What is your life purpose?
To be wildly creative and deeply productive as a writer and editor, to be a dynamically positive role model and guiding support to my daughters, and to always cultivate the sensual, friendship-based, loving relationship I have with my partner/husband.
How are you living your purpose?
It’s a delicate balance. Living my purpose means I am always paying close attention to my gut instinct and asking myself how each action fits with my goals and vision for my life. By knowing when to say yes and when to say no, intentionally, and with gut level consideration, I can stay on course. It looks like this inside my head:
Do I want to go on an expedition to the Britannic (the Titanic’s sister ship in Kea, Greece) with my husband and write the story? Yes. (Here’s the link)
Should I stop what I’m doing, no matter how pressing, and listen to my teenager when she opens up about what happened at school today, who has a crush on who, and asks which pair of boots match this skirt? Yes.
Do I take an assignment for a 2000-word story about a movie star for scant pay and little credit? No. Instead, I will use that creative energy to focus on revising my novel, Thread, or on working on the book I’m writing with my creative partner, Woman at the End of the Land.
How did you find your purpose? What advice do you have for purpose seekers?
My mother used to tell me, “Choose your career/job carefully. You will spend most of your days doing it and it should be something you enjoy enough that you are happy getting out of bed in the morning.” My father taught me that no dream is impossible. He showed me how to break down the big vision into small, manageable goals that eventually achieve what you seek.
My decision-making always follows these philosophies. And that’s how I found my purpose. Here are some of my key life moments and lessons learned:
When starting out, I didn’t have complete clarity about what I wanted to do, but I knew a few key things, particularly that where I live is super important to me. In choosing where I wanted to live I had some rough guidelines: dramatic landscapes, tourist town, vibrant community, small and special. I wanted to live somewhere that I’d be proud to pick my friends up from the local airport. I chose place first and had confidence that I could reach my career goals from anywhere. Because I chose a ski town (Sun Valley population 5,000) high in the mountains of Idaho, finding work on my path took longer than if I had stayed in Philadelphia where I graduated with my MSW. But, little by little, job by job, from volunteer experiences to traveling for a fellowship, I made my way.
Finding my purpose involved assessing what is important to me. Satisfaction in my work, creating something meaningful, and impacting change in some way were the beacons that led to a more specific career path. I’m currently enjoying the second of two careers. The first, was as a child advocate, culminating at the national level with the organization Stand for Children. This path began with a job as a child care provider because I loved working with young children and grew into a quest to change a system that I believed wasn’t working. For over a decade, I sought every opportunity to make a change in this field and eventually got paid to work with people on policies that would make a difference.
After I adopted my two daughters, I left my career in order to pour energy into being a full-time parent. This was never my plan. I always imagined I’d keep growing in my career and balance it with motherhood. But when we brought my oldest daughter home, it became very clear that I’d already missed so much of her life—9 months of pregnancy and her first year. She had spent eleven months in a Chinese orphanage, with multiple caregivers, sleeping in different cribs each night. My youngest daughter was in foster care, and came to us deeply grieving her lost foster mother. They needed a security reset and strategic care.
At the time, we were fortunate financially for me to be able stay home with them. Once both daughters were well attached and thriving, I returned to school for a second Master’s degree in creative writing. I’d always wanted to be a writer and realized that the older I got, the less likely it was that this vocation would ever be realized. I began by taking online courses, then applied to the best low-residency MFA schools out there. I didn’t really believe my work was good enough to get in, but the answer would be a 100% NO if I didn’t at least try. Shockingly, I was accepted at one of the best programs in the country, Warren Wilson MFA Program for Writers, and the next chapter of my life began.
Yes, I was an earnest and productive student, but there were no guarantees that I would ever make enough money in a writing career to pay off my student loans. And, when you look at the sheer number of fiction writers attempting to get something published, it is very easy to be discouraged and tell yourself, no way, I cannot do that. But, you must put blinders on and stay focused. It’s important to seek ways to invest in your own education and recognize how certain opportunities (even if they are not paid at first) can help you get closer to your vision for your work and life. As my wise yoga teacher says, “You only need to master this moment right in front of you. You do not need to master your entire life at once.” And I say, you are never too old to go back to school; you are never so stuck you can’t move. If you have the will and determination, you can almost always find a way to walk your path. I believe so strongly that if you do what you love, the money will follow.
Luck and support from unexpected people and places also have played a critical role in my journey. I’ve been extraordinarily fortunate as many times in my life financial help and special opportunities have shown up in moments when I’ve least expected them and at the perfect time. It feels like the universe truly provides when you are open to it. It does not escape me that my journey is boosted by a foundation of privilege, something I am acutely aware of and grateful for. However, like talent, privilege opens the door for more choices but does not take the place of hard work and focus. Some of the wealthiest and most talented individuals squander their gifts and/or aimlessly drift. Conversely, some of the most disadvantaged people I know have soared because they’ve turned the messages of “you can’t” into “I will” and they’ve overcome their many hurdles.
Finding your life’s purpose and committing to staying on its path is something I work toward intentionally every day, but life throws curve balls that can threaten to knock you off course. Sometimes, you realize that your path is blocked and you have to make some very difficult decisions. Four years ago, I went through a divorce. It was the most difficult experience in my life (as it is for anyone). I was terrified of destroying the stability I’d worked so hard to create for my daughters. Yet, I realized that I was living a half-life and everyone in our family was suffering. I worked on my fiction alone in the basement while the girls were at school, striving to get published, win awards, and write a novel. With every success, I suffered a loss in support and encouragement. It became clear that I was at a crossroads.
It was a very dark and confusing time. But, after leaving my marriage, everything blossomed: I was offered my first real job since having children, the editor position with the magazine where I’d been a part time freelancer. I re-connected with my best guy friend from 30 years before (I still have his letters and cards from 1984) and he made a commitment to my girls, transitioning his home and work to be with us full time. We were married last year. My writing career has grown considerably into a new field (thanks to the support of my husband) of exploration and adventure. I travel to places I’d only ever dreamed of and am working on writing projects that are both exciting and compelling.
At 51, I feel vibrant and healthy at every level. My daughters are thriving. They see me as a working writer and editor, as someone interesting, someone they could actually aspire to. They now have a healthy model for a loving relationship and the house is full of laughter instead of conflict. If I had let fear of the unknown hold me back, I’d have none of this. These life transitions involved bold action and profound luck but also focused, painstaking, step by careful step work, with a big dash of DO IT thrown in.
At this point in my life, flexibility in the work place is a huge priority for me. For the three years following my divorce, I worked as an editor for SVPN, a lifestyle magazine in Sun Valley—a demanding job, but one that helped me develop a skill set that was incredibly rewarding. It was exactly what I needed at that time and I grew in leaps and bounds. As my writing gained traction out in the world, however, I wanted to increase my flexibility so I could take some key opportunities that could help further my writing career from a local to an international level.
As my skills and relationships developed, my life’s purpose expanded. I realized that if I took the risk and left the editor position, I could rebuild a wider and more influential voice while enjoying flexibility from a newly designed (and my first ever) home office to be there for my teenage daughters.
Knowing when you are stuck and moving out of that stuck place, no matter how good it may look on paper, is critical. Sometimes we are so afraid of stepping out into the unknown, but when we do, it can pay off in bigger ways than we can ever imagine. Fear is a powerful motivator, but vision and determination can vanquish it.
What resources do you recommend?
While there are numerous sites, books, and guides out there to help you determine and achieve your life’s purpose, I think the best resources are the ones that inspire you toward your specific journey. For example: You have an eye for photography, learn more, set some goals, see where it can go. You wish you could have a more flexible work-life balance? What are some opportunities in your field that can allow you to make such a transition?
Some of my favorite resources right now are books and online magazines that both inspire and continue to teach me. Here is a short list:
Maptia: Home to a World of Stories: This web platform gives an independent storytelling voice to photographers across the globe to share their adventures, exploration, and conservation efforts.
Alone With All That Could Happen: Rethinking Conventional Wisdom about the Craft of Fiction, David Jauss: This collection of craft essays is a return-to over and over when I’m stuck. Jauss talks about ways to look at fiction craft from alternate angles with contemplations on topics such as Point of View to harnessing the power of contradiction in the creative process.
The Art of… Series by Graywolf Press, from The Art of Subtext: Beyond Plot by Charles Baxter to The Art of Mystery: The Search for Questions by Maud Casey and several other long-form exploration of specific topics as it relates to storytelling. These books are tiny, pack well, and full of insight. I read them over and over again.
Sidetracked Magazine: John Summerton’s boutique adventure travel magazine is stunning in layout, inspiring with content. The attention to detail in design is a delight. Online stories are instantly accessible, but do consider a subscription. The print magazine is sublime, a collectors’ item.
Your Local Independent Bookstore, such as Iconoclast Books. I’ve been digging through the shelves of this bookstore since I first moved to Sun Valley, one of my favorite ways to spend a dreary afternoon. Independent bookstores are a treasure trove of resources. The staff typically has sections of recommended books are enthusiastic about connecting you to something that might be a fit, a book or magazine you’d never known about. Iconoclast has a sweet selection of literary journals and magazines not found in many other places. These stores struggle to stay afloat in the face of online buying, but inside your local independent bookstore, you’ll find a full experience.
Kim Frank is an award-winning storyteller, writer and editor whose work has been published in American Literary Review, Sidetracked Magazine: The Journal of Adventure, Expeditions and Exploration, Shadowgraph, DuPont Registry, Blackbird, Colorado Review, and monthly in SVPN Magazine, where she served as editor for three years. Kim is a 2014 Idaho Literature Fellow with an MFA from the Warren Wilson Program for Writers and an MSW from the University of Pennsylvania.
A 2013 UCross Artist Residency Fellow, her novel excerpt, “Our Red Thread,” was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She is currently working on a novel set in China and a book titled, Woman at the End of the Land, a collaborative project with documentary photographer and explorer, Alegra Ally.
Whether writing about an expedition to explore the HMHS Britannic, kayaking remote rivers in China, setting the speed record for an electric vehicle, or documenting the nomadic Nenets of Northwest Siberia, Kim’s eye for story and gifted prose brings exploration and adventure to light.