I don’t normally struggle with writer’s block, but a few weeks ago, my efforts to edit my novel hit a can’t-see-the-end-of-it, can’t-see-the-top-of-it stone wall. Words got harder and harder to find, like a river that shrank to a stream that shrank to a trickle, before drying up completely.
At first I wasn’t sure what was blocking me, but then I noticed that I was critiquing every word before I put it on the page. I was mentally scrolling through every suggestion I’d ever heard in every class I’d ever taken or every blog I’d ever read, trying to get it right, trying to make it perfect.
I had become attached (again) to the idea of being a good writer. It was killing my creativity. And yet even though I knew this, I couldn’t stop doing it.
Perfectionism is an addiction—you can know better, but that doesn’t mean you can stop.
So I took a break from working on my novel, and that’s when I found my savior, in a running chicken.
Have you ever seen a chicken run?
They aren’t graceful. Running for chickens is a kind of rushed waddle-waddle-hop, waddle-waddle-hop. They’re inefficient and awkward and goofy. They’re not going to win any races or impress any judges.
But when my chickens run, they’re usually excited (for treats), and their joy is infectious. They stretch my smile and sing to my heart. Not much makes me happier than seeing a chicken waddle-hop-run towards me.
Remembering this, I realized that it doesn’t matter if my novel is good. It can be inefficient and awkward and goofy and still make someone’s heart sing.
And poof—just like that, my block was gone.
Too often we don’t say yes to our calling because we’re afraid we won’t be good at it.
It’s not surprising. One of the biggest mistakes our culture makes is believing we have to be good to be worthy, to belong. But it isn’t true.
If you do something you love, you’ll practice it, pay attention to it, care about it. Of course you’ll get better at it.
But being good at things isn’t the point.
The point is to express your unique truth. To share the gifts that are yours to give. To spread joy by creating what you long to create.
Belonging is our birthright. We don’t belong because of anything we do. We belong because of who we already are.
So my questions to you are:
Whose imperfection makes your heart sing?
Where are you attached to an identity of being good at something?
What might be possible if you gave yourself permission to be awkward and goofy and messy—in all areas of your life?
I 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?
We all have them: powerful capabilities bestowed by some freak accident that give us the power to vanquish evil and save the world.
Okay, or—perhaps more likely for most of us—they’re incredible talents that we were born with under more normal circumstances, and that may or may not be used towards such a dramatic end.
But the fact remains that all human beings have these amazing abilities that we’re often not even aware of and that have the power to change the world.
They’re responsible for humankind’s greatest accomplishments. They allow each of us to contribute unique and needed gifts to the world in ways that nobody else can. And studies have shown that people who use them are happier, less stressed, more fulfilled, and more productive.
They’re also key to finding meaningful work you love. If you read my blog post about the 5 steps to finding your calling, you know that Step #1 is all about identifying these superpowers and claiming them with confidence.
But how can you know what your superpowers are, and—since I know some people will be asking—how can you even be sure that you have them?
I’ve met lots of people who thought they didn’t have any extraordinary capabilities, but I’ve never met anyone who didn’t actually have at least one. Superpowers are real, and we all have them. It’s just that they’re less obvious than you’d think, and it usually takes some work to uncover them.
So here are 5 fun things you can do today to reveal your superpowers, discover your mission, and make your mark:
1. Get curious about the people you admire.
Try this: make a list of 5 people you admire. For each one, write down what it is about them that you respect or appreciate. Do this first, before reading any further (or skip to the next section if you can’t do it right now.) Seriously, this exercise will only work if you don’t know what’s coming next.
Okay, so you have your list of admired people and qualities, right?
Now take a few minutes and journal about the ways in which you exhibit these same qualities. See if you can recall any times when you’ve demonstrated them in the past.
The qualities you wrote down for others are very likely key elements of your own superpowers.
Here’s why: the things we admire in others are really core aspects of ourselves. (And conversely, the things that irritate us about other people are also ours to claim, but that’s a topic for a different post.)
The key here is not to get caught up comparing yourself to the people you look up to or what they accomplished. This isn’t really about achievements. What happens when we use our superpowers is not an indication of their strength.
I’m going to say that again, because I think it’s important to really take in: What happens when we use our superpowers is not an indication of their strength.
When we put our gifts to work, the results are like an iceberg. We see only about 10% of the actual effects of our efforts. There’s just no way to know how we’ve impacted everyone or everything we touched, all the ways we benefited them, or how they then went on to help others because of what we gave them.
So without judging the caliber of the qualities you’ve identified, just feel into which ones might belong to you as well. Anything you’re willing to lay claim to is a superpower worth celebrating.
2. Start an Infinite List of what you do well.
If you’re not sure what an Infinite List is, it’s just a list that never ends. What you do well and the contributions you make to the world are neverending, and it can be very helpful to write them down so you can start to notice patterns.
You can do this by taking 5-10 minutes each evening to reflect on and record what you did well that day and what you contributed to others or the world.
The key here is to make sure you’re not discounting any of the good that you do. As a general rule of thumb, if it created any benefits for anyone, if it wasn’t a total disaster, or if you felt remotely good about it even if you’re not sure why, then you should put it on your list.
And keep in mind that small contributions can make a big difference. When I did this exercise for the first time, I eventually realized that something as simple as planting a flower in my yard could bring joy to a passing neighbor, or smiling at someone and extending a warm greeting could make their bad day better.
I recommend adding at least 20 things to your list everyday to make sure you’re fully acknowledging all the good that you do, no matter how small.
After a few weeks of this, you can go back and look for patterns in what you’re good at, including which types of actions you enjoyed most, which had the best results, and which felt most important to you.
3. Excavate your proudest accomplishments.
This one is pretty straightforward, though for some reason we rarely pause to do it.
Make a list of 5-10 accomplishments that you feel most proud of. Keep in mind that these may or may not have anything to do with what society considers important achievements. For example, graduating from college isn’t one of my favorite accomplishments. Working through depression, writing a novel when I was 12, and maintaining close relationships with my family are.
You’re looking for the accomplishments that are most meaningful to you. They may be big, like recording an album, or smaller, like hosting a fun dinner party for a group of friends. Either works.
Once you list your accomplishments, pick the 3-5 that you’re most proud of or that you enjoyed the most. Then tell the story of how you got the results that you did, and what skills, strengths, or characteristics you drew upon.
Keep in mind that there’s a difference between skills and strengths. Your superpowers are more about your strengths (though they can certainly help you learn skills). It can be helpful to list both, but try to avoid getting too caught up in what skills you do or don’t have, because you can always learn new ones. Your superpowers, on the other hand, are yours to claim no matter what experience and training you have.
Once you’ve made your list, go through and look for patterns. See what themes or common threads you can find.
4. Ask the people who know you well.
Often our core gifts come so naturally to us that we assume that everyone can do them. It’s a common but debilitating mistake.
If you’re having a hard time believing that you have any superpowers or getting clear on what they are, the best thing to do is often to ask someone else. I recommend choosing 3-5 people who know you well in different contexts (eg work, family, friends, and hobbies or leisure activities).
Ask each person to spend 3 or so minutes describing what they like or appreciate about you, what they see as your natural gifts, or what they think you do well.
Don’t interrupt them as they’re talking, and for goodness’ sake don’t discount what they say. Instead, take detailed notes or record their words so you can come back to them later. Do your best to believe that they’re telling you the truth, and perhaps even allow yourself to bask in the glow of well-deserved praise if you can.
When they’re done, thank them and do the same for them.
Once again, when you’ve done this with a few people, review what they said and look for patterns. Keep in mind that just because they said it doesn’t mean you have to claim it. I believe it’s important to filter any feedback you get from others by asking yourself: What of this feels helpful and true to me?
Finally, also keep in mind that just because you’re good at something doesn’t mean you have to base your work life around it. We all usually have some superpowers that we don’t like to use. (I, for one, am very good at administration and organization, but they’re not things I love to do, at least not at work.)
You get to decide which superpowers to focus on, so when making your list, always ask yourself which ones you enjoy using most.
5. Follow the flow.
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has defined flow as an “optimal experience” in which a person feels “strong, alert, in effortless control, unselfconscious, and at the peak of their abilities.” He goes so far as to say it’s the secret to happiness.
Most of us have experienced that feeling at some point when we’re involved in a task, often creative, that feels worthwhile and enjoyable. Our focus is completely on what we’re doing, we’re not fighting ourselves or wishing we were somewhere else, and time seems to vanish into thin air.
Flow is a pretty powerful clue about where your superpowers lie. To follow it, just start to notice when you’re so engaged in something that you lose track of time. It may be at work, but it also may be outside of it. Before I started coaching, for example, I could talk with friends about our internal worlds and what we were learning about ourselves and our patterns for hours and it would feel like just a few minutes had gone by.
As a side note, it can also be pretty helpful to reflect on what you used to love to do as a kid. Children are in flow states all the time, so remembering what you spent many satisfied hours doing as a kid can be another great clue. This is actually how I eventually returned to my love of writing—once I remembered how much I had loved to write as a child, I could no longer justify not doing it as an adult.
The main point here is that what you love to do is often directly related to your superpowers. I like to think of it as the universe’s way of making sure we contribute our greatest gifts to the world and create the things that only we can, by making it enjoyable and inherently fulfilling.
Follow that delicious cookie crumb trail and eventually you’re sure to find your calling.
PS If you’re still wanting help, there are some paid assessments that can help you identify your strengths. I reviewed my favorites here.
I’ve long had a sense that I might be a little weird.
When I was 12, I began to feel compelled to do rituals like walking around any square table I passed over and over or checking under the toilet seat repeatedly before sitting down.
Sometimes I felt the need to try to talk while breathing in. (If you’ve never tried this, do it now. You’ll then understand why my sister later told me: “If you don’t stop being so weird, you’ll never find a boyfriend.”)
In high school, I didn’t drink or do drugs, though almost all of my friends did. I went vegan (waaaaaaay before being vegan was hip). I went on anti-depressants around the same time, another thing that made me feel like a freak. For a long time it felt like I never quite fit in.
With time (okay, and quite a bit of therapy too), I began to come to terms with my weirdness. I learned, for example, that there was a name for inventing rituals (Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder) and that I wasn’t the only one who did it. I realized that I wasn’t as different as I had imagined (at least 2 of my high school friends had also been on anti-depressants, I later found out). I began to drop the story that I was weird, that everyone else was normal, and that I somehow didn’t belong.
And then I went on a two-week vacation with my husband and parents last month.
Now, my family is incredibly loving and supportive, yet even still, this vacation was one reminder after another that the things I do don’t always make sense to other people.
In the car, I acted like a compulsive dog. I rolled my window down whenever I could and occasionally stuck my head outside to see the sky and feel the wind (to the great consternation of one member of my family).
I carried huge bags of food with me wherever I went (I won’t eat eggs or milk if I don’t know where they come from).
I insisted on carrying empty plastic water bottles (yes, that’s plural, as in more than one) on the airplane because I knew we’d need them later and I didn’t want to create additional plastic waste.
My face and shoulders were consistently fluorescent white (because I wanted to use coral-safe sunscreen any time I went near the ocean).
I cried at odd times and yelled out “Chicken!” every time I saw a wild hen or rooster (because I’m emotional and love animals).
I had several sessions of wild, (really) goofy dancing in our hotel room.
I didn’t play any golf (okay, that last one may only be strange in my family).
All of this reminded me of three truths about being weird.
1. It’s always hard.
No matter how loving my family is, and no matter how much I understand that it’s okay to be different, part of me doesn’t like it. I notice when people are looking at me strangely, and I hear the judgment in their voices. It doesn’t feel good.
We’re social animals. We’re wired to care about how our pack members feel about us because in our evolutionary history, it was a matter of life and death.
In addition, I’m sensitive to the response of others. I have an ability to tune into other people’s internal worlds and care about how they feel. This ability, which helps me a lot as a coach, also makes me painfully aware when someone else responds negatively to something I’ve done. It’s part and parcel of the same gift.
We’ve all been told over and over to “be ourselves.” In general, this is great advice, but if we expect that there won’t be an internal backlash when being ourselves meets with disapproval from others, then we’re not being realistic.
2. Nobody’s normal.
The idea that we’re bizarre and that everyone else is normal is just a story we get caught telling ourselves.
Once we have a story in our heads, we tend to look for evidence to support it. And just like you can find statistics to prove any argument, you can find evidence to support any story. If you believe that you’re strange, you’ll find plenty of indications that it’s true.
The reality is, we’re all different in some ways and similar in others. No matter how weird we think we are, we share many things with the people around us. And no matter how normal somebody seems, everyone is a unique soul with plenty of quirks.
As my husband and I like to remind each other: everyone’s crazy, and that’s okay.
3. It’s good to be weird.
More than just okay, being strange is great.
Weirdness brings in a different perspective. It challenges the mainstream, making it consider its ways and either recommit to them or change for the better.
Being bizarre is also necessary if we’re all going to bring our unique gifts to the world.
For example, I can’t for the life of me wrap my head around why anyone would actually want to work in politics. That seems so utterly odd to me. But I’m so glad that there are good people who feel differently, because we absolutely need them. The world has lots of needs, and it’s a good thing that we have so many diverse perspectives, approaches, and orientations so that people exist who can address them all.
The skill of being strange
The fact that being weird is hard but that we all have to do it anyway is actually an amazing opportunity.
It means we all have the chance to practice being true to ourselves and our highest truth in the face of disapproval. No matter what we say, do, or create in this world, there are going to be people who don’t get it (by virtue of the incredible diversity of perspectives I just mentioned). Part of being human and creating something that matters is being able to stand strong when others disapprove.
As David Whyte says in his poem Self Portrait:
I want to know
if you are prepared to live in the world
with its harsh need
to change you. If you can look back
with firm eyes
saying this is where I stand.
This isn’t a skill we get by reading a book. It’s one we acquire every time we have the courage to sit with the discomfort of being who we are and doing what feels right to us regardless of how others respond.
It’s a messy, imperfect process, but the good thing is, life gives us plenty of opportunities to practice.
So ask yourself:
Where in your life are you willing to be weird?
Where do you moderate yourself to gain outside approval? In what ways does this serve you well and in what ways not so much?
Where would you like to be more willing to look back with firm eyes, saying this is where I stand?
What might help you to do this?
May you always feel free to be as weird as you want to be.
I recently realized that I’ve been missing something my entire life.
It’s stopped me from doing the things I dreamed of. It’s made me feel a lot less capable than I really am. And I see now how it’s gotten in the way of achieving the things I most wanted for my entire life.
What surprised me most when I realized this, however, is that it has nothing to do with knowing enough or doing the right things.
Because that’s where I used to look when I wanted to be successful: what do I need to know to do this? How can I make sure that I implement this the right way so that I find the result that I’m looking for?
What I see now is that without this one thing, knowledge and action—even the most well-informed or well-executed efforts—can be wasted.
How to Know If You’re Missing It Too
When I first started my business, I thought that everything I did was a make-or-break opportunity. It felt like I needed to know everything and do everything right right away.
Every potential client I spoke with needed to work with me if I was going to succeed. Every marketing effort I made needed to have big returns. If it didn’t (and if often didn’t), I questioned my abilities and worried that I’d never be able to make it as a coach. More than once I considered giving up.
I often see something similar in my clients who want to change careers. Frequently when they first get started (and, if I’m being honest, throughout a significant part of the coaching process as well), they have no idea what they want to do next. They’re confused, uncertain, or lost, and they’re anxious because it feels like if they don’t have the answers now, they never will.
It happens again when clients take their first steps in a new direction. They’ve gotten clarity, but now they’re going from theory to reality. Everything feels critical to their success. If they don’t have the skills they think they need, if they’re not sure exactly how they’re going to transition, or if they’re not having immediate success in their new field, it becomes incredibly tempting to just take the first thing that comes along, or give up entirely and go back to what they were doing before.
If you’re feeling a lot of stress or pressure to achieve certain results with what you’re working on; if you wonder if you have what it takes to accomplish what you hope to; or if you doubt that doing what you love is possible for you, you’re probably in the same boat.
We’re missing the bigger picture.
What I realized recently is that success is not a matter of being talented enough, knowing enough, or getting everything right. It’s not about creating great outcomes with everything you do. Rather, it’s about trying things out, failing in some ways and succeeding in others, and then trying things out again.
It takes time, sometimes lots of it, to find out what works and what doesn’t. For most of us, no matter how talented, it takes lots of practice, iterations, and failures to reach the outcomes we long for.
In other words, success isn’t a destination; it’s a path, and most of us are on it long before we realize we are.
When we think of success as a destination, we compare where we are now to that golden isle of perfection and see just far we are from it. When we back up and see it as a path, however, our current endeavor becomes simply a step along the way; we realize how far we’ve come already; and we understand that no matter what the result, our current effort will show us where to go next.
When we see the entire path, we realize that we don’t have to be super smart or extraordinarily talented to walk it; all it takes is a willingness to get dirty, fail, and fall short over and over again.
Basketball legend Michael Jordan has a great quote about this:
“I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”
I may perhaps have agreed with this intellectually in the past, but it’s certainly not how I viewed my own endeavors. I was caught evaluating each effort based on its own results. I failed to see how each action was a part of a longer trajectory and process, one that takes time but that can still lead me where I want to go, even with lots of bumps and pitfalls.
There’s a great book called Zoom by Istvan Banyai. There are no words in the book—just pictures. It starts with a close-up of something that looks like the edges of a red crown. The next page zooms out a bit and you realize that it’s actually the comb of a rooster. Zoom out more and you see children watching the rooster from inside a house. A few pages later, you realize that the rooster and children are part of a play set that a much larger real girl is playing with. Soon it’s revealed that the real girl and her toy set are part of an advertisement in a magazine that a boy is holding on the deck of a ship. A few pages later you see that the ship is part of an ad on the side of a bus being watched on a television by a man in the desert. And the story goes on…
The point is, the world is both infinitely large and infinitesimally small. We need to pay attention to the smallest tasks because there’s so much richness and nuance there—entire worlds within worlds—but we also don’t want to get lost in them and forget that we’re part of a larger universe.
And because the universe is so incomprehensibly large, we can never be sure of the effect our small tasks will have it, what their ripple effect will be, or what they will lead to. We cannot know the true results of our endeavors, whether good or ill, because we can’t even imagine the entire world, let alone see it or predict it.
So the next time you’re feeling stressed about a make-or-break opportunity, wondering if you’re capable of achieving what you hope to, or worrying that you’ll never find your way, stop. Notice how small and narrow your focus has become (literally and figuratively).
Remind yourself that whatever you’re doing right now is part of a longer process. This is not your last chance. No matter how this turns out, you’re learning something valuable, and if you keep going, you’ll have the opportunity to continue refining and trying new things in the future.
If you feel stuck, ask yourself: What have I learned from previous efforts? What can I do differently based on what I’ve learned in the past? What new experiments could I try? What support can I find to make this process easier?
The Benefits of the Bigger Picture
Now that I’ve learned how to zoom out, so much more feels possible. Nothing feels make or break anymore. I have this sense that I can absolutely find what I’m looking for, and what’s even better, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with what I know, what I’m doing, or where I am now. I can enjoy wherever I am on the path.
That’s another reason success is a process: when we see the bigger picture, we don’t care so much whether or not we reach our destination. We realize that in most of the ways that matter, we already have.
Being married to a Brazilian man, I have a lot of opportunities to see just how differently two people can understand the same word.
One time, for example, the term “boob job” came up. My husband gave me a confused look and asked, “Is that when a woman works giving her milk to orphans?” Bless his literal heart, that’s the first thing he thought of when trying to figure out how a woman could make money using her breasts.
Somewhat similarly, I’ve come to realize that people often misconstrue what it means to find your calling. While I don’t claim to have a perfect or uniquely true understanding of the concept (and I have to admit that I prefer my husband’s definition of “boob job” to my own), I do find that some of the more common misconceptions about discovering what you’re meant to do in the world get in the way of successfully doing it.
So here are the 10 biggest myths about finding your calling:
You only have one.
When we imagine that there’s only one thing out there that we’re born to do, the process of finding it becomes like searching for a needle in a haystack. In my experience, we all have multiple callings, and countless ways we can fulfill them. Nobody is good at only one thing, and almost everyone has multiple interests. We can use all of these in our calling, either in combination or sequentially. Don’t be afraid to acknowledge this abundance and stop trying to find the one, right answer. Instead, listen in to which of the many valid expressions of your calling feels most energizing and needed at this point in your life.
Your calling never changes.
Would that we could stop looking once we find work we love. Fortunately and unfortunately, our calling changes as we do—what satisfied us once won’t do so forever. This can be frustrating to the part of us that hates change and wants to rest effortlessly on our laurels. On the other hand, it’s an incredible opportunity to continue to grow more powerful, learn, deepen, and create new contributions that are freshly responsive to our dynamic desires and the world’s changing needs. So don’t pressure yourself to find something you’ll be happy with the rest of your life; instead, embrace the fact that it’s going to change and find something that feels right for you right now.
Finding your calling solves all your problems.
Before, I thought that like a knight in shining armor, a career I loved would slay all my dragons with one swipe of its sword: I’d be happy all the time. I’d have no more doubts and worries. My life would be filled with birdsong, sunshine, beaches, and sunsets.
Yea, not so much. Don’t get me wrong—I love what I do, it’s fulfilling and energizing, and I feel like I’m working on something that truly matters. That makes a big difference in my life. But I still have worries and fears, I still get frustrated by things taking longer than I’d like, and according to my husband, I still snore at night. Our challenges are here to help us grow and expand, to relax into what is, and to embrace life. They don’t disappear because there’s always more worth learning and welcoming. I recommend making peace with your problems as best you can and recognizing the fantasy of the knight in shining armor for what it is—popular fiction.
It has to be big.
A lot of my clients struggle to define their calling because what feels meaningful to them seems too small. I had one client, for example, who found great satisfaction in making people laugh, but he didn’t think it was grand or beneficial enough to truly be called a purpose. After doing some research, however, he discovered that laughter improves moods, decreases stress, boosts our immune systems, strengthens social connections, enhances learning, and has many other benefits for body, mind, and spirit. It turns out laughter is quite powerful medicine.
The world has many needs—how are we to judge with our limited perspectives which are more important or valuable than others? Acknowledging the impact you want to have, not just the one you think you should, is a great way to get started defining your purpose.
You have to make money doing it.
While many people do make money from their passion, and it’s often more possible than you think, you get to choose whether you want to or not. Making money is a means to an end, not a worthwhile goal in itself. If you’re giving life to the things you feel called to create, you’ll feel equally satisfied whether you’re paid for them or not. Many people find great contentment creating and contributing their unique vision to the world without getting paid a dime. How you want to live your passion—not just how you want to live off of it—is one of the most powerful questions you can ask.
You can’t make money doing it.
Here’s the clever reasoning so many of us use not to pursue our calling: “I have to make money doing what I love, but I won’t be able to, so why bother?” This belief is usually the work of our fear, which makes up stories to keep us from taking risks. “Nope, don’t bother making that leap, Chief,” it yells into its bullhorn. “You won’t be able to make a good living from it. Better to stick with what we’re doing now—at least we know it’ll pay the bills.” But unless you’ve actually tried and given it everything you’ve got, you can’t know for sure that you won’t be able to make enough money. And one thing I invariably find with myself and my clients is that there are far more possibilities in the world than we think there are when we’re sitting alone with our fear. So stop telling yourself this story; it just isn’t true. Instead, look for ways to find out for yourself what’s actually possible for you.
You have to find a new job to do it.
Sometimes following your calling will take you into a bold new adventure. But other times it’ll point out ways that you can tweak your current circumstances to allow you to fulfill your purpose. I had a client who was desperately unhappy in her current job. As she got clearer about what she wanted, she realized that by speaking up more with her boss, finding ways to work on certain types of projects, and focusing more on the contributions she was making to her coworkers that went beyond her official job description, she could fulfill her calling without changing positions, at least for the time being. Don’t assume you can’t fulfill your calling until you find a new job; instead, start asking how you can bring more passion and purpose into your life as it is right now.
You have to sacrifice yourself in order to do it right.
I knew someone who was scared to ask the question of what he really felt called to do because he was worried he would find that he needed to sell all his belongings, move halfway across the world, and live in dire poverty helping the poorest of the poor. When he actually did investigate his purpose, however, he found that he could do what was truly important to him while still living a comfortable life close to the people he loved.
You can answer your calling in a way that doesn’t require you to give up what you hold most dear. And if you are asked to give up some things along the way, it can be only what feels right to you, once you’re ready, and in a way that feels like freedom, not sacrifice. The key thing to remember is that answering your calling is about lovingly taking care of what’s most important to you, not sacrificing it on the altar of grand gestures that aren’t authentic to you.
It’s all about what you do, not how you do it.
You could be doing wonderful work in the world, but if you’re killing yourself doing it or compromising your ethics in the process, it isn’t truly your calling. What you do is important, but so is how you do it. That means being able to work with ease, go at your own pace, and act in integrity with your values. So as you continue to move closer to your calling, pay as much attention to how you’re working as what you’re doing.
You’re not already doing it.
Chances are that no matter what you do for work, you’re already fulfilling your calling in some way, shape, or form. The greatest gifts you have to offer come naturally to you and are inherent in how you approach the world, so you’re going to express them whether you intend to or not. I was listening deeply to and supporting others long before I officially became a coach, and I’ve enjoyed putting complex ideas into words and images in various ways my whole life. It’s absolutely a worthwhile endeavor to find ways to express your calling more powerfully, but it’s also great to realize that you don’t have to do anything differently to share your gifts with the world.
Big News Coming Soon
If you could use some help to find your calling (and let’s be honest here, who couldn’t?), then I’ve got good news. I have some exciting offerings in the works and will be making announcements about them soon. If you want to be sure you hear them, then sign up to receive updates in the box below.
You see, in addition to being passionate about helping others do meaningful work they love, I’m also a personal development geek.
And while I really can’t claim to know everything there is to know about being human (believe me, I am reminded daily just how much I have left to learn), I have learned a thing or two from a lifelong obsession with trying to figure out why we do the (lovably quirky and frequently irrational) things we do. And there are some truths that are simple, if not easy.
The truth about who we are
What I’ve found is it pretty much comes down to this: We are all amazing. Breathtakingly, beautifully, without-a-doubt awesome. And we all have everything we need within us—security, confidence, power, love, harmony, wisdom, joy, guidance, etc.
But we forget. Inexorably, inevitably, tragically we forget. As we go through pain, loss, frustration, disappointment, and rejection, we misinterpret events and lose touch with all these wonderful things within us.
The big mistake every one of us makes
At some point, when we’re young and not very wise to the truth of the world, we come up with strategies to try to get these very wonderful things back. Strategies like people-pleasing, or power-grabbing, or worrying, or trying to be perfect.
Our strategies, which we might also call our personalities, feel like they’re helping us, but they’re actually quite short-sighted. And in the end, they take us further and further away from what we’re truly wanting.
How to make things whole again
So the key, I’ve found, to finding what we’re looking for, is to begin to observe ourselves and notice which particular strategies we’ve chosen. And then to see in what ways they’re helping us and in what ways they’re not.
And then, the most important thing we can do is not to try to fix anything or—heaven forbid—improve ourselves. Because that’s just another strategy, and it hardly ever works.
Once we’re intimately (and nauseatingly) familiar with our patterns, the best thing we can do to reconnect with our amazingness and move towards what we’re wanting is…
You see, it’s the tightening—from fear, from disappointment, from stress, from pain—that makes us lose connection with who we really are and lets us think we’re anything less than incredible.
When we relax, our natural awesomeness rises once again to the surface.
Relaxing is simple, though not really very easy.
It helps to stop believing all the negative stories in our heads and start seeing things as they actually are.
It’s beneficial to take loving care of ourselves and connect meaningfully with others.
It’s useful to notice all the ways in which the universe is supporting us and to contribute to something larger than ourselves.
Most of all, it’s helpful to breathe. Oxygen is far better than valium. Relax the body, relax the mind, relax the ego.
Over to You
I’m curious—what do you make of this? What resonates? What doesn’t? Please let us know in the comments below.
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In my last blog post, I wrote about the benefits of trusting your gut.
I claimed that your somatic—or gut—intelligence, when combined with your feelings and intellect, provides everything you could ever want in a state-of-the-art guidance system.
I alleged that by listening to your gut, you can not only make better decisions, but find the right path every time.
But is it really true? Can you always trust your gut?
I can imagine some legitimate pushback:
How can our gut possibly take into account—let alone process—all the information out there about conflicting preferences, possible choices, and probable outcomes?
What about those times when I listened to my gut and it steered me wrong?
If we all listened to our guts all of the time, wouldn’t we be prejudiced, irrational, and impulsive?
The cold, hard truth
The science isn’t prolific, but it is consistent: you can absolutely trust your gut.
Researchers have found that the network of nerves lining our guts is so extensive that many scientists now refer to it as our “second brain.” It contains over 100 million neurons, can act independently from our primary brain, and according to one expert at UCLA, is “ way too complicated to have evolved only to make sure things move out of your colon.”
Studies have shown that when it comes to making major life decisions, “trusting your intuition leads to better outcomes than trusting your logical, thinking brain.”
One study has even shown that our bodies can accurately tell us the best choice to make before that choice has come into existence. In this study, researchers found that physiological responses of participants accurately predicted which curtain on a computer screen an object would lay behind—2-3 seconds before the computer itself selected which curtain to use.
Not just in the labs
One of my clients owns a small business. He recently had an opportunity to consult with another entrepreneur who was looking to make his business investment-ready. My client was excited by the idea of consulting but worried that it would pull him off-course from his own endeavors.
His concerns were valid. And yet when he checked in with his gut, he found that his state-of-the-art guidance system was telling him to do it.
He trusted his gut and was pleased with the results. He found that consulting and giving back to others energized him so much that he was able to bring back renewed vitality to his own projects.
He also discovered benefits that he couldn’t have anticipated—for example, while working on the project, he reconnected with some key investors just before he developed a new business idea that he found out would soon need financial support.
Far from pulling him off-course, listening to his gut made him even more powerful in pursuing his goals in ways he hadn’t dreamed of.
You can trust your gut—always—but it is important to understand more about how our bodies work.
We can, for instance, be reprogrammed by traumatic experiences. This can lead our bodies to give us false signals. If you’re in a bad car wreck, for example, your fight or flight system might begin to send you warning signals any time you approach a car in the future, whether or not there’s any real danger present.
And there are subtleties in how our guts respond that we need to learn how to untangle.
We need to learn, for example, the difference between what feels good because it’s easy and what feels good because it’s right for us.
We have to be able to distinguish between when we feel frightened because something is new and when we’re anxious because we’re not on the right path.
Our bodies themselves can help us make these distinctions. As we learn how to speak their language more fluently, we discover that each scenario feels different in the body: easy feels different than right, and fear when something is new feels different than anxiety when something is fundamentally wrong.
Trusting your gut doesn’t mean immediately reacting to the first thing you feel. It means listening for and interpreting what your body is telling you. When you integrate that with what your emotions and your rational mind are telling you as well, good things happen. Very good things.
I met my husband because I trusted my gut.
I got married earlier this month, and I never would have met my husband if I hadn’t trusted my gut.
There were a whole host of choices I made that led up to our lives converging. One was my decision to start training capoeira 10 years ago in San Francisco, something I was terrified of but felt instinctively drawn to nonetheless.
Another was my decision, 7 years later, to move back to Atlanta after nearly 15 years in the Bay Area. I had rational reasons for staying and going, but in the end it was my gut that told me to move back.
It was also my gut that told me that there was something special about the handsome and playful Brazilian instructor who visited my new capoeira group in Atlanta soon after I moved back. It suggested I would do well to stay close to him and get to know him better.
I can’t tell you how glad I am that I did.
Over to you
When have you trusted your gut and had good or surprising results?
We would love to hear from you, so please share your comments below. (As an added service to our community, a link to your latest blog post–if you have one–will appear after your comment.)
Learn how to let your gut guide you.
It takes skill and practice and lots of courage to trust your gut. If you don’t know what your gut is telling you, or if you’re having a hard time doing what you feel you should, coaching can help. Click here to request a Clarity Call and find out how you can learn to trust your gut and discover good things in your future.
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I’ve been learning a lot lately about powerlessness.
Case(s) in point: I’ve been waiting for many months for the U.S. government to issue a visa for my fiancé to be able to come back to the States so we can get married. My parents’ dog (whom I adore) just got diagnosed with cancer and doesn’t have long to live. A few of my backyard chickens have intestinal worms that won’t go away despite multiple treatments from the vet.
And that’s just the start.
Here’s what I’ve learned through all this powerlessness:
I hate feeling out of control.
I’ll do pretty much anything I can to avoid it.
Almost everything is out of my control.
The truth is, we are powerful in many ways, but we’re powerless in many more. Most of what happens in this world is not up to us. In fact, when we try to stay in control, what we’re actually holding onto is the illusion of control.
And the illusion of control may make us feel safe, but it’s also at the heart of most of our problems.
Think of it like this: when we come face-to-face with something we can’t fix, it can feel like we’re drowning in the inescapable force of a stadium-sized whirlpool. So we fight the current and swim harder to get back to what feels like solid ground. But the more we fight, the more exhausted we become, and the farther we drift from what we want.
The key to getting out of a whirlpool is to stop fighting: you accept that the force of the water is more powerful than you and let yourself sink to the bottom so the vortex will spit you out.
I’ll give you a real-life example. The other day I woke up in a bad mood. I was cranky and irritated and frustrated that I was so grumpy when I had nothing real to complain about. The more I tried to relax and lighten up, the worse I felt.
But then it occurred to me that my moods are like the weather—they come and go of their own accord and are not up to me to fix. And lo and behold, as I accepted my inability to rid myself of my bad mood, it slowly but surely started to lift.
There’s a power that comes from accepting our powerlessness.
Imagine this: you’re walking down the street when you come across a man who is repeatedly banging his head against a granite wall. When you ask him why he’s doing this, he looks at you like it’s obvious, then realizes you’re an idiot and explains:
“This wall is causing me a lot of pain. I’m trying to knock it down so it won’t hurt me anymore.”
Like this man, we often fail to realize that what’s causing our pain is not other people, things, or the situation we’re in, but the fact that we’re trying to change them. We tell ourselves nasty stories about what it means that things are this way; we imagine bad events that will occur because they are.
We bang our heads against the wall because it’s all we know to do.
On the other hand, when we stop trying to change things that are out of our control, they no longer have the power to hurt us in the same way. Granite walls stop being headaches and start to become….granite walls. And when we finally see things how they really are instead of how we want them to be, solutions begin to emerge on their own.
I am in no way saying that we should never take action for change. But paradoxically, we will become far more powerful if we can fully accept our powerlessness.
Here’s how to start:
Step 1: Acknowledge what you’re powerless over.
This can be harder than it sounds.
When I’m not sure whether I’m banging my head against a wall or simply being persistent, I use the Serenity Prayer: God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
That kind of wisdom can take years or decades to come by. Here’s a cheat sheet:
What you can control: Your choices and actions.
What you can’t control: Everything else.*
*Including but not limited to: everybody else’s thoughts, feelings, and behavior, and the outcomes of all your efforts.
Often we get it backwards: we spend so much time trying to influence others and the external world that we forget to focus on what we have the most power over: ourselves and our own choices.
You can work incredibly hard on a project, but you can’t control whether you get a promotion.
You can be as loving as possible to a friend, but you can’t stop them from getting angry with you.
You can make a clear and reasonable request to someone else, but you are powerless over how they respond.
If you’re still in doubt, check in with how you’re feeling. Usually if you’re taking care of something within your power, there is a sense of strength, ease, and groundedness. If your efforts make you feel more along the lines of exhausted, angry, or anxious, then it’s likely you’re pushing on something over which you have no jurisdiction.
In a world where we’re trained how to exert and maintain control, acknowledging what you’re powerless over is a revolutionary act. It’s also a powerful one.
Sometimes just admitting that we’re powerless is enough to solve our problems. When I’m feeling overwhelmed, acknowledging that I’m powerless over the fact that I have limits frees me to stop trying to do everything. And suddenly, I’m no longer overwhelmed.
I can’t tell you how many problems I’ve solved simply by admitting that I can’t change the laws of reality.
Step 2: By all means change what you can.
If you still have problems after conceding you’re not omnipotent, you have options.
You could ask for help.
Often we’re powerless to do something by ourselves, but we find a new power by enlisting others. Alcoholics Anonymous was founded on this principle (the 12 steps require members to ask for help from both God and fellow alcoholics) and has proven it’s a sound one.
You could make lemonade.
If you can’t sleep, read a good book. If you’re caught in traffic, call a friend. If you don’t get the job you want, look for a better one or start your own business.
You could find a new way of looking at things that makes you happier.
If others are critical of you, choose not to let your satisfaction or self-worth depend on the opinions of others. If things aren’t going according to plan, consider that there might be a plan better than the one you made. If you’re not getting the results you wanted, keep in mind that what you’re getting may be better in the long run than what you had imagined.
It’s not what happens to us that determines our happiness but rather the stories we tell ourselves about it. And you can always choose what story you tell yourself about anything.
Step 3: Accept what you cannot change.
Ultimately, we will be a lot happier if we can accept things the way they are and stop fighting reality. Unfortunately, this is easier said than done.
There’s no magic bullet for acceptance. It can help to look at things from different perspectives, talk to others who see things differently, and do your best to be compassionate with yourself and make sure your needs are getting met.
If something still feels absolutely unacceptable to you, the best thing I know to do is pray—not to get what you want, but to be able to accept what is.
You don’t even have to believe in God to do this. Pray to the universe, your dog, or the tree in your yard. The important thing is to ask somebody—anybody—to help you find acceptance.
Prayer is, after all, a form of accepting powerlessness.
And that, as we have seen, leads to serenity, freedom, and ultimately–in a process that’s totally outside of our control–power.
Now over to you: What do you make of all this? What makes you feel powerless? How to you deal with a lack of control?
If you’d like help on your journey, I offer individual and small group coaching. Find out more here.