how to unlock the Big Meaning of your life and find your vision




I had a question for Ashley Sinclair (of Self-Activator). I wanted to know my why, as a writer and as a person.

Or rather, I wanted to put my why into words. Because I can feel it in me when I write from that ‘emotional sweetspot’. Everything aligns: my purpose, values, work, audience.

But you can’t communicate your why – the Big Meaning that drives you and your content – with just a gut feeling.

So I wanted a different kind of clarity. I wanted words.

Later, I did some reading and learned that your why is rooted in the limbic part of your brain. It’s the part that deals with emotions – and it’s nonverbal, delivering information in feelings and hunches.

When your why meshes with someone else’s limbic why, magic happens. You feel connection and recognition. You know you’re of the same kind.

Your why is the drum that you beat, the call you send out across the landscape so that your right people can find you.


It’s also the thing that sets you apart. Call it your brand, or your point of differentiation, except it goes deeper than either of those. It comes from the bones of your identity. It can’t be invented – it can only be discovered (or maybe recovered).

It’s the defining vision of your life.

When you live in alignment with it, you embody a strong and particular point of view, whether you’re Steve Jobs or Coco Chanel or Stephen King or Donald Trump or Joyce Carol Oates or Indra Nooyi.

You stand for something. People will join you or align with you or rail against you accordingly, or use you as a kind of symbol to express something about themselves. They might love or hate you (the most fascinating people tend to be the most polarizing.)


You find your why in your life story. You sift through your past. Often it originates in some kind of childhood wound, like – to use a theatrical example – a man who becomes a district attorney because his mother was murdered when he was a boy. His why involves the need to seek justice.

You examine the people, places, events and influences that shaped you. You recall the turning points of your life. You look at how you connect these things into the story that you tell yourself (and others) about yourself. (You might need to change the angle, update the story. I recommend Michael Margolis for this!)

You look into the different chapters of yourself and see the things that repeat, the themes and values.

You look at who and what you are drawn to (since we are what we’re attracted to).

You study the meaning that emerges.

Your why is a strategic insight into you. It is the bend in the road that links your past to your future. It suggests a destination and a course of action.


When you know your why, it can liberate you from your ego because you’re in service to something bigger than yourself. You have a vision (and you can share it with others).

Your why becomes your true north. So long as you’re heading in that general direction, you can be adaptive, flexible and experimental in the way that you get there. You can change course when new information requires it. You can experience mistakes and failures – in fact, you seek them out, because you know they provide valuable information that you need in order to learn as much and as soon as possible, adjusting your assumptions and revising your map to more accurately reflect the landscape.*

Your why is your brand…and you need to live your brand, to be in alignment, to work in your sweetspot. It’s your challenge and your call to power.

It’s your constant reminder to refuse to play small.


I received a new Tesla Roadster in my divorce settlement (glacier blue with beige interior, utterly gorgeous) and I’m giving it to the nonprofit organization V-Day — committed to ending violence worldwide against girls and women – to auction off, possibly at an event in late September. Proceeds will go to the City of Joy in the Congo, a community that shelters, educates and empowers female survivors of brutal sexual violence. It’s a place for these women to heal, and to learn to lead a movement.

* Eric Ries writes about these ideas in his book The Lean Startup — they’re applicable to other endeavors.

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Sep 20, 2011

10 comments · Add Yours

This is beautiful, I like that.
Thanks for the post, I need something like this today.


Oh. Yes. Go big or go home. As cheesy as it sounds, that’s been a part of my compass I don’t plan on relinquishing. The story I tell myself is that I only have one life, it should be one worth living. I only get one shot to enjoy it *and* make it count – don’t waste that time. And I can see the traces of that from as far back as four years old, my father hospitalized with a massive heart attack undergoing emergency triple bypass. I’m only really coming into this now, recovering it, but it’s there. I do things that to others look like horrible ideas – and maybe they are, on some levels, sure – but that to me are about living fully, having the experience regardless. And maybe it’s the innocent part of me that sees this as a thing to do anyway, since that discussion with you and arriving at my words, I see them applying more and more! But it’s the only thing we have to offer – ourselves. Everything is derivative or already done except that.

I can’t remember who said it, but when asked about being a writer someone once said you can separate the amateurs from the professionals by how they view ideas. Amateurs closely guard their ideas. Professionals know it’s all in the execution. (Not the same thing as writers who won’t talk about their ideas because of their creative process, ykwim.)


Love that you are giving the Tesla away. That rocks love. You are beautiful, inside and out.


Music to my ears…makes me wanna dance!


@Jess Corra I like that too: go big or stay home. When I found myself playing small I had to step back and take a look at myself. A lot of that was (say it with me boys and girls) Low Self Esteem (happily I’ve been loving myself up so that’s not such a problem these days) — and some of it was just social conditioning, the Nice Girl bullshit: who am I to say I want to be great at what I do? I had no problem saying that as a kid, or a cocky (in some ways) teenager. But how often to you hear a woman say, bluntly and without apology, “I want to be great. I want to be a total freaking rockstar.” When I read Patti Smith’s JUST KIDS, I was struck by how…accidental…she made her success seem to be, like a frying pan that just fell on her head. Whereas Robert Mapplethorpe wore his ambition nakedly and openly….and what is ambition (healthy ambition) if not a passion for life, the world, your work, the experience of living fully, of knowing you served well and kicked ass? Why do some of us learn to reign that in?

And yes, it’s all about execution. The best way to protect your idea is to execute it better than anybody else ever could, in a way unique to you that nobody else could successfully imitate.


Sometimes we have to accept the fact that we may never know “why”. Why was I adopted? Why is my husband dying of cancer? Why has my purpose in life suddenly changed? Why does life seem unfair at times? I believe that God works in mysterious ways and that one day, all will be revealed & we will have clarity & answers. Instead of asking “why” or “why me” I choose to say “why not me”. Let go & let God…


“The best way to protect your idea is to execute it better than anybody else ever could, in a way unique to you that nobody else could successfully imitate.”

Ooooh, I love that. Because it cycles back around – how do you do that? Be yourself! Own your idea, don’t half-ass it, don’t try to make it more palatable or commercial or whatever “more” you think it needs to be except more honest, maybe. More real. When I started my blog, I mentioned on the old blog I had “Two Cents” posts that were my most authentic and also my most well received. I sort of resolved to make the new blog as many “Two Cents” posts as I could, and it seems to be working. After two months, my readership is easily what it was after four years of inconsistent, milquetoast blogging. (I know the consistency & the book deal help, but they keep coming back so I call it a success.)


“It’s also the thing that sets you apart. Call it your brand, or your point of differentiation, except it goes deeper than either of those. It comes from the bones of your identity. It can’t be invented – it can only be discovered (or maybe recovered). ”

This topic — the WHY — has been much on my mind — throughout my career it comes seeking, asking me to reconnect and ensure I’m not just creating a beautiful vehicle but that the vehicle is the most effective way to live my WHY in all facets. When I know WHY I am here and what I am one-of-a-kind meant to be then the hows fall into place.

So the Tesla is a vehicle to your why — I love that. Beauty and kismet. Thanks for this.


You never fail to awaken my inner bad ass and get her going. What you write here is so true, but I also agree that we may never know our “why.” Frost’s poem “The Road Less Traveled By” haunted me for years before I figured out what he was saying about coming to a fork in the road, *both equally worn* yet he chooses the one less traveled by, and that makes all the difference. Huh? How can it be the one less traveled by if both roads are equally worn? Because the road of the bad ass, the renegade, the one going by gut, has to wander and backtrack, make wrong turns, start over again, and sometimes find themselves hopelessly lost. Few have the courage to live their lives in that manner. Those who do gain a prize so grand it can’t even be named.

Congrats on letting go of the Tesla and bringing this organization to greater awareness.


So your why is a combination of your limbic impulse and service to others? So your if your animal brain puts you in service to others you’r heading north. :)

I like the idea that we should allow this powerful why to create the what. But I don’t know that many people find their why through “study.” A bit passive I’d say.

Instead, big bold actions are more likely to birth the meaning of life. Or, rather, the consequences of the actions.


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