My little quilt was ugly. There was no other way to describe it—the lopsided edges, the ungainly stitches, the puckered patchwork. The quilting teacher, who studiously kept her gaze on my homeschool co-op classmates’ more orderly and symmetrical quilts, pursed her lips: “Perhaps you should consider cake decorating next quarter.”
It was not the first should I had encountered. But I was too busy dreaming of a life of adventure and travel to be bothered with perfecting my quilting or baking skills. I didn’t know it then, but those adolescent dreams were the first inklings of what would turn out to be my sweet spot in life.
What is a sweet spot? I define it as that wonderful place, where the things you love meet the needs of the world, and your passions create positive change in your community and the world around you.
Each person’s sweet spot is unique.
A talented crafting friend of mine in Portland makes adorable bespoke baby outfits and donates the proceeds to help sexually exploited women in Europe. My uncle, a gentle giant of a man, is a gifted ukulele teacher and gives free music lessons to prison inmates in California. My sister-in-law uses her skill as a professional photographer to raise awareness and resources for disabled children in Zambia. A computer programmer friend is teaching a homeless young man he met on the subway to code. A local optometrist spends a few weeks a year fitting people for glasses, often the first pair they’ve ever owned, in the poverty-stricken mountain villages of Nicaragua.
Each of these individuals is doing what they love, what they’re gifted at and trained for, and using that to help to the world a better place.
Sweet spots are different for everyone—starting an ethically conscious business, raising funds by doing something you love to help a cause close to your heart—each one is valuable, each one is a gift to the world.
Some know early where our sweet spot is in life, but for most it’s a process of trial and error and gradual discovery. It took me most of my thirties to finally home in on mine—writing fiction and working in international aid. I worked for seven years with a faith-based organization in central Europe, then started writing novels that celebrate the things I love most—travel, food, strong women overcoming big challenges with hope and courage and social justice issues related to women. It took years for me to figure out how to blend the two elements of writing and international work successfully; years of saying no to the “shoulds” and yes to what I truly loved. I had some detours along the way (here’s looking at you, short stint in event planning!) But when I finally found my sweet spot, I experienced deep joy and satisfaction. Getting to do the things I love feels like getting to eat cake all day!
If you’re confident that you know what your sweet spot is in life, and you’re living in it now, then fantastic! If you’re not entirely sure, here are a few ideas to get you started.
1. Get rid of the “shoulds” in your life
Stop worrying that what you love isn’t good enough or thinking that it can’t help someone. Any gift, skill or passion can be used in some way to make your community and the world a better place.
2. Make a list of the things you love
Are you passionate about cutting hair, backpacking, making a great batch of kombucha or practicing yoga? If you love it, write it down. If you’re stuck on discerning what you really love, think of the things you played pretend about as a child. I told adventure stories. Then, as soon as I could write, I created little books bound in cardboard from cereal boxes. As I matured, my core interests essentially stayed the same. What do you naturally gravitate toward now? What are the things you would do for free, or just for the sheer joy of them? Those are most likely part of your sweet spot in life.
3. Now start brainstorming
Search online to see who else loves the things you love and what they’re doing to help the world. What clubs, organizations or movements need your skills? How about friends, neighbors and religious organizations in your community? Want to travel further and donate your unique skills in other parts of the world? I guarantee there is someone who needs just what you have to offer! Band together with others, help each other brainstorm and discover.
It is not an easy task. Finding your sweet spot is often a long process, peppered with detours and disappointments, but it is so worthwhile in the end. When each of us finds our unique sweet spot in life, our whole selves, our communities and the entire world, are better for it.