Last week I wrote about the pitfalls of following your passion , but this week I wanted to move in a different direction. It might seem like the complete opposite direction, actually…and it probably is. But I found it important to really take an overall view of the risk of following your passion because I think all too often it’s talked about in a way that seems a bit too rosy. It’s not always easy doing it, but it can be SO worth it! In Brene Brown’s book “The Gifts of Imperfection” she included as one of the guideposts to living wholeheartedly the need to cultivate meaningful work. In her interviews with those who were living a life they wanted, they spoke of having a calling and feeling great accomplishment from the work they chose. They felt a sense of purpose.
As I reviewed her chapter, there was one point that really stood out to me. It was where she said “squandering your gifts brings distress.” WOW! I’ve never really thought of how NOT living in our gifts and talents could have a negative impact on us. I’ve more-so thought, “wow, how great when we can use our talents and passions…but it’s ok if we can’t- that’s life.” But I never stopped to consider that not living into our gifts can lead to feelings of disconnection, resentment, shame, and disappointment.
If that’s the case, how do we step into our “life work”? I created a list of 5 ways to begin discovering what your “life work” might be…
1) Understand the difference between your work and your job
As I was listening to Wes Moore last week, he said that a job is the thing you put on your business card, but it doesn’t always match what your work is. A job is what pays the bills. That’s not to say your work cannot also do that. Frederick Buechner said, “Vocation is where your greatest joy meets the world’s greatest need.” I use vocation and work almost synonymously. Our work is what we are about…it combines how we are gifted with a need it meets. It leaves the individuals with a sense of purpose.
2) Don’t be fooled by the size of the dream
I wanted to follow up with this, because I used to think finding life work meant it head to be on the Mother-Theresa scale. Unless I was feeding the poor and hungry in Calcutta I was not living big enough. But as I move into motherhood (something I never would have thought I’d be doing when I had the Mother Theresa mindset!) I realized that even the work of motherhood is “big enough.” When I’ve talked with mothers I’ve heard the phrase, “I’m just a mother.” I’m not sure how the word “just” fits into that sentence because motherhood is a huge job. Anyway, I only use motherhood as an example to say do not diminish what makes your heart beat a little bit faster. You’re not just a volleyball coach…you’re someone who is living into where you’re gifted and also mentoring and shaping a younger generation. You’re not just an accountant, just a teacher, or just a landscaper. Get rid of the “just.”
3) Live in your lane
When exploring life work, it can be so easy to compare. But don’t! Comparisons are probably the world’s biggest joy-stealers. It will be impossible to find your life work if you’re eyes are constantly on what others are doing. You can’t do both at the same time. Settle in and see what gets you amped up. Making a mental list of what others are doing will just waste your time. The more you are happy with your decisions, the less others will need to be.
4) Look into the reality of what you choose
This one is not as fun but needs to be mentioned. The pitter-patter of your heart getting excited does not always know what kind of pay-check it will be bringing in. Understand that if you follow your gut, or your intuitive “just know” feeling that one path is right for you, that doesn’t mean it will bring about the normal idea of success. In line with this, also understand that sometimes the reality of what you choose can take time…lots of it.
5) Dig deep- no one else can give you the answer
Digging deep can be so hard. We want easy answers. One of my favorite questions I tried to answer while in my 20s was “how do some people just know?” I used to hear people say they “just knew” it was the person to marry or they “just knew” it was the right job offer. For most of my life I NEVER had an inkling of “just knowing.”…until one day I did. But it was a skill I had to develop. If this is a skill that is hard for you, see it as a growth opportunity that will pay off immensely. Because who doesn’t want to “just know” when it’s time to retire, time to move to assisted living, time to start a family? If you have an overactive brain when it comes to making decisions, this is a sign of anxiety and stress. Anxiety and stress are normal in this process. Even when you do make the decision from a gut-level, there MIGHT STILL BE INNER TURMOIL. That’s ok. That could mean many things, but not necessarily that it’s the wrong decision. It could mean that you have a few good options, and it’s hard to let go of the others so you can step into the BEST one. If you’re a perfectionist, it could be that you’re trying to make the perfect decision. Stop it, just stop. There are no perfect decisions, but there are “good enough” ones. (believe me, this is spoken from a recovering perfectionist).
If you’re looking to find your life work, understand that it’s something that could take time to discover. It takes time for multiple reasons, sometimes it’s because we might need to come to a place of acceptance of what shape it can actually take. Or, it could be that we need to figure out the finances to step in a new direction. In the next blog post I will talk about how to connect to the “gut-level” knowing I mentioned above. If this is an area you’re interested, check back in to read!