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?
Take Your Place in the Family of Things
I love helping other people learn how to fulfill their wild purpose. If you’d like help, please reach out. I’ve just opened another cohort of Pathfinders Group Coaching, which is one of the most powerful programs I offer to clarify the purpose that’s calling you and take practical steps towards it. Pathfinders offers a unique combination of community, support, and individualized feedback. To find out more, fill out an application so we can set up a time to talk.
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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.
Simply accepting this reality can open up a lot of new possibilities,
and a way forward often emerges naturally if you accept it for long enough.
But what if it doesn’t? What
if you’ve let yourself off the hook for knowing what to do and waited patiently
but your path still isn’t getting any clearer? How can you find a way to
bridge the seemingly unbridgeable chasm of the unknown?
In the case of career change, the long answer is that you can work your way through a 5-step process I developed that gives you pragmatic ways to identify your superpowers, passion, and purpose; discover diverse possibilities; and explore so you know which one to choose. It’s a powerful process, but I have to be honest: there is a shortcut.
I don’t tell many people about this shortcut because most wouldn’t want to
take it even if they could.
It requires giving up control (or the illusion of control, as
my 12-step friends would correct me, and they’d be right). It also requires a
somewhat advanced familiarity with your Inner Wisdom and a trust in the world
that I know from personal experience is hard to come by.
But you can only get familiarity and trust with practice,
and the only way to practice is to make many messy attempts, so here it is, the
only question you need to ask to find your calling:
What wants to happen?
The beauty of this question is that it addresses not only what you want, which is incredibly powerful in and of itself, but also what the world needs, and therefore what’s possible and practical. (There’s another benefit as well, which I’ll get to in a minute.)
Follow through on the ideas that bring up the most positive head,
heart, and body responses or to which your Inner Wisdom says yes. Know that
these actions are valuable experiments and will help you find your way
regardless of what results.
Observe the results of your actions and then reflect: How
did that go? Which actions created energy in you and in others? Which gave you satisfying
outcomes? Which took on a momentum or life of their own?
The answers to these questions can help you identify what
wants to happen in the world—in other words where there’s a need your gifts can
meet, a problem your creativity can solve, or a way to work with reality rather
than fight against it.
Listen In Again
Ask what wants to happen again, but this time in light of
what you found in step #3. If you’re not sure, try making a list of all
possible options, then feeling into which bring up a sense of energy, ease, or
Act on those and then repeat the process.
I first tried using this question two years ago, with surprising results.
At the time, I had lots of goals and ideas about growing my
coaching business. The problem was, no matter how hard I worked or what I
tried, my business seemed to stay about the same size. In the meantime, the
stress from striving so hard and failing to meet my objectives was weighing on
me and beginning to trigger my anxiety and depression.
At some point it occurred to me that I might enjoy my life a
lot more if I got curious about how big my business wanted to be instead of
fighting an uphill battle to try to make it the size that I wanted. So I asked
the question: what wants to happen with my business? And then I listened for the
actions that felt energizing and satisfying and didn’t force myself to do the
ones that weren’t.
It was scary, I’ll admit. I worried that my business would
want to be so small that it wouldn’t generate enough income. But I’d developed
enough trust in myself and the world by that point to know that if that were
the case, I could find other ways to make money.
As it turned out, I didn’t need to, as that ended up being
my best year to date, both in terms of how I felt and the money that I made.
But there’s one more reason this question is a useful one:
By its nature, it’s an antidote
When we’re anxious, it’s usually because there’s an outcome
we want (to run a successful project, for example, or to land a particular job).
At the same time, we sense on some level that we don’t have enough control to
guarantee that this outcome occurs.
This gap between what
we want and what we have power over is what generates anxiety.
Asking what wants to happen is a way of letting go of our
death grip on the particular outcomes we desire, or more accurately, the
specific ways we think that our happiness is going to be achieved. We get to
see that a successful project, a particular job, or even a bigger business are
not the only things that can support our well-being.
In fact, with enough practice, we come to understand that
there are many ways to take care of ourselves and find what we’re looking for
in any situation, so we don’t have to hold too tightly to any one of them.
As the list of desirable
possibilities expands, the anxiety gap shrinks.
And as I said in my previous post, we don’t even have to know what all those possibilities are, because when we ask what wants to happen, we invite the world to reveal to us the best one for our current situation, and it’s often even better than what we had in mind.
Want help finding your own answers?
Pathfinders Group Coaching, one of my most powerful and
cost-effective programs, is still open for enrollment.
Designed for people who want to identify the work they’re
meant to do in the world and start actually doing it, Pathfinders guides you
through a 5-step process for finding your calling and helps you build the
skills you need clarify what wants to happen, all alongside a group of
supportive, insightful peers who are going through the same thing you are.
If that sounds good, then click here to schedule a brief, no-obligation call to learn how the program works and find out if it’s for you.
Quick announcement: Pathfinders Group Coaching is now open for enrollment. Designed for people who want to identify the type of work they’re meant to do in the world and start actually doing it, Pathfinders of one of my most cost effective programs. Find out more and get the details here.
First of all, happy new year! I hope your transition to 2019 was a good one.
Mine, to be honest, was a little rough.
Between holiday preparations, surprises at work, the inevitable glitches of a house renovation, dentists, car maintenance, back pain, and an increasingly intense campaign I’m involved in to protect my city’s trees, I was feeling slightly overwhelmed.
Lying awake in bed one night, I was so wound up thinking about all the things I had to do that I couldn’t sleep. I know by now that such worrying isn’t helpful, so I naturally responded by obsessively creating a list of things I ought to do to calm down, forcing myself to do them, then criticizing myself when I realized that my compulsive problem-solving was making me more uptight and miserable, not less.
Only when the tension got so intense that I could barely stand to be in my own skin did I get desperate enough to admit that I had a problem and no idea how to solve it.
And then, of course, as soon as I did, my misery immediately disappeared.
There’s something magical that happens when we release ourselves from the expectation that we ought to know how to solve all our problems.
It opens us up to find freedom, acceptance, and—paradoxically—the answers to our dilemmas.
When we think that we should know something, our minds are so filled with thoughts, worries, and doubts that there’s no space to notice the solutions that are right in front of us. Only when we give up on knowing are we free to see the clues, ideas, and resources of which we previously weren’t aware.
I talk to a lot of people who are disappointed or even depressed about their work.
They can’t manage to stay satisfied with a job that may be well-paying but is ultimately unsatisfying, ill-fitting, or even agonizing. And yet because they have no idea what would be better, they give up and keep going back to a job that they know isn’t right for them day after day, month after month, and year after year.
The thing is, these folks aren’t actually stuck. They just think they are. They haven’t yet found the power of the magic words:
“I don’t know.”
We’re often told that you have to know where you’re going if you’re going to get there. While that’s true at times, it never is in the beginning. In fact, not knowing your way is a critical first step to discovering it.
In the beginning, every hero’s journey is more about asking than answering, listening than knowing, and seeking than finding. Curiosity is far more useful in the first few steps than confidence.
If you’re unsure how to let yourself not know, try repeating the following phrase to yourself and see what happens:
“I have no idea what to do right now, and I don’t need to.”
You might also sit in a quiet place and get curious as to what not knowing feels like. Admit that you’re clueless and then notice what you feel in your belly and chest. If your heart starts racing and your stomach tightens up, that’s not the feeling of not knowing; that’s the feeling of thinking you should know when you don’t. Repeat the phrase above, focusing on the second part, and try again.
You might find that not knowing isn’t as uncomfortable as we tend to think it is. Wobbly, sure, but also exhilarating; far from empty, it’s actually filled with possibility.
In my experience, the answers always come in time. But only to those humble (or desperate) enough to admit that they don’t have them.
In my next post, I’ll share some ideas for how to get answers once you’ve admitted that you don’t know or need them. (Life is full of paradoxes, no?)
As you may have picked up in a previous post, my husband and I are thinking of moving and have been looking at houses nearby.
Recently we saw a sweet one on a beautiful piece of land that was priced well under our budget, but it needed a lot of work if it was going to give us what we wanted. As we met with architects, contractors, engineers, and other experts to explore the possibilities, I paid close attention to my internal response. I meditated on what we found, journaled about it, discussed it with people I trust, all the while paying attention to my thoughts, feelings, and body sensations, and listening for the subtle stirrings of desire.
In other words, I was doing my best to hear my Inner Wisdom.
What I heard, over and over, was: Yes. This is the right house, the right step to take. It’s going to be a lot of work. It may be stressful and overwhelming at times. You’ll probably run into many challenges. But you can handle it, it’ll help you grow, and you can create something wonderful on land that you’re already beginning to love. (Fortunately, my husband agreed.)
Due diligence expired, and I began to get excited. Having made the decision to buy the house, I felt energized, enthusiastic, and capable, not to mention incredibly blessed to have this opportunity in front of us.
And then, a few days before closing, my confidence evaporated. What I can only describe as a tsunami of fear crashed over me, washing away excitement and leaving only panic in its wake. I couldn’t stop thinking about how much money it was going to cost, how much work it would be, and how many things could possibly go wrong.
Doubt overtook me. We were already running into some unexpected expenses. Had we made the wrong decision? Was my Inner Wisdom wrong? Should we back out of the contract before it was too late?
A Confusing Pattern
The same thing happens to my clients all the time. They do a lot of work to come up with promising career ideas, explore them, and use their Inner Wisdom to find a possibility they’re excited about. There’s usually a window of time that lasts somewhere between an hour and a month in which they too feel enthusiastic, confident, and optimistic.
The window promptly closes somewhere around the time when change starts to get real. Then suddenly, without warning, the tidal wave comes, sometimes drowning them in fear, panic, and doubt, sometimes merely soaking them to the bone.
So what’s the deal? Why does this happen? And how can we possibly know how to navigate important life decisions when something that feels so good one minute feels so bad the next?
The key to answering all three questions is to understand exactly what Inner Wisdom is.
So, What is Inner Wisdom?
I first discovered the presence of a wise voice inside me when I was struggling with depression in my mid-twenties. I began to find that even in my worst moments, when I felt utterly alone, confused, and hopeless, I could still sometimes hear the whisper of something far wiser than me if I just got quiet enough. It spoke softly, calmly, and compassionately; gave voice to truths that seemed to come out of nowhere; and slowly but surely guided me out of my misery when everything I’d tried before had only made it worse.
One step at a time, I followed my Inner Wisdom out of depression and back to myself.
Since then, that quiet, inner voice has led me to do things that I wouldn’t have thought possible. It steered me towards building a thriving coaching practice, marrying a wonderful man, writing a novel, developing meaningful relationships, returning to my roots in Atlanta, and expanding myself mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. It helps me make difficult decisions that turn out well when there’s no way to rationally anticipate what might be the better option. It’s no exaggeration to say that every time I follow my Inner Wisdom, I discover greater levels of joy, freedom, and fulfillment.***
So what is this voice exactly?
If you’re not the woo-woo type, here’s a scientific explanation: Inner Wisdom (or intuition) is another name for the things we know but don’t know that we know. Recent research suggests that it’s measurable and can indeed help people make faster, more accurate, and more confident decisions. What’s more, scientists have found that there’s an intrinsic nervous system in the heart and a secondary “brain” in the gut, both of which function independently and send more information to the brain in our head than vice versa. In other words, our bodies provide us with information and intelligence that goes far beyond our rational, conscious thought.
I personally see Inner Wisdom as the voice of my true self. It comes from the part of me that extends beyond ego, and that’s free from fear, constrictions, or limiting beliefs.
I also believe that it comes from a collective wisdom that we can tap into if we’re willing to get quiet and listen. Joanna Macy talks about how when we act on behalf of something greater than ourselves, we have access to the wisdom, beauty, and strength of our fellow humans and our fellow species. This absolutely feels true to me as well, and perhaps explains why my Inner Wisdom seems to know so many things that I don’t, and benefits others as much as it does myself.
How to Hear Your Inner Wisdom 101
When I coach clients in how to know what their intuition is saying, we usually start with the body. Wisdom can show up in any of our three centers of intelligence, but it’s generally easiest to hear in the body. Paying attention to physical sensations and noticing what helps your body feel more open, spacious, relaxed, or energized can give you great clues about where your Inner Wisdom is pointing.
In addition, observing the flavor of your thoughts can help you identify what’s coming from Inner Wisdom and what’s coming from your Inner Critic. I recently wrote a whole post about how to identify your Critic, and you can learn a lot about your intuition just by noticing which thoughts are the opposite of what I describe there.
To put it simply, your Inner Wisdom is usually quiet, calm, patient, loving, and compassionate. When you listen to it, you understand that you have plenty of time, you’re going to be okay, and no matter how you feel, you’re still a whole, lovable, and worthy human being. Fear and your Inner Critic, on the other hand, are generally urgent, dire, judgmental, and belittling. They make it seem likely that everything good is about to implode, most probably because you’re fundamentally flawed.
A great way to learn more about how your Inner Wisdom speaks to you is to keep a record of all the times you think you hear its voice. Write down how you recognized it, what it told you, what you decided as a result of hearing it, and how that decision turned out. If you’re like me, over time you’ll start to gather evidence that your Inner Wisdom is quite trustworthy, as well as some powerful clues for how to identify it.
How to Hear Your Inner Wisdom 201
Now here’s where things start to get interesting.
Often I have clients who tell me that their Inner Wisdom is telling them—surprise!— to stay in their current job after all because they realized that it isn’t as bad as they originally thought.
Sometimes this is actually true; more often, however, it’s a sign that they’ve run face-first into the wall of fear that usually sits just on the other side of wisdom.
Because sooner or later, our Inner Wisdom always leads us towards what we fear most. This isn’t a punishment or sign that we’re doomed to misery; I rather see it as evidence that (as David Whyte puts it) this world was made to be free in. The universe conspires to open us up and remove our constrictions by pointing us towards our fears again and again and again; that way, we have plenty of opportunities to come to terms with and move past them.
This principle explains the tidal wave of fear and doubt that I encountered with the new house, the same one that clients feel when they get into exploring an exciting career idea. Almost every time we attempt to follow our Wisdom into a new realm or on a deeper level, there’s a backlash when we come face-to-face with some of our greatest fears.
It becomes important, then, at this point in our Inner Wisdom studies, to be able to distinguish between the sensations of true guidance and the temporary relief that comes from avoiding something scary or falling back into the familiarity of an old (but unhelpful) pattern.
It takes time and observation to learn the difference. This is like the PhD of Inner Wisdom education, and those usually take what—approximately 102 years based on what my friends who have them say? The point is, try to be patient with yourself. I’ve also adopted the general rule of thumb that I have to talk to at least three people who are wiser than me before abandoning a course of action that previously felt like wisdom.
Feeling the Fear, Trusting the Wisdom
The three wise people I spoke to about the house didn’t seem to share my newfound fear that everything good in my life would turn to dust if I moved forward with the purchase. I also noticed that in those rare moments when I had some relief from the terror and felt slightly more grounded, I still felt excited and energized by the idea of moving forward with it.
So we closed on the house last week. Though I know by now that I can trust my Inner Wisdom, I still obsessed over the budget a few more times, tried to solve every problem we might encounter in advance, and made backup plans for my backup plans. Hey, that’s just what I do.
Which leads me to a final PhD-level concept: Trusting your Inner Wisdom doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing affair. I’ve come a long way in terms of following my intuition, but as you can see in the house example, part of me trusts, and part of me still doesn’t. The part that doesn’t is going to want me to fall back into old habits that make me feel safe (though I know by now they don’t actually accomplish much in that regard). If it helps calm me down, there’s nothing wrong with doing it, as long as I realize that’s what’s going on and participate with eyes wide open.
Because the part of me that trusts is growing. And the world is already a much freer place because of it.
***The Fine Print:
This isn’t to say that if you listen to your Inner Wisdom you’ll always get everything you crave, things will always go the way you want, or you won’t face any unexpected challenges. This isn’t Manifestation, which can so easily become about listening to ego once again. When tuning in to Inner Wisdom, I find that it’s best to let go of my ideas about particular outcomes and trust that while things may not turn out as I imagine, they’ll result in the best possible scenario for everyone involved. That may not sound very reassuring, but I can also add that in my experience, if you follow your Inner Wisdom, you’ll find plenty of options for taking care of your needs, far more opportunities for creating joy, the ability to share your most powerful gifts with the world, and the promise of serving a greater purpose even when you have no idea what that may be.
Want Help Hearing Your Inner Wisdom?
I offer individual and group coaching programs at various levels of investment that can help you get your PhD in Inner Wisdom and work through the fear that likes to lurk on the other side of it.
Over to You
When have you followed your Inner Wisdom, and what came of it?
Please share in the comments below. You might just inspire someone else to trust their intuition.
Most of the work that I do with clients is helping them learn the skills that school didn’t teach so that they can identify what type of work would be fulfilling and make their way through the quite challenging but also very rewarding process of moving into it.
I understand, however, that not everyone is in a position to hire a coach right now, so I thought I’d share the one practice that I consistently see making the biggest difference in my clients’ lives.
Before I share what it is, I’d like to say a few more words about why it’s so important.
The Magic Bullet? (No, But Not Too Far From It)
When my clients begin doing this practice, most of them uncover some pretty huge clues about what matters most to them, as well as what type of work they want to do next.
Even some clients who feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of options they have, and others who have no idea what would possibly fulfill them, find that this activity makes it much easier to know in which direction they want to go.
I had one client, for example, who had so many interests that he didn’t know how to choose among them. Through this activity, he discovered that it was most important to him to have some element of entertainment in his next job so that he could make others laugh and feel good about themselves. That realization led him to explore clowning, improv, and corporate teambuilding options.
But the great thing about this practice is that it not only makes it about a million times easier to identify your calling; it also helps you feel more alert, more aware, and more in control—in other words, more connected to yourself. It helps you deal with stress more effectively, and manage your emotions more skillfully. Finally, it lets you know what levers you can pull to find more joy and satisfaction in your day-to-day, in work and outside of it.
I had another client, for example, who was motivated by this practice to stop drinking in bars so much so he could do more of the things he enjoyed, like running races with his friends and daughters.
When I began doing this activity on a daily basis, I was mired in depression and having regular panic attacks. After a few weeks, I was still panicky and depressed, but I had a much better sense of what I needed to do to feel better. Over the next few years, as I continued to work this practice into my daily routine, it helped me heal my anxiety and depression, take bold steps towards my deepest desires, and rediscover my creative talents.
How does one activity do all this?
Moving the Thermostat Indoors
This practice, and several variations on it that can also be used, are so powerful because they close the feedback loop.
Most of us are so busy running around taking care of what we need to do that we don’t take the time to check in with the impact of all this activity—or, more specifically, its impact on us (most of us are very aware of the external results, and whether or not we’re achieving the outcomes we want).
A meditation teacher of mine one time explained this phenomenon as being similar to having a house whose thermostat is outdoors. When we don’t take time to check in with ourselves and how we’re doing, the feedback loop is broken and the thermostat can’t know whether the air needs to be cooler or warmer in the house.
The activity I’m about to share is one very powerful way to close the feedback loop (or, in the metaphor used by my meditation teacher, bring the thermostat indoors). It gives us the information we need to know how to adjust our systems and actions in order to take better care of our own well-being.
In my experience, when we do this—when we close the feedback loop—we begin to automatically make the adjustments that we need most in our work and our lives, often without even thinking about it.
So, Without Further Ado…
What is the practice? It’s actually quite simple. Perhaps even better for most of us, it’s also free and not terribly time consuming.
The idea is to pause a few times a day to reflect on what you’re feeling and why.
There are many ways to do this. The easiest way to start, in my experience, is to identify three times every day when you can take a few minutes to ask yourself two questions. I recommend either doing it before a regular activity (like eating) or setting an alarm or reminder on your phone to prompt you until you get in the habit of it.
When the time comes, pause whatever you’re doing and take a few deep breaths. Then ask yourself:
How am I feeling right now?
What’s my best sense of why I might be feeling this way?
I recommend taking brief notes so you can begin to notice patterns.
Your feelings contain powerful clues about what you want, what’s important to you, and what’s key to your well-being. Getting curious about your emotions and what’s contributing to them will give you lots of incredibly valuable information about your work and your life.
And if you’re not sure why you’re feeling a certain way, don’t worry about it. I find that it’s extremely helpful to ask the question, but that it doesn’t matter so much if you don’t get an answer every single time. With enough repetition, you’ll start to see patterns, and what’s most important will be revealed if you just keep asking.
One final word of warning: please don’t do this practice as a way to get rid of your feelings. Paradoxically, listening to our feelings can help them move through us instead of getting stuck on repeat, but in order to listen to them, you have to be willing to embrace them with compassion and a bit of loving kindness.
For Those Who Want More…
Once you’ve incorporated this practice into your daily habits, if you’d like to go deeper, you can add a third question between the first two:
How does my body feel?
Scan your body to answer this question and use sensation words like “light,” “heavy,” “warm,” “cool,” “tense,” “relaxed,” “tingling,” “prickly,” “energized,” “tired,” etc.
Finally, one of the other most powerful practices I personally use is a natural offshoot to this one, and that’s to set aside time each day to let yourself feel and express your feelings. Beyond identifying, this means sitting with the emotions (perhaps in meditation), taking time to feel them in the body, or doing things that express them (like crying, yelling, hitting pillows, etc.).
Feelings we don’t feel get stuck, but when we find ways to be with them and move their energy through us, they stop leaking out in our daily lives as irritation, impatience, and anxiety.
Instead, they simply move over and through us like waves on the ocean. And these waves whisper words of guidance to us as they go, if we’re only willing to pay attention and get curious as to what they have to say.
For Those Who Want Even More…
I’m now offering a new way to get the guidance and structure you need to move into meaningful work you love.
Passion Quest: 5 Steps to Find Your Calling in a Fear-Based World, the online course I ran last year, is now available for self-study. It’s a comprehensive program with videos, downloadable PDFs, and supportive emails to help you work through the same process I use with my individual coaching clients. This is the first time that you can access it anytime, anywhere, and work through it at your own pace.
Because I want this material to be as accessible as possible, I’m offering it now at a super special rate (almost half the price of what I charged for the live version, and a small fraction of the cost of individual coaching). You can check it out here if you’re interested.
Over to You
If you try the feelings check-in, I’d love to hear how it goes for you.
What went well?
What did you learn?
What was challenging, and what questions do you have?
Any new practice is going to have its high and low points. I’d love to hear yours in the comments below.
Last Monday I did an experiment after getting back from vacation. I wanted to see if I could maintain the level of relaxation I’d established the previous two weeks while traveling when I returned to work and my more stressful To Dos.
I decided not to do anything unless I wanted to. I was going to let what I wanted to do, not what I thought I should do, organize my day.
The conversation in my head started off something like this:
“So, what do I want to do now?”
“Are you crazy? You need to answer emails, make your group coaching plans, catch up on bills, and call the dentist, the doctor, and your insurance provider just to start. You don’t have time to ask that question, let alone listen to the answer.”
“No, I know, it’s a lot, but this worked when I did it before. Let’s try it and see what happens. What sounds good to me to do now?”
“What you need to do is work. You won’t want to do any of it, but it’s important. We’re talking about your livelihood, your health and well-being, not to mention the well-being of your clients…should I go on?”
“Yes, I know. That’s all really important. I don’t think I’ll actually want to endanger any of that. It can’t hurt to ask, can it? I promise I’ll take care of what I need to. Can I please go on?”
[Internal groan and rolling of the eyes] “Okay, fine.”
So I asked again. And this time, with my Inner Critic willing to stay quiet for the moment, I heard an answer. I wanted to create plans for group coaching. It felt important, meaningful, and even enjoyable.
I focused on the task with freedom and ease. I also didn’t feel rushed; I was curious to see what I would get done rather than engaging in my usual habit of going over and over the list of tasks I expected myself to complete before the end of the day.
I thought it would probably take most of the day and part of the next to complete the plans. Instead, it took 2 hours. When I finished, I asked myself again what I wanted to do. This time my Inner Critic was quieter, having seen what happened the first time.
I heard that I wanted to go on a walk outside, so I did. Then I heard “return phone calls”. Then “catch up on emails”. Then I wanted to take a nap. I made my way through the day in this way and ended up getting everything done on my To Do list. I hadn’t thought that was likely when I started, or even really possible.
The best part, though, was that at the end of the day I still felt relaxed and energized, and that night I slept great.
I say all this because paying attention to what we want is incredibly powerful, but it’s also surprisingly rare. I think most of us have forgotten how to listen to our deepest desires, though we often don’t realize it. The result is that we lack a sense of joy, meaning, and satisfaction in our lives, and it becomes almost impossible to find our calling.
Craving ≠ Calling
I realize that it’s strange to say that we’ve lost touch with our desires in a culture that’s set up to create and then cater to an ever-increasing number of appetites. We all have a list of things, services, or experiences that we want: a new car, the latest iPhone, a thinner body, someone to clean our house, a meal at a hot new restaurant, etc. These are cravings, and they’re not the type of wanting I’m talking about. As I wrote about recently, there are different types of desire.
Cravings, as I define them, are all about quick fixes. We may want deep nourishment and satisfaction, but we crave fat and sugar. Cravings are about what’s immediately available to us, what’s marketed to us, or what we see those around us doing. They promise to satisfy us and make all our problems go away in one fell swoop, but the truth is, they rarely do. Cravings are more often a distortion of what we really want.
In my experience, our true desires are much bigger than what we crave. Often we aren’t even consciously aware of them.
I had a client, for example, who wanted to make a career change but swore she had no idea what she wanted to do next. Then, after several months of working together to discover her passions, she casually mentioned to me, “Oh, didn’t I tell you? Yeah, for a long time I dreamt of being a photographer.” It’s like she herself had forgotten about this longing until that very moment.
I think maybe we dwell on all of our cravings and small aspirations in order to avoid the really big ones. We’re afraid of what we’d find if we let ourselves focus on what we really want. We might find that we want to do work that matters, seek out flexibility and autonomy, quit a job, start a business, write a novel, be a professional artist, get married, have kids, or do something else that’s equally terrifying.
What We Can Learn From the Cool Kids
I believe that letting ourselves want something is one of the scariest things we can do. It makes us vulnerable. There’s a reason that the cool kids act like they don’t care about anything—they’ve already learned that longing, desiring, and hoping open you up to all kinds of potential danger.
There’s something raw, personal, and uncontrollable about desire. It reveals something important about who you are and what matters to you. For some of us, that alone is scary enough to keep our desires safely locked in a deep, dark place.
What’s more, when you want something, you might be disappointed. You might fail to find it, or worse, (the thinking goes) discover that you’re not worthy of it. These prospects can feel so painful that it can seem better to never desire anything at all.
Beyond taking risks, longing also asks you to be uncomfortable. The most important things we want are usually not immediately clear to us. We have to be uncertain and potentially confused for a long period of time before we know what we truly want or where to find it. We have to ask, keep asking, and try and often fail before it becomes clear.
It’s no wonder we avoid our deepest desires like a used handkerchief.
There’s a great cost to doing so, however. What makes our longings so hard to embrace is also what makes them so valuable. Our deepest desires are an integral part of who we are; they bring us home to our essential self, beyond our fears, our ego, or the person that we think we are or that others want us to be. Longings are stronger than steel, out of our control, and bigger than our tiny, willful plans. They force us to share our gifts with the world in ways we might be too terrified to try were the desire not so strong. Finally, wanting things inevitably leads to obstacles, disappointments, and failures that help us grow and learn the things that we’re here to learn.
It turns out that the cool kids aren’t usually the happy kids, at least until they learn how to embrace who they are and what they want.
Learning to Want Again
My own history with desire involves a lot of delayed reactions.
For example, I’ve always wanted to write. But after experiencing a huge disappointment when I wrote my first novel at age 12, I abandoned that desire for years. I decided that I didn’t want to write professionally because it would be too much pressure, and I convinced myself that writing wasn’t really as important to me as I’d thought it was.
None of this was true. After a spiritual, mental, and emotional breakdown in my mid-20s, I began to learn how to decipher what I truly wanted, and little by little, those desires pointed back to writing. It took more than 20 years for me to circle back around, but eventually I found great joy as I started a blog, wrote some short stories, and eventually got started on another novel.
Now I’m waking up to new desires. Coaching and running my own business take up the vast majority of my time and, more importantly, my energy. I love them, but I’m also starting to recognize a desire to have more time for creative projects, and to invest more of my energy in my family life. These desires feel scary to me; they require me to make significant changes in how I work, and I’m still not sure what those will look like or how they’ll turn out.
I feel both excited by new possibilities, and at the same time shaky, vulnerable, and uncertain.
What I do know is that if I want to find the big answers, I’ve got to listen to the little ones I already have. That means committing to doing what I want more, regardless of the fear that that brings up.
As part of that effort, I’m going to change how I publish this blog. For two years now I’ve published a post every other week, mostly because I’d heard that you need to publish regularly and frequently to be successful. Starting now, I’m committing to writing and publishing only when I want and feel inspired to. My Inner Critic is saying that this is an incredibly selfish thing to do and that I’ll be letting people down, but I believe that it’ll mean better content for y’all because I’ll only be writing when I have something I really want to say.
It’s an experiment. I don’t know how it will turn out, but I’m curious to find out. If you have any feedback about this change impacts you, I’d love to hear it.
In the meantime, I’m going to keep listening for what I want. I don’t know where it will lead me, but I do have the strong sense that if I stay true to it, it’ll all be for the good.
An Exercise to Reconnect with Your Deepest Desires
Following is an exercise that can help you remember what it is you truly want. It can also help you reconnect to more joy, energy, and satisfaction when you’re feeling stressed, anxious, exhausted, overwhelmed, or burnt out.
Start by setting aside a block of time to do only what you want, sometime between 1 hour and a full day. When the time comes, ask yourself:
What do I want to do right now? What sounds good to me?
Your mind will probably come up with all types of things that you should do. Let it know you’re doing an experiment and promise not to let it mess up your life too profoundly. Then ask again.
Pay attention to how you feel, emotionally and in your body, as different ideas arise. Which ideas bring up a sense of excitement, energy, or lightness within you?
When you land on an answer that feels good to you, do it, regardless of how silly, crazy, or unproductive it sounds. If it’s something you can’t do right now, make a concrete plan to do it later and ask for what else you want to do right now.
Most of us worry that if we only do what we want, we’ll become lazy couch potatoes, selfish brats, or mean bastards. In my experience, nobody truly wants to be any of those things. Those are the types of things that tend to happen when we listen to our cravings rather than our true desires. If you get an idea and you’re not sure if it’s a craving or a true desire, try it out and see how you feel. You’ll be able to tell the difference by how satisfying (or icky) it feels.
Once you finish an activity or no longer want to do it, ask what you want to do again. Do this as many times as necessary.
When the time period is over, take a moment to check in with how you feel, both emotionally and in your body. Is this better or worse than usual? Also take note of the things you wanted to do. Did any surprise you? Finally, check in on the results of your actions. Did things fall apart? Is there evidence that you harmed anybody else? Did anything good result? These are the outcomes of your experiment, and it can be helpful to write them down.
I recommend doing this exercise/experiment regularly, at least weekly to start. My current intention is to do it all day every day, though I’m not nearly there yet. It can be surprisingly hard to do, but like any skill or habit, it gets easier with practice. And as you uncover your little desires, the bigger ones are revealed.
It seems like a such a small thing, to risk wanting what you want. But it isn’t. It has the power to transform you, your life, and your ability to contribute, not to mention the world.
Over to You
What do you want that’s scary to admit?
What gets in the way of doing more of what you want?
I’d love to hear from you (and I have a feeling I’m not the only one), so please leave a comment below.
If You Want Help Finding Your Answers…
I offer individual and group coaching programs at various levels of investment designed to help you reconnect with your desires and discover the confidence and courage you need to follow them. To find out more, schedule a free 1:1 call with me.
If you still aren’t doing work you love, you’ve probably developed a good story about what you’re missing in order to explain why that is.
Maybe it’s that you don’t have enough time, money, or energy to find work you’d enjoy. Perhaps it’s that you don’t have the right skills and experience, or access to the right opportunities or people. Or maybe the story is that you’re too flighty, too depressed, too unfocused, too fearful, too timid, too passionate, or not passionate enough to make a successful transition.
The only reason I say this (or know it in the first place), is because I do it myself all the time. In fact, it’s quite human to come up with these stories. It’s our analytic brain trying to be helpful by pinpointing where we are, where we want to be, and what it thinks we need to get there.
The trouble is, the things we lack are often not easy to come by. Thus, rather than empowering us to make the change we seek, these stories become road blocks that reinforce the unhelpful belief that it’s impossible—or at least extremely difficult—to find what we’re looking for.
But the most interesting thing about these stories isn’t that they tend to backfire on us—it’s that they’re actually untrue. I’ve seen how, over and over again, when I reach a goal and reflect back on the process, that what I thought was missing wasn’t, and what I expected to get in my way didn’t after all.
That’s because there’s really only one thing we need to find what we’re looking for, no matter how difficult or improbable it is.
What you need to be successful
There’s no one thing “out there” in the world outside of yourself (an idea, friend, or opportunity, for example) that’s the key to your success. In fact, there are many ideas, friends, and opportunities that could help you find your way to what you’re looking for.
There’s also no one way you need to be. I’ve met tons of people who have found their calling, many of whom were flighty, unfocused, depressed, fearful, timid and/or overly or “under-ly” passionate. Some didn’t have the skills or experience they needed at first and had to acquire them. Most were quite busy with lots of responsibilities, and just about none of them had as much money or energy as they thought they needed when they started.
Confidence is what helps you feel empowered enough to commit to a goal that you know is a stretch in the first place. It allows you to stick with your intentions and find your way around obstacles that appear impassable at first glance. It sustains your efforts to seek any external resources you may need and bolsters your ability to tap into your internal strength and capabilities.
What confidence is (and isn’t)
So yes, confidence is a must-have if you’re going to find work you love, but don’t panic quite yet. The most important thing to know about confidence is that you already have it, even if you feel like the most insecure person on the planet right now.
When I use the word “confidence”, I’m not talking about bravado or some sort of god-given ability to convince the world that you’re the bee’s knees. I’m not talking about believing that you’re better than anyone else, or that things are always going to turn out exactly according to your plan. I’m also not talking about the ability to smoothly sell yourself to others or to stay cool, calm, and collected around potential mates.
The confidence that I’m talking about is actually summed up quite well on Dictionary.com, which defines it as “full trust” and “a belief in one’s powers and abilities.” I really like this definition because it doesn’t say “belief that one’s abilities are the best ever” or “belief that one is perfect and without flaws.” Everyone has access to confidence because we all have the ability to trust, and we all get to choose what we believe.
So to find our confidence, all we need to do is be willing to believe that who we are and what we’re capable of doing—while imperfect—are enough.
How to be more confident
Years ago, when I first learned about the importance of confidence in everything from dating to test-taking, I tried to talk myself into feeling better about myself. It didn’t work. Confidence isn’t something you can force, fake, or even create. What’s worse, when my efforts floundered, I felt even more insecure because my lack of self-assuredness now felt like a failure (talk about a vicious cycle).
What I’ve learned since then is that confidence isn’t an all-or-nothing game.
Brene Brown asserts that courage isn’t something we either have or don’t, but rather is a quality that we can all develop through intentional practice. Confidence is similar. We all have access to it, and though we can’t manufacture it, we can nurture it with conscious cultivation. And just as courage doesn’t require an absence of fear, confidence doesn’t require an absence of doubt. You can have doubts and still choose to believe in your own capabilities.
Here are 3 powerful ways you can cultivate your own confidence in daily life.
1. Take action (any action).
It can be hard to believe something without evidence, but once you see it for yourself, it’s a lot harder to deny. That’s why action builds confidence: it gives you the chance to see your talents and power in practice.
If you’re not sure what to do, pick something small that can move you towards your goal. It might be trying out an exercise I’ve offered to help clarify your passion, signing up for a class in something you don’t yet know how to do, or finding someone to interview about a job you might be interested in. It doesn’t really matter what it is so long as it takes you closer to your goal. And if you’re feeling overwhelmed, then break it down into the smallest step you can possibly imagine.
Whatever you choose, the important thing is to do it. Then, after celebrating your accomplishment, take another small step. Then another and another.
Over time, even if all of your small steps aren’t successful, a lot of them will be. This will give you evidence of your capabilities, which is one of confidence’s favorite foods.
2. Change your focus.
If you were seeing everything you do clearly and without bias, you would be blown away by your abilities. It never ceases to amaze me how incredibly talented all my clients are, and how consistently they fail to recognize these capabilities themselves.
It all comes down to what you pay attention to. If you focus on what skills you don’t have, what you don’t know, or what you haven’t done, you’ll be hard-pressed to feel confident about future prospects. But if you can start to finally acknowledge all your accomplishments and contributions, faith in yourself will easily follow.
One of my favorite ways to do this is with a Neverending List. All you have to do is start a list of anything you’ve accomplished, done well, or contributed to the world. Take a few minutes each day to add as many things from your current life or from your past as you can possibly come up with—at least 20, if you want to be sure you’re being thorough—no matter how small or inconsequential they may seem. If it’s hard to think of items for your list, then your standards are too high. Remember that something as simple as smiling at someone on the street can have a big impact on their day. Include anything and everything that you think might possibly qualify. Then, once a week, read through your list and really let it sink in just how amazing it is that one person actually did all these things.
3. Join a community.
When I asked for feedback from my first Pathfinders Group Coaching participants, I wasn’t sure what to expect. They reported progress in diverse areas, but one theme in particular stood out: almost everyone reported feeling an increased sense of confidence and empowerment as a result of the group.
To be honest, I’m not totally sure why that is, but it’s consistent with my own experience of community. Every time I participate in a group of peers, I feel better about myself, more confident in my abilities, and more capable of tackling whatever obstacle is at hand.
It may have to do with the fact that in community, your challenges are normalized—you get to see how other talented people are struggling with the same things you are.
It may be that you see other people similar to you succeeding, which makes it feel more doable. Or maybe it’s that you have the opportunity to make contributions to others and see your impact more easily.
Whatever it is, community seems to be a powerful shortcut to confidence. If you’re not feeling good about yourself or your prospects, find others like you and create a structure to share openly and honestly with each other. It takes effort and commitment, but it also cultivates confidence like nothing else.
Confidence is like a hidden power-up that can strengthen your efforts any time you choose to look for it. It unlocks all the other resources and gifts you might need to get to where you want to go.
If there’s one thing I’d like you to take from this post, it’s this: you already have everything you need to find what you’re looking for. Confidence is just about tapping into a large enough perspective to see that. And seeing things in this more honest light, you begin to realize that no matter where you are, no matter how lost or stuck or frustrated you feel, you’re already on the road to finding what you seek.
Nurture your confidence with a community of peers
If you’d like help to make the road to your calling clearer and easier to follow, I’ve got good news: I’m starting another Pathfinders Group Coaching group in the new year. I’m doing this because the current group is full, and I want more people to be able to enjoy the benefits that early participants have seen, such as (in their own words):
“Clarity on my next steps”
“Discovery of my strengths, skills, and passions”
“Tools for dealing with stress, anxiety, and uncertainty”
“Confidence to start moving forward”
“A sense of empowerment”
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Over to you
The comments function on my blog was broken, but now it’s fixed! I’d love to hear from you about what you make of all this. In particular, I’d love to know:
What helps you feel more confident? What gets in the way?
Some people know their life’s purpose from an early age. I am not one of them.
For me, purpose was more like a spleen: I knew I had one, and I recognized that it was probably helpful, but I had no clear idea of what it was or how it worked. As a result, it seemed somewhat irrelevant to the larger decisions of my life.
It took me a long time to get clear on my purpose. It showed itself to me one small piece at a time, and only when I got serious about investigating its nature. I had to stay curious for years and gather clues one at a time until a bigger picture began to emerge.
The good thing about having to work so hard to uncover my purpose is that I now know how to do it.
Because purpose changes as we do. We don’t stay the same throughout our lives, and our circumstances certainly shift as well, so our purpose necessarily evolves with us. If you want to live a meaningful life true to what’s most important to you, you won’t define your purpose just once; you’ll do it over and over again.
Having spent significant time wrestling with my own purpose, and then helping others define theirs, I’ve found a few things you can do to make the process easier. The first is to recognize what’s getting in your way.
The debilitating myth that keeps your purpose hidden
Your purpose is a part of who you are, and you already have everything you need to recognize (or remember) it. The trouble is, we’re not taught anything in school about finding our purpose, and when we do finally decide to pay more attention to it, at best we don’t really know what to look for, and at worst we look for the wrong thing.
Movies, media, and popular culture have encouraged us to think that purpose is going to be like a lion or a hurricane. We expect that something as profound as purpose must be impressive, imposing, and intense. We think it has to operate on a grand scale and be big enough to inspire mass admiration from others.
In my experience, this expectation can lead you astray. From what I can tell, purpose in the real world is more often like an amoeba: richly layered, dynamic, adaptable, absolutely needed, and beautiful in its own way, but unassuming, without defined edges, and not usually grandiose.
Nobody wants to claim an amoeba as their heart and soul, so when it reveals a part of itself to us, we tend to scowl and turn our attention elsewhere, looking for something more extraordinary.
But if we can see those often underwhelming and perplexing clues for what they are and pay attention to them for long enough, a larger pattern begins to reveal itself.
How to read the signs
If purpose is like a wild beast that you’re stalking (or, to keep my metaphors consistent, perhaps a wild amoeba), then the good news is that you can find its tracks all over your daily life if you know where to look.
For the next four weeks, pause 2-3 times a day (ideally once in the late morning, once in the late afternoon, and once in the evening) and take a few minutes to ask yourself the following questions. Take brief notes so you can begin to notice patterns:
What sensations do I notice in my body when I feel a sense of meaning or fulfillment? When, in the time period since my last reflection, did I feel any of those sensations?
In the same time period, when did something touch my heart? (In other words, when did I feel a sense of compassion, grief, outrage, etc.)?
When was I moved to take action on behalf of someone or something other than myself?
Once a week, take some time to read through what you’ve recorded and ask yourself:
What do these things have in common?
What feels most important in what I’ve identified so far?
What am I learning about what’s meaningful to me?
Putting it all together in a Personal Mission Statement
Once you’ve uncovered enough clues, you can use them to guide you in lots of different ways. There’s really no wrong way to do this.
You may already have some clarity about what your purpose is or, if not, at least in what direction it lies. If you don’t, it might be helpful to break your purpose down into parts and use them to write your own Personal Mission Statement.
There are 4 main components to consider:
1.Whom or what do you want to help?
For example: elderly women, young men, people struggling with depression, immigrants, lawyers, endangered turtles, homeless dogs, squirrels, cockroaches, old-growth trees, New Yorkers, etc. Whom or what are you concerned about and would like to benefit?
2.What do you want to help them accomplish or change?
This is your impact. What exactly do you want to be different for those you want to help?
3. How do you want to do this?
There are a few different ways of getting at this, for example:
Do you feel called to work with individuals; groups and organizations; or society, policy, and systems at large?
Do you enjoy working directly on causes (for example, going to disaster zones and offering direct aid) or indirectly (supporting those who do the on-the-ground work)?
What types of action are most natural, enjoyable, or easy for you? (For example, creating, researching, teaching, counseling, planning, organizing, healing, inspiring, listening, designing, entertaining, etc.)
4. For what reason or larger goal?
This is the purpose behind your purpose. We almost always have underlying values or visions that inform our goals, and bringing them to the surface can be very helpful. Why do you want to make these contributions or create these benefits? What about them is important to you? (Keep in mind you might have more than one answer.)
When you have some clarity about each of these components, you can put them together in a Personal Mission Statement. Here’s the structure:
I help ____(1)____ to ____(2)____ by ____(3)____ so that ____(4)____.
One last (very important) thing
Now that you have your Personal Mission Statement, please don’t make the mistake of holding on to it too tightly.
To use one final metaphor (the last one, I promise), purpose is like water. It’s dynamic and free-flowing. The more you try to hold onto it, the more it slips through your fingers.
Purpose is bigger than us. We do not create or control it. I don’t believe we can even fully understand it. All we can do is recognize it when it makes itself known, follow its flow, and create a container for it to run through our lives.