Intersections of Compassion

In recent weeks, we’ve been exploring a question that many of us grapple with: How do I actually go about finding my purpose, my meaning .. My Onlyness? Understanding why Onlyness matters is one thing; identifying your Onlyness–or what Meryl Streep calls “the weird thing about you”–is another.

There’s no magical formula for discovering your Onlyess: no book you can buy, no one person to turn to, nor any test you can take. At the end of the day, you are the one who “knows”. That said, key people in your network can help you uncover clues about your Onlyess; they can help you compare the difference between a world where you’re present and one where you’re not. It can also be helpful to take money out of the equation, and remember that your Onlyness can take its form in activities, hobbies and passion projects outside of your job. Additionally, it can be useful to think of Onlyness as more than just one thing. Instead, our Onlyness lives at the intersections of what we care about–the harmony of your vision, and spot in the world. Finally, consider these words from Shonda Rhimes and this parable about a magical school; both can help bring you closer to uncovering your Onlyness, by putting the focus back on you.


One thing that is clear is that 40 some of you have sent emails or written on the blog, and it is your public comments especially that are helping one another. Thank you. This is why I’ve asked you to share your contributions and ideas. Because when we share what we individually know, or don’t know in many cases, we can learn together, grow together.

Let’s encourage each other to keep that going…

How have you found your Onlyness, what does that mean to you? You can submit right here in our community blog, or connect via Twitter (@Nilofer) or Google+, and hashtag #onlyness.  Just remember, there is no right or wrong answer and you can find hints along the way, in your daily journey in your interactions with others, in your passions.

To thank you for your ongoing participation and sharing in our growing community, our Yes & Know friend, Kara Goldin, Co-Founder and CEO of Hint Water is giving this community some gifts. (Don’t you just love gifts?)

Kara followed her dreams and her heart and founded a business that is exploding across the United States. Fortune and Fast Company have both written profiles about her transformative story: She left a comfortable “corporate” world to take a major risk thanks to the power of an idea and her passion to pursue it. We honor her and her company for following her true path to Onlyness.

Next week, one of you will be selected to win a 3-month supply of this delicious water that contains such a “hint” of fruit flavor and nothing else. Hint is completely healthy with no sugars or other additives or chemicals, you will find it completely refreshing and healthy as well. Simply share your thoughts and blogs, feelings and tweets, any and all ideas …and you’ll be entered to win. Gifts like Kara’s are just a way of saying thanks for sharing. And for sharing publicly so others can benefit.

10 Replies

  1. I just want to emphasize how important it is to connect with other people as you explore these questions. Some of you will call this “networking” or some other buzzword, but I’ve been on a mission to get together with 1-2 friends for lunch each week and ask them essentially “What do you see in me?” I’m not asking them what they think I’m good at or what skills they see me do, buy in a more essential/elemental way what they see in me. The results have been both eye-opening and affirming. I still don’t know what I’m going to “do” or how I’ll make any money, but the process has been god so far.

    1. Adam,
      It’s great to see you being seen.
      Maybe do the same thing for someone else — say to them what you see in them.
      Most of us need this. In the spiritual traditions, this is a process of “calling”. You are called to use your gifts by others. You may have a gift but until someone else sees it, and asks you to use it, it never finds a useful place in the world.

      1. I’ve had selfish purposes in all of these lunch meetings, but in every case I know the discussions were reciprocal in some way. I learned that many of my friends don’t feel a tight fit in their current work situations and are struggling with similar questions.

  2. The aspect of community is something I keep coming back to when I think of “Onlyness.” There are times when we don’t see what “that” thing is that we bring to the table. But it can be obvious to others. And “that” thing might even be really unrefined but someone else can see it and say “You have the raw material for something greater in this area. This is something you can develop.” And then, yeah, you’re still the one who has to know if that resonates (or be willing to trust at first and simply try it out – and then find out if it resonates).

    I’m still figuring out my “Onlyness” but here’s a small part: A tendency to add a very different perspective to what a project could be. It took a series of comments in a wide variety of settings for me to realize that this is part of what I bring to all my work. And now I’m working through how to “Be” that in a way that brings even more value and meaning to both my and other peoples work.

    I’m looking forward to hearing other stories and welcome feedback too!

    1. The phone call we get, the meeting we get asked to attend, the person who says “I need your advice on this”… these are ways that others are calling on you to use your onlyness. Keep naming it, Joel, maybe use a white board or something to track it. Because this clarity is how you get to live from it. Not that it’s stuck in stone or something but sometimes we go back to being “blind” and taking for granted the thing ONLY you can bring.

  3. Nilofer,
    I agree and endorse the comments by and @joeltimothy: I am finding my Onlyness only because of my community.

    In fact, without listening to my community I don’t know I would have ever figured it out.

    What solved it for me was repeatedly hearing people say things like
    “you are the ONLY person I will talk to about…”,
    “yours is the ONLY opinion I trust when it comes to….”,
    “when this happened you were the ONLY person I could think to call”.

    As you have succinctly articulated, there is a hole in the universe in the shape of each of us. And only I can properly fill that hole shaped like me. But it turns out I have a massive blindspot preventing me from seeing my own uniqueness, preventing me from seeing how I can fill the hole. But once I started listening to the Onlys I began to uncover, understand, and undo that blindspot.

    As I trace the arc backwards from Only to Only I can see the patterns developing. I am starting to see how others see me. They saw my Onlyness long before I did. I am eternally grateful to them for showing it to me.


  4. I have been reading Nilofer’s posts over the last few months about finding your onlyness and thinking how difficult a task that is. In this big, overcrowded world, how can there be an “only” for each of us? And then in this blog post, Nilofer writes that it is at the intersection of the things you care about. That really resonated with me and made the whole task clearer.

    Finding your “onlyness” sounds like a task of peeling away layers to get to the heart of things…a process of elimination. But perhaps your onlyness is actually also your wholeness, when you are realizing all your skills to their fullest on something that matters to you. I don’t know if that applies to everyone, but I think it may be the heart of my own onlyness.

    In the last couple of years I have launched a second career and I am bringing to it all the skills from my first career along with interests and gifts that had been on the back burner for most of my life. This is really challenging but also feels like a place of “wholeness” that may be the thing that is “only” for me.

  5. Few months back I used to wonder that what’s purpose of my life? What’s that thing where I can put my 100%? After observations and conclusions I have come to a point that I am a explorer and there is nothing more specific that attracts me. So I stopped thinking about it being more focussed towards present. Still i think its a process and will find my onlyness surely but for the time being I am enjoying and learning many things that I do.

  6. I’ve been on this onlyness journey with Nilofer for some time, and I find that it’s a continual discovery of going deeper in self exploration. Listening to other people (really listening) has resonated even more lately. Hearing what they are saying they value in me has been extremely insightful. I’ve been keeping a list and putting it with all the things that I keep going back to, all the things that hold my attention day in and day out. My onlyness continues to crystallize in my minds eye and resonates deeper as I continue to try my onlyness outfit on and see how it feels over time, changing out some items for ones that feel better, more true.

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