A client asked me this question recently, and I’ve heard
versions of it before. I understand why.
If you’re miserable at work but are surrounded by people who
seem to be enjoying and/or excelling at the very same job that makes you want
to flee; if you have a recurring pattern of being unhappy in your career; or even
if you’re just a naturally introspective person, this is a normal question to
The problem with answering it, I quickly realized when I made
the attempt, is that its complex nature and the various reasons people ask it
defy a one-size-fits-all response. So today we’re going to try something a
little bit different.
Today you get to choose your own adventure.
Adventure #1: If you’re asking whether the problem lies with you or your job because you worry that you’re not trying hard enough to make it work, click here.
If you’re asking because you don’t want to quit your job, find another, and then
realize that you’re still miserable, click here.
If you’re asking because you want to know which to adjust—yourself or your
job—to find you’re looking for, click here.
If you long to jump ship but think that with a little more discipline, skill, or effort, you could make yourself enjoy and/or thrive in a job that depletes you, then your Inner Critic is probably misleading you.
Inner Critics are prone to blame and all-or-nothing
thinking. They want you to believe that either you’re terrible, or your job is.
They’ll try to convince you that you’re unhappy because somebody is screwing
something up (most likely you).
The truth is, we all have unique interests and skills that
make us well-suited for some types of work and not-so-well-suited for others.
The way I see it, this is one of life’s magic tricks, because it means that
there are people who are well-equipped to solve the many different types of
problems in the world.
Often, however, the currents of life take us away from our most
needed path and deposit us in foreign waters. In other words, for whatever
reason, we find that we’re getting paid to work on a problem that actually
belongs to somebody else. When this is the case, no amount of willpower,
talent, or hard work will make that problem ours to solve.
If this is your adventure, resist the urge to judge or make
anybody wrong for your situation (most of all yourself). You’re just being invited
to answer a question that’s larger than who’s to blame or even whether to quit
your job. Your real question is:
How is the world asking me to share
my gifts right now?
The good news is, you can share your gifts wherever you are,
so there’s no urgency to figure anything out. Over time you can observe whether
your current job helps you employ your capabilities to good effect, in work or
outside of it, or whether you’re being called in a different direction.
It takes time to build up to earning our full living from
contributing our biggest (and frequently most hidden) talents to the problems
that are ours to solve, but as long as you’re finding ways to share your gifts
and letting them guide you towards opportunities for fuller expression, you’re
on the right path.
How Adventure #1 Turns Out:
You stop using your dissatisfaction (or exhaustion,
frustration, disappointment, feelings of failure, etc.) as an excuse to doubt
yourself and instead understand them as a series of road signs pointing you to
where you can make a meaningful contribution. Paying careful attention to these
signs, you discover your many gifts, share them more intentionally in work and
outside of it, and begin to see how valuable they really are.
One step at a time, your contributions lead you towards work
that truly nourishes you, that you feel good about, and that allows you to
change the world in meaningful ways.
There’s a joke that goes:
Question: What do all your problems have in common? Answer: You.
There’s another joke that goes:
Wherever you go, there you are.
Okay, so these aren’t so much jokes as pithy statements
about life, but the point is that there’s some truth to the fact that we cause
much of our own suffering, and finding a new job won’t change that.
So if you wonder whether the problem is you or your job because you have a sense that you might be miserable no matter where you work, you’re acknowledging a difficult but important truth. If you think that means that you’re doomed to unhappiness no matter what you do, however, then you’re paying too much heed to your Inner Critic.
For most of us, breaking out of our misery requires some
external adjustments (to our current situation) and some internal changes (to how
we’re approaching that situation). This might seem obvious, but too often our
Inner Critics convince us that there’s a magic solution to our unhappiness that
lies in drastic changes to one realm or the other, and our job is to sit around
trying to figure out which it is.
In reality, all we need is to be willing to experiment a
little to find the right combination of inner growth and outer shifts that
support our well-being. (This, by the way, is perhaps the easiest way to
explain what I do with my clients, and why coaching works).
If this is your adventure, you’re not being asked to
determine whether you or your job is the cause of your misery. Rather, you’re
being asked a much more important question:
What’s the next baby step that I’m
being called to take?
Nobody’s doomed to be unhappy. Misery is just a sign that we’ve been following our will rather than our Inner Wisdom. In my experience, once you become willing to listen to the clues your head, heart, and body are giving you, no matter how small—to work less, do yoga more, spend more time outdoors, write that story that’s been floating around in your head, or do anything else that makes you come alive—you no longer need to avoid misery because you’ve learned to let it guide you.
How Adventure #2 Turns Out:
You stop trying to find a silver bullet and start
experimenting your way towards greater happiness. You let go of the belief that
you’re doomed to misery and that you should be able to figure everything out on
your own. You seek out the support you need to make small changes both
internally and externally, the results of which add up to something greater
than the sum of their parts.
One step at a time, your experiments lead you towards work
that truly nourishes you, that you feel good about, and that allows you to change
the world in meaningful ways.
Most of the time when people come to me, they’re looking for
a new job because they think that’s what’s going to solve all their problems
and give them what they’re looking for.
I don’t want to diminish the benefits that come from finding
work that aligns with and supports our truest selves. They’re big, and real. But
the truth is, there’s no job—or any external circumstance, for that
matter—that’s going to give us what we most desire.
Challenges—namely, not getting what we want—act as natural
interrupters to this cycle. So if you’re asking whether you need to adjust
yourself or your job to find what you’re looking for, that’s cause for
celebration. You’re being given the opportunity to ask the only question that
can actually reconnect you to the state of being that you long for most:
What growth or expansion am I being
invited into right now?
If you’re not sure what that is, here are three ideas to find
Pretend you’re a scientist and observe yourself. Pay close attention to what happens when you’re upset: What do you think and feel? What do you say, do, or not do? Look for patterns and then ask yourself how these are helping you and how they might be limiting you. What might you do differently to open up new possibilities?
Get an outside perspective. Ask a trusted mentor, coach, colleague, friend, or loved one what possibilities they see for your growth.
Follow Tony Schwartz’s Golden Rule of Triggers: When upset, whatever you feel compelled to do, don’t. If you feel compelled to strike out, hold your fire. If your instinct is to pull back, stay engaged. See what happens and do more of the thing that supports your happiness and well-being. (Adapted from Be Excellent at Anything by Tony Schwarz.)
If you’re thinking that this all sounds great but won’t get
you any closer to your goals, then I have one last thing to say:
Internal changes are what make the external ones possible.
We can only exert our creative power in the world once we
have the skills, qualities, and other internal resources necessary to work
through the challenges that inevitably arise when we do.
There is one important, rather big caveat, however, which is
that in order to change internally, we need to have the necessary support and
resources. If our current environment doesn’t provide these, then it’s worth
finding one that does.
How Adventure #3 Turns Out:
You commit to your internal growth, finding the support you
need through books, classes, groups, friends, mentors, therapists, and coaches
to make it easier and more effective.
You become more content with where you are, regardless of
your circumstances. Paradoxically, as you grow more fulfilled, you begin to see
opportunities to make bigger external changes, and now you have the tools and
resources to make them more powerfully.
One step at a time, your expanding sense of self leads you
towards work that truly nourishes you, that you feel good about, and that
allows you to change the world in meaningful ways.
It walks you through
the same process I use with my individual coaching clients at a fraction of the
And because I’m taking it off the shelf for the
foreseeable future, right now Passion
Quest includes a free, 45-minute one-on-one coaching session with me that
you can use however you like: to hold yourself accountable, receive feedback on
your efforts, ask questions, or get ideas for how to work with your unique
needs and challenges.
Let me start by saying that I don’t love career aptitude tests.
By all means, take my opinion with a grain of salt. I’m no expert in career aptitude tests and am not familiar with all the hundreds of different ones out there. Everything I know about job quizzes and online assessments comes from working with coaching clients to help them find work they love, asking colleagues for recommendations, and doing some light investigating of my own.
I don’t love career aptitude tests for a few reasons:
For a lot of them, you have to know what you prefer before you even take them. While that seems like it should be obvious, it really isn’t for most of us. I’ve spent years studying my own career preferences, but I would still have a hard time telling you if I’d rather be a nautical engineer or a lawyer.
Most of them will give you lots of answers and suggestions to choose from; ie, you still have to know which one to choose.
They do nothing to help you with what’s most important to finding fulfilling work: discovering more about yourself and learning how to recognize what your inner wisdom is pointing you towards. In some ways, they’re just something/someone else telling you what you “should” do, and that’s hardly ever helpful in my opinion.
Okay, now that I’ve gotten my timid opinions out of the way, I do have something more useful to offer. Because there are a few career aptitude tests that I think can possibly be useful. For some people. At times. (There, did I qualify that enough?)
Here are the most useful assessments I’ve found, along with when to use them:
It’s hard to see your own greatest strengths clearly, so an online test can be a great tool to help out. StrengthsFinder is a short, relatively inexpensive assessment that can help you pinpoint your superpowers. If you’re not sure what you’re best at, or you don’t like using the skills you’ve developed thus far, consider taking this assessment. I’ve had several clients who have gotten valuable new insights from their results.
To be fully transparent, I’ve never done this test. One of its downsides is that it can only be administered by a certified consultant, and as such, it’s quite expensive. I include it here for three reasons:
It comes highly recommended to me by people I respect;
It’s an alternative way to find out what you’re really good at; and
It’s the only test I’m aware of that actually asks you to perform certain tasks as a way of assessing your strengths.
If you’re truly at a loss for what you’re good at and most assessments confuse you and/or you have an unusually difficult time knowing which answer fits you, then this might be a great alternative for you.
[UPDATE: Unfortunately, Imperative removed this diagnostic tool from their website indefinitely. I’ll keep this up in hopes that they bring it back someday.]
Getting clear on your purpose at work can also be tricky. This assessment, which has a free and a paid version, aims to help you get clear on what motivates and is meaningful to you. All in all, it does a good job. Since it’s free, there’s no harm in taking it, and some of my clients have found the results helpful. The downside is that it’s a short test and, in my experience, not wholly accurate. While generally not enough on its own to fully clarify your purpose in the world, it can be a good tool that can get you closer.
When to use it: John Holland, an American psychologist, came up with 6 different personality types that he then tied to certain types of occupations. There are a lot of tests out there that use his RIASEC system to suggest careers based on your personality and preferences (see the very partial list above). I find the primary value in these tests to be the list of career ideas they give you at the end. When you’re already clear about what’s important to you to have in your next job, these tests can help you think of occupations you may have forgotten about or perhaps didn’t even know existed. (Did you know for example, that there are medical transcriptionists? I did not.)
When to use it: The Career Management Report is good for identifying ideal work environments, easy ways to talk about your strengths, and possible job categories to look into based on your preferences and interests. It can also give you insights into your needs and behavior patterns at work and the strengths and limitations of each. This is another test that has to be conducted by a “Birkman expert,” so it’s a little pricey. If you’re eager to get to know your work style better and don’t mind paying for it, this might be the assessment for you.
When to use it: Okay, so this isn’t technically a career aptitude test. It’s more of a personality typing test, but it’s actually my favorite assessment of all. I can say with 100% conviction that I believe that everyone can benefit from this test at any time in their career transition. Yes, I feel that strongly about it.
As you can see, I like the Enneagram a lot and have found it to be an incredibly powerful tool in helping people find their calling and move into work they love. But the best part of all may be that the short test is free and the long test is only $12. (And just so you know, I won’t receive any money if you decide to buy the test; this isn’t that kind of recommendation.)
So that’s what I’ve got. But I’m curious: did I miss one? Is there a career aptitude test or assessment that’s helped you that you think should be on the list? If so, I’d love to hear about it, so please get in touch and let me know.
If you’ve had a hard time figuring out what your purpose in life is, don’t worry. You’re not alone. And what’s more, you don’t really need to figure it out to find what you’re looking for.
When we talk about finding our life purpose, we’re usually looking for an organizing principle to give direction and meaning to all the chaos. We want to find a noble aspiration to dedicate ourselves to, something that will tell us who we are and what we were born to do. We’re searching for something that can make us feel we belong on this planet and that our lives are complete.
Finding your purpose can’t do this for you. Living your purpose can.
Where fulfillment comes from
When I was in my early twenties, I worked for a series of nonprofits that were doing work I truly believed in. I dedicated myself to furthering important missions like ending homelessness or empowering Mexican factory workers or creating a more just and humane economy.
I loved working on causes I believed in, but I still didn’t feel fulfilled. I didn’t feel my life was complete, and what I did at work gave me no sense of meaning or purpose in any other area of my life.
What I’ve found is key to fulfillment and meaning is making choices that align with what’s most important to me. Purpose hasn’t turned out to be some external goal or aspiration. Rather, it’s a living breathing part of who I am that can be expressed in any moment. It’s less grandiose, quieter, and harder to pin down than I used to imagine, but if I listen to it, it leads to far more joy and satisfaction.
The secret to finding your purpose
The wonderful thing about purpose is that the process for finding it is the same as for living it, and you don’t have to know what it is to get started.
You live your purpose by expressing who you already are in each action and in each moment. To do this, first listen to what your inner guidance is telling you do to. What action feels right when you’re connected to your wisest self and your innate goodness? What do you feel pulled towards? What fills you up? What brings you joy? What makes you come alive?
How can you nurture what you care about deeply?
After you listen, you do. You act on the guidance you’re getting, or find ways to do more of what makes you feel your best in each decision and in each moment. It doesn’t matter if you see a pattern, can name what you’re doing, or know what’s next. What matters is that each action resonates with you on a deep level and expresses who you really are.
The Listen-Do process works on a day-to-day level as well as on a larger “life” level. You can use the questions to determine what to eat for lunch or you can use them to see which activities, commitments, ideas, professions, organizations, job opportunities, or career paths you feel called to pursue.
No matter what you decide or where you end up, if you follow this process over and over again, you’ll be living your purpose. And you don’t have to do it perfectly (I know I certainly don’t). In my experience, just making a sincere effort leads to loads of joy, meaning, fulfillment, and a sense of doing what you’re meant to even if you have no idea what that actually is.
And if you still really want to know what your purpose is…
I can’t blame you. Sometimes you need to communicate it to others. Sometimes you just really want to know. Here are three things you can try:
Write the eulogy you’d like to receive after you die (after a good, long life), keeping in mind that the word comes from the Greek word for praise. How did you impact the people around you? What contributions did you make? How was the world different as a result of you having been in it?
Keep a daily journal listing the things you did that you feel good about or that benefited others in any way, no matter how small. Which were most fulfilling? Which brought you the most joy? Which had the biggest impact? What do these contributions have in common?
Live Your Purpose
If you’re still not sure what your purpose is, more help is available.
I offer individual and group coaching programs at various levels of investment designed to help you identify your purpose, discover what you’re meant to do in the world, and get started actually doing it.
We’re all unique and infinitely complex. And yet, at the same time, we also share certain patterns of behavior with some of our other unique and infinitely complex fellow human beings.
The Enneagram is my favorite tool for understanding these archetypical patterns. It divides up all personalities into 9 types and offers a model for understanding the motivations, fears, desires, and patterns of behavior for each type.
It’s amazingly nuanced and powerful. That’s why I love the Enneagram. I don’t love the fact that it’s so hard to know how to pronounce (enn-ee-uh-gram), or how difficult it is to explain its cryptic symbol, but I do love the way it helps people find a way forward.
Why It Matters
We’re not as special as we think we are, at least not when it comes to our challenges. Though it can often feel like we’re the only ones who struggle in the way we do, that’s hardly ever the case.
I find that people in career change tend to get tripped up around a common set of issues that can be understood and explained through the Enneagram.
Identifying these shared issues can be extremely helpful—in better understanding ourselves, in realizing that we’re not alone in our challenges, and in pointing to ways to overcome them.
So without further ado, here’s a quick description of each of the Enneagram types in relation to career change:
Type 1: The Reformer***
Ones are conscientious, principled, and driven. They’re often looking for work that makes the world a more ethical place and that challenges them to be the best people they can be. They’re very concerned about doing the right thing, making constant improvements, and getting others to do the same.
Ones do well when they learn to relax (massage is a wonderful thing for a One!). They need to learn how to let themselves make mistakes and even fail, trusting that the world won’t fall apart if they do. Finally, they benefit from learning how to get in touch with their feelings, which they often try to control or ignore, thus missing out on what their emotions have to say about their innate desires.
Type 2: The Helper
Twos are empathetic, warm-hearted, and generous about doing things for others. They’re all about love and connection and therefore often want find work that’s social and allows them to care for other people.
Where They Get Stuck:
Twos can get stuck when they become so focused on others’ needs and desires that they’re unaware of their own. They might stay in a position longer than is healthy because they feel needed, or they might not allow themselves to go after what they really want because they see it as selfish. Twos are also prone to burnout because they don’t prioritize their own self care.
The Way Forward:
It’s helpful for Twos to learn to pay attention to their own needs and desires and give themselves permission to fulfill them first, before taking care of others. They benefit from realizing that it’s actually better for everyone involved when they put their own oxygen mask on first. When they pay attention to what they want and do more of what nourishes them, Twos often discover great passion and clarity about what they want to do in the world.
Type 3: The Achiever
Threes are self-assured, charming, and competent. They often seek work that allows them to shine. Frequently ambitious, they like to win.
Where They Get Stuck:
Threes often spend more energy pursuing traditional measures of success than defining what is really meaningful to them. Being multi-talented, they can get sidetracked by what they’re able to achieve and lose sight of what they want to accomplish. In short, Threes can struggle to know what matters most to them.
The Way Forward:
It can be helpful for Threes to learn how to stop doing and start simply being so that they can get to know themselves more deeply. They can do this by taking breaks, doing things that are fun rather than productive, and taking time for activities like meditation or journaling. It can also be helpful for Threes to re-familiarize themselves with their feelings, which contain big clues to what really matters to them.
Type 4: The Individualist
Fours are self-aware, sensitive, and highly creative. They’re able to dig deep into their inner world, learn about the human experience, and share what they find with others. Having meaningful work is important to them, and they tend to do well in jobs that allow for self expression.
Where They Get Stuck:
Fours sometimes struggle with feeling vulnerable and defective, so they can become reluctant to take risks, pursue their passion, or share their creativity with the world. They tend to disengage with others and retreat inward. They can get stuck in their own heads where they discount their own abilities and create fantasies that make everything in the real world pale by comparison.
The Way Forward:
Fours do best when they get out of their heads, into their bodies, and out into the world. When they develop more discipline in their work habits, share their creativity with others, and let themselves produce work that’s less than brilliant now and then, they can answer a true calling and find joy in what they do.
Type 5: The Investigator
Fives are independent, insightful, and innovative. They’re curious and want to understand how things work. They tend to seek work that allows them to investigate and develop novel ideas and capabilities.
Where They Get Stuck:
Fives can get stuck in their heads. Without access to their feelings and “gut”, they can struggle to know what option feels right to them. In addition, they can put off taking action while they endlessly “prepare.” Anxiety takes hold as they get stuck trying to think through every possibility before doing anything.
The Way Forward:
Fives often benefit from reconnecting with their bodies through activities like jogging, dancing, or yoga. In this way, they get out of their heads and in touch with their intuition. Connecting with others and hearing their point-of-view can also be very helpful. With a wider perspective, Fives often find great clarity and confidence in their path forward, without having to overthink it.
Type 6: The Loyalist
Sixes are reliable, hard-working, responsible, and trustworthy. They’re concerned about security and are often good at anticipating problems. They work well on teams, want to make a positive contribution through their work, and enjoy supporting others.
Where They Get Stuck:
Sixes tend to forget that things might go well and exclusively focus on what might go wrong. They get anxious, worried, and indecisive. They don’t trust their guts. They get stuck because they’re not sure what they should choose, they’re too overwhelmed to take action, or they worry that no option is going to turn out well.
The Way Forward:
It can be helpful for Sixes to find ways to quiet their minds, through meditation, exercise, or creative activity. Sixes are also helped by paying attention to their successes and noticing where the universe is supporting them—realizing that it’s not all up to them to make things turn out okay. Sixes have phenomenal inner guidance, when they are quiet enough to hear it and courageous enough to trust it.
Type 7: The Enthusiast
Sevens are extroverted, optimistic, and versatile. They constantly seek new and exciting experiences. They tend to look for jobs that are dynamic, busy, and novel.
Where They Get Stuck:
Sevens sometimes have a hard time staying still because they don’t want to be trapped in a negative experience. They can be impulsive and impatient, not giving themselves time to settle in or learn new skills. They often have a hard time making career decisions because they second-guess their choices, wondering if something else wouldn’t be better, more exciting, or more enjoyable.
The Way Forward:
It can help Sevens to appreciate what they already have and learn that negative experiences and feelings are part of life, and that they don’t last forever. By developing the ability to believe in their own ability to learn and handle challenges, they’re more able to stay with one thing and deepen their engagement with it. And by learning how to reconnect with a deeper guidance than what they think will be exciting, Sevens get clarity about what they want and what path is right for them.
Type 8: The Challenger
Eights are decisive, strong, and assertive. They like to be in control of their environment and even other people. They’re willing to do just about anything to protect those they care about and often seek work that allows them to lead, advocate, or fight for justice.
Where They Get Stuck:
Eights have a hard time admitting that they don’t know the answer, so when faced with uncertainty about their next step, they have a hard time letting themselves explore. They think they already have it figured out, and can be reluctant to take in new ideas. They also have a hard time admitting that they may have made a wrong turn somewhere.
The Way Forward:
It can be good for Eights to wait before taking action so that they can consider different perspectives and allow new answers to emerge. Similarly, it can be helpful when Eights allow themselves to admit that they don’t have the answer—at least not yet—and to sit in uncertainty until things become clearer.
Type 9: The Peacemaker
Nines are accepting, optimistic, and supportive. They often prefer social jobs and are good at working with other people. They dislike conflict and frequently play the role of keeping the peace.
Where They Get Stuck:
Sometimes Nines put off making big changes in their careers because they don’t want to rock the boat. They can struggle with procrastination and lack of follow through. Also, Nines are great at putting their talent and energy to work building somebody else’s dream, but they don’t often pay attention to developing their own vision. As a result, when Nines want to make a career change, they often have no idea what would make them happy and put off taking action that would disrupt the status quo.
The Way Forward:
The opportunity for Nines is to turn their spotlight of attention inward, paying attention to themselves and their own needs, desires, and intentions. (Exercise can be a great way for Nines to increase awareness of the feelings and body.) Routines, structure, and support can also be key for Nines to step into action now that risks making waves in their lives or the lives of others.
Find Out What Type of Career Changer You Are
If you’re still not sure what type you are, go to www.enneagraminstitute.com and take one of their assessment tests. I recommend the RHETI, either the free or the full-length version.
***Some of the general information about each type is adapted from the Enneagram Institute website, which has a wealth of other information and resources.
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I used to envy the people who always knew what they wanted to be when they grew up. It didn’t matter if their dream was to be a firefighter, doctor, or garbage collector—it was the certainty I craved, not the career itself.
Whenever somebody asked me as a child what work I wanted to do, I had no idea and just made something up. I wasn’t any more certain by college, and I decided on my major (English) because I got tired of reading non-fiction and wanted to read more novels.
Even after graduation I still had no clarity. I worked for years in many different types of jobs that I kind-of liked but didn’t feel at home in.
I longed to find my place in the world like some others I had seen, but after so many years, I began to doubt whether that was even possible for me.
What Doesn’t Lead to Clarity
Fast-forward fourteen years, and I’m finally doing work that feels like home to me. It’s fun, inspiring, fulfilling, and incredibly rewarding. It’s certainly challenging at times as well and has its less-than-enjoyable moments, but I feel like I’m finally putting my greatest gifts to good use.
The key to discovering my calling, and to continually following it as it changes, no matter where it leads, is different than what I expected.
It didn’t come from a childhood dream.
It didn’t come in a blinding stroke of insight.
It didn’t come from an assessment that told me what I was good at or what I would enjoy.
It didn’t come from doing work that seemed reasonable, that felt safe, or that I thought I should be doing.
It certainly didn’t come from somebody else telling me what they thought was right for me.
The Key to Your Calling
What helped me clarify my calling was simply this: listening to myself.
It was only after developing a habit of self reflection that I finally got clear on what I wanted to do in life and what the world was calling for from me.
We all have many reasons for not listening to ourselves in daily life: We’re too busy. We don’t know how. We don’t want to feel the discomfort of the painful feelings that inevitably arise.
Or maybe we’re afraid of what we’ll find if we listen to what we really want.
And yet when we don’t tune into our internal world, we’re like a house whose thermostat is out on the porch.
This poor house will fruitlessly blow hot or cold air into its rooms based on conditions outside; it won’t know what’s actually needed within its doors to reach its desired temperature.
Similarly, when we don’t listen to ourselves, we don’t know what we need. Maybe we’re hungry, or cold, or tired. Maybe we’re scared and in need of reassurance. Maybe we’re angry and need to speak up. If we don’t stop to listen to what’s happening inside, we’ll never know.
When we start to pay attention to our internal world—our mood, our reactions, our current experience—it’s like taking the thermostat from the porch and bringing it back indoors. It closes the feedback loop and allows us to adjust and respond based on accurate, up-to-date information.
The Most Powerful Thing You Can Do Today
There are many ways to listen in to yourself, and it can take some experimentation to find what works for you.
To get started, try one of the following ideas today and see how it works for you. Then try another one tomorrow and another one the next day. Once you’ve tried them all and seen what’s most effective for you, commit to doing at least one a day.
Meditate. Insight (or Vipassana) and body scan meditations are particularly good ways to turn your attention towards your current experience. I recommend starting with 5-10 minutes of meditation daily and building from there. Remember that the goal isn’t to quiet your mind, but rather to get to know your internal world, so there’s no way to do this wrong if you do it with sincerity. Headspace.com has some great resources for beginning meditators, RelaxLikeaBoss.com has a thorough and actionable free mindfulness guide, and mindfulness instructor Augusta Hopkins offers multiple body scan meditations on her website for free.
Write. For some people, writing is the key to self discovery. Bestsellingauthor Julia Cameron recommends writing 3 pages every morning as a way of breaking through creative blocks. To practice this form of self reflection, set a timer for 10-15 minutes once a day and then write, stream-of-consciousness style, about anything that comes to you. Don’t worry about being eloquent or profound. Just move your pen the entire time, even if you have to write: “I have no idea what to say” until something else comes to you.
Check in with yourself regularly. I personally find it very helpful to take a few minutes 2-3 times a day to get curious about how I’m feeling and why. One way to do this is to pause before you eat a meal and observe: What is your mood right now? What body sensations do you notice? What have you been thinking about? If you notice a strong internal reaction, it can be helpful to become curious: What are you responding to? Why are you feeling the way you are? What are you wanting?
Talk with others. Some people become more aware of their internal world by sharing it with others. If saying things out loud tends to create more clarity for you, then it can be helpful to talk to others regularly. Make sure, however, to find someone who can listen without offering their own opinions or advice. This is a time to get clarity about yourself, not input from others. The best way to ensure this is to ask the person directly for what you need before you get started.
Move your body. Some people struggle with sitting still for meditation, and involving the body can sometimes make it easier. Yoga is one form of moving meditation, but walking, dancing, or just about anything else that moves your body can work as well. The key to this form of self reflection is paying attention to your experience as you move. You might do this by focusing on your breath, or on sensations in your body, or on what you feel in your core. Whatever you do, do it daily and keep bringing your attention back to your current experience as you move, over and over again.
Over to You
What are your favorite forms of self reflection? What helps you listen in and take your current temperature?
I’d love to hear from you. Please share your experience in the comments below.
The Perfect Opportunity for Listening In
The next Pathfinders (a Group Hike and Discussion to Discover Your Calling) is coming up on Saturday, June 27th.
This event is an opportunity to combine several powerful methods for self reflection in a beautiful environment with a supportive community.
You’ll talk with peers about what’s happening for you in your search for work you love. You’ll have the chance to meditate and practice checking in with yourself. And you’ll move your body as you walk in the woods, one of the most effective environments for gaining insight and clarity.
As one participant put it: “The metaphor of finding one’s path became real through this grounding experience of connecting with nature and other people from an array of backgrounds. The conversations I had helped me process what I want in my career and in life. Perhaps most importantly, it reminded me that many of the questions we ask ourselves are universally human. And that everyone truly has unique gifts to give the world.”
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