On Life's Direction & Purpose: 10 Things I've Learnt from Oprah's "The Path Made Clear"
Updated: Apr 17, 2020
“Know the joy of doing what you love and never stop pursuing it.” Oprah.
While many of us around the world are quietening our busy schedules—or trying to juggle a new one— by staying at home in these strange times, we may question the direction of our lives. Perhaps everything might be changing for us due to work, or maybe we want to take this opportunity to give more effort to spending quality time with loved ones. Perhaps we are wanting to reinvent our living space or are inspired to have a thorough creative or spiritual dig. Maybe we can do nothing but try and make sense of this crazy world while doing our best to look after our mental health. There are plenty of people right now taking each day as it comes. It is okay to do nothing. We all need to spend more time doing nothing; it helps us to discover ourselves. However we are spurred to question our current situation, I thought this would be a beneficial time to share a few key points which I have learned from reading Oprah Winfrey’s book, The Path Made Clear: Discovering Your Life’s Direction and Purpose. My book review has turned into an article, as it is so rich in providing moments of learning. The book is divided into ten chapters (with beautiful pictures), providing stepping stones to guide the reader along a life inspired by discovering themselves and living authentically. Each chapter oozes soul food, and consists of quotes from noteworthy contributors. These include Joe Biden, Ellen Degeneres, Jane Fonda, Elizabeth Gilbert, Goldie Hawn, Jimmy Kimmel, Sue Monk Kidd, Stevie Nicks and Eckhart Tolle (for those who we aren’t familiar with, there’s a handy descriptive list at the back). Each chapter is rich in ‘Aha!’ moments. It will be a book which will be read many times, and will continue to reveal new things every time. I’ve tried to keep to one or two points per chapter and descriptions brief, but there are soooo many more. This could easily be a ten thousand word post otherwise! The most important message was that we should remember our life’s direction and purpose don’t necessarily relate to how we make a living, but how we live and what defines each of us to ourselves. We should nourish our what we find natural, what brings us confidence and contentment. Enjoy.
1. Life is continually evolving. “Your life is not static. Every decision, setback, or triumph is an opportunity to identify the seeds of truth that make you the wondrous human being that you are. I’m not talking just about what you do for a living. When you pay attention to what feeds your energy, you move in the direction of the life for which you were intended. Trust that the Universe has a bigger, wider, deeper dream for you than you could ever imagine for yourself.” Oprah. We and our lives around us are constantly changing. We are always in the process of evolving into a new self. Always in the motions of both recovery and discovery at the same time. Our purpose/calling remains dynamic and may change as we change. 2. Discover why you are unique and use it. “Gary Zukav so brilliantly taught me, when you align your personality with your purpose, no one can touch you.” Oprah. “And that’s why I became a comedian. Because I noticed the little spaces between the things that everybody else paid attention to.” Ellen Degeneres. We should seek to know ourselves and let it move us forwards and upwards. We could think about any unique gifts we have discovered about ourselves, both when growing up or those recently found. These things don’t have to be work or income related, but anything in our lives, e.g. parenting skills. 3. Pay attention and be honest with what the whispers are trying to reveal to you. “Life is about growth and change, and when you are no longer doing either, you’ve received your first whisper…Follow your intuition, do what you love, and you will do more than succeed. You will soar.” Oprah. “When you are not using your life, your time, your energy, for your highest and best use, and something in the back of the brain is going, Ding, ding, ding, ding!—you’re missing it. You’re missing your life, your purpose, your passion, your excitement, your enthusiasm. I want to shake you, and rattle you, and stir you up to understand that every moment is a gift.” Bishop T. D. Jakes. Whispers tell us something needs changing. Signals that reveal things are not working take many forms: red flags, gut feelings, the small voice, a nudge. They can be physical and spiritual. Perhaps we are showing signs of stress, constant tiredness, have a short temper, anxiety or have become over-controlling. Does something not feel right? Are we honest with ourselves? Is there something in our life which is going against our true self? 4. Change and fear are natural. Try to understand and work with them. “The more important an activity is to your soul’s evolution, the more resistance you will feel to it.” Steven Pressfield. “…We devote ourselves to trying to create the situation that we think will make us be okay. And when things start changing and don’t match that model, then we get scared, because it looks like it’s not going to work. Fear is a thing. You can either push it away or you can let it go. You can either avoid it and be scared of it or you can let it pass right through. Fear comes up out of your heart, that’s a very natural thing; it’s human…Life is a natural unfolding of reality. You’re supposed to harmonize and work with it.” Michael Singer. When something isn’t going as planned or seems too daunting, it is easy to give up. Finding our way through will help us to discover things about ourselves, find strengths and perhaps a new perspective. It strengthens our desire and will. Oprah describes her difficulty in writing her Harvard commencement speech. She feared that she had nothing new to tell those brilliant people and the fear manifested as procrastination, resulting in guilt. There is a natural resistance with all dreams, and she found this comforting once she understood what was happening.
5. Plan your course clearly and with authenticity. Commit to it. “In character building, there’s a central piece of us that makes decisions. And every time you make a decision or have an experience, you turn that core piece of yourself into something slightly more elevated or something more degraded. If you make more disciplined choices, you slowly engrave a certain set of habits and dispositions inside that core piece. If you make fragmented decisions, you make that core piece a little degraded. When I look at people with character, what they have is consistency over time.” David Brooks. “At eleven years old I made a very definitive decision…Above and beyond anything I ever did in my life, I wanted to be happy. But I remember these grown-ups coming to me and saying, “…What do you want to be?” And I would say, “Happy.” And they would look at me really weird.” Goldie Hawn. “…A vision that grows inside of you, a vision that wakes with you, sleeps with you, moves with you, a vision that you can tap into on your worst days—that vision will pull you forward.” Iyanla Vanzant. It is beneficial to articulate our vision in a clear, authentic way and make a plan which will help provide small steps to (hopefully) reach our desired outcome. For the pantsers out there, it is okay not to know all the steps, as long as we see the end goal and plan each step as we come to it. Be aware that things may change, and that’s fine. As Anna sings in Frozen 2, try to do the “next right thing”. Routines and accountability can be helpful for productivity, e.g. as a writer, posting daily word count on Twitter through NaNoWriMo. We should aim to make sure our intentions align with our beliefs. Brené Brown wrote a manifesto for her family. It’s lovely and incorporates her ideas about family, and what that looks like, e.g. “Above all else, I want you to know that you are loved and lovable. You will learn this from my words and my actions…We’ll share our stories of struggle and strength…We will always have permission to be ourselves with each other, no matter what.” The whole manifesto is included in this book if you’d like to check out the full version. 6. Keep moving forwards with the current and make the most of your time. “Everybody’s looking for the future. They’re never in the present. So when they arrive at the future, it’s not there for them because they’re not present for it. If you get the idea that this is the moment that you have, it is the only moment that you have, then you live in the present, and you move with the flow, because this is the point of arrival. Right now.” Deepak Chopra. “So the important thing to realize is that what happens to you is much less important than how you respond to what happens. That determines the way forward in your life.” Eckhart Tolle. We should move with the flow of life and circumstance and make it our own. Let life carry us forwards. Hopefully, we will find the true meaning of being “in flow”—being absorbed in something deeply—where everything feels right and proceeds smoothly. It can apply to just a single task (such as something creative, exercise, sport or gardening), or our whole lives. Another important message I found in this chapter is to spend time with people who have a similar road, outlook or mindset. This can be encouraging, inspiring and supportive. I have found returning to dance classes after years away from them, that it’s not only the dancing that I missed but the dancers who are usually gentle, creative and caring people. 7. Let disruptions be teachable moments. “One of my favorite lessons from Joel Osteen is, “What follows ‘I am’ is what we’re inviting into our life.” Meaning when you use phrases like, “I am exhausted,” or, “I am overwhelmed,” you are inviting exactly that kind of energy into your life. The moment I shifted my perspective from I am struggling to I am honored, my climb was transformed from an arduous trek into a still challenging but now stimulating adventure, and my entire outlook changed.” Oprah. “I once wrote a letter to my younger self and told the younger me, It’s okay to rewrite my story from time to time. And not only okay, but necessary. Sometimes you have to see things through, even though they don’t cause you joy, But sometimes you need to say…That story is no longer true. I’m going to be this other thing…” Cheryl Strayed. Our journey won’t be comfortable, and the path won’t be as smooth as an ice rink. We may not even be able to move forward as consistently as we would like. We may have to go back and re-track, or follow a different path to get back on course, but we can let these disruptions be teachable and strengthening moments. Sarah Wilson writes in First We Make the Beast Beautiful that acknowledging/saying out loud our state of mind—such as anxiousness—can be a useful counterbalance to alleviate those feelings. It makes it easier to deal with and gives it less power. There is a difference between this and Joel Osteens lesson of energy and perspective. If we are always in a struggling, negative state of mind, things will seem so much harder for us than if we acknowledge that we are struggling or tired, but then move on to a decision to do something about it. That’s the important thing. 8. Think about your legacy—what your set purpose/direction will mean for others. “When you let go of trying to get more of what you don’t really need, it frees up oceans of energy that was caught up in that chase to now turn and pay attention to what you already have. When you actually pay attention to, nourish, love, and share what you already have, it expands.” Lynne Twist. What is it that we are giving to the world? Does it elevate humanity? Will our legacy be that we are a breath of fresh air to others? It depends on our focus, but even something as small as a gift of mindfulness will help bring many positive outcomes. Perhaps you are focusing on being caring—someone with a gift of purposeful listening can be beneficial to a person needing to empty their heart. 9. Success goes in cycles. Find the joy in doing what you love. ”Sometimes knowing what you don’t want is as valuable as knowing what you do.” Oprah. “What I know for sure is that no matter how much wealth you come to possess, everything passes and changes with time. What is real, what is forever, is who you are and what you are meant to share with the world. That is your true treasure.” Oprah. “It’s a great thing to be recognized for something that you’ve done. But it’s a moment in time…they’re never going to define you. I define myself by my ability to give…to understand…by my ethics and by my truth.” Goldie Hawn. Due to a poorly paid babysitting job, Oprah learned early on that people aren’t their salary. The money a person makes is evidence that they probably have skills necessary for their career, but it isn’t a full measure of their true worth concerning being a human or living an authentic life. Plus, we are currently learning more than ever that people with jobs such as rubbish collectors, supermarket employees and bus drives are the foundation of our society. Our lives would be very different if it weren’t for those helping everything to run smoothly in the background. Success comes and goes in cycles—another reason why money isn’t absolute in defining worth. It also depends on what version of success we consider valuable. Jeff Weiner suggests that the traditional measures of success are undoubtedly fleeting and are usually somewhat beyond our control. Success in manifesting missions/visions or achieving objectives is good, but we shouldn’t let relying on traditional measures be a source of our self-esteem. Lynne Twist says that many of us live as though financial circumstances have more power than human life, the natural world and our relationships with each other. She talks about the “myth of scarcity”. We are continually thinking of the things that we don’t have instead of enjoying and strengthening what we do. This can be anything such as money, time, love, vacations. The consumer culture “dribbles over into every aspect of life.” Rewards are those which come from an appreciation of experiences, of opportunities to be ourselves and from enjoying what we already have.
10. You have the answers within yourself, even though they may take time to find, or change along the way. “Morrie said the reason people were unhappy was because they walked through their lives like they were sleepwalking. They were following orders about what they would do with their life based on our culture. They were busy trying to be somebody else’s version of what they thought they should be.” Mitch Albom. “I have thought very deliberately and intentionally about my life, and why certain things happen and what they mean. I learned that the goal is to be whole. To reside inside your own skin. I don’t want to die tomorrow, but if I do, I’d go out happy. Because I’ve worked hard at making the most of what I’ve been given. And the lesson is: It’s never too late.” Jane Fonda. Have the confidence that you are enough. You can do this, and if you don’t have the necessary skills, set a goal to learn them. Believe that you can take care of yourself and that you have something unique to offer—if not to the world, then one other person, or even just yourself. Try to listen and find out what your heart wants, where your strengths lie. It can be so easy to doubt ourselves, but mindset goes such a long way. Oprah gives the example of The Wizard of Oz in finding grounding in our “home”. Dorothy was on a path to find her true being, meeting three dis-empowered parts of herself along the way. She believed she needed something outside of herself to find these things and help her get home, but Glinda reminds her that she’s had the power all along in the shoes. No matter how far you have gone off track, there is always a way back. And the way back is to understand what defines ourselves and to live in sync with it. Things will probably create extra work when they don’t go as planned, but we are evolving, unique and have the power within ourselves to work through fear and disruptions to respond to our whispers, which in turn will grow a legacy in which we will be satisfied. May you find what leads you to feel the gentle fulfillment of being in flow. Whatever the focus of your current journey, may it bring you new opportunities, insights, strength and freedom to feel and share joy every day.
“Nourish what makes you feel confident, connected, contented. Opportunity will rise to meet you.” Oprah.