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What Lights You Up?

November 16, 2023

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About This Episode

(Season 4, Episode 12)

In this practicast, Practicing Connection co-host, Bob Bertsch, guides us through how to use the question, “What Lights You Up?” to begin to find a sense of purpose. Research shows that having a sense of purpose boosts our resilience. And knowing your purpose can lead to better relationships and collaborations.

“Practicasts” are shorter episodes of the podcast highlighting a specific practice to help empower us to work together to improve our resilience and readiness.



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Jessica Beckendorf: Research shows that having a sense of purpose boosts our resilience and knowing your purpose can lead to better relationships and collaborations. I’m Jessica Bettendorf and welcome to this week’s Practicing Connection Practicast, where we highlight a specific practice to help empower us to work together to improve our resilience and readiness. We’ll continue to share our monthly in-depth episode with you, but now you can also listen in for a few minutes each week to get inspired by a new practice on this practicast. We hope you’ll give these practices a try and find them useful.

This week’s practice is called What Lights You Up. It can help you discover and engage with your purpose in ways you may not have thought of yet. My practicing connection co-host, Bob Bertsch, will be guiding us through the practice in a few minutes, but first, let’s learn a little bit more about it. Hi, Bob.

Bob Bertsch: Hey, Jessica. This is a practice, What Lights You Up, that we’ve shared together in many workshops over the years, so I’m excited to be able to share it with our listeners on the practicast.

Jessica: Me too. Can you share a high-level overview of why this practice works and what it does to boost resilience for an individual, maybe the people they’re connected with, and even the larger community?

Bob: Sure. The first place that I came across this practice and the question, what lights you up, which is really the key part of the practice, was in John Stepper’s book Working Out Loud. In the working-out-loud process, that question is intended to help you identify a learning goal that really motivates you. You’d go through the work-out-loud process over a limited amount of time, and you would use what lights you up to discover that goal that was going to motivate you over that limited amount of time. Having that kind of intrinsic motivation can help you stick with the process when things become a little bit difficult or go off course a little bit, and having that kind of motivation is definitely an element of individual resilience.

Today, we’re going to be using what lights you up in more of a broad context. That’s going to help us not just identify a short or medium-term goal, but start to discover our sense of purpose. Sense of purpose is a protective factor in our resilience as well. It’s a factor that we can lean on throughout our lives. It’s not just short-term or medium-term. It can serve not just as an internal factor for our resilience, so sort of our own grit or stick to itiveness, but as an external one as well. Because for most of us anyway, our sense of purpose is going to involve things that are outside of ourselves. In order to act on that purpose, we need other people.

When we connect with others around a shared sense of purpose, that can support the resilience of each individual in the group, and also the resilience of the group itself. When we have groups of people connected around a positive pro-social purpose, that can boost community resilience as well, especially when those groups become connected with each other in a network of community support groups.

Jessica: One thing that comes up for me when I hear you talk about sense of purpose is values assessments or thinking about engaging in activities that bring you joy. How is this different from doing a values assessment and then focusing on your values or from engaging with an activity that brings you joy? How is this different?

Bob: Well, I think there’s definitely overlap between what lights you up and those practices. I think what lights you up is more focused on the journey toward your sense of purpose. When you think of values, I think of that as maybe the border around the area where our sense of purpose is going to reside. Our values are really intended to guide our actions, oftentimes like our day-to-day actions. Like I value honesty, so that means I’m going to try and tell the truth whenever possible. So we’re using those to guide our actions. We’re definitely probably not going to have a sense of purpose that falls outside of our values. In that sense, those values provide that border of where we’re looking when we’re trying to find that sense of purpose.

When we think about making a list of things that bring us joy, for instance, we definitely see that come up. When we’re using this practice in a workshop, participants will often come up with things that bring them joy as they’re trying to list those things that light them up. But again, those things may or may not lead you to a sense of purpose. Hot coffee on a cool fall morning, or walking on the beach, these are things you could definitely see on someone’s list of things that bring them joy, but they don’t necessarily lead you to a sense of purpose.

Jessica: Would you mind walking us through the practice?

Bob: Sure, I’d be glad to. First, let’s find a quiet place where we can spend at least 10 minutes or so without being interrupted. Get a piece of paper, something to write with. Then the core to bring us to the task, let’s take a deep breath, center ourselves a little bit on what we’re about to do, and set the intention of thinking about what lights us up. If your mind is distracted, like you have some things coming up, or some things that just happened before you started doing this, I find it helpful to jot some of those things down maybe on a post-it note. Just writing those thoughts down can help you let go of them and help you focus on the task at hand.

With our piece of paper on one side, write down your societal and familial roles. Those are things like spouse, parent, child, sibling, employee, supervisor, any role that is put upon you by society, or through your family relationships. We do that because when we’re thinking about what lights us up, some of the things that often come up are things related to those societal and familial roles. There’s nothing wrong with that.

Sometimes those things end up being related to our answer of what lights us up, but in my experience, it’s really helpful to find an answer that is not related to your roles. The reason is because those roles can change. We want our answers to the question what lights us up, to be a touchstone for us even if we stop being a spouse or when our children become adults, or we change jobs. Having those roles written down on the paper will help you think about whether your answers are tied to those roles or tied to something more centered in your own identity.

All right. Now that we have the roles written down, let’s start to think about what lights us up. If that question isn’t sparking anything for you, you can try the question I learned from Jessica, what’s my jam or, when do I feel in flow? Another way to start finding what lights you up is to make a list of things that make you happy. We talked about a list of things that bring you joy, but a list of things that made you happy when you were a kid, or a list of things that bring you joy now can be really helpful if you’re feeling stuck. Often there are things on those lists that point you toward your answer of today, now, what lights me up?

As potential answers come to mind, just write them down. Don’t worry if they’re not fully formed or they don’t feel exactly right, the point is just to get them down on paper. Once you have at least one, two, maybe a few more potential answers written down, take some time to read through them, circle or underline words or phrases that really resonate with you, and cross out anything that doesn’t feel right for you. See if you can use what’s on your paper to finish the phrase, “I light up when I–” Again, don’t worry if this doesn’t sound exactly right right now, you can continue to work on it or even change it completely later.

Well here’s my answer to what lights you up, as an example. I light up when I can help people come together as equals to work toward positive social change. Just as a note, that’s a phrase that came to me over time doing the what lights me up practice, thinking about what really is at the core, the sense of purpose in the things that were coming up for me when I answered the question, what lights me up, and it evolved over time. That answer may come fully formed to you as you go through this practice today or it might lead you in a direction that you can follow and eventually lead you to that answer of what lights you up.

When you feel ready, you’ve got some answers, you’ve looked them over, take a moment to pat yourself on the back for the work you’ve done today, of taking time to think about this and start a journey towards your sense of purpose. You’ve gotten to know yourself a little bit better and hopefully, get on a path to a sense of purpose that will help you sustain and build your resilience over time.

Jessica: Awesome. Thank you so much. That’s it for this episode. Thanks again for joining us. We hope you’ll give this practice a try and share your experience in the Practicing Connection LinkedIn group, where people supporting military families practice the skills that empower us to work together so we can positively impact our communities and help families thrive. You’ll find the link to the group on our website at We’ll be back next week with a practice to ease stress and get to know yourself better called Grounding Chair Meditation. Until then, keep practicing.

Kalin Goble: The Practicing Connection Podcast is a production of OneOp and is supported by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, US Department of Agriculture and the Office of Military Family Readiness Policy, US Department of Defense under award numbers 2019-48770-30366 and 2023-48770-41333.


[00:11:13] [END OF AUDIO]


November 16, 2023
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