“Sometimes the wrong choices bring us to the right places” ~ Unknown
I’ve never dreamed of owning a mansion or acres of land. I’ve never dreamed of meeting Mr. or Ms. Right. I’ve never dreamed of glory on a sports field or stage, and I’ve never dreamed of being a billionaire or “Chief” of a company.
But I have dreamed of one thing—finding and living out my “calling.”
I’ve dreamed of coming across a cause, art, subject, or professional field that stuns me in my tracks and induces an epiphany: this is the work I want to live and breathe, the destined object of my monomania.
Upon graduating from college, I landed a job in human capital (HC) consulting, a field that piqued my interest more than others. There wasn’t an unbridled passion, but I figured myself as one of those who had to make an effort to be passionate.
And so I put in my best: I always said yes to projects and took on more work even when night after night, I was the lone keyboard typing in the office.
Though I liked my commitment in the office, I rarely thought of my field in my personal time; this bothered me, because it meant my work hadn’t become my passion.
If it were true passion, my thoughts at work and away would be intertwined, and my thirst for the field would span office hours.
I reasoned this was because the field was different than I’d expected it to be, based on what I’d read.
However, when an email sent to our national pool of associates and analysts requested staffing on a large-scale strategy initiative, my heart skipped a beat. When I was selected as one of two analysts, I was ecstatic.
Here was finally a chance for me to live and breathe my work, to be in constant productive movement. This project had a steeper learning curve than any, and being on client site removed non-work distractions.
I was excited that this would show me my passion. And it did. But not in the way I expected.
For the next six months, I flew out every Sunday cross country to the client site and returned Friday. The scale of the project, aggressive deadlines, and the project manager’s haphazard work style compounded the intensity and stress. Sleep became a luxury, and all-nighters were at least weekly occurrences.
As months passed, I was living out my ideal of “career monomania,” but the anticipated fulfillment never materialized. While I was stimulated by the novelty and high learning curve, I found it hard to believe in the “why” of the work we were doing.
Just as on other projects I’d seen, we focused on published report numbers but I didn’t get to work on what I really wanted to know—how to identify what different people valued and how to change behavior.
When I admitted I didn’t believe in the “why,” the “what” became harder to endure.
Last minute overnight assignments made me feel resentful; insistence that I work on the car ride to the airport despite my motion sickness made me feel disregarded. I became physically exhausted and mentally de-motivated.
When I returned to my home office in the Bay, I worked to re-establish “life” in work-life balance. I reconnected with friends, finally joined a self-defense training center (Krav Maga), and set aside time often to read/write.
However, the project experience left a residual heaviness. Initially, I paid little attention to it until I broke down in my supervisor’s office one afternoon when talking about it. Truth was, I felt resentful and lost because I sacrificed my time, health, and personal life for a “fulfilling” lifestyle that proved otherwise.
I had to admit my mistake—that I mistook a job for a purpose.
You see, during college, when searching for my “calling” proved too ambiguous and elusive, I substituted it with something more mentally digestible: search for a job. Over time, I forgot that a “career should be but one tool for achieving your life’s purpose” (Clayton Christensen).
This project was a slap in the face that my quest to find my calling wasn’t finished. This scared me but also freed me.
In the next months, I delved into deep introspection. I read, quested, admitted, wrote, shared, debated, and repeated the cycle.
Slowly, it dawned on me: the topics that I could never stop thinking about, the methods I use to become my own therapist, the readings I’m most drawn to, the topics I want to write about, the conversations I most enjoy, the principles I most believe in, all could be encapsulated within one umbrella field—what I now know as positive psychology.
My attraction to positive psychology felt unforced and insuppressible. I connected to this field long before I knew how to label it, but I never gave myself permission to take it seriously.
When I read about these topics, I always felt guilt over not reading about work-related “productive” topics.
But if positive psychology was already a large part of my life, why shouldn’t I accept this and make it an even larger part?
Thus, for once, I gave myself permission to be passionate. I read the spiritual/psychological books and articles I wanted. I started my own blog about conscious living. I talked with my supervisor about my interest in projects that dealt with engagement and motivation.
Something strange began to happen: the more I accepted myself, the more authentic I became to others, and the more the world worked with me.
My relationships became deeper and more constructive; incidental conversations and incidents motivated me to pursue things I was once afraid of (e.g., publicizing my writing). The more I talked about these topics, the more I met people like me, and the more they introduced me to new contacts and resources.
Part of me wishes I were writing this post years from now. Perhaps if/when I’ve earned my graduate degree in positive psychology or conducted bold research experiments or have become a holistic HC consultant. I wish I could guide you from first-hand experience how to live your calling once you find it.
But all of this happened recently, and I can’t promise how this will culminate; but I know that I don’t want to wait for the journey’s “end” to share.
Like many others, I often restrict myself on condition—”I will be X when I reach Y.” But how many times have we reached our goals, only to realize there are infinite more beyond the horizon?
“There” is just a state of mind; there is nothing that we want to obtain that could forever satiate our wanting once we obtain it.
I don’t want to hold off daring or sharing until I reach “there.” I want to treasure and navigate “here”—this space where belief copulates with action, where fears dance with courage, where insecurities bow to passion.
I believe we each have a calling—something that deeply resonates with, motivates, and fulfills us. For a few, it is evident early on; for others, like me, it requires patience and continual searching.
But if we are honest with ourselves, if we consciously introspect, and if we dare to never stop questing, we realize that our experiences are orchestrated in perfect concert to guide us to our “Personal Legend,” as Paulo Coelho calls it, as long as we are willing to listen for the soft entrance of music.
Photo by Jozoana