How Introspection Can Help You Uncover Your Overarching Theme
Photo courtesy of Nasrul Ekram.

How Introspection Can Help You Uncover Your Overarching Theme

Written by Emilie

Topics: Renaissance Business

Coming up with an overarching theme isn’t easy. It usually requires a lot of introspection, active brainstorming and often an outside perspective.

Usually your overarching theme is very close to you. It’s less about a discrete topic, and more like a personal drive or value that you hold. This means that your overarching theme will most likely be tangled up in various fears and insecurities. When something really matters to us, the idea of putting that philosophy out into the world is incredibly frightening.

I remember when I was conceptualizing the idea for Puttylike. Would people really rally around this idea that you can be a shape-shifter all your life? It’s strange to think about now, but before Puttylike existed, the idea was just a kernel in my mind. All creations start out this way.

As I gear up to start working with some new students next month, I’ve been thinking about my process for helping people figure out their overarching themes. I tend to pick and choose from the exercises I included in Renaissance Business, depending on my student’s particular issue. For example, if we’re having trouble nailing the products/services component of the business, I might ask what areas my student’s friends ask her for advice about.

If I get a sense that a student is dealing with some fear and doubt, I might ask about the times/projects that really lit her up inside in the past. The idea is to both get her feeling inspired now, since it’s much easier to brainstorm in an open state. But it also helps us structure the business in a way in which the day-to-day work brings more of these sorts of moments into her life.

If one of your “most alive” moments involved working one on one with someone, then private coaching might be a good choice. If you love performing, maybe work in a live speaking component, webinars, or group courses. If you love diving deep into a solitary art project, is there a way to sell some of that artwork through the site? The more of these different sides of yourself you can work in to the business, the more fun the day-to-day running of the business will be.

But the activities themselves can tell you something about yourself. Why do you like working one on one with someone? Is it that you like helping people gain greater freedom in their lives? What are the themes you tend to express in your artwork? How do you want your art to make people feel? Why do you enjoy mountain climbing? Is it the sense of independence or adventure? These values could all potentially evolve into overarching themes (still “unclothed” of course).

Figuring out your overarching theme is so much more than coming up with a business idea. It’s a process of self-discovery. That’s the reason it’s so difficult. It’s also what makes it immensely rewarding once you get there.

Your Turn

What are some past experiences that lit you up inside? What was it about them that felt so rewarding?

I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.


  1. Dana Sitar says:

    This is exactly what I’m working on right now; thanks for the post, Emilie! At the Solopreneur Life, Larry Keltto shared a list of introspective questions for the same purpose — they’re a great outline for discovering your “overarching theme”.

    I shared his list on my blog today, as well as how I’m finding the answers — including following Puttylike!

  2. Jenny says:

    Emilie, great advice as usual! What lights me up inside is literature, great oral storytelling, nature, fitness, homeschooling our son, my sweet dog, my husband. I also love to cook and eat Italian food. I love sewing, crafting, painting, and even writing and blogging. I like things that are handmade and homegrown. I used to get really charged up about speaking publicly in my college classes, and sometimes felt an electric current rush through me when speaking during a Quaker Meeting for worship. Meeting new people is always great fun. I love, love to roller skate and play my French Horn (but not at the same time). I’m learning how to be a hang glider pilot, but have only taken two lessons so far. If I could fly every day I would. I have a handmade business that needs a new name, although through your ideas for brainstorming, I did come up with a theme and tagline that I love. I often think that I would like to write under a different blog name that is not attached to my handmade business, which is more “me” and less “it.”

    • Emilie says:

      Jenny, your comment was a beautiful expression of your multipotentiality. I loved reading through your passions. Keep me posted on your projects!

  3. Izzy says:

    Hi Emelie,

    I agree that our themes are often hanging out with use in our day to day lives and we can be completely blind to it. A few years ago I was a in a job that made me want to punch myself in the face. Eventually, I decided I could no longer continue that line of work. Which forced me to face the ever-so daunting question “What will I do with my life?”

    The irony is that it was staring me in the face everynight. I love martial arts. I would go to work during the day and at night would go train in martial arts.

    At some point, I realized what I wanted to do: to pursue my childhood dream. I decided I would become a ninja.

    So I moved to Japan (where I live now), train in martial arts, and am trying to rewrite the rule of work and life… I’ll see how it all turns out :)

    Good Post.

  4. Julia says:

    Hi Emilie,
    What fun your site is. A few years ago, I was chatting with a fellow volunteer, in her eighties at the time, who told me she was a “professional quitter.” She said it kind of sadly. This was a woman who wore bow blouses in her job as a volunteer teaching kids in jail to meditate. She golfed at the Country Club, catered to her pipe fitter husband, gardened and cooked like a gourmet. Quitter! Baloney. She’s like me. And you. I also tried law school. I play music in a band (very old people band), teach yoga, blog, write, dabble in politics and — you get the picture. Enjoyed this post on overarching themes. Best wishes, and looking forward to visiting in the future.

  5. Annie says:

    Can I buy Renaissance Business as an ebook?

  6. Debi says:

    Oh Miss Emily, I find your website to be the missing link to insights for so many people I have known as well as people I’ve recently met. I can’t stop reading the plethora of information to be explored through testimonials. Such a beautiful open communication that I long for in everyday life. I struggle to express myself to others as I am full of curiosity about just about anything or anyone I come in contact with. I love and trust more in what is discovered by the critical thinking evoked by a paradox than conventional learning. Although, I have often found myself so consumed by the experience that I think I may have overlooked the value of money, I believe that poverty is sad while wealth created with integrity and with consideration to the common good is the truest solution to poverty. I am so excited about the potential to create a future that truly embraces diversity. Shouldn’t life be about the experience as well the lesson. I say…i know nothing yet i have learned so much. I am so blown away by this website. I’m not sure exactly where I should begin. Boy! could I use a community of thinkers to help me with ALL my projects…

  7. Alex says:

    Hello dear friends,

    I discovered you lately and I’m going through a lot of reading right now :) Happy to be here!

    I’m also struggling with discovering my main theme, however my main problem right now is, that I have a sensation of “I’ve done it all. Been here, done that”. I was employed in small and big companies. Earned very little and a lot. Traveled the world and learnt a few languages. Changed cities and countries. Left the conventional job world and went into spirituality: yoga, meditation, ayurveda. I spent 2 months in India and came back with ayurveda therapist certificate. I led workshops and meditations. I wrote and published a book, I’m writing a blog and random paid articles to alternative magazines. But there is no more enthusiasm.. Even if I do different things and can juggle them, I feel there is no point. All these things don’t leave me with a sense of fullfilment. What does? This is the point: I feel like nothing does. Even if I start something new (I started to learn to play drums), after a while the enthusiasm is gone. Has anyone had this problem?

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