Kathy Caprino - Women's Career Coach and Leadership Trainer
Expert career coaching, leadership training, career success seminars, and resources for professional women. As a women's career coach, writer, speaker and trainer, Kathy Caprino helps you brave up to discover your right work and illuminate the world with it.
Part of Kathy’s series “Finding Brave to Build a Happier Life and Career”
In working with hundreds of professionals each year who long to build happier, more meaningful careers, so many have shared some version of this specific challenge:
“Kathy, I have no idea what my life purpose is. I want the work I do every day to be more meaningful and useful in the world, but I just can’t figure out what my purpose is, no matter how hard I try.”
Men and women alike have shared that they believe they’ll finally experience the excitement, passion and success they dream of if they could only figure out once and for all the true purpose of their life. And they want to discover one ultimate direction they should be pursuing that would make them happiest.
The problem with this way of framing life purpose is that you’ll never identify it in a useful, practical way if you’re constantly looking for the answer to “What is my life purpose?”
What questions should you be asking instead?
What people tend to mean when they ask the life purpose question is this:
What activities would infuse my life with more joy and meaning?
What should I be doing with my time and my abilities that would be helpful and make a difference?
What direction(s) should I be pursuing that will feel better to me than this boring, meaningless work I’m engaged in now that leaves me feeling empty?
How can I stop feeling that I’m wasting my time in work that is just a paycheck and nothing more?
And what can I do in my time off from work that will help me feel my life matters more?
I do believe that each of us can identify a key, over-arching purpose of our lives and live from that knowledge, and doing so is helpful and positive. And I’ve seen that when we do, we open the door to experiencing more joy, peace, satisfaction and positive energy. But I’ve also found that discovering your “purpose” doesn’t necessarily look and feel like what people fantasize about. It’s not the antidote for all the things that are wrong in your life, and all the ways you waste your time with activities that you’d rather not be doing. That’s something you have to address now through closing the seven damaging power gaps that keep us from living the life we want. And it requires building much stronger boundaries, speaking up more assertively, and accessing more power, control and authority over our own lives.
Below are 3 simple ways you can identify your life purpose, and start leveraging it powerfully today in what you’re doing both professionally and personally:
1. Understand what “life purpose” truly is
There have been many definitions of “life purpose” over the years, but the one key definition that seems to engage and enliven people the most is this:
Your life purpose is one, unifying theme or idea that exemplifies your key goals in life, a theme that has been evident almost from the beginning of your life. It’s the specific way in which you engage with life that makes use of all that you are and draws on your unique experiences, talents, abilities, and interests in a way that helps you achieve your highest goals while being of service of others.
One way to begin to identify your life purpose is to make a thorough review of everything you’ve ever done that has brought meaning, joy and fulfillment along with a sense of knowing why you’re on the planet at this time. Then you’ll want to intersect that with identifying how that meaning and fulfillment was tied to being of service – to another person, to your family or friends, to your community, organization, or to the world at large.
Make it very simple and straightforward, and don’t overcomplicate it. And realize that it can have a “self-oriented” focus, meaning that it can be about where you personally find joy.
Here are some great examples of my clients’ definition of their life purpose:
To be a catalyst for positive change in people’s lives
To help people realize the light they have inside of them
To bring order and calm to chaos
To help organizations achieve their highest goals in the most effective way possible
To turn my “mess into a message” and help others bypass my painful mistakes
To help organizations lead and manage people more positively
To bring joy and laughter through humor
To nurture my creative talents and help others find theirs
To be a loud speaker for messages that need to be shared
…and the list goes on and on.
To identify your life purpose, connect the dots from your childhood onward and discover who you’ve always been that makes a positive difference in people’s lives. (And if you have no idea how you make a positive difference to the people around you, go ahead and ask them to tell you how.)
2. Honor what you love to do and begin to move away from what exhausts and drains you
We can’t feel and honor our life purpose when we’re bogged down every minute of the day with activities we hate to engage in, with people we don’t respect. For instance, during my last years in corporate life, it took all the energy I could muster simply to get through the day at this toxic workplace that drained and demoralized me. Only when I finally left all that behind and said “Yes!” to myself and to the idea of transforming my career to something I’d be proud of, did my sense of life purpose emerge much more clearly. That was possible only when I took action that honored my own needs and values.
The key to uncovering your life purpose is to start behaving as if you’re worthy enough to have one. Start saying “no” to work you hate. Redraw your boundaries. Tell your narcissistic “friend” that you simply won’t tolerate this behavior any longer. Share what I call your “dirty little secret” (that secret that lives within you that you’ve been afraid to let anyone know) with someone you trust who is safe. Let go of what keeps you in shame and humiliation. Stand your ground and become a person who demonstrates self-worth, self-esteem and self-confidence.
Once you find the bravery to do that (and get some outside help if you can’t do it alone), the positive qualities within you that bring you a sense of meaning and purpose will be amplified and allowed to shine more brightly.
3. Recognize new ways in which you’d like to be of help
Virtually everyone I’ve worked with who has a clear sense of life purpose is focused on being of service in some key way that supports others. This can be through the way they parent or teach, or their personal hobbies, or volunteering for a cause that matters to them, or doing work (either in their full-time role or as a consultant, private practitioner or in a side hustle) that makes them feel alive and of use.
If you feel you’re very far away of recognizing your life purpose, start with identifying one new way you can do something that lights you up. Joy is the way to finding your purpose. No one who’s miserable, exhausted, rageful and beleaguered can find the energy to even feel or see their purpose. The quickest path to identifying and leveraging your life purpose is through doing things that bring you joy and enhance your life experience.
That’s the best and surest way to discover a compelling purpose and a set of overarching life goals that will nourish you and others around you, now and in the future.
Part of Kathy Caprino’s series “Finding Brave to Build Your Best Life and Career”
In the past 13 years of coaching and training professional women around the globe, I’ve seen firsthand that thousands of women have spent years building careers they thought would make them happy, only to wake up and realize they are very far from where they want to be, without a clue as to what’s in the way.
Thousands are expending great amounts of energy hiding the fact that they’re scared, sad and demoralized, shuffling through each day trying in vain to build a better, happier professional life. Many have achieved some degree of success, but they’re still not thriving in their work or in their roles. And they feel they’re not where they should or could be in terms of impact, responsibility, leadership, or compensation.
My research has revealed that, while there are irrefutably numbers of critical institutional, organizational, cultural and societal barriers to ultimate success for women today, most professional challenges, are related in some core way to a lack of internal or external power that causes steady “leaks” in confidence, vision, and authority. These leaks affect women’s ability to make the headway necessary towards building a more authoritative and rewarding professional life with the impact and fulfillment they long for. I’ve made it my life’s work to help women close those power gaps, for good.
I’ve found that while some men experience these specific gaps, they hit women harder and have more long-lasting negative effects for women than for men. And women process these gaps very differently from men.
I refer to these challenges as “power gaps” because I see them as just that – gaps in our power that steal from us what we need most to succeed: energy, confidence, clarity, commitment, connection, and influence.
The longer the gap remains unaddressed, the wider it comes, and the more damage it does to our internal sense of confidence and control.
The 7 most damaging power gaps I’ve experienced in my own life and witnessed in thousands of professional women around the world are:
Power Gap #1: Not Recognizing Your Special Talents, Abilities and Accomplishments
What you tell yourself: “I’m not special or talented in any way.”
A corollary to this gap: The impostor syndrome: “I feel like an impostor for what I don’t know and how I don’t fit in here. I’m afraid I’ll be found out and fired.”
In reviewing thousands of responses to my Career Path Self-Assessment survey, I’ve seen the number of women who simply can’t answer this question: “What are my special talents and abilities, and how do I stand apart from others in my field?” Literally over 90% of the professional and executive women who come to a coaching or training program with me leave this question blank and tell me that they have no idea how to answer it.
If you can’t name your special abilities and talents, then you can’t leverage them fully or effectively monetize them. And you won’t thrive in your work.
Further, the “impostor syndrome” that so many women live with today is a corollary to this gap. When we believe deep down that we’ll be “found out” (ridiculed, punished, rejected or fired, for example) for what we DON’T know, or what we believe or value that goes against the grain, then we live in fear. And that fear prevents us from being able to leverage what we DO know, and what we’re passionate about and believe in.
Power Gap #2: Communicating From Fear Not Strength
What you tell yourself: “I can’t speak up confidently or with authority.”
A corollary to this gap: “It feels wrong to take the credit, even when I deserve it.”
Women often struggle with how to communicate their accomplishments and abilities in a clear, confident way. They fear they’ll sound like they’re “bragging” or that they’re trying to grab too much of the credit for the great outcomes they produced or supported. Our society does indeed have a clear gender bias when it comes to how we view forceful, assertive women, but we need to address that through power, not weakness.
I’ve seen that so many women were raised by parents (sometimes well-meaning and sometimes not) who taught them not to be too “showy,” not to appear too confident or to try to stand out. I had this in my own upbringing – the message that it was unseemly for me to think too highly of myself. Sadly, this is so very damaging to women’s psyches, and this message is the opposite of what many men are taught in their childhoods.
If you shy away from speaking compellingly about what you’ve done and achieved, you’ll lose critical chances to claim new roles, projects and opportunities that will grow your influence and impact. And I guarantee you that many of your male colleagues and competitors are not shying away from speaking up powerfully about what they’ve accomplished.
Power Gap #3: Reluctance to Ask For What You Deserve
What you tell yourself: “I feel I deserve a raise and promotion, but I’m afraid to ask and don’t know how.”
A corollary to this gap: “Do I truly deserve more? I’m not sure.”
The majority of women I work with are stymied as to how to ask for a raise or promotion, or even how to determine the very first step to figuring out what they should be asking for. And no matter how much they’ve accomplished, many are not sure they deserve to be rewarded and recognized through higher compensation and promotion.
Research has shown that 57% of men negotiate the first very salary out of school, whereas only 7% of women do so, which creates an inequity from the very first step in our careers. Without believing in your worth, knowing how to ask for what you deserve, or building a strong case for it, you’ll very quickly fall behind your competitors and colleagues, and have to work years more than they do to ever catch up.
Power Gap 4: Isolating From Influential Support
What you tell yourself: “I’m hate networking and connecting with strangers. It’s so awkward and uncomfortable.”
A corollary to this gap: “I have nothing important to share or contribute.”
This year, as I’ve increased my focus on how introversion versus extroversion is viewed in our workplaces, I’ve started to track the number of introverts who are asking to join a career coaching program or course with me. This year alone, over 90% of my clients and course members have self-reported as “introverted” and shared their belief that their introversion is perceived negatively by their bosses and colleagues. They also feel that their introversion has gotten in the way of their networking and expanding their sphere of influence and connection.
But many professionals – both introverted and extroverted alike – can’t stand to network and feel it’s fake and uncomfortable. Part of the issue is that many women cannot recognize what they’ve done as valuable or exciting, so they feel they have nothing to share when they’re networking or connecting with others.
I realized (after leaving my own corporate life and my VP role that crushed me) that the reason I hated networking and struggled to talk about my job was threefold: 1) I didn’t connect at all with the actual work I was doing, 2) I wasn’t proud of the business outcomes I was supporting, and 3) and finally, I was ashamed of the type of leader and manager I felt I was forced to become in that role. That made networking and talking about my work with others very difficult.
In the end, it’s impossible to network powerfully when you hate what you do.
But without building a powerful support community that can help you grow, and without expanding your network of colleagues past and current, you’ll severely limit your access to exciting new opportunities and roles. So you need to find at least one aspect of your work that you can feel excited to talk about.
Power Gap 5: Acquiescing Instead of Saying “STOP!”
What you tell yourself: “It’s so unfair what I’m going through, but I can’t challenge it.”
A corollary to this gap: “I don’t have control or influence over what happens to me in my life.”
I regularly speak to large groups of women and when I ask attendees to raise their hands if they’ve ever experienced or witnessed behavior that they feel is unfair, unethical or worse, virtually all respondents’ hands shoot up in affirmation, every time. Most of us who’ve ever worked in an organization for any amount of time have personally witnessed behavior that made us deeply uncomfortable or afraid, and we went home that night struggling with how best to handle it. A recent study revealed that 81% of women and 43% of men had experienced some form of sexual harassment during their lifetimes.
The truth is this: If you stay silent in the face of unfair, unethical or illegal behavior — to you or to others around you — you’re contributing to its prevalence and continuation.
What you tell yourself: “I have no idea what would make me happier or how I would even get there.”
A corollary to this gap: “I dream of doing something different, but there’s just no way.”
Many women I hear from know what they don’t want in their jobs and careers but can’t name what they do want. That’s a challenge that will keep you trapped in a miserable career or situation. If you can’t name what you long for, or if you’ve lost sight of a dream or vision that used to excite you, you won’t muster the bravery or power to make the necessary changes to leave this bad situation behind.
When women tell me that they simply have no idea what they want to do, but they know it’s not their current career, I relate deeply because I lived this for years in my corporate life – hating what I was doing but not understanding there is a way out, without losing everything in the process.
But there is a way – and it requires embarking on the “finding brave” path to uncover what you long to do, and break it down into doable, digestible steps to explore and try on that new direction without risking everything.
Power Gap 7: Allowing Past Trauma To Define You
What you tell yourself: “I’m devastated by what’s happened to me and I can’t get over it.”
A corollary to this gap: “I’ll never be truly successful because I failed so miserably before.”
This final power gap is incredibly potent and keeps so many women from moving forward to a happier life and career. They’re shattered by what’s happened to them in the past and simply can’t move beyond it.
This includes dealing with a toxic or narcissistic manager who’s crushed their self-esteem, or being fired or laid off in a way that makes them question everything they’ve ever been or done. It also includes failing at a project or endeavor that leaves them feeling ashamed, insecure, and “less than.”
I’ve found that when we’re experiencing deep challenges in life, we humans tend to look only at what’s at the tip of our noses, and we forget all that we are and all that we’ve accomplished before this moment. We begin to listen more closely to detractors, and take in too much around us that tells us we’re not good enough.
In reality, there’s no way to escape pain and failure in our work-lives – at some point, we’ll all feel it. The question isn’t “How do I avoid failure?” because we can’t.
When you can access the power necessary to view your failures as opportunities to expand your capabilities and your vision, then nothing can stop you.
Ready to close your power gaps?
The strongest gap-closing step you can take is to review the 7 gaps above, and if any resonate with you, choose the one that generates the most internal pain and shame. Then, starting today, take one small, doable micro step each day to begin to close that gap so that it’s no longer secret, painful, or shameful.
Face it bravely, get outside help to be accountable, and take actions that will finally help you recognize and leverage your special talents and abilities, and feel more confident in all that you are and offer.
As Einstein so wisely said, “We cannot solve a problem on the level of consciousness that created it.” It’s time to shift our consciousness, and “find brave” every day to close the gaps that keep you from your highest and happiest potential.
Part of the series “Finding Brave To Build a Happier Life and Career”
Throughout my life, I’ve experienced times when things were truly falling apart (or so it seemed), and nothing I did improved it or turned it around. One of those times was at the end of corporate life 17 years ago. I was chronically ill for four years (with a serious infection of my trachea), depressed and exhausted, dealing with narcissistic bosses and toxic leaders, as well as sexual harassment and discrimination, and nothing I tried improved the situation. In fact, it all just got worse. I know why that is now, but back then, I didn’t have a clue.
Another time in my life where I felt helpless in shifting my situation was when I became a marriage and family therapist and began working with clients who were dealing with some of the darkest experiences in human life – rape, incest, pedophilia, suicidality, substance abuse, attempted murder and more. I was so new at being a therapist (I was a just an intern at that time) that I was regularly at a loss as to how best to help my clients whom I cared deeply about.
But deep at the root of it, I began to realize that this was not work I wanted to be focused on for the rest of my career. Unfortunately, I was just not brave enough at that point to admit to myself that this therapy direction and professional identity wasn’t right for me. While the training I received was life-changing and I loved it, I had to face the fact that dealing with these extremely dark emotions and situations was not what I wanted. But the idea that I’d made another mistake in my career after having spent so much time and money earning my master’s degree, was just too scary to face. Until I did, and was then able to revise my life once again.
Each week, my clients and course members come to me too sharing their frustration and even despair over how hard they’re trying to turn things around, but they can’t seem to on their own.
Over these 13 years of being a career and leadership coach for professionals around the globe, and applying the therapeutic principles I’ve learned, I’ve seen that there are powerful beginning steps we all can engage in to help us feel more empowered and hopeful so we can turn our negative situations around.
I’ve found that asking yourself three critical questions can open the doorway to shifting things when nothing else works:
1. What is the repeating pattern here that needs to change?
If you dig deep enough, you’ll most likely find that what you’re experiencing today is a reflection of a pattern
Tip: We can’t better our situations or improve our lives if we don’t know ourselves deeply, and don’t understand how we were shaped and formed in our early years (childhood and onward) that contributes to our being who we are and how we see ourselves and our lives. Take some time this weekend to write down everything you can think about that has shaped who you’ve become, and also the critical messages and treatment you received in childhood (from authority figures and others) that influenced you. Think on the one most pivotal event of your life, and how it impacted the direction you took. Then figure out which of these messages and experiences are potentially harming you now that you’re ready to release.
2. How am I not valuing and appreciating myself?
When we’re experiencing negative situations and relationships that are all about being disrespected, devalued, or treated unfairly, it often stems from a lack of valuing yourself – not recognizing your worth, and not possessing self-confidence, self-acceptance and self-love.
A belief that you’re not worthy, valuable or capable in life wreaks havoc on everything you do and touch
– including your relationships, your parenting, your work, volunteer efforts, physical and emotional health, finances, and much more.
Tip: If you realize that you don’t have a positive self-concept and don’t believe in yourself or your worth, it’s time to change that. We can sometimes do that by self-help means, but I’ve found that the best approach is getting outside help, for instance a great, experienced therapist who can support and guide you to 1) recognize why you see yourself as “less than” and not worthy of appreciation, love and respect, 2) release the pain and trauma from past experiences that reinforced your negative self-concept (and those can be as simple as being fired or laid off, or passed over for a promotion), and 3) build new thought and behavioral patterns that will reveal to you how talented, valuable and important you are in the world.
3. What state are my boundaries in?
Boundaries are the invisible barriers between you and your outside systems. They regulate the flow and input of information to and from you and those outside systems (including your family, your workplace, your bosses, your religious institution, your authority figures, friends, etc.).
Having well-developed, healthy boundaries is a critical dimension of a successful, happy life and career. Boundaries ensure that you’re protected from behaviors and actions that will hurt or disrespect you. Without healthy boundaries, you can’t recognize your limits, or enforce them with strength and authority.
And without “finding brave” – rising up, speaking up and standing up for yourself and your life – you’ll find that your situation cannot and will not improve, until you can take a brave stand.
Those who have insufficient boundaries, I’ve found, have almost always experienced some form of emotional manipulation or trauma in their childhoods and upbringing from parents who demanded certain behaviors in order to be “loved” and accepted. Children who’ve been abused or mistreated (emotionally, sexually, physically, etc.), for instance, experience a violation of their boundaries before they had the power or ability to advocate for or protect themselves.
But it’s not just people who were overtly “mistreated” in childhood who are harmed. Interestingly, hundreds of my clients and course members over the years who have come for help with their careers also have ineffective boundaries and allow mistreatment in their lives, but had never recognized why. They never understood just how damaging the parenting they received was. They hadn’t seen (until learning more about what truly loving, effective and supportive parenting looks like) how much they’d been diminished and damaged by parents who showed only conditional love and were manipulative and controlling.
Unless we recognize this later in life, and do the necessary work to strengthen our boundaries (which can be very frightening for those who were raised not to stand up for themselves), we will experience ongoing mistreatment and negative behavior from others, and our situation will not improve because we’re, in effect, not allowing it to.
In the great book The Energy of Money, the author Maria Nemeth shares that there are six energy forms in life and when we’re blocked in one, we’re usually blocked in at least several others. She explains that the six energy forms are: money, time, vitality, enjoyment, creativity, and support of others.
Which of these do you struggle with most today?
Examine where you feel thwarted, angry, resentful, drained, and undervalued in your life.
Most likely your boundaries need bolstering in these situations. Is your boss demanding that you’re available 24/7? Is your spouse ignoring your requests for help and for sharing equally the work at home? Is your friend selfish and critical, unable to treat you in a caring way? Is your parent horrible to you?
Once you recognize exactly what you need that you’re not getting, and what you’re allowing that is no longer acceptable, and start setting clear and unwavering limits that allow you to say “No more!” – both out loud and to yourself – your situation will change for the better.
Answering these questions above will start you on your way to recognizing what’s blocking your path to dramatically improving your career and your life.
Mother’s Day for many is a time of honoring our mothers and grandmothers and other women in our lives, and showing appreciation for what they have done for and given to us. As a mother myself, I truly appreciate this day, for sure.
But I think it’s a fabulous time as well to appreciate how we have mothered our own lives — how we have nurtured, cared for and brought our own selves into being.
So often we focus on what isn’t going well, or how we are flawed as individuals and parents. I’ve seen that women rarely hug themselves and say “Job well done!” to themselves. We often agonize instead about all that we did not do perfectly – how we let our children down or disappointed someone. In fact, we live in a constant state of “perfectionistic overfunctioning” – and that constant, exhausting striving towards perfectionism leads us down a path of feeling we’re always less than we want to be.
When we do allow in a greater degree of self-appreciation and self-acceptance, on a daily basis, it can literally transform our lives.
Today, I’d love to support a new tradition, a new habit really, of being grateful for ourselves just as we are, flaws, foibles, and all.
Here’s an inner affirmation that I find helpful to say:
“I am a loving and nurturing mother to myself and others. I always do the best I can. I am aware of my gaps and dedicate myself to my continued growth. Even (and especially) when I fall down, I love and accept myself. And because of my growing self-love, I’m able to love and nurture others more as well.”
Don’t beat yourself up for what you aren’t. Let your light shine through – you ARE without a doubt very special, important and valuable in this world, just the way you are. And the more you can love yourself, the better able you are to be a loving force in the lives of others.
The love you give others is in direct proportion to the love you have for yourself.
In honor of Mother’s Day, embrace your power to create positive change in the world and to be a beneficial role model – and a loving “mother” to yourself and your life by:
Committing to positive growth in your life, each day
Watching over your ideas and your endeavors with love and care
Protecting yourself and your visions from those who criticize and tear you down, and who would keep you smaller than you wish to be
Birthing your BIG dreams – launching yourself in juicy, exciting ways in the world
Nourishing yourself – nurturing your physical, emotional and spiritual well-being, and restoring when you need to
Showing compassion for yourself when things don’t go as you hoped
Today, take time to appreciate not only the women in your life who’ve nurtured your spirit and life, but also appreciate yourself. Show yourself the same amount of love and care that you long to spread to others.
Thank you for reading and sharing, and being part of my community. I appreciate you.