok. You’ll survive. And it will teach you something.

The next few years are going to be extremely lonely.

You’re going to make it. But sometimes it’s going to feel like you’re just barely making it.

Go to therapy. Spoiler alert: you’ll decide to go to therapy in a few years, but you should start sooner. I know a guy. I’ll send you his number.

Learn to care for yourself and learn to care for yourself during depression.

Create things. You’re happiest when you’re creating, and people always seem to benefit from what you create…

Don’t just create things, build a creative habit. You make such great things, but you won’t make great things unless you set aside the time to do it. Inspiration will come from time to time, but most great things are made by sitting down and struggling with them.

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When “Don’t Give Up” Matters Most

I’m sitting at my desk. Watching a cursor blink on a blank page. It’s 9:11am. I intended to start writing this over an hour ago. But I haven’t been able to.

I had hopes of writing something big and courageous to you today, but it’s just not how I feel. I feel small and afraid.

Creating something worthwhile, whether it be a blog post, a piece of art, a career, or a life, it’s hard and scary work.

This probably isn’t news to you.

I had a friend who took a cold shower every day for months in an effort to build mental toughness. I talked with him about it when he was well into the project. He said, “You’d think it gets easier. It doesn’t. You get used to the idea that you’re going to step into that really cold water and it’ll be hard to stay there. But the act of being in it doesn’t get easier. You can get used to getting in, but you don’t get used to staying.”

I want creating something meaningful to get easier, but like taking a cold shower, it doesn’t. You may get used to sitting in your chair, but the hard work of creating is always hard work. It’s easy to imagine that others have it easier— that others don’t fight the same battles you do — but they do.

The temptation is to give up because you have too far to go.

The step you’re taking today may barely matter in the face of where you want to be. The work you’re doing right now may not feel like it’s moving you any closer to the work that you want to be doing— but it is. And that’s the real battle: staying the course. Not giving up. Holding onto your hope. Believing that more is possible.

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How to Stop Procrastinating and Do Hard Work

I’ve been thinking, writing, and talking about fear all month for #FearlessFebruary (a social movement by to help you face your fears in the month of February). Of the many ways that fear affects us, two of the most common are procrastination and distraction.

They happen all the time for me. If I have hard and scary work to do, I find it so easy to do just about anything else. I’ll check email, read twitter/facebook, clean my desk, click on any click-bait that I come across, google any idea that pops into my head, and on and on.

Whether it is writing when I don’t feel like it, clearing out my inbox all the way, creating something scary and vulnerable, or just sitting in the chair and creating something, it’s easy to procrastinate and distract myself.

Your attention will take the path of least resistance.

This may take the form of doing the easier items on your to-do list first — the ones that are less risky and more fun. Or (like me) you may end up wasting time on social media.

If I’m using an internet enabled computer I can go from writing or working on something to being lost on Facebook in two clicks; two clicks that can happen quicker than it takes for you to read this sentence.

After battling this for far too long, I’ve developed a method to stop procrastinating.

It has three levels, depending on how much help you need…

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