Living a Life of Purpose with Jill Valentine
There are bound to be moments in your life where you think, “What is the point of all this?” You’re stuck in a rut of going through the motions, the days turn into weeks and months, and you get a little lost. Maybe you’ve moved away from the things that brought you true joy, or maybe you weren’t quite sure what they were to begin with. It can be hard to really step inside yourself and discover what your true passions are and to feel truly that your life has meaning.
My guest today, Jill Valentine believes that one of the biggest proponents to living a life of purpose is in the service of others. After returning from a transformative volunteering trip overseas many years ago, Jill was struggling to find the same sense of purpose on her own soil. Her desire to help others was so strong, but she struggled to see how she could make a difference in a land of such abundance. Over time and with conscious planning, Jill and her good friend Nicole Hrinco founded UGO Travel For Change, and has spent thousands of hours volunteering around the globe while using her skills as a life coach, to create and inspire change makers. Through the UGO programs, Jill helps individuals clarify their life purpose and gain the confidence to live it.
SOME TOPICS WE COVERED:
The post-travel slump and ways to overcome it
How volunteering abroad changes your perspective
Your friends might not understand the impact of your travels, and that’s okay
Making a difference that’s right for you
Finding your purpose and ways to live it
The little things you can do to create positive change
How your purpose and passions change over time
The three pillars of happiness: gratitude, purpose and authentic relationships
How a life coach and/or therapist can support your transformative journey
JILL: As our values even change over time we go through different stages and phases of our life. I do have a daughter, so there is definitely a piece of my life that I feel is purposeful in being a role model in being a mother. I feel maybe as I get older and I may have ailing parents, my purpose may be to be of greater service to them. It absolutely does change.
VITINA: Namaste and welcome, I'm Vitina Blumenthal and you're listening to the Soul Compass podcast. I'm here to help you find your inner calm and deepen your self-discovery journey. Take this moment and focus on yourself. For your mental health, your ability to find ease in your everyday life and your emotional well-being. It is so important that you nourish yourself not only physically but also emotionally and mentally. Here at Soul Compass, you'll learn practical tips from experts who will leave you with a sharper focus and a renewed commitment to yourself.
I'm here right now with a shining light of a being. She is a beautiful example of how you can use your gifts and passions to live a life of purpose. She has spent thousands of hours volunteering around the globe while using her skills as a life coach, to create and inspire change makers. She helps individuals clarify their life purpose and gain the confidence to live it through her UGO programs. Today we're going to pick her brain about the pillars of happiness and learn more about her wild self discovery journey. I'm delighted to welcome the lovely Jill Valentine.
Jill, thank you so much for joining us today.
JILL: Thank you so much for having me. I'm very excited.
VITINA: Jill and I met at the 2018 Dovetail Women's Summit, and she's joined me at a few of our WanderfulSoul events here in Toronto.
Both you and I share a love of transformational experiences. That's probably why we get along so well, and we all have a story about how we got into this wellness industry. I'm curious to know a little bit more about yours. I don't think I've ever actually dove into this with you. What was the moment that sparked your transformational journey to where you are today?
JILL: I'm not sure it was exactly a moment. I've had a bit of a journey and there have been some moments along the way. I worked in the non-profit world. I did a year on Bay Street and it was so not for me. Then I spent a ton of time in the non-profit world trying to do good and be good and help others, but for the entire time I was working there I never really felt purposeful. I didn't really truly feel like I was giving. Like, I worked at a ton of the big charities in Toronto and everything.
I finally came closer when I worked within the disability sport world. I went and became a recreation therapist and then I ended up working in development in the disability sport role. I then actually met a guy and we decided to spend a year living abroad and volunteering abroad. I had done it briefly before but I really wanted to do it properly this time and really have intention behind why I was doing it. We both hit it off and spent a year living in Uganda doing disability sport development.
It was honestly one of the best years of my life personally and professionally. He proposed while we were there and I organized and facilitated the first national disability sport summit in Uganda. It was just the most incredible year. Then I came home and you would think I'd be like super excited and happy. I came home and I actually was really, really depressed and really struggled because I had no idea what I was going to do now that I was back. I'd had such purpose and now I was here and I was like, "What am I going to do here? How am I going to feel that same sense of purpose?"
So I decided to get into life coaching because I'm all about helping people and all of that stuff. Through my life coaching journey, I ended up reflecting a ton through the training on my time in Uganda. What had I experienced? What was it that was so amazing? What were my values? I realized that I needed to recreate in my life here what I'd had in Uganda. It was just this meshing of coaching and that incredible experience of mine that brought me to such a place of happiness.
I was living my life now. I knew what I was going to do. I had amazing friends. I started building community because I realized that was something that I have lacked. Then I went to the Philippines to mesh a little bit more this coaching and volunteering abroad idea. I spent a month doing work in the Philippines after Typhoon Haiyan. I was there with an amazing organization meeting incredible people and a lot of them that I spoke with and coached with were struggling with the idea of, "What am I going to do when I go back home after this profound experience?" Volunteering and traveling is so profound and such an amazing experience, but so many people don't actually process it.
They come home after a trip and they're like, "I've changed but I don't know how," and so that is how first Dare To Be A Dandelion was created and then we rebranded and it's now called UGO Travel For Change. This idea of taking people abroad and using travel and service as a way to find your purpose.
VITINA: You know what I find so beautiful about what you do, and I had a similar experience to you when I went to India. I found myself, let's say if that sounds cheesy, and then I came home in such a zen state and then I found myself so anxious once I tapped back into reality. I think this often happens to people and I know even friends and meetings that I have they always say, "Oh my gosh when I'm traveling I feel so clear, I feel so aligned and I'm not scared. I know my next step, but then when I come back home the fear and anxiety kind of kicks in". What's so beautiful about what you do is that you actually offer coaching and programs along with these experiences. It's brilliant. How is it for people when they do come home from that transformational experience?
JILL: I've talked to so many people who've just come back without a program or anything and so many of them struggle. Like you said they're unsettled, they don't know how to connect with others, they feel lost, they feel alone. When people come back from our program because of what we've created and the work we've done with them, they come back as part of a community that we continue and we foster. Which helps them not feel so isolated and alone. They start reaching out to each other being like, "Oh my gosh, I'm having trouble with this and that," and they're super supportive of each other.
They come back understanding that there will be a reverse culture shock. They come back understanding they will have strangers who are like, "I don't understand why this was so meaningful. So we kind of prepare them for it. But we've also done so much self-exploration on the trip that they're excited to come home and start putting into practice what they've discovered within themselves and to start sharing it with family and friends. People coming away from our trips don't necessarily go through the same lull in life or crisis which some people that have serious profound experiences abroad come back to you.
They come back more excited about the possibilities and looking to take the next steps. Feeling really confident, really clear on what life can hold for them and how to add meaning which is what a lot of them are lacking before they come on our trip. It's a very different experience to bring those people back versus others who I've seen come back from especially volunteer abroad trips, back to a world where you're like, "This is privilege and abundance here and I just want to give away all my clothes and move away".
VITINA: I think there's a lot of pressure when you start tapping into this stuff about finding your purpose and then you've had those feelings of being stuck. I know I've been there when you have so much pressure often there's that resistance to actually get clear on what your purpose is. What would be your tips when you're guiding someone to tap into their purpose?
JILL: Don't stress. Don't overwhelm yourself. It is a journey. Things will unfold, and the more you can discover about yourself, usually we go away to discover it, but why travel is so powerful is because you get away from the noise of your life here. You go and you can become more still and truly listen to yourself, and have experiences where you can learn and have self-reflection and discovery. It's about tapping into it. Really beginning to listen to your inner voice. That little voice that's often said to somebody, "There is more to life," and people often are like, "Oh you have to find purpose".
It's almost like they want to scrap their current life and adopt a whole new lifestyle. I think my biggest thing is it doesn't have to be like that. You don't have to leave your job and go and open up an orphanage in Africa to have meaning. Maybe it's finding a local charity to volunteer at. Maybe it's just adding some philanthropy or giving into your life. Finding a charity you're passionate about and donating a percentage of what you make.
Trust me, instead of quitting a job and joining a not-for-profit, take a chunk of your pay because it's going to cut down anyways. Take a chunk of your pay and become an amazing philanthropist if it's something you're excited about. There are other ways, and I think that's a big thing when searching for purpose. It doesn't have to be huge. We have people come on our trips who are in a 9:00 to 5:00 corporate job. Again it doesn't have to be serving people, you know, getting them out of human trafficking. It may be that at your job you just need to see how you're being of service and understanding that you are being of service in the role that you play in helping your co-workers and everything like that.
It's trusting yourself. Listen. And it doesn't have to be massive. It can be small little ways. It can be purposeful because I'm a mother and I'm raising my children, and how do I intentionally raise them in a way that feels good to me? How can I do those small little daily things that infuse a sense of purpose? It's beautiful.
VITINA: I'm so happy you said that because I often get that question and I too have gone through that shift in my mindset where I thought I had to leave everything. But really it was more about my mindset within my current circumstances that often needed to shift. So I have a question for you, do you believe that your purpose changes and evolves over time?
JILL: I do. As our values even change over time we go through different stages and phases of our life. I do have a daughter, so there is definitely a piece of my life that I feel is purposeful in being a role model in being a mother. I feel maybe as I get older and I may have ailing parents, my purpose may be to be of greater service to them. It absolutely does change. Different causes that you may have been passionate about at one point in your life may shift and change as you evolve as a person. We're an ever-evolving species.
I think the idea is more that you do have a purpose. I think that's what people have to understand. We don't just stumble through life. I feel a lot of us are on autopilot just kind of getting through the day paying the bills. You probably do have a purpose and it's probably to somehow be of service. I know that I've found a calling in helping people with disabilities around the world, but again that may ebb and flow in time if I feel like I've done a lot and I've accomplished a lot in one area I may be like, "It's time to shift". I will always be passionate about it but is that my current purpose. Passion and purpose are also two things that you need to kind of have clarity around you.
VITINA: It seems that a lot of purpose involves that interpersonal relationship. It involves others, and you have a quote on your site which I love. I'm going to read it.
"The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others" - Mahatma Gandhi. It's so true. Feeling like you actually contribute to the larger picture. Any time that I've done things just for me I actually just feel guilty and like a phoney, so I love that on your website.
Oftentimes people like you said get confused with the passion and the purpose piece when someone is super busy running their own business, being a mom, figuring out their life depending on where they are in their journey. You mentioned before that relationships are so important to our happiness and they often take the back burner when we're prioritizing our purpose or our passions. What do you do in your life to keep that balance?
JILL: I've been extremely fortunate. You know there's that word convergence. Instead of having a balance where I'm running around between a number of different aspects of my life, I have found the more I can merge them, the more free time I have. I'm extremely fortunate that I love to give and be of service. I have a business, I have family, I have friends I am now working alongside. A lot of the work I do I feel like I'm being social when I run a trip. The people we bring on our trips are amazing and I feel I'm being nourished with relationships and friends and I work with one of my best friends.
I have even brought Sheila, my daughter on one of our trips, or I've meshed family and again volunteering is a part of my business. So I naturally get to do the giving within my business. I'm working with people that I love and I get nourished in that social way. I really feel like I've just meshed all my worlds.
Carol Schulte from Women Living Big partnered with us and she's one of my dear friends, to do our trip to Tanzania. On that trip, I was traveling and working with two of my closest friends and running an amazing trip for amazing women that are now my friends. I'm just blessed I have to say.
VITINA: You have an incredible life and I know that there's a lot of work that goes behind that. Do you have bad days?
JILL: I definitely do have bad days but I feel like they're not as bad as they used to be. I feel like because I've traveled maybe because I've done so much self-discovery work, I'm able to often still feel gratitude even if things are going badly. I'm able to put the positive spin on things. I'm able to say, "Hey this sucks but at least I'm not in a refugee camp right now waiting in line for a bowl of rice". I feel like I live my life in a constant state of gratitude.
There are definitely days where there are struggles and frustrations and stuff, but I feel like I have a much better perspective where I don't get drawn into the drama and the stress. I know who to reach out to, to help me get back out of it. I have a great support system. Don't get me wrong, there are definitely those days but I just feel like I have tools and people and a support system and perspective that helps me not go so dark on those days.
VITINA: Yeah I know because some people get the misconception that just because you're living in alignment with your purpose that you might not have struggles. This is why I love keeping it real and thank you so much for keeping it real.
JILL: I believe so much in just sharing and being vulnerable. I have my people that I can be really authentic with and be really vulnerable with when I am in that place. I think that is so important and we need to make sure we do have those people in our lives. That's one of the pillars of happiness.
VITINA: People are obsessed with happiness. There are so many books on happiness right now. There are companies that have appointed CHO's - Chief Happiness Officers. As a coach, what is your formula to help someone reach this goal of happiness?
JILL: It's funny because I am a believer in "happy" and people are like, "Oh let's not overdo the happiness thing". For me, it's a belief that when you are happy, people tend to give more. Happy people are peaceful people. Happy people are givers and lovers, and so the more we can create happy people in the world, the better the world is. That's our basic philosophy here.
I believe we have our three pillars: a sense of gratitude, sense of purpose and authentic, nourishing relationships. And again, there's science backing all of those. I really do feel that a life where you truly have a gratitude practice or you live in a grateful state most of the time is huge.
Then the sense of purpose - when we don't have a purpose, that's when we begin to question ourselves. That's where anxiety and things creep in because we're not clear with what are we doing. What is the point? Giving, being of service, I truly believe that is life's purpose. I actually can't imagine any other purpose for life. It's not to accumulate money unless you're going to give it away and help people. When you tap into a life of service and feel there's a purpose again, it is so fulfilling. You have meaning.
Then the relationships - studies have shown that having people in your life that you feel that you can be authentic with, that you can trust and rely on, is the ingredients for a long and happy life. I think not enough of us look at that very much into the internal journey the whole time. Who am I? Who do I have to be, to be happy? We do need to look outside because our relationships provide a huge amount of happiness in our lives.
VITINA: I want to dig a little bit deeper into that because gratitude is such a huge piece. I had someone come up to me last night at a dinner and she said to me, "I've got to be grateful for everything in my life. I know that. I ride it out, but I still feel empty inside". That's a huge statement. If someone were to come up to you and say that, what would be your advice?
JILL: For me what that sounds like is the emptiness is the purpose. You are missing a sense of meaning and a sense of purpose. That is what makes people feel empty. If you don't have people in your life, then you're empty and alone, it's an alone feeling. Gratitude doesn't fill the empty void where it lacks purpose. It makes you appreciate life. It can put you into a temporarily happy space but it will not fill the void if you're lacking purpose and meaning.
VITINA: That's a beautiful insight. Being of service, often people think that you might have to start a nonprofit or be working in nonprofit. What are other ways that people can be of service? How would you offer advice for someone who still wants to be of service but might not dive into that world?
JILL: When I say service it doesn't have to mean giving to the less fortunate. It doesn't mean I have to impact the world. It can mean I am going to do something with my life that serves others and that could be a whole array of things. It could be that you're an artist and you were going to paint beautiful things that inspire. Or a musician. It could be any of that. That's not going out and feeding orphans, but it's still serving. It is still helping people in some capacity.
Like I said before if you're working in a job that maybe you're manufacturing some tool (etc), it's understanding that you are playing a role and you're supporting and being of service to those that you work with, and this tool probably is actually needed in today's society.
It's finding that mix of passion and purpose. It still does need to lift you up if you're not lit up. I mean some people are lit up by marketing. Great. Go and do that, and if you feel like your marketing products that you feel are helping people in their lives, then you're being of service. If you feel like you're helping your team, you're being of service.
I also just believe giving is being kind. Do no harm. If you go through your day and you're not yelling at cashiers or being disrespectful to the bus driver, and you're actually being friendly, and you're just being a nice person, that is even being of service.
VITINA: Vibrationally spreading some love.
JILL: Exactly. It doesn't have to be this big, huge thing, it can just be that you're not taking. Be a giver. If you decide that you compost and you want to recycle, that's being of service. You're being of service to the world.
VITINA: Totally. Every month I try to add something else into my life to be more of service and composting has been mine for 20 19.
JILL: I've actually just recently finally got it. I didn't have space previously and I felt like I needed to make this a priority. I needed to be more conscientious about what I buy, and not buying things with crazy packaging. I give in a lot of other ways, but that hadn't yet been on my radar. And so this year I'm trying to make the more environmental give.
VITINA: Totally. It doesn't have to be a complete life transformation all at once. You don't have to drop everything. It's like slowly adding in these pieces. That's totally part of the self-discovery journey, which kind of leads me to our final question. What three pieces of wisdom would you share with someone who is embarking on a self-discovery journey? It can be something that maybe you found on your journey or something that you've discovered through your coaching.
JILL: I would actually recommend they travel. It doesn't have to be the other side of the world, but that they physically remove themselves from their every day. When we're steeped in our everyday, the everyday relationships, the everyday environment, the everyday stresses, and triggers, it's hard to search inside. It's hard to know what you're thinking versus what your boss is thinking or to really truly get into a sense of yourself. I recommend whether it's a weekend retreat up north, or if you really can pull yourself right out of our culture that is actually one of the best things I can suggest.
Pull yourself right out of the culture because you don't even realize it, but we are steeped in the material things that are around us, and the material messaging that we get. When you find yourself in some tiny village somewhere and you're not wearing lots of your clothes, and you're not living in the beautiful house and you just have your tiny little bag with a few articles of clothing, I can't tell you how freeing and shifting of perspective that can be. You're away from it all.
Again, I would also suggest trying to be of service. There is a lot of amazing things that can happen when you are of service. You can be very intentional, like when I had just become a recreational therapist I went and I did some recreation therapy stuff in Tanzania Africa, and it helped me to explore what that meant to me. What did I love about the job, what did I not like? There's a lot that you can discover about yourself when you are of service.
How does it make you feel? Who do I actually feel like serving? Does that light me up to be of service in a certain capacity? There's a lot that you can really start diving into and it allows for amazing connections.
The other thing I do believe is to hire a coach because there is only so much that you writing and journaling will do. Questions don't come up. I can be in my head, I can even journal things and write things. A friend is different because they already have their biases and their ideas of where you should go, but somebody who is an objective person that understands how to help somebody self discover, I can't tell you enough about how I believe that is a key. Having somebody help you through the process. Even with a book, it's hard. When something comes up a coach can help you dive further into that. Those would be my three things.
VITINA: That's beautiful, and oftentimes in that self-reflection and journaling you kind of beat around the bush.
JILL: Exactly. A good coach will narrow in and hold you down and kind of extract what we often are afraid of letting bubble up even unconsciously. We don't even know we're holding it down and a good coach will help with really peeling off the layers. Not just the one little layer we want them to peel off, but like tearing that onion apart and getting right into the center.
VITINA: There's still that stigma even if it's like a therapist or a coach and it's like you asking for help is a sign of weakness. But there's so much strength in that piece. So much.
JILL: I mean I think everyone should have a therapist personally. There is so much that we don't even realize influences our lives, and who we are, and how we think. Uncovering it and just bringing it to light, even being aware that your parents had an influence on who you are, and understanding the role that plays. That kind of stuff is so huge and so important. Anyone wanting to go into self-discovery, therapist/coach - they do two very different things, but somebody to help you through the journey.
VITINA: Absolutely. Speaking of journeys, Jill has tons of incredible life-changing retreats happening all the time and I'm curious Jill, what is the trip or retreat that you're most excited about that's coming up?
JILL: We are actually heading to the Philippines in the fall, and I am super excited about that. We are going to be working to help a very small community install solar panels to help them get water. They're on an electric system right now and it's super expensive. As a community, they struggle to afford it and we are going to be working with them, really helping an entire community change. We're going to be coaching around all sorts of amazing stuff.
Because we're in the Philippines, and Filipino people are known for incredible things like giving service and resilience. We're going to be tapping into some of that and I know that the journey itself in the Philippines having been there before are some of the most amazing people in the world. It's a beautiful country. I know that the transformations that are going to happen there are going to be so powerful because the community we're going to be working with is amazing. So I'm super, super excited about that.
VITINA: That sounds magical Jill. I just can't thank you enough for all the light that you put into this world. You're such a special person, so thank you so much for all of your wisdom, all of your vulnerability with us today as well.
JILL: I feel the same about you. I think you are such a light and you are doing such amazing things.
VITINA: Oh thank you so much. You've definitely inspired all of us that are listening today. I would love to know where could everyone go to connect with you?
JILL: Yes. Our company is UGO Travel For Change. We're on Instagram @ugotraveforchange and we have a UGO Change Makers group on Facebook where we post lots of awesome things, and a lot of the local stuff that we're doing as well in Toronto to help people get engaged in their own community.
VITINA: Okay, that's it for this week's episode. Remember, to stay inspired in between our episodes you can head on over to Instagram and follow us @yoursoulcompass and @wanderfulsoul. For free meditations and mindfulness guides, you can head over to wanderfulsoul.com.
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Thank you. You beautiful soul for dedicating time to your self-discovery journey. Not only are you contributing to your own mental and emotional well-being but you are contributing to a healthier, more harmonious world and raising the consciousness of our planet. You are amazing and beautiful just as you are.
Thank you for being part of our journey. And thank you for letting us become a part of yours.