(The following is an adaptation from What Is Your WHAT?, the new New York Times bestseller by Steve Olsher. You can now get a free copy of the book at the Whatisyourwhat website.)
Mahatma Gandhi. Mother Teresa. Dr. Martin Luther King. Aside from being three of the most revered and influential people of the past century, they had another thing in common: Each discovered their “What,” pursued their “What” with strategic abandon and persevered until they provided the benefits of their “What” to those who needed it most.
Your “What” is the one amazing thing you were born to do and is comprised of your inherent gifts, the vehicle you will use to share your gifts with the world and the people you are most compelled to serve.
To identify your gifts, follow this three-step process:
Step One: Answer the question: What do you love? Think about all the things you love doing and write them down. Look back: What did you enjoy doing as a teenager? Even if you haven’t done something for years, if it would still bring you pleasure, write it down.
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Focus on the activities and interactions that lift your soul. Avoid listing skills you’re good at simply because you’ve practiced them over time.
Now, dig even deeper.
Remember a time years ago when you laughed hysterically? What triggered the laughter?
And as an adult, what gives you goose bumps? Maybe it’s the moment when you come up with a really good idea and realize you’ve found the solution you’ve been looking for. Tie the goose bumps moment to descriptions that encapsulate the activity in noun or adjective form — such as singing, teaching or healing.
When recalling a special moment, try not to be too literal; look for the subtext. For example, imagine you have a fond memory of an evening spent bowling with your grandmother. Instead of writing “bowling with Grammy” on your list, broaden it to “investing time with a beloved family member.”
As another example, say you closed a huge deal last year and felt really good about it. The monetary rewards are the tangibles, but what matters for this exercise is the sense of accomplishment you felt and how it enhanced your self-worth. This might be summed up as “closing a big deal.”
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Next, think about your character traits. Are you bold, fearless, adventurous, funny and/or entertaining? Perhaps you’re creative, intuitive, a great organizer or have an ear for music.
Think about how these traits are expressed through your interactions and activities. For example, if you’re an organizer extraordinaire, maybe you love arranging people’s schedules or homes.
Next, put the activities you’ve identified in order of preference.
I came up with 29 activities. These were my Top Three:
- Having special time with my wife.
- Investing time with those I love.
- Teaching others how to discover their “What.”
Step Two: Answer the question: What do you loathe? If you’re clear about which activities you despise, you can establish a strong foundation for moving your life forward by starting to let them go.
Whatever it is that pushes your buttons (in a bad way), write them down. Even if you worry that others might see these things as petty, include them. The key is to acknowledge your thoughts and feelings.
Now, reflect on why you deplore an activity. Tie these moments to descriptions that encapsulate the activity in noun or adjective form — for example, cleaning, watching TV, eating unhealthy food, being around miserable people, shopping.
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Next, put the activities you’ve identified in order, from most to least distasteful. I came up with 15 activities. These were my Top Three:
- Dealing with minutiae.
- Being affected by others’ lack of integrity (e.g., people not honoring their commitments).
- Being with people who minimize or mitigate my feelings.
Now think about how you spend a typical day and figure out how much time is devoted to these activities you despise. You have to stop doing most of these things because life is too short and they’re slowly killing you.
Step Three: Discover the Seven Seeds of your Soul. Now, get your lists of Things I Love Doing and Things I Hate Doing. Start with the top item on your list of Things I Love Doing and ask yourself each of the six questions below as it relates to the activity. Each answer should be a definitive yes or no.
1. Even if you didn’t get paid a cent for it, would you still do this?
2. Would doing this inspire you every day?
3. Does doing this come as naturally to you as breathing?
4. Do you feel you’ve been given a special gift to do this?
5. Does time seem to fly by when you’re engaged in this activity?
6. Can you possibly make money doing this?
People often have difficulty answering yes or no to Questions No. 4 and No. 6.
For Question No. 4, keep in mind that while you might not yet be a master of this activity, if you feel passionately about it and/or spend a lot of time engaging in it, you may have been given a special gift to do it. In such cases, your answer to Question No. 4 is likely to be yes.
For Question No. 6, base your answer on whether you can possibly make money performing the activity, not whether you’re currently doing so. If you have a genuine gift, you can monetize virtually any hobby, interest or endeavor. Therefore, your answer would be yes.
If any of your answers to these six questions is no, cross out the activity and move to the next item on your list of Things I Love Doing.
Continue this process until you reach an activity that results in a yes to all six questions.
When I completed this exercise, one of the activities that came up with all six yes answers was: Teaching others how to discover their “What.”
When you arrive at an item with six yes answers, circle it and then ask yourself this final question:
- Does performing this activity involve anything on my list of Things I Hate Doing?
For the beloved activity to pass the criteria of The Seven Seeds of Your Soul, it has to match no more than two of your hated activities. (Virtually any activity you engage in will include some aspects you dislike. The discomfort level just has to be low enough to be tolerable.)
If you can answer yes less than three times, double circle the activity because you’ll be returning to it.
It’s possible that your inherent gifts won’t appear in the first half or even the first two-thirds of your Things I Love Doing list, so be patient and work through every item.
Now, write down the activities you double circled. If you came up with more than three, chances are you weren’t being sufficiently honest with yourself. In that case, try again.
Once you’ve identified three or fewer activities, your last job is to identify synergies betwen them and/or choose the specific nouns or adjectives that best define your gifts. These will typically be the first words of your activity statements.
In my case, they were Teaching, Speaking and Inspiring.
After thinking more deeply, I realized they were all part of an over-arching theme: Communication. This represents the first part of the "What" equation — my true gift.
Review your results and write down your gifts using one or, at most, two words for each. If possible, identify an over-arching theme.
If you can pinpoint your gifts and complete your “What” equation by also identifying the vehicle you will use to share your gifts with the world and the people you're most compelled to serve, you’ll probably feel like you’ve thrown a 500-pound bag of sand off your shoulders.
Identifying your "What" is often a very emotional experience. It should move you and put a fire in your belly.
Pursue living as who you were born to be and you’ll achieve your true destiny.