Change comes from within - my personal journey of finding inner purpose

Heather Lynch blog header

I’ve felt a strong need to give back and help others ever since I can remember. I was lucky enough to travel as a teenager and was struck by the inequality I saw in the world. I thought that it wasn’t fair that I had so much when others had so little. After a few volunteering roles in Tanzania and Sierra Leone and studying economics and international development at university, I knew that I wanted my career to be focused on helping others.

I went to work at PwC in their international development and sustainability teams. After 5 years I wanted a change and to feel like I was having more of a tangible impact, but I wasn’t sure what job I wanted so I joined On Purpose’s Associate Programme. Upon finishing the programme, I then went onto work at one of my placements, Oddbox, as their Head of Impact and Sustainability for 3 years. 

Over this time, I learnt a lot about the harm that was happening to people and the environment across the world, and the predictions of where we were heading. It spurred me on to make sure that I was making a difference and ‘doing my bit’. I thought that to have an impact and to make the world a better place, I needed to be doing work ‘out there’, on the big issues I cared about, like poverty and climate change. The problem was, I never felt like I was doing enough. I never felt like I was making a tangible impact. I started wondering, will I ever feel like I’m doing enough to make a difference? 

The answer was no. Unless I changed my mindset. I realised I would never be truly happy and fulfilled in doing impact work this way. I would get burned out, depressed, disillusioned and disheartened, which is the definition of unsustainable. 

The first time I heard about the concept of inner purpose was while listening to Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now book. Inner purpose is about being authentic, being in alignment with your deepest values and passions and being true to yourself in all that you do. And he says that this is our primary purpose in life - to be who we are. What you ‘do’ comes secondary. It made all the sense in the world to me. It shifted such a fundamental belief in me that my identity and my worth were inextricably linked to me ‘helping others’. And it shifted how I think about what impact I can have, rather than doing the work ‘out there’, if I become the true essence of who I am and live from a place of alignment, I could see what impact that could have on the world around me.

I am still fully committed to doing work that has an impact on people and the environment, but it’s now my secondary purpose: my ‘doing’ purpose. My primary purpose is about being the core essence of who I am and being in the present moment: my ‘being’ purpose. 

4 years, 4 themes

There’s been a lot of introspection to get to this point too, which was kickstarted by my time with On Purpose and my amazing mentor reflecting back to me my shockingly low level of self esteem. And so, with the help of a therapist, a coach and a lot of self-work, began a four-year journey of working on becoming happier and more myself. I’ve had a theme for each year which were (and I’ll caveat that I haven’t mastered any, they are all a work in progress):

   1. Self love and compassion

I have transformed the way I speak to and treat myself. My mind used to be mean to me, like really mean, all the time. I learnt how to notice these unhelpful thoughts and to choose more positive things to think or choose not to believe the things I was thinking. I made a conscious effort to talk to myself like I would a best friend and positive thoughts about myself are now seeping into my subconscious.

   2. Equanimity

Equanimity means being calm in difficult situations. I always had feedback that I’m a very calm person and I used to think ‘it’s not calm inside my head though!’. So this was a great one to work on for me and coincided with me getting a puppy, which was the ultimate test! Being able to bring myself into a regulated and calm state when things got wild has been super powerful and is a continuing practice.

   3. Gratitude

I knew this was an important component of being happy but I really couldn’t ‘do’ gratitude until this year. For some reason, every time I would think about what I was grateful for, my mind would automatically come in with a BUT e.g. I'm grateful for my dog BUT he ran off on the walk. I’m grateful for my health BUT I have this injury that won’t go away. I set my alarm to say ‘attitude of gratitude’ and would use it as a prompt to think about what I was grateful for, and trained myself to leave the ‘BUT’ behind. Now a friend and I send each other daily messages of what we’re grateful for, it’s good accountability and a great way to keep updated on her life.

   4. Being present and letting go of my ego 

Learning about ego (which is essentially any time you think about yourself, in a good or bad way) and the fact that peace comes from letting it go, was liberating. I didn’t need to do all this self-confidence, self-development work if I just let go of the concept of ‘self’ and became comfortable with just being me. The more I’ve let go of my ego and thinking about how others might judge me, the easier and more pleasant all my life experiences have been and it allows me to really be present with people.

By working on my inner narrative, self love and compassion, being able to regulate my emotions, being able to be grateful and adopting mindfulness attitudes of accepting and letting things go, being open minded and non judgemental, I have transformed my inner experience, as well as my relationships and how I relate to the world. And there’s so much more positivity in my world.

This stuff matters because it matters for everyone around us. Someone asked me recently if it’s selfish to work on yourself? The answer was a hard NO from me. By being happier in yourself, you become a better person for everyone around you and the energy you put out impacts everyone you meet. You are really the only thing in the world that you have control over. So how you are matters. For you, and for everyone else.

Noticing thoughts and reprogramming my mind

A common thread through all of my yearly themes is the ability to notice what was happening in the mind and choosing whether to go with a thought or not. Our brains are 95% subconscious, they run on automatic thought patterns that were wired mostly in childhood. By bringing awareness to what’s happening in your mind, you can reprogramme your brain to consciously think more useful and helpful thoughts. Eventually these new conscious thoughts become subconscious.

Through a dedicated (and imperfect) meditation and mindfulness practice which I started 3 years ago, I am working on reprogramming my unhelpful thought patterns and I now have a good ability to be able to notice my thoughts and choose to think differently. I no longer feel a slave to my mind. The stories we tell ourselves, the patterns of thinking we are in - they aren’t set for life. We have the ability to change them. 

The biggest thing that held me back from really getting into meditation was the feeling I had to be perfect. I had to do it everyday (and feel bad if I didn’t) and I had to be able to do 10 minutes without thinking (I could barely manage 5 seconds of not thinking), but that is precisely why we’re doing it. Meditation is a practice of noticing our thoughts and making a choice to go with the thought or not. And accepting when it happens, being kind and bringing it back to awareness. Catching the thoughts and coming back IS the work and just having a go is enough.

There’s no quick or easy way to master it but it’s radical and life changing. And with a bit of motivation, consistency and kindness you can make progress. Whether it’s bringing attention to your breathing, or noticing the trees on your walk to work, or having a meditation practice. It all matters and it’s all great progress.

Be the change you want to see

I’ve now become a coach for people in the impact space because I believe as change makers we all deserve to feel good doing this work. I’ve seen and experienced too much shaming, blaming, guilt, judgement, anger, frustration, despair and burnout in this space. 

I want us to contribute to this movement to a better world from a place of inner contentment and loving kindness. I want us to be able to present with each other, to focus on being connected rather than being right or to serve our egos. I want more people to bring an attitude of curiosity, non judgement and acceptance into the impact space. I want us to feel empowered to be bold and to be radical from a place of kindness.  I want us to deepen our levels of self awareness, so that we can all work together with nature to create sustained change from an authentic, present and joyful place.

So if I may be so *bold* to suggest - that to make the greatest impact on the world - focus on you. On being your true self, on being present, on being grateful, on living in alignment with your values, on being kind and curious. Because you are awesome and being you will have ripple effects you can’t even imagine. And together we can create a more conscious and positive movement towards a regenerative future.