The Interesting Bits Are The Things We Don't See

What You Don’t See

This last week, I posted some of the twists, turns, setbacks, and failure's I've had over the years of my adult career. Times when it felt like I was off course and “something” needed fixing. In my mind, that something was often me.

Many people resonated with my story. Either to the elusive search for a purpose that would make everything flow, help us find meaning, or to the times when it looked like things were completely off-track. 

It was great to see all the responses and yet not surprising. Each of our journeys is filled with times when we question ourselves when things don't turn out the way we planned, when the proverbial rug is pulled out from under us or when life feels flat. 

It's easy to look at our peers, colleagues, or people we admire and determine they must have something we don't. They must have figured something out that we still haven't mastered. It's easy to look at their achievements, social media posts, resumes, books they've authored, bio's, etc., and forget that what we're seeing is one-dimensional; it's not the whole story.

In a way, we're in the shallow end when we look at the surface level of each other's lives. The interesting bits come when we peel back the curtain. The depth comes in the places we don't get to see. 

When we look behind the curtain and get to see more of each other's journeys, we see our common humanity. We discover a deeper truth.

My journey, in many ways, is just like yours. It may have different twists, turns, players, and outcomes, but we can all relate to those moments when the unexpected is a beautiful thing or when the unexpected shakes our confidence.

What has been transformative for me has been discovering that the twists and turns, the failures and setbacks, and the ups and downs have never shown me whether I'm getting it right or wrong; they've been pointing me to something more powerful.

I spoke about that discovery in that recent post. Here it is.


When you look at my career, you will see that it started with personal development by teaching public seminars. From there, I moved into leadership, organizational, and talent development. You will also see that I've lived around the US and in Paris, where I was an executive and the head of a global function. 

At first glance, it looks pretty linear, and the progression seems logical. Here's what you don't see…

In the midst of all those years, I went out on my own in my twenties and again in my thirties and “failed” both times. The result was major debt and a mix of shame, insecurity, and wondering if I would ever get it right. 

You also won't see the fact that mixed in, throughout those years, I was a massage therapist, waited tables at a few different restaurants, worked in a furniture store, lived above someone's garage, and helped take care of their children in exchange for rent. You won't see that I moved back in with my mom in my thirties to try and get back on track financially. 

And finally, you won't see the endless hours I spent trying to figure out my purpose and how to overcome all my issues so I could live up to some unknown “potential.” 

Fulfillment, happiness, and success all felt out of reach during those times. It seemed tied to this elusive “purpose” and somehow getting “on course.”

Today, I'm incredibly grateful to know that is a huge misunderstanding. 

What if there is no such thing as “off-course”? What if fulfillment is right here, right now? What if purpose is not a doing or a role but is available to all of us by engaging more fully in the present moment? 

Was I ever really on the wrong path when I was waiting tables, working in the furniture store, or living above a garage? In hindsight, I can see that every step, every twist, turn, and setback led me to the next thing. Every step along the journey has contributed to my evolution, my growth, and my life.

On-track, off-track is an illusion of the mind. What if where you are right now is purposeful, and you could let go of the pressure to change?

There is no arrival point or destination or the perfect job. Fulfillment does not come by figuring out the right path; it comes in the precious moments along the way.


The theme of this post has been a central one for me. I continue to learn and be reminded that fulfilment, connection and love aren’t in the doing, achieving or getting it right but in the vulnerable, raw, messy and joyful bits along the way.

About ten years ago, I was invited to give a TEDx talk. The organizers asked me to talk about how to find your purpose. They didn't realize I had given up trying to find a purpose, and I had let go of the need to find that one “special” thing I was meant to do with my life. They didn't know that I had begun to find my groove and find more joy and meaning by giving up this search. 

I had stopped asking, “What's My Purpose?” and instead started asking  “Am I Living on Purpose?”

This simple shift switched my orientation from searching, longing, and dissatisfaction to feeling more in the flow of life, more joy, and more fulfillment.

Below is an audio version of that TEDx talk.

“Fulfillment, connection & love aren’t in the doing, achieving or getting it right but in the vulnerable, raw, messy and joyful bits along the way.”

To the extent that we allow ourselves to hang out in the present moment, tap into the feeling of connection to our deeper nature, and engage by following through on those small inner promptings, our lives unfold in extraordinary ways. In ways, we cannot predict or plan.

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Barbara Patterson is the owner of a global coaching and consulting company helping solopreneurs, entrepreneurs & leaders access more clarity, creativity, have greater impact and higher levels of fulfillment in work and life. She is the founder of Beyond Limits in Business, a global platform and community designed to point people to the source of human potential. That potential resides within and is experienced via our minds. Barb is also the host of the Real Business Real Lives podcast. You can follow Barb on Linkedin and Instagram. You can also subscribe to her weekly blog on her website at 



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