When You Lack Focus and Direction: Stop Looking for Your “Thing”

“More important than the quest for certainty is the quest for clarity.” ~Francois Gautier

Isn’t it funny—and annoying and brilliant—how often things turn out to be nothing like we thought they would?

Six years ago I was recovering from a breakdown and reacquainting myself with my long dormant artistic side, and I remember spending a lot of time wondering what my “thing” was.

You know, that one specific thing in this life that I was destined to do to be fulfilled, and ideally from which I would earn a comfortable living.

I had always loved creativity, and particularly art, and had always wanted that to be my thing; I would be an artist, sell my work, and live comfortably on the proceeds.

There were a couple of problems with my plan, however. One was my upbringing, which told me that art was unrealistic as a way to make a living. As a result, I had done all sorts of things that were nothing to do with my original dream, many of which I hated (hence that final breakdown).

That mindset is not at all unusual in Western culture and is something many of us have to move beyond, but there was something else too.

I could not seem to pin down my love of art and creativity to one single focus. I experimented endlessly, on my own and in classes, with everything from acrylics to oils, from printing to sculpture.

And still I kept thinking, how will I ever know which is my thing? What’s the one thing I’ll be really good at and so endlessly enthused by that I won’t continue this constant dabbling?

How will I ever be a credible artist if I paint in a different style every time I put brush to canvas? How will I ever fulfill my dream of making a living doing what I love when I seem so scattered and unfocused?

Since no clear answer was forthcoming at that point, I just kept going.

Sometimes I envied those who seemed to be born already knowing what their thing was, like my friend who always knew she’d be a vet. I thought they must have or know something I didn’t. That perhaps there was something wrong with me for being so fickle and apparently unable to settle on just one thing.

But as it turns out, that seemingly flighty, unfocused, shallow dabbling was an essential part of the story, and not at all the waste of time I feared.

I learned two key things about what I’ve come to see as the “myth of the thing.”

1. There is what you are passionate and curious about and would do for free (and often do), an

2. There are all the ways in which that comes through you.

You are like a prism, full of your own unique mix of colors that join together to radiate a single beam—you.

In my experience, it’s unhelpful and limiting to assume that you’ll whittle it down to a single thing or work it out with your mind. After all, your mind has no real knowledge of your heart.

Your “thing that is not a thing” is already there inside you, but without taking action over and over from a place of curiosity and passion, you won’t give your personal and utterly unique filter a chance to make itself known.

I’ll always be insatiably curious and I think that’s a fantastic trait to have, not a handicap. Today, I love to paint, draw, write, bake, tend my plants, make things, research, gather and share information, read books and blogs, spend time at the beach, explore spirituality, travel, and learn whatever I can about whatever catches my magpie eye.

You might think I’m still dabbling. But all those things feed and become my thing that is not a thing.

So what is my “thing”? It’s being what I can’t help being. It’s being curious and creative; it’s exploring, playing, demonstrating and sharing what I learn through the filter of art and creativity; it’s helping, supporting, and encouraging people to find their own unique ways to express themselves creatively.

It’s doing what I’d do anyway and letting it evolve into something that feeds both me and others, and yes, it’s even starting to bring in an income. I am an artist, only in many more ways than the single one I envisaged.

My magpie eye isn’t hindering me from finding my thing; it’s part of how my thing manifests. That realization has changed everything, and my life is infinitely richer for it.

Without it, I would not have tried or learned so many things. I would not now have both a wealth of techniques and experiences and ideas to share, nor the understanding and empathy that comes with having trodden the messy meandering path myself. Both of those important factors unexpectedly became part of my work now.

While there are many things we all know to do to help us find out who we really are and what we’re here to do, like journaling or meditation, I have found the following also helpful in my quest.

It takes time, so give it time.

I know that’s hard, especially if you feel stuck in an unfulfilling job or other restricting life situation. Patience and perseverance will stand you in good stead, so do what it takes to cultivate them. (I suggest a spiritual or energy practice.)

Widen your view.

Your “thing” won’t only show up in the obvious places. My creativity doesn’t just appear in the studio; it’s in how I put a meal together, how I arrange my desk, how I use my day, right down to the tiny moments.

Listen to intuitive nudges.

Have you developed an unexpected interest in historical fiction? Head to the library. Do you have a sudden urge to grow something? Visit the garden center.

Not only might you find what you think you’re looking for, you also increase the chances of discovering something new that contributes to your clarity or brings a new opportunity. 

Think of a task you do regularly that you find mundane.

Ask yourself, what could I change about how I approach this to make it fun or interesting? How can I apply my unique way of seeing the world here? It could be a mindset change, an intention or affirmation, or it could be the actual physical way you perform the task.

I have a system for folding my laundry that allows my mind to roam freely for a few minutes; that inner roaming brings in new ideas and insights. Thus laundry becomes not something that wastes my precious time but something that enhances it and brings me more into who I am.

Stop looking for that elusive “thing.” Start living your life in all the ways that are exciting and interesting to you, right down to the tiny daily details. Explore, create, discover, absorb.

With some thought and imagination you can do this within your current job, with your children, when you’re doing daily tasks. It doesn’t have to be grand and time-consuming.

And then you will find that your thing is simply who you can’t help being. The more of your unique inner rainbow you reveal, the more it will become clear who you are and what you are here to do. Just be prepared for it to look a little different—and a lot more beautiful—than you thought.

About Tara Leaver

Tara Leaver is an artist, writer, teacher, and creative mentor exploring the exciting possibilities of paint—and being useful—from her home studio based in Brighton in the UK. She currently runs two ecourses, Creative Spark {developed from her book of the same name} and Artist Inspired, both designed to bring out the artist in you.

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  • Hi Tara
    Thank you for sharing your experience. I think your situation is a common one–we often don’t take stock of what is happening or tune into our ‘higher’ self until we are forced into that space through some sort of serious event. For me, it was the death of my father.

    I agree that we can feel a lot of pressure to find our passion. One one hand, it is very obvious for some people, while for others it may not be. Perhaps their real self has been buried so deeply, they have completely lost touch with it–after years of going after what we are taught we ‘should’ want and what have you, that is really easy for that to happen. Then there are others who have certain interests and things that ‘light their fire’ but it might not be super clear how to channel that into certain types of activities.

    My ‘thing’ is growth, and I have always been interested in personal development. I started a blog six months ago and it has been a great experience. When people tell me I inspire them, or something I wrote helped them, it truly makes me feel so happy and on purpose. I recently started offering coaching services–that was always something I saw myself doing but I didn’t feel the time was right until now.

    The tip about intuitive nudges is a great one–those nudges are coming from that part of ourselves that knows what would make us happiest. I don’t think our interests are completely random, they are signposts to guide us to our most desired life.

    Great stuff!

  • Tara

    Hi Kelli, thank you for taking the time to leave such a thoughtful response! I agree, I think this is a really common scenario. You make great points about a major life event being a catalyst, and how our real selves get buried by what we’re taught. Interesting distinction too between those of us who have lost touch with that part of ourselves and those of us who haven’t but don’t know how to channel it. Love your point about signposts too!

  • This is one of those situations where I read this thinking, “Wow, and here I thought I was the only one feeling this way!”

    Just recently, I’ve been struggling with this. I love learning new ways to grow as a person, to be more mindful, and really live my best life as my best self. I also love dabbling with technology and all its gadgets and apps. I also love writing, and I have fun while I draw…

    It all feels like so much!

    Thank you for confirming for me what I’ve also slowly been coming to the conclusion of: following all these different things might be just the thing I need to be doing! I’ve very recently gone back to blogging, but for a little while I’ll just be posting about whatever comes to mind rather than trying to stick to a very specific topic. I feel like I could easily blog about several topics, but who knows where things may go!

    Also thank you for the thought about how I can apply my way of thinking to the mundane tasks around me — at first I thought, “There’s no way I can,” which probably means there’s something I haven’t given myself the chance to think of. =p

    Thank you SO much for posting this; I really needed to see this today. =)

  • Angel

    Thank you so much. Right what I needed to read now. Thinking about the “thing” lately and I realize it is because everyone keeps wondering what my “thing” is cause I bounce around a lot. Glad to see how many great things I have done because of my bouncing.

  • Get It Productions

    I know what you mean about being raised with the image of the “starving artist” and not thinking art was a viable career option. When I told my parents I wanted to be a photographer, they sat me down and tried to explain the financials of it and suggested it should maybe be a hobby rather than a career. But I was determined and I ended up selling my truck to buy my first camera! After that, they got on board. I have to admit I’m guilty of dabbling too, but there are so many interesting things and topics, why should I only know about one? I understand focus is important but one of the top traits of successful people is that they are always learning. So keep always learning and good luck on your creative journey!

  • Tara

    Calae I so appreciate you sharing your thoughts here. When I started my blog it was much more random, but without going through all those different subjects and exploring ways of writing etc I truly don’t think I’d have got to the point I’m at now, where there’s a clear overarching focus, but within which I can still indulge my roving eye. 🙂 It makes me so happy to think you saw this at the time you needed to see it. Best wishes with your rainbow! 🙂 {And I agree – finding creative ways to do mundane tasks can take a little thought and practice.}

  • Tara

    Yes! It’s suddenly another perspective when you consider that what you and everyone else has been perceiving as a ‘problem’ can actually be part of how it works! So glad you found reassurance here. 🙂

  • Tara

    Agreed! > “there are so many interesting things and topics, why should I only know about one?” Even those with a lifelong knowledge of their one career focus will have other interests that feed into that, I think. That made me smile about selling your truck – that’s dedication to a dream. 🙂 Best to you on your creative journey too!

  • Dev Arbikshe

    This feels like my story!

  • This article resonates with me on so many levels. It is so important to find something that you are truly passionate about. I wasted years being unhappy, trying to pursue a career that I wasn’t interested in. Well – NO MORE! It can also be stressful when you see others progress and you still have no idea what you want to do in life. Don’t worry. Spend some time by yourself and get to know what you are passionate about and what you will not tolerate. Take it from there. Good luck! 🙂

  • Tara

    Shannon I really love this, thank you for sharing it! There’s so much that makes me think of in terms of light, and light bearers and being drawn to the light. Perhaps there are deeper levels of significance even. So good to hear about someone being true to themselves – it is often so hard won and takes a lot of courage.

  • Tara

    Glad it rings true for you Dev. 🙂

  • Tara

    So glad this resonated for you! I agree comparison doesn’t help – and can be so hard not to do!

  • Raluca Popescu

    Hi, Tara! Thanks for sharing your story so beautifully! It was exactly what I needed to read today, as I’ve been questioning myself the same questions about “my thing” for many years. I’ve been asking for guidance and clarity about this and I received a part of it through your article, thank you!

  • J. Midwest

    Nice to see there are people with my “problem.” And nice to know that my problem my be my solution .

  • n.eddy

    What she said. Every single word.

  • Roslin

    I know i didn’t came across this by accident tonight, it was meant for me to read this you answer so many of my questions. Tnk you for sharing.

  • Chi

    Hello Tara,
    Thank you for this wonderful post! I always think
    something is wrong with me because I have a lot of passion and curiosity
    for so many ‘things’. That somehow at a certain age, I have to show people a “specific brand/title” of myself just to show that I found my ‘thing’. After a decade of trying to fit in and finding my “specific brand”, I became more confused about what I want in life. I realized that things such as cooking, sewing, drawing and painting are all part of my ‘thing’. That I’m a nurturer and an artist! I contemplated if I just listened to my instinct to follow my dreams to be an artist and not took nursing, it would have saved me a lot of anxiety on trying to figure out what my ‘thing’ or “specific brand” is. Furthermore, I know I am a jack of all trades and master of none. But that’s okay. 🙂

  • Tara

    Beautifully put Chi, thank you for sharing your experience!

  • Tara

    If I’ve learned one thing, it’s that if I am experiencing something, no matter how weird I think it is, I am never the only one experiencing it. 🙂 Glad it was helpful to you J. Midwest. 🙂

  • Tara

    Thank you Raluca and N! I am quite honoured to have been part of your clarity seeking Raluca! And so pleased it was helpful to you.

  • Tara

    You are so welcome Roslin – I’m delighted you found it and it helped you. 🙂

  • oddball grandma

    Thanks for this positive look at being a person who’s creative, but who has a flurry of ideas, jumps from one thing to another (photography, writing, pen and ink, acrylics, gelli pad printing, doing posters for people, and stage sets, teaching incarcerated kids, etching, ceramics…on and on) But I have no one “thing.” So what??? After reading your piece, I’m rather proud of being flighty and arty – as some people have called me. Yeah I am!

  • empress737

    Wonderful article that speaks to where I am now in life. Smack in the middle of my change.

  • Severin

    To paraphrase George Bernard Shaw, life is not so much about finding ourselves as it is about creating ourselves. I think that “who we are” is constantly growing, at the rate of the passing of moments and the experiences we have, and in truth “who we are” is never fully defined until the day we leave.

  • Sold your truck for a camera. How fantastic.

  • Perhaps what is truly evolving is not “who we are” but “who we think we are.”

  • Tara

    Interesting! Thanks for commenting Severin and Kapil! In my experience the ‘finding’ just means revealing what’s beneath all the layers we’ve put on through programming, beliefs we’ve picked up that aren’t true to us etc.

  • Tara

    Glad you enjoyed it! 🙂

  • Tara

    Yay! Sounds like if you did have a thing it’d be Extreme Creativity. 😉 {And sharing that with others too.}

  • Jeevan/Mirthu/Gupt

    I loved that last part where you talked about how you could make the regular ‘mundane tasks’ more fulfilling…Thank you for that reminder…& ofc sharing your story! 🙂

  • Tara, I wish I was able to say that I don’t relate to this post but I do on so many levels. A couple of years ago, I too went through a breakdown (which last a couple of years) and though I wouldn’t wish it on anyone else, it taught me so much about myself and I began to ‘seek the simple’. When I struggled to read a sentence I realised just how much I loved to read. When I couldn’t write, it hurt.

    And I knew then that writing, travelling and helping others was my passion which is why I launched my website and it’s done nothing but serve me well. Writing has become cathartic therapy and it’s helping others – there’s no greater feeling! 🙂

    Beautiful article Tara! x

  • Tara

    Wonderful to hear your transformation story Toni, and thank you for your kind words!

  • Tara

    I’m always really happy when someone takes just one thing from anything I write, so this makes me happy Jeevan. 🙂

  • Brynne

    I love this!!! this really resonates with me as a college student in the search for “my thing” but I think you put it so beautifully that there is no need for a specific thing, thank you so much for bringing this to light!

  • Love this! Being of Magpie mind and lover of THINGS…I get this ;)))) We are so cyclical too and ebb and flow with the seasons. I would so hate to pigeon-hole myself into a thing… I want to Magpie-hole myself into things 😉

    “You are like a prism, full of your own unique mix of colors that join together to radiate a single beam—you.” Gorgeous words 😉

  • You and I have a lot in common ;)) From both being ‘magpies’ to the career-wheel, life-overload, burn-out/break-down six years ago (though mine was about 7 or 8 now). This year was my year to discover and accept that part of myself that I always considered worthless – the artist I am. My upbringing reinforced the need for a ‘good job’, and to make a decent living with a long-term career goal. It was very limiting to push myself through years and years of college, bouncing from major to major because none of them really ‘fit’, trying to make myself into that person that my family always wanted me to be. I finally let go and accepted that it was in fact my thing to sort-of meander through various creative pursuits, expressing my inner world with a multitude of mediums and materials. It’s been freeing, and has broken that “I’ll never make money as an artist” mentality for me too. This post had a wonderful way of connecting-the-dots for me Tara ;)) Thanks for sharing it <3

  • Lindsey

    Thank you for writing this. I struggle with this a great deal, and I’m very judgmental with myself about it. I struggle with calling myself names – quitter, flaky, selfish, self-involved, indulgent, lazy, unfocused, undisciplined, indecisive… it never ends. And all because I have this idea in my head that I should have a “thing” and since I can’t decide on one, I’ve completely failed in life.

    I’ve come to recognize how harmful that outlook is to me and to those around me, and I’m working to change my thoughts and undo some of the damage that I’ve done to myself. I’ve let my cynicism turn me into someone who scoffs, derides, and criticizes people who are following their hearts and creating things that are meaningful to themselves.

    Meanwhile I stifle my own creativity with mindless entertainment meant to distract me from the yawning emptiness inside me and my own unfulfilled desire to make something meaningful. All because somewhere along the way I concluded that I have nothing interesting or valuable to say and no talent with which to say it even if I had, so why even bother?

    Reading about other people’s struggles with the same issues helps me to judge myself less harshly and less likely to talk myself out of it when I see a shiny new hobby or project that I want to pour myself into for a while.

    I still have a long way to go, because I’ve been doing this to myself for years, but thank you for writing this. It helps.

  • xAnonymous Mk

    Find The.Luciferian.Doctrine.pdf

  • Jody

    Oh your one of them, same here, wondered through all kinds of arts styles, all kinds of courses in colleges and universities, wondered through all kinds of religions. Wonder here and there in the streets. Then I discovered the internet, and things got infinitely worse, my mind just teleported from place to place. Calmed down a bit these days.