How depression, anxiety, and nature helped me rediscover what matters most and gave me hope that the world can too.
Depression is on the rise. Rates were increasing in the US long before the pandemic, and after COVID hit, they tripled, with one study reporting that 27.8% of adults experienced symptoms in 2020.
I’ve struggled with depression and anxiety for almost 30 years, and the one question I’ve always had was the one nobody could consistently answer—
Why? Why do some people get depressed but not others? And why have rates been increasing globally, even before the pandemic?
Despite decades of study, answers remain elusive. Theories have emerged only to be disproven or discarded. According to Jonathan Rottenberg, Stanford PhD and Director of the Mood and Emotion Lab at USF, “No one has identified the…underlying defect in mind or brain that causes deep depression. For example, after a series of false leads, the field of genetics has backed away from approaches that hold single genes responsible for many or most depressions. A similar story could be told for neuroimaging, endocrinology, or cognitive approaches to depression: despite promising suspects, no definitive causes have been identified.”
This resonates with my own experience. Over the years, patterns in my struggle have made me question the common belief that depression and anxiety are defects or flaws. It’s not that I think the current theories are wrong, but they seem to me to be incomplete.
So a few years ago, after re-reading my childhood journals, I wrote the story of my depressionto seek answers of my own. I put into words how my depression began, how exactly it broke me, and how that breaking revealed an essential part of me I’d long forgotten.
It was an incredibly painful, incredibly difficult, incredibly healing process. Eventually, the part of me I’d forgotten helped me forge new connections with myself, other people, and the wider living (natural) world.
Which is why I have hope despite the rising tide of pain. Because in my experience, depression, anxiety, and other forms of misery have the potential to reveal to us where we’ve lost what’s most important—not just individually, but collectively as a society. And I believe that if we pay attention, they can also show us how to find it again.
A lot of people claim they can’t follow their dreams. They have a mortgage, kids, a work history they say prevents them from pursuing jobs they might actually like.
Others swear that if you let your passion lead, success will follow. That where there’s a will, there’s a way.
So which is it?
The short answer: It’s not either/or. It’s both/and.
My meditation teacher once told me there are two things she believes are critical to do in this life:
Follow your inner guidance.
I’ve been amazed how, if I listen carefully and get creative, I’ve never been forced to choose one or the other. There’s always been a way to do both.
How to Be Practical (and How Not to)
If you’re reading this, my guess is you don’t have a problem being practical. In my experience, the people who ask “Am I being impractical?” almost never are. They ask the question precisely because they value pragmatism and have a strong sense of what’s needed to navigate most any situation. What feels impractical to them isn’t usually foolish—it’s just somewhat more uncertain than their usual course of action.
So I won’t say much about how to be practical, but I will say that it’s important to remember that practicality isn’t an all-or-nothing affair.
All-or-nothing thinking is our brain’s sneaky way of convincing us to stick with the status quo. Part of us is scared of change, so it convinces us that since we can’t pursue our childhood dream of being a professional basketball player, we have no choice but to stay in our current job until we either retire or die.
But there are many other possibilities that lie between the two extremes of being the next Michael Jordan or making zero changes. We could play more basketball with friends after work. We could find a youth team to coach. We could see if there’s a job in the sports industry that makes our hearts sing. Or we could get to the root of what we love about basketball (The physical challenge? Being part of a team? Engaging or entertaining others? Representing a community? Opportunities for learning and growth?) and find other ways to bring these things into our work and lives.
It isn’t that we’re always successful and happy and nothing goes wrong. Rather, the magic is that we find what we’re looking for, even if we don’t know exactly what that is.
When we want something like a new job, usually what we really want is to feel something: joy, freedom, fulfillment, a sense of being valuable or important or impactful.
And here’s the magical part:
When we follow our inner wisdom, we often feel joyful because we’re engaging with the things we love and that make us come alive.
We feel free because we’re making active choices, saying no to what’s not essential so we can do what matters most.
We feel fulfilled because we’re doing something meaningful and important.
And we feel valuable and impactful because we’re finding ways big and small to share our greatest gifts with a world that desperately needs them.
In other words, it doesn’t matter so much where your inner guidance leads you. You don’t find what you want most in a particular job. You find it in the search, in taking one step after another, in listening for what’s calling you and saying yes to that call.
Drawing on a Bigger Picture
Balancing practicality with guidance is a learned art, and mistakes are an integral part of the process. Sometimes we’re too practical. Other times we don’t think things through. We have to lose our balance and find it again over and over to learn anything worthwhile.
But maybe that’s okay. Maybe that’s what we’re here to do in this life—to find ways to bring our immense gifts, infinite imagination, and endless creativity to a flawed and finite world.
Maybe in embracing these twin parts of ourselves—our limitedness and our limitlessness—we discover the unconditional love and acceptance that are the true heart of all our desires.
I don’t normally struggle with writer’s block, but a few weeks ago, my efforts to edit my novel hit a can’t-see-the-end-of-it, can’t-see-the-top-of-it stone wall. Words got harder and harder to find, like a river that shrank to a stream that shrank to a trickle, before drying up completely.
At first I wasn’t sure what was blocking me, but then I noticed that I was critiquing every word before I put it on the page. I was mentally scrolling through every suggestion I’d ever heard in every class I’d ever taken or every blog I’d ever read, trying to get it right, trying to make it perfect.
I had become attached (again) to the idea of being a good writer. It was killing my creativity. And yet even though I knew this, I couldn’t stop doing it.
Perfectionism is an addiction—you can know better, but that doesn’t mean you can stop.
So I took a break from working on my novel, and that’s when I found my savior, in a running chicken.
Have you ever seen a chicken run?
They aren’t graceful. Running for chickens is a kind of rushed waddle-waddle-hop, waddle-waddle-hop. They’re inefficient and awkward and goofy. They’re not going to win any races or impress any judges.
But when my chickens run, they’re usually excited (for treats), and their joy is infectious. They stretch my smile and sing to my heart. Not much makes me happier than seeing a chicken waddle-hop-run towards me.
Remembering this, I realized that it doesn’t matter if my novel is good. It can be inefficient and awkward and goofy and still make someone’s heart sing.
And poof—just like that, my block was gone.
Too often we don’t say yes to our calling because we’re afraid we won’t be good at it.
It’s not surprising. One of the biggest mistakes our culture makes is believing we have to be good to be worthy, to belong. But it isn’t true.
If you do something you love, you’ll practice it, pay attention to it, care about it. Of course you’ll get better at it.
But being good at things isn’t the point.
The point is to express your unique truth. To share the gifts that are yours to give. To spread joy by creating what you long to create.
Belonging is our birthright. We don’t belong because of anything we do. We belong because of who we already are.
So my questions to you are:
Whose imperfection makes your heart sing?
Where are you attached to an identity of being good at something?
What might be possible if you gave yourself permission to be awkward and goofy and messy—in all areas of your life?
I don’t normally publish guest posts on my blog, but Tamari Lewin recently reached out with the idea to offer a list of businesses that fit different personality types. I thought a lot of people might find it helpful. While I don’t believe tests or types can tell you what type of work is right for you(only you know that), hopefully this list will get your creative juices flowing, give you some good ideas to consider, and inspire further brainstorming.
Written by Tamari Lewin
Are you looking to earn extra money? Do you want a source of income that plays to your strengths? How about earning profit off something you enjoy?
Well, you’ve come to the perfect place. Below, I compiled a list of three ideas for extra income that fit your Enneagram type, as well as an example of someone who took this side gig and made it into their career.
Check out the suggestions below and see if any of them could work for you!
Type 1, The Reformer
Side job #1: Freelance Book Editor
Why this could work for you:
You expect perfection both from yourself and from those around you. There’s always more to improve, in your mind, and you’re happy to show others where they’re still lacking. You have a strong inner critic, an eye for detail, and set high standards for yourself. How about directing those strengths towards book editing and have customers pay you to find their mistakes?
You’re organized, great at time management, and constantly looking to improve. You’re methodical and responsible and often build systems that create order in life. You’d be great at helping people organize their lives, workspaces, and homes as a professional organizer!
You notice the often-overlooked details. You strive for excellence. You value precision. You’re analytical, structured and have strong proofreading and editing skills (see above). Create the perfect resume for your customers and help them earn the income they deserve!
You’re good at working with people. You care about people’s needs and are eager to help them. You’re creative, dedicated, and warm. You like feeling helpful and needed and are a team player. Try working as a wedding photographer!
Side job #2: Part Time Kindergarten Teacher Assistant
Why this could work for you:
You’re warm, giving, supportive, loving, and friendly. You’re attentive to the needs of those around you. You appreciate building relationships and getting to better understand the people around you. What do you think of connecting with children and helping to shape their future as a teacher assistant?
You’re artistic, have excellent communication skills and are attuned to the needs of those around you. You’re friendly, caring and a good listener. Become a makeup artist and spend time connecting with your customers and helping them feel beautiful!
Side job #1: Social Media Manager for Small Businesses
Why this could work for you:
You’re motivated, efficient, and capable. You’re determined to succeed in your goals and are constantly working towards them. You’d be great at planning, managing and following through with a company’s social media plan!
You’re in tune with the expectations of people around you. You’re good at planning, setting goals and following through with them. You’re competitive, have a strong sense of business and work well with others. How about working in interior design?
You’re a natural performer, great at engaging others in conversation, and work well under pressure. Give yourself a chance to stand in the spotlight on your own podcast – challenge yourself to reach your audience and motivate them with your passion!
You’re creative, artistic, and unique. You’re able to visualize designs, enjoy creating them and want to stand out and be known for who you are. Display your creativity, depth and individuality in custom jewelry designs!
You’re deep and sentimental, searching for the hidden significance in life and your interactions with others. Song ideas lie in the most unlikely places and there’s no one better than you to find them. Express yourself through your music. Show others who you really are. Start songwriting!
You’re creative. You want the freedom to express yourself whenever and however you choose. You surround yourself with beautiful designs. You understand people and what they’re truly looking for. How about graphic design as a side hustle?
You’re creative, persistent and enjoy learning. You’re good at mastering skills, prefer working by yourself and have the patience to sit on problems for hours until they’re solved. Why not program a game and sell it for profit?
You’re intellectual, curious, and insightful. You often have a strong vocabulary and good grasp of grammar. You value privacy and independence and often prefer working on your own schedule with minimal interactions with customers. These traits would make you a great freelance writer!
You enjoy researching subjects and are great at applying your knowledge to problems at hand. You’re independent and logical, with good troubleshooting skills. How about improving your competency and repairing computers?
You’re organized, attuned to details, and good at following instructions. You’re loyal, hardworking, and responsible and appreciate guidance from others. What do you think of working as someone’s personal assistant?
You’re dedicated, responsible, attentive, and perceptive. You’re a strategic thinker, able to think through the outcomes for most situations and be prepared for every scenario. Put your skills to use and become a private investigator!
You’re good at planning and researching, able to break directions into clear steps and methodical in giving them over. You’re gifted at thinking through problems and can anticipate questions and answer them before they’re asked. Why not choose a skill of yours and create an online course from it?
You’re friendly, easygoing, and optimistic. You’re always on the lookout for the next experience and enjoy action, crowds, and parties. How about getting paid to come to events, joining the fun, and managing their music?
You’re spontaneous. You enjoy freedom. You thrive off new experiences, meeting people and exploring unfamiliar places. Start a travel blog and travel wherever you choose, try out new opportunities, and go on thrilling adventures!
You’re energetic. You love being the center of attention. You’re a quick thinker. You are imaginative and extroverted and enjoy creating excitement for the people around you. Why not learn magic tricks and perform them for others?
You’re decisive, confident, and resourceful. You enjoy overcoming hardships, managing people or plans and taking initiative. Dare yourself to plan perfect events, no matter the circumstances, and become an event planner!
You’re hardworking, self-confident and devoted. You revel in giving advice, making decisions, and empowering others. You’re energetic, take action, and enjoy challenges. Why not use your skills to help people succeed in entrepreneurship?
You’re enthusiastic, confident, and great at performing for audiences. You’re a natural leader. You have strong convictions, stand up for what you believe in and take pleasure in challenging others. How about becoming a motivational speaker?
You’re friendly, easygoing, and encouraging. You focus on the positive and are aware of what people around you are feeling. You appreciate calm, harmony, and music. You’re easy to be around and patient when teaching material, willing to give it over at the other person’s pace. Try teaching guitar!
You’re empathetic, accepting, and supportive. You want to build relationships, listen to those around you and give them your full attention. You make a good mediator, striving to peacefully work out disagreements, and you’re able to see multiple perspectives. How about helping others as a relationship coach?
You’re balanced, adaptable, and creative. You love being in nature and surrounding yourself with its serenity. You enjoy time spending time with yourself. You have the patience to wait for the perfect shot. Make an income selling nature photos!
Above are a variety of options that keep in mind your personality, interests, and strengths. Try out the idea that most speaks to you or use the suggestions as inspiration to brainstorm your perfect side hustle.
No matter which job you choose, you’ll learn more about yourself, your preferences, and abilities. There are no right or wrong decisions in this.
Tamari Lewin is studying for her bachelor’s in computer science. In her spare time (though she doesn’t have much, between getting to classes and finishing her assignments), she enjoys writing. She has published several articles in magazines and online.
People, norms, and longstanding systems are cracking open and breaking down right now, one after another.
Most recently, the brutal murders of multiple black men and women have underscored the fact that racism is alive and well and continuing to cause immeasurable suffering.
My heart breaks for all the people of color who fear for their lives, or the lives of loved ones, because of how society sees them (or how it really doesn’t); those whose forebears were forced to overcome hundreds of years of genocide and enslavement that has never been fully recognized or repaired, and who carry the impact of this horrific trauma inside them without recognition or support; those who start out with less, are offered less, helped less, trusted less, rewarded with less, recognized less, and made to believe they are less; in short, those who have to live in a system designed to benefit others, often at their own expense, but who are told that everyone is treated equally, or if it not, that they are the ones to blame.
So What Can I Do?
First, I want to offer an apology for all of the things I did or said, didn’t do or didn’t say, out of ignorance or inattention, that contributed to suffering.
I care deeply about equality and justice and try to align my actions with my intentions, but I make mistakes and at times have not given adequate attention to the urgency of the issue.
I recognize that many of our societal structures are based on racism, fear, an attempt to dominate and control, and a false sense of separateness. I have a genuine desire to change them, for the health and well-being of everyone, and I know that if that’s going to happen, we’re all going to have to get involved and do our part.
But how do I know what’s mine to do? And how do I do it without becoming overwhelmed, giving in to despair, or burning out?
Here’s what I’ve learned from my years of dealing with depression and anxiety, along with nearly a decade of helping clients stay engaged in a process that can feel paralyzing:
1. Find Your Smallest Meaningful Action.
My own inaction has often come because what I wanted—ending racism or transforming society—felt so big and intractable, so complicated and entrenched, that I got overwhelmed.
I either believed I didn’t know what to do or convinced myself that only a Herculean effort would be enough to make a difference.
I was wrong on both counts. As a result, there were times that instead of doing something meaningful, I didn’t do anything at all.
We’re all falling apart right now, in ways big and small.
In addition to feeling the fear and sadness caused by Coronavirus and the grief and rage of racist patterns coming to the surface, I’m watching my father struggle with Alzheimer’s and experiencing its widening ripples of pain and loss.
As a result, I—like everyone else—am stretched thin at the moment. It’s easy to get overwhelmed, to give up.
If we want to stay engaged, we need to ignore all the things we think we should be doing and find the smallest meaningful action we feel called to take that gives us something to build on. Then we do it again and again.
It also means addressing the topic directly and publicly in this post, knowing that it will be imperfect. It means looking for antiracist organizations to contribute to. And it means committing to taking action for the long haul, and going at a pace that allows me to do that.
2. Feel Everything.
One way of looking at emotions is as the way in which the world transforms us.
It’s easy, when we’re overwhelmed or overloaded, to push off difficult emotions, like those triggered by the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, or the thousands (millions?) of stories of racism that are emerging in their wake.
I should know. I spent years avoiding so many of my emotions that I began having panic attacks. Even now, when I feel much more easily, I can resist difficult feelings for days or even weeks at a time.
But these days, feeling our emotions isn’t just important; it’s revolutionary.
When we’re willing to feel deeply, to give time and space to be with the intensity, messiness, and at times excruciating pain of emotions, we’re reconnected to our big, beautiful hearts; our infinite compassion and empathy; and our inner wisdom and guidance. Emotional interference is cleared away, and the energy that was bound up in resistance, avoidance, or denial is freed. We once again hear what the world is calling for from us and have the energy to say yes to it.
In other words, we’re transformed.
I find that anger, resentment, and rage are often an invitation to find my voice, to rediscover my power to value and stay loyal to who I am as well as my unique truth, guidance, and gifts. Sadness and grief remind me that I’m connected to others and the larger web of life; they call on me treat others as the exquisite souls they are, extensions of myself no matter how different we may seem. Fear helps me see when I’m forgetting how big I really am and reminds me again of my connection to others, my inherent need to ask for help.
The world is working on all of us right now in big and unknown ways, stirring up large emotions so their energy can transform us. If we can stay open to them, be with them, and feel them, they’ll help us become the people we need to be so we can respond to pain and suffering with neverending love.
In our society, he says, racism is always raining down on us, and so we’re all getting wet. When someone points out that we’re covered in water, we can get defensive and deny it, or we can accept it and thank them for their honesty.
I love this metaphor because it removes the judgment that gets in the way of acceptance and ultimately action.
When we’re identifying with our small selves—our personalities and egos—our worthiness is always under threat. We judge everything, including ourselves, as good or bad, right or wrong. We hate to admit to any flaw, foible, or limitation because if we do something bad, we must be bad, and bad people are unacceptable, unlovable, and unworthy.
We all do it, and I’m no exception; it’s why I still get caught up in patterns of perfectionism and defensiveness.
But we aren’t our small selves. Our true nature is larger than our personality or ego and isn’t good or bad; it’s beautiful, loving, and infinite, and nothing we do can change that. When identifying with this larger self, we understand the truth that we can be flawed—in fact, as humans, we will be flawed—and still be worthy.
When we remember how big and beautiful we are by nature, we can work against our racism without working against ourselves.
We can listen to voices that are raw from pain, hard as they may be to hear.
We can let go of the need to be certain, to be blameless, to get it all right.
And we can do it all out of compassion, to care for others and, by extension, ourselves, so that we may fully express the love that we are.
You may have noticed I haven’t sent anything out for a while.
Or maybe, like me, you got a bit overwhelmed by all the COVID-19 updates, and one less email was a welcome reprieve.
Either way, I hope you and your loved ones are healthy and well, and finding some gifts along with the rest.
In that spirit, I wanted to share what’s helping me right now in case it might support you too.
As COVID-19 began to spread, the world locked down, and people became more isolated and upset, emails piled up in my inbox offering virtual support groups, meditation sessions, pay-what-you-can sales, and more. I felt like I should do something too, but none of my ideas felt right, and all I really wanted to do was support my clients, do what I could for my elderly family members, and—in what time I had left—work on my novel.
I’m deep in the editing process, inspired by an advanced writing class I took, and filled with ideas for changes I want to make. The work is painstakingly slow, but it’s also fun, creative, and deeply satisfying.
I wanted to edit my novel every moment I could, but thought I should be creating an offering like all the other business owners I saw around me. I felt anxious and guilty, as it seemed a little irresponsible, if not selfish, not to.
Until I decided to follow my own advice.
When a client feels energized and excited to create something, I always encourage them to do it. Nothing calls us by accident, and I’ve seen over and over how, in the words of Rumi, following the strange pull of what we really love never leads us astray. In fact, in my experience, saying yes to what’s calling us is really the only way to unlock joy, purpose, and the greatest gifts we have to offer the world.
I plan on publishing my novel, but I have no idea if I’ll do so traditionally or through self-publishing. I don’t know how it will sell or how many people will read it. I’m wildly uncertain if writing will ever make me much money or if I’ll ever write a bestseller.
What I do know is that writing makes me come alive, allows me to create my vision in the world, and right now, with a few exceptions, is all I want to do.
Joseph Campbell wrote that saying no to the call is a standard part of the hero’s journey. It’s certainly familiar to me. The thing we don’t talk about much when it comes to finding passion and purpose or doing what you love is this:
You have to say yes to the call before you know exactly what it is. Only by saying yes will the calling become clear.
So that’s what’s helping me most right now: Saying yes to my desire, my purpose, what connects me to my deepest self and the beauty of the world around me, and trusting that good will come of it.
My questions for you are:
What are you inspired, energized, excited, or longing to do?**
What’s calling you, in a hesitant, hard-to-hear whisper or an ear-piercing, undeniable scream?
What do you tell yourself you should be doing instead?
**If inspiration, excitement, and energy feel like foreign concepts right now, if you’re feeling checked out or overwhelmed, or if you’re having a hard time focusing, then welcome to being a human during a very difficult time. You’re probably either grieving, or your nervous system is overwhelmed (often manifested as anxiety or depression). Both are natural and common responses to the disruption, uncertainty, and suffering happening in our world right now. If you’re feeling this way, my questions to you are:
What would feel good to you to do right now? What nourishes or sustains you? What reconnects you to yourself and your inherent strength?
How can you create enough safety for yourself to feel all the wild and messy emotions that are coming up for you (and all of us) right now?
How can you slow things down or be more gentle with yourself so as not to overload your system?
What do you tell yourself you should be doing instead?
I’d love to hear your responses in the comments below. I’ll read and respond to any you want to share.
I love helping people find their path through uncertainty, whether they’re wanting—or needing—to make a career change, struggling to adjust to a new reality, or dealing with larger-than-usual amounts of fear, anxiety, and overwhelm. This is a unique time, and we’re all in the process of learning how best to respond, so if you let me know what you want and need, we can work together to design a coaching engagement just for you.
Most of the people I’ve worked with have been at a crossroads: they can’t or don’t want to do what they did before, but they’re not yet sure where to go next or how to get there.
The world is now at a similar crossroads.
My hope is that we’ll collectively find the courage to use this disruption to choose a better path by listening for what’s calling us, clarifying what matters most, and bringing more of ourselves—our joy, creativity, compassion, and loving kindness—to all that we do.
I was walking through the winter
woods in Colorado
last year when I realized that every creature in the forest plays an important
Plants take up nutrients from sunlight and soil and
transform them into flowers, seeds, and leaves that nourish insects and birds.
Insects and birds, in turn, feed larger animals who make their own
contributions, helping to maintain balance, creating carbon dioxide for the
flora, and eventually returning their bodies to the earth so that plants can
make the nutrients available once again. Even rocks play a part, providing
shelter and eventually wearing down into mineral-rich dirt that gives plants a
place to grow.
Each creature fulfills its purpose naturally, without
trying, just by being who it is and doing what it’s designed to do. They don’t
have to strive, self-improve, or set New Year’s resolutions to play their role.
The squirrel may not be intending to safeguard the future of
the forest when he buries an acorn and forgets to dig it up, but he
nevertheless does. Similarly, the bee may not know that all life depends on
her, but she still ensures the reproduction of plants when she gathers her
It occurred to me that humans are designed to do the same
We come into this world with bodies wired to serve a purpose just by being
who we are.
But we learn at a young age to analyze and doubt, to ignore
and deny, to strive and override. And then we forget.
Humans, after all, in our ongoing quest for control and
predictability, have largely removed ourselves from natural cycles.
We’ve created our own ecosystems that either exclude other
species or attempt to bend them to our will. Though we’ve gained a lot from our
efforts, we’ve lost far more, including the intrinsic, effortless purpose that
comes from playing our native role in the natural world.
As a result, most of us wander through our lives unable to
see what function we serve, but like everything else on this planet, we’re
wired to serve one.
This missing sense of purpose is like a phantom limb that causes us
excruciating, if unacknowledged pain.
After talking with hundreds of diverse people who long to
find more meaning in their lives, I’ve come to believe that this collective
estrangement and thirst for belonging affect just about everyone, though not
everyone has the luxury to feel it, and some are more sensitive to it than
I find it reassuring to understand why I’ve always felt a longing, a lack of belonging, and a deep grief at not knowing how to take my place in the family of things (to quote Mary Oliver).
And I’ve found that alongside the
ever-present grief, there’s always something else: A knowing. A quickening. A
Because though we can and do lose touch with our wild purpose, it’s always
there, under the surface, trying to get our attention.
Sometimes it speaks to us through a
vague longing and loneliness. Other times it calls to us with a lack of energy
and motivation, a growing dissatisfaction or unease, or an inability to
continue pushing on as before. It can even appear as physical ailments, anxiety
and depression, or other “disorders.”
We rediscover our wild purpose by
learning to inhabit and listen to our bodies once again; by following our
instincts; and by reconnecting to ourselves, other people, and the natural
There’s a pull in all of us, quiet
but persistent, and when we put our fears and egoic concerns aside long enough
to follow it, we rediscover our role in the ecosystem of life.
We don’t have to do anything to
fulfill our natural purpose; we simply need to relax enough for it to emerge on
its own, becoming more of who we already are over time.
The wilds are calling all of us home. The question is: will we listen?
Questions to work with:
What’s wild that wants to move in me?
What makes me feel more connected to myself, to other people, and to the wider living world? How can I deepen these connections?
What am I already contributing to other beings that comes so naturally that it doesn’t even seem like a gift to me?
What are my heart, body, and instincts moving me towards or away from?
What ideas am I rejecting because they seem scary, uncertain, impractical, or illogical?
I’m still not totally sure why, but
I’ve been struggling recently.
Not externally, with how things are
going for me right now, which is actually amazingly well given what’s going on
in the world.
Rather, I’ve been struggling
internally, with strong waves of emotions that at one point got so intense that
I wondered if I was getting depressed again. Depression is rare for me these
days, but it does happen, and though it isn’t enjoyable, I’ve also learned that
it isn’t the end of the world.
As I sat with my emotions, however, it occurred to me that what felt like depression was really just me panicking over feeling such strong sadness and longing and grief without knowing why. And then, like a falling leaf that lands inexplicably in your hand, the thought arrived: I don’t have to.
As in, I don’t have to panic; I can just feel.
So I did, and the wave washed over me, and after some tears I felt calmer and clearer, though no more insightful than before.
Then, a few days later I went on a walk with my aunt.
She reminded me that sometimes we feel emotions most intensely when we’re breaking through to something new.
What she said reminded me of a video
I’d seen of a cicada emerging from its shell. It’s something I’d never thought
much about: the fact that these large, flying insects in the treetops that seem
so confident in their noisy song all begin as mute, wingless nymphs that spend
their time hiding underground.
In the video I saw that documents
one such transformation, the cicada has an intense look of concentration on its
face, as if it’s using all of its focus and effort to bring its body out of the
old form and into the new.
The cicada looks bewildered as well,
like it’s not quite sure what’s going on, and when it finally emerges
completely, it appears to be clutching the shell from which it emerged for dear
I’ve seen cicadas in the morning
after emerging from their shells at night, and they’re motionless and nearly
helpless for a time, perhaps because they’re still working to integrate the
incredible transformation they’ve just been through.
I find it all strangely reassuring,
with a few important insights to offer:
1. Growth is hard. For everyone.
Transformation is scary,
bewildering, and disorienting. It doesn’t help that we don’t often get to
choose when it happens.
2. We’re not left alone in our struggle.
We can be sure that in any given moment, there are millions
of other beings out there who are also working hard to expand or emerge
3. We’re built for it.
We often forget this last one,
believing that we’re supposed to be succeeding, achieving, or enjoying instead.
But the one thing that every living thing on this planet has in common is growth.
We’re designed for it, so we can trust that no matter how awkward, messy, or
overwhelming the process is, we can handle it.
I still don’t know where my
expansion is headed. But I do know from previous experience that if I can stay
with the discomfort long enough, new worlds will open up.
Speaking of change…
If you’d like help on your own journey, I offer individual and small group coaching. Find out more here.
For most of us, the idea that there’s one career out there
that we’re meant to do is a shaky proposition at best.
In many ways we’re right to be skeptical. I’ve already addressed some of the biggest myths about finding your calling, but it bears repeating that your calling isn’t necessarily just one thing; it can take many forms and change over time; and it certainly isn’t going to make all your problems go away.
Still, I do believe that, as Rumi eloquently put it,
“everyone has been made for some particular work, and the desire for that work
has been put in every heart.”
Many of us doubt this seemingly too-good-to-be-true promise because
we think that if we’re meant to do some type of work, it should be obvious by
now. But that’s not the way the world works, especially these days.
In a culture that encourages us to disconnect from who we are and what we most deeply want, the work that calls us isn’t written across the sky. Instead, it shows itself in scattered bits and pieces that require interpretation and are easy to miss if you aren’t looking for them.
To help you know where to look, here’s a list of twelve
forms these clues can take:
You loved to do it as a child.
For many of us, our calling expressed itself much more
naturally when we were kids. Still, that doesn’t mean that it’s easy to
recognize: I loved to write stories when I was young, but it still took me
almost twenty years to realize that writing was a part of my calling (to find
out why, see #11 below).
In addition, you might need to interpret your childhood
joys. For example, if you liked to explore the woods behind your house, get
curious about what exactly it was that you loved: Discovering new paths? Being
in nature? Learning about the wider world? Moving your body? Experiencing
beauty? Making up stories about what you saw? Sharing your discoveries with
What matters isn’t so much what you did, but what about it
touched your heart and soul, your sense of possibility, or your experience of who
You feel energized after doing it.
This one is more straightforward: Which activities leave you
feeling more energized than when you started? What can you do for a long time
without getting tired?
If you’re not sure,
keep an energy journal for a few weeks, pay attention to your body as you do
various activities in and outside of work, and note how each impacts your
energy—both its quality and its quantity.
It brings you joy.
This is another intuitive one, but a lot of people can’t
find their calling because nothing they’re doing makes them feel joyful. If
this is your situation, you can try two things: first, engage in some new
activities, and secondly, expand your definition of what joy is.
For some people, joy feels like happiness. For others, it’s
more like love, fulfillment, excitement, strength, relaxation, ease, energy, or
freedom. Similarly, while joy can be intense, it isn’t always, and especially
in the beginning stages it more often shows up as a vague and only slightly
more positive, promising, or expansive emotion than what you were feeling
Follow your ambiguous feeling
of somewhat improved well being doesn’t sound as romantic as follow your bliss, but it’s practically
the same thing.
You want to learn about it.
When my husband tries to explain to me how a machine he
built works, my eyes glaze over and I have no idea what he’s talking about. But
when I’m reading about human growth and development, the words enter my brain
quickly and easily make sense.
You aren’t born already skillful at your calling, or being
an expert in it, but if it’s not easy to learn, it’s at least enjoyable.
It makes you lose track of time.
This one is pretty self explanatory as well, though it’s
important to know the difference between flow and compulsion.
Flow, your true calling clue, is “the mental state of
operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a
feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of
the activity” (according to Wikipedia). Compulsion is the somewhat addictive
territory we all sometimes find ourselves in when seeking endless approval,
dopamine hits, or distraction on social media, video games, or television.
The difference isn’t what you’re doing but how engaged you
feel while doing it—in other words, whether you’re checked in or checked out
when you lose track of time.
6. You’re excited to talk to others about it.
You know how sometimes when you meet someone the
conversation is halting and awkward as you try to find common ground or else
feign interest in the weather? And other times, when you realize that you share
a hobby or interest, time flies by as the conversation seems to propel itself
forward of its own accord without any effort from you?
This may be obvious, but in case it’s not: Whatever you find
yourself talking about in the second scenario is very likely a key part of your
It’s how you make sense of the world.
My mother always said that as a kid, if I could just name
what was going on and find an image to describe it, I could make peace with it.
Like the time when I was five and my mother and I kept getting into big fights
and power struggles. One day I informed her that the problem was that I felt
like I ought to be king, and she ought to be my servant. Apparently I felt much
better after that, having put my feelings into words, though I’m not sure that my
mother shared my relief.
Words and metaphors are my cup of tea. My husband, however,
prefers to see how things work directly in order to figure them out. He
observes people’s actions when he wants to understand them, and when he needs
to learn how to do something, videos are his go-to form of instruction.
You can learn a lot from how you most easily perceive,
process, and make sense of information. For example, which senses (sight,
sound, taste, touch, or smell) are you most attuned to? Are you more literal or
symbolic? Linear or associative? Do you think in words, sounds, images,
feelings, sensations, or something else?
Like the other clues, none of these are likely to point you
towards any one job, but taken together, they can help you find a direction.
Others associate it with you.
It took me a long time to realize that nature is a big part
of my calling. Interestingly, others seemed to figure this out long before I
did. For years people commented on my love of animals or gave me paintings,
sculptures, and knick knacks depicting them. What was clearly obvious to them
didn’t become apparent to me until some time later, however, when I realized
that of the many things I care about, animals and nature are perhaps closest to
You’re jealous of others who do it.
I was listening recently to the podcast The Hilarious World of Depression and heard several comedians say
that before they began doing comedy, they would watch stand-up and either feel
jealous of the people on stage or else critique them harshly, thinking, “I can do that.” This often happened years before they began doing stand-up
Most of us have our own version of this, and we can learn a
lot from it. Jealousy isn’t so good at illuminating the truth about others, but
it can point us towards our own unacknowledged longings quite effectively.
You talk yourself out of it.
When I was twelve, I wrote a novel out of pure love. Yet for
the next twenty years, I somehow convinced myself that I wasn’t really a
Similarly, when I was twenty-five, a mental, emotional, and spiritual breakdown made me pay more attention to my thoughts and feelings, identify my patterns, and—with lots of help—find ways to change them for the better. I realized pretty early on that I enjoyed and had a knack for this type of work, and yet I told myself that I wouldn’t want to earn a living doing it because helping people heal would carry with it too much pressure.
Why would I go to such lengths to avoid doing more of the
things that brought me joy? In short, because I was scared; because I wanted it
so much, and because it really mattered to me, it felt like there was more to
lose. As Stephen Pressfield says, “The more scared we are of a work or calling,
the more sure we can be that we have to do it.”
If you’re like me, you won’t recognize the fear directly,
but if you find yourself talking yourself out of something, there’s a good
chance it’s because you’re scared, and that means…
You can be sure that
you have to do it.
It keeps popping up.
I don’t believe that we only get one chance to do the work that we’re here to do (which is lucky, given that we just saw how tenaciously many of us resist it).
I first found evidence to support this belief when I met a
woman who was worried that she’d make the wrong choice and miss her dream job
altogether. The idea actually made me laugh, because even if she’d let go of
her calling, it had clearly never let go of her.
This woman loved animals and photography and had thought
about becoming a pet photographer when she was in her twenties. Deciding that
was too impractical, she opted instead to get a graduate degree and landed a
job at a local university. Ten years later, however, she was surprised to find
that she had very little free time because her friends had seen some photos she
took of her dogs and were overwhelming her with requests to take pictures of
their own pets. In other words, despite her best efforts, she’d come full
circle back to her calling.
Since then, I’ve had many other clients who have had the
same idea arise again and again in various forms over the years, but they were
never quite sure that it was right for them. So they went through the coaching
process, taking the time to identify their power, passion, and purpose,
brainstorm possibilities, and explore different options, only to land on the very
same idea that kept popping up previously.
If you’re too stubborn to recognize an idea that’s calling
you, don’t be surprised if it grabs hold of you and refuses to let go, usually
by finding a way to get your attention over and over until you finally see that
you need it as much as it needs you.
It feels worthwhile regardless of the outcome.
There are many good reasons to care about outcomes: our need
to provide food, shelter, and clothing for ourselves or our families, for
example; our legitimate longing to be recognized for our talents; or our desire
to have a powerful positive impact on the world.
But there are other, equally compelling reasons to do things
simply because we want to, regardless of how they turn out: namely, because we
won’t experience joy, freedom, or a sense of belonging if we don’t.
Here’s what I mean:
I choose to have chickens regardless of how many eggs they lay (which is not as many as you might think, by the way) because I love the little brats so much;
I help others reconnect to themselves and hear their wisest inner guidance regardless of how much money I make doing it because it feels natural; and
I commit to writing stories regardless of whether or not lots of people like hem, or even read them, because it brings me so much joy.
Do I hope that someday I write a bestseller, make tons of
money coaching, or have chickens who don’t stop laying eggs every time the
temperature, their mood, and the planets and stars aren’t perfectly aligned? Of
course I do.
Will the form these activities take shift based on the
practical realities of my life? You bet.
But will I stop doing these things just because the outcomes
aren’t guaranteed? Not a chance.
I hope that you too can find something that’s worth doing no matter how it turns out. Even better, I hope that you give yourself permission to actually do it.