“It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.” ~E.E. Cummings
For a long time, I felt disconnected from my life. I'd spent most of it on autopilot, either regretting the past or dreaming about the future.
I regretted being too afraid to read an essay at the monthly open mic near me for all those years. I thought a lot about writing without actually writing.
I dreamed about a future me, totally transformed with much better hair, eagerly writing at a sunny cafe, the words flowing through my fingers easily, flawlessly.
My approach to finding purpose in my career has been to pause, pay attention, and appreciate the journey. It's subtle, like changing the trajectory of a rocket—a small adjustment or a few shifts make an enormous difference in the end result.
My dad used to urge me to find my “calling” and offer my gifts to the world. This always intimidated me. What was my calling?
To answer such a question, you have to relax and give yourself space, even if it's just a breath. Before you decide to drop everything and make a drastic career move, pause.
Take time to explore what makes you tick. What activities motivate you and give you moments of flow? What tasks drain you? Cut through the layers of caked on assumptions like: “I can't consider taking a pay cut” or “A lateral move means I have failed.” Start your journey by stopping and letting go.
For me, I’ve always both known I loved writing and that I would obviously never be qualified enough to do it professionally.
I have been journaling since kindergarten, writing for as long as I’ve been able to. I have simultaneously been telling myself that under no circumstances should I dare to think of being an actual writer. I’m not smart enough or well-read enough or disciplined enough to make such a claim. A nice side trick, sure, but not something I could ever pursue professionally.
Once the dust settles, you can start building self-awareness. It's hard to find our purpose because we don't really know ourselves. We don't know what we genuinely like to do or why we do what we do. We never question what influences us.
We end up in a career because our parents approved of it, because we thought it would be safe or because it was easy enough.
There are many ways to develop self-awareness. Along with meditation, I recommend checking out a variety of online tools, including Imperative's Purpose Pattern. Also, consider taking a look at StrengthsFinder, The Artist's Way, The Enneagram Institute or Myers Briggs.
If you are immediately turned off at the thought of self-reflection exercises, just notice that and be curious about it. Resistance is a powerful teacher when we pay attention.
For me, I just started to notice that little naysayer voice. At first, I just heard it louder and louder. You are so not a writer. Nope, not a writer. Don’t even think that you ever could be.
Eventually, I noticed how repetitive and boring it was. You are so not a writer. Nope, not a writer. Ugh—you again?! Don’t believe everything that you think.
My friend sent me a job description for a “Communications Specialist.” I immediately laughed at her email. “I’m not qualified for that!” You are so not a writer. Nope, not a writer.
A few hours later, after recognizing this stale voice as the same one that had been annoying me for years, I applied anyway
Appreciate the journey.
Humans are much bigger than cubicle walls and far more expansive than the margins of resumes.
School, unfortunately, tends to instill a “ladder climbing” mentality—get good grades to get a good GPA to get a good job.
What were you taught a “successful” career looks like? High pay? Stability? Title? If we are constantly focused on getting enough points to get to the next level, we will miss out on everything.
I knew early on I wanted to work in the nonprofit sector as, what I assumed would be, a clear path to “make a difference” and “do good.” Of course, I immediately realized how fraught all those rosy intentions were, and how messy this business of “making things better” is.
Like me, you may still get trapped worrying about if you’re “making a difference” in an appropriately prestigious enough way. You may still get trapped longing for stability and a sense that you are important in some way.
Some research shows people are happier when they are present with their current experience, no matter what it is.
Appreciate the mental grappling you're doing, appreciate the uncertainty you feel, appreciate the questions you have. It all means you are alive and growing! Try to have compassion for those grappling with these questions too. He or she may be sitting in the cubicle next door.
For my dad, it was always critical that I figure out what gifts I had to offer the world and offer them. Your gifts do not belong to you; you have to share them with the world.
What he didn’t tell me is how much vulnerability and courage you need to actually do this. First, to acknowledge that yes, you have something unique to offer! (Terribly inconvenient.) Second, to actually offer it for people to accept or reject. (Terrifying.)
While this idea of sharing my gifts was terrifying, it has also become the central theme of my career. I’ve now worked at several nonprofits helping people do just this by volunteering their talents to give back. And what an incredible way to give back!
To me, volunteerism is one of the most underestimated resources we have. It seems quaint and suspiciously simple when, in fact, it’s revolutionary. Generosity sets things in motion. It creates a path where one wasn’t possible before. Unlike money, it doesn’t get used up—it renews itself. Magic. I guess this was what my dad was trying to tell me all along.
Finding your purpose is most likely not going to be a “lightning strikes” moment. My experience has been much more nuanced, not linear and more red-ruby-slipper-like.
Deep down, you already know what drives you; you just need to let it surface. (Hint: it might be the thing you are avoiding or too afraid to consider.) Nevertheless, the answer is waiting for you. Are you ready to find it?
Live on purpose image via Shutterstock