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A Note from Jo on Purpose

by Joanna Gaines
Published on February 10, 2020

Here you can read Jo’s thoughts from the spring issue of Magnolia Journal on how finding our purpose comes down to trusting the process along the way. The magazine hits newsstands this Friday, February 14!

Illustration by Lida Ziruffo

My first lessons in business I learned at a young age. Only then, it was the business of brake pads and tire sizes. I was in high school when my family moved to Waco so my dad could run his own tire and automotive shop, and the day I turned 16 that’s where I went to work.

Working for Dad also introduced me to what it meant to be on camera when we’d film local television commercials for the shop. Chip still loves to joke around that those local ads are where he first noticed me.

When I enrolled in college a few years later, all the fun I’d had filming those commercials led me to become interested in broadcast journalism. And by my senior year, I was fortunate enough to snag a pretty decent journalism internship in New York City.

It was my first time living away from home, so in addition to being a nervous wreck, I was realizing that the world of television news wasn’t meant for me. Most days, I’d leave my internship feeling uncertain or just plain homesick. The best part of each day became my walk home, when I’d step inside the cozy boutique shops that lined the city’s streets. Somehow, a really creative window display or the familiar scent of a lit candle could always restore a little life back to me.

When that semester ended, I can remember feeling as though I’d just wasted four years working toward a degree that was no longer of any interest to me–not to mention all the energy and money spent along the way. I returned to Waco with no plan beyond the fact that I no longer wanted to be a news reporter, so I went back to work at my dad’s tire shop, thinking that maybe I was meant to take over the business when he was ready to retire.

In that season, time moved in slow motion. I watched as friends moved on and into careers while my own life felt like a piece of luggage left behind on an airport conveyor belt, going round and round, waiting to be picked up for its grand adventure. I questioned often—aloud to friends and even more so to myself—what is the purpose of my life? Then I bided time waiting for an answer that never came.

I can see now that I had been asking the wrong question. You see, I’d staked my life’s worth on finding my future’s purpose when I could have chosen to see the meaning of where I stood then. In that season. On that day. If only life would allow us to connect the dots looking forward, we could know for sure where we end up and make our biggest decisions free of all the guesswork. But of course, that’s not the way life works. It’s only possible to connect the dots once we’re on the other side.

And today, when I look back, this is what I see.

I may have spent 10 years learning everything you’d ever need to know about the tire industry, but in the process, I got to see firsthand what it takes to run a family business. I loved learning business from my dad’s perspective. And now, all these years later, I own a shop of my own, and my dad works with us at Magnolia. Now, instead of selling of tires, Dad’s selling candles with me.

For a long time I considered my semester in New York to have been a waste. But now I can see that season more clearly for the ways it impacted the trajectory of my life. I didn’t recognize then that I was drawn to step inside those cozy storefronts for a reason.

Inside is where I could find beauty and comfort in a city that felt foreign and so far from home. And so, by the time I left New York, I had seen a glimpse of a different future, one I’d never considered and still couldn’t fully articulate. Even during those years that I went back to work for my dad, I could never forget the way I’d felt inside those special boutiques, and something in me longed to re-create that experience for others. You could call it a gut check, an inner voice, a knowingness. Much later, I realized it was purpose that I’d found in those off-the-beaten-path city shops.

For years, I discounted that season because I didn’t leave wanting to fulfill the same purpose as I had when I arrived. But if not for that experience, perhaps I never would have identified my passion for home. And even though the news side of the television industry wasn’t the right fit for me, today we are less than a year away from launching a television network of our own. And I can’t help but marvel at all the potential there must be hidden within even our best-laid plans.

I can imagine that there are thousands of stories just like mine—of plans changed, trajectories rerouted, and purposes reimagined. It can feel a little bit divine to look back and see how events in one season or circumstance connect to another and then another, well before we recognize the through line. Recently, looking at the past through this lens has prompted me to reconsider the way I see the present.

I believe each of us can choose to see the purpose in where we stand today. Whether the season you’re in feels like progress toward the future you envision or most days feel like you’re stuck in neutral, without both I think we miss something important.

Our life’s purpose is not a one-stop arrival. It is worked out along the way. The journey itself is the most essential part, because that’s where the endless choices exist that lead us to where we’re going and the story we’re going to tell with our lives.

Finding our purpose seems to come down to trusting the process of doing. If you’re trying something, anything, if you’re moving forward, my gut tells me there will be purpose to it. Because when we’re committed to something, anything, we’re creating meaning—and those experiences don’t just evaporate. They come back, sometimes full circle, and other times in bits and pieces of useful knowledge. No matter what you find yourself in today, it will be different tomorrow. Life is predictable in that way. Nothing is permanent.

We have to believe that where we were yesterday and where find ourselves today matter for who we become tomorrow. I’ve learned that when I can make that mind-set shift, the right questions follow. What is there to learn here and now? How can I make this time significant? If we can lean into that perspective, it can make all the difference between whether it feels like a season wasted or a season well spent.

There’s comfort in knowing that none of us has arrived. We’re all just figuring it out as we go. Still, if we can live more intentionally on the way, then perhaps every season can start to feel meaningful. I think that’s how we can live in such a way that our purpose doesn’t exist only in hiding, being reserved for a someday, one day life, but where there is purpose to be found in today.