Light Up Your Life: What Schoolchildren Can Teach Us

the person you become-2Fall can be a refreshing new beginning for my Washington, DC area life coaching clients with its cooler weather and new routines. I am brought back to my children as young kids, and their sense of excitement, anticipation and even nervousness about the new school year. Who would be in their class? What would their teacher be like? What would they wear on the first day? I also remember shipping them off to college, or starting at a university campus myself as a young person. That sense of freedom, new people to meet, new things to learn, new books to read and endless possibility was like electricity in the air.

I believe that regardless of our age, we can and should tap into this type of wide-eyed enthusiasm during this time of year. What can you learn this year as the country’s young people return to school? How can you cultivate your interests and give your life more meaning?

Try Something New

When you try something new – like putting yourself in a new environment or trying to learn a new thing – your brain sits up and takes notice. Researchers have shown that the brain requires energy and focus to create a new “mental map” of its surroundings, and while this can create anxiety, it can also release “feel good” hormones.

When you are engaged in what’s happening around you, you feel great. This kind of feeling not only creates joy and happiness, but also helps increase performance, productivity and creativity. This is why traveling to a new place, taking a class or changing up daily routine can help you see everything in a new light.

What about my “Passion”?

Many of my clients ask me, when making a career or life change: “People tell me to follow my passion. I don’t know what it is!”

The problem with the recent fixation on “finding our passion” is that people frequently have many interests. The “passion” question is confusing when one interest doesn’t stand out as being more ardent than all the others. So why not ask the plural: what are your passions?

Focus on Your Curiosities

What makes your heart pound and flutter when you leave work for the day? What feels like drudgery? What gets you excited when you face a Saturday with no agenda in hand? How can you make time for the things that really light you up, or where you really shine?

If you no longer partake in the activities or hobbies you’ve enjoyed since childhood, why have you stopped? When was the last time you read a really great book, took a class you loved or engaged with a fascinating teacher?

We often do certain things out of obligation, because they’re trendy, because our friends are doing them, or because we have a degree or specific training in something. Ignore all that noise, and instead listen for the voice nudging you in a certain direction, rather than focusing on what you think you “should” be doing. It’s okay to do things that are outside the box. They may not even make rational sense, and this might produce some anxiety. It’s okay to try something different simply because it piques your interest. (Read about the time I took up kickboxing – yes kickboxing! – here.) Remember: living an authentic life doesn’t come from people-pleasing, it comes from just being you.

Do the Work Gently: Show Up for Yourself

Once you decide what you are going to pursue, have a to-do or “homework” list that is flexible and changeable. If having a healthier lifestyle really lights you up, your list might include hiring a nutritional coach, downloading some exciting recipes or simply going for a walk. Setting realistic, measurable goals and holding clients accountable for their progress is my specialty as a Life Coach. When the work also aligns with their values, it happens more effortlessly.

Many of us are not used to seeing self-discipline in a caring way – as a way of showing up for ourselves, our interests and our desires. This makes doing the work possible, without self-flagellation, guilt, doubt or drudgery.

It’s one thing to work from a place of excitement, purpose and joy. It’s a completely different experience to work in an attempt to prove yourself and gain accolades from others. So take care to do the work gently. Do not use discipline as a workhorse to get to where you think you “should” be.

Working a day job while discovering and pursuing your passions demands a lot of time and focus, but you can honor both needs: one for economic stability and the other for authenticity. Even if we don’t work a day job, are going through a job transition, are retired or otherwise, it is easy to get sucked into the routine of life, never really doing anything that truly lights us up. But balancing career, things we “must” do like chores, and family or social life with our personal interests is critical to leading a full, enriched life with meaning.

Beware of attaching a desired “outcome” to every new thing you try. The best part of trying something new or tapping back into a forgotten interest might not be immediately apparent. Sometimes the “new thing” can be slowing down, taking a walk in the woods behind your house, playing a game with your family or cooking a beautiful meal. Just focus on what makes you feel more like you.


Remember having an hour of recess to just run, play, and jump? Carve out a little time each day or each week to give yourself a break, whether that’s doing a paint-by-number, or dancing to your favorite song. It may seem ridiculous at first to “schedule” this time, but it will help you have the discipline to show up for yourself. Don’t have any agenda for this time, but you might be surprised at what bubbles up. Human beings’ greatest creativity and solutions to ongoing problems sometimes are found when we simply disengage and give ourselves time to just be.

Light Up Your Life Like a Kid Starting School

First: Drop the frustration, burn-out and overwhelm about this very loaded “passion” idea. Think about “curiosities” or “interests” instead, and add them to your syllabus for this fall. You can’t have too many! Consider and play with the many things that interest you, without agenda. You may want to try things people have thanked you for, something you’ve always been good at, something you value or that lights you up. At first this might make you feel nervous, and that’s okay. Be childlike, and don’t feel the pressure to commit to just one thing. This is your life. Enjoy the process.

Then: Set some “homework” for yourself. Here are some ideas:

  • Want to read more fiction but don’t have a favorite author or are stuck in a rut?Join a book club.
  • Have a latent interest in science you never pursued? Research local parent/child STEM clubs and activities.
  • Have an interest in aquaculture or marine biology? Book a private kayak tour with a local environmental center.

Finally: Remember that passion is a feeling. Feelings come from within, not without. Like a kid starting school, create a feeling of passion from within yourself and watch the whole world open up like an oyster.

at-desk-brightIf you get stuck, enlist an ally to help you in this work. I’m here to help you. Call Catharine Ecton Life Coaching or schedule your free Life Coaching consultation today. In my blog about Life Coaching vs. Therapy, I discussed the differences and reasons why you might want to hire me as your life coach. You can also learn more about how Life Coaching differs from from friendship here.

Contact me for a complimentary, no-obligations life coaching consultation and we can work on lighting up your life, giving it more purpose and meaning. Or use the Appointment Scheduler and pick a time that works for you. I coach 90% of my clients over the phone, and my DC-based Life Coaching clients have the option of meeting with me in person. I look forward to hearing from you.