How Mindfulness Can Help You Discover What You Want to Do in Life

Let Go

“Nothing is a waste of time if you use the experience wisely.” ~Rodin

When I was in college, I knew what to do and everything clicked along.

But as graduation approached, I got nervous.

I’d always assumed that some “good job” would turn up when I got out of school. But now it was in my face that I had no idea where I was going.

I took a career workshop where we figured out our favorite interests and best skills. What the class didn’t provide was any follow-up to help me actually find the dream job.

I didn’t know how to ask for help in putting these ideas into practice. Or even who to ask.

I floundered.

For the next three years I drifted through a series of little jobs. The bills got paid with some money I inherited from my father, but this cushion was getting thin.

And I still didn’t know how to get a decent job.

At some point I heard that people were always looking for reliable house cleaners. “I may not be able to do much,” I thought, “but at least I can clean a house.”

So I started a housecleaning business.

There were a number of great things about this job. The money was good. The part-time hours were good. I was my own boss. But I hated the work.

So I decided quite randomly that a career in professional sales was the thing to pursue. Never mind that it held no interest for me. It seemed that I’d be good at it.

The search for a job that would crown me the Sales Queen was encouraging. It looked like a decent job would come along before too long.

But boy, was I impatient. Not only did I hate cleaning houses; I felt it was beneath me. Here I was, an honors graduate from a highly respected university, cleaning houses.

One night I was complaining about this to an older and wiser friend.

“Jacki,” she said, “you’re in an ideal situation. You can do this as long as you have to and you’re supporting yourself. Why don’t you use this as an opportunity to meditate?”

I didn’t know what meditation was all about but found the idea interesting.

She explained that when dusting, I could focus on the feeling of the cloth against the wood. When scrubbing the bathtub, I could pay attention to pushing hard against the soap scum.

This was intriguing. I was sold.

The next day, while washing acoustic ceiling tiles, I focused on the smell of Lysol, the scratchy surface of the tiles, how my gloved hands felt in the hot water.

While scouring the kitchen sink, I felt the grittiness of Ajax against a smooth surface.

That day changed my life.

Cleaning with mindfulness began to help me grow. I stopped being so angry. I began to understand what it means to let go and see the wonder of my circumstances.

On a beautiful spring day several weeks later I interviewed for a professional sales job. The discussion went well and it looked like they would probably offer me the job.

As I walked to my car I knew that I couldn’t take it.

I didn’t want to do sales.

What I really wanted was to help people grow and find greater meaning in their difficulties and challenges and uncertainties.

For a long time I’d thought about this but felt I had too many issues of my own to be of use in this way. But now I was a different person. Or, I should say, more of the real me.

The era of Zen Housecleaning came to a natural end when I started classes to become a bilingual vocational teacher that fall.

It led to meaningful work in the federal prison system, which led to becoming a social worker and now to helping people get good jobs.

Each of us has incredible internal wisdom. Our lives might seem to be going nowhere, but a trustworthy process is at work within.

How can you touch this process and let it guide you?

Right now, stop and feel your breath coming into and out of your body. This will ground you in the present, which is far more real than thoughts about the past or the future.

In this very moment, when you free yourself from distractions, you can hear your heart. Is it telling you to let go of anger or fear or sadness?

When you release feelings and attitudes you don’t need, you begin to find out what you really want. It just happens. You don’t have to try so hard.

Whatever you do can become your meditation. Just give kind attention to the task at hand. It will lead you where your heart wants to go.

Photo by thephotographymuse

About Jacki Dilley

Career and life coach Jacki Dilley loves talking with people about their jobs. Visit her blog and say "hi!" and talk with her about career transition and personal development. You can also chat with her on Twitter @ThinkIntuition.

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  • Thich Nhat Hanh’s book on Mindfulness is something I cherish very dearly because I use its techniques daily. Finding your breath is amazing because it just lets you control everything that is going on in your head. You don’t ever need to hold on to anything because your breath is the one thing that will always be with you. It can be used everywhere and during anything. Thank you, Jacki.

  • Jacki, I love your point that anything can become a meditation once we pay “kind attention”. Your post reminds me that I don’t have to wait for any special time for this to happen – that now is a perfectly good time to do so! Thanks for this post!

  • TB at

    Weird timing. I have this friend who got his phd in some crazy science and has ended up in a ‘regular’ job. He said he feels disappointed and like it’s beneath him…it’s funny that this post talked about that exact thing! I try to tell him that you get your phd so that you can do what you want with yoru life, any old job you want, the phd shoudl open the door to. So if it’s a ‘regular’ job or something high falootin’, which ever, the phd lets you do whatever. he still has a hard time thinking certain jobs beneath him though.

  • Inner Eye good site helps to research and understand the Holistic Science- Inner Science at depth.

  • Kristi –

    Great post! Acceptance and gratitude open the gates of new opportunities. Not sure how, but they just work. Something happens once we let go of anger, and accept everything in our life. Breath is the key to stay in now.

  • Razwana

    This is a really great message, Jacki. Practicing mindfulness is very difficult for me – the skill is like a muscle that needs constant exercise, and I must remind myself to exercise it regularly! Your post has worked as a reminder – thank you!

    Is meditating something you encourage your clients to do to find what they want in their career?

    – Razwana

  • Jacki Dilley

    Thanks, Kristi. Replacing anger with gratitude really does lead to better things, doesn’t it?

  • Jacki Dilley

    Hi Razwana,

    I’m so glad this post was helpful to you.

    Regularly practicing mindfulness is a challenge for everyone. That’s certainly true for me even though it’s so useful.

    I definitely encourage my clients to meditate. Finding our career path is so much easier when we can quiet our minds and listen deeply to our wisdom.

  • Jacki Dilley

    I feel for your friend, TB. Thinking a job is beneath us just traps us in feeling that there’s something wrong with us.

    I hope your friend will be able to learn the important lessons that his job has to teach him. He developed great skills in his PhD program that can open doors no matter what kind of work he does.

  • Jacki Dilley

    Thanks, Hanna. When I remember that everything I do can connect me with wisdom, I never waste my time.

  • Jacki Dilley

    Hi Vincent,

    Thich Nhat Hanh’s book is great, isn’t it? He shares such great techniques, and I’m glad you find them helpful.

    Something as simple as our breath is so powerful for grounding us. When my thoughts are racing and I remember to spend some time with my breath, peace comes.

  • eleri morales

    Hi Jacki, I feel very identify with your post, I have been practicing this a lot when I help my wife to prepare daily meal, when I clean the front of my house, I concentrate in every movements of my arms, pick up garbage, etc. It is no easy, because, thougts appears, but I come back to concentrate in my actions.

  • MsJean

    “You don’t have to try to so hard.” That statement alone helps more than you know. I’ve always done what others have expected of me and now I’m trying to figure out what I want to do with my own life and I feel like I’m floundering… But after reading your article I think I may be trying too hard, I’m trying to force it instead of relaxing. Beginning today I’m going start practicing mindfulness. Thank you.

  • Jacki Dilley

    Hi Ms. Jean,

    I’m glad this was helpful and the light bulb went on about trying too hard.

    I know what you mean — I think a lot of us try to force things. That’s one of the places where my mindfulness practice helps me the most — letting me see when I’m pressuring myself. And that it’s ok to let go.

  • Jacki Dilley

    Hi Eleri,

    You have it! It’s much easier for some of us to practice mindfulness while we’re moving. It can get us out of our heads and into our bodies.

    It’s the decision to come back to our mindful focus, over and over, that is the key to meditation. Thanks for sharing about how you meditate.

  • Jeff Noble

    I know exactly what I am supposed to be doing, but I am not. My life was meant to be spent with canines. I am a certified trainer and I have tried several times to get a training business off the ground to no avail. The people I worked with don’t follow thru and don’t want to pay the cost. Suggestions?