A lot of people claim they can’t follow their dreams. They have a mortgage, kids, a work history they say prevents them from pursuing jobs they might actually like.
Others swear that if you let your passion lead, success will follow. That where there’s a will, there’s a way.
So which is it?
The short answer: It’s not either/or. It’s both/and.
My meditation teacher once told me there are two things she believes are critical to do in this life:
- Follow your inner guidance.
- Be practical.
I’ve been amazed how, if I listen carefully and get creative, I’ve never been forced to choose one or the other. There’s always been a way to do both.
How to Be Practical (and How Not to)
If you’re reading this, my guess is you don’t have a problem being practical. In my experience, the people who ask “Am I being impractical?” almost never are. They ask the question precisely because they value pragmatism and have a strong sense of what’s needed to navigate most any situation. What feels impractical to them isn’t usually foolish—it’s just somewhat more uncertain than their usual course of action.
So I won’t say much about how to be practical, but I will say that it’s important to remember that practicality isn’t an all-or-nothing affair.
All-or-nothing thinking is our brain’s sneaky way of convincing us to stick with the status quo. Part of us is scared of change, so it convinces us that since we can’t pursue our childhood dream of being a professional basketball player, we have no choice but to stay in our current job until we either retire or die.
But there are many other possibilities that lie between the two extremes of being the next Michael Jordan or making zero changes. We could play more basketball with friends after work. We could find a youth team to coach. We could see if there’s a job in the sports industry that makes our hearts sing. Or we could get to the root of what we love about basketball (The physical challenge? Being part of a team? Engaging or entertaining others? Representing a community? Opportunities for learning and growth?) and find other ways to bring these things into our work and lives.
The Magic of Following Inner Guidance
When we listen to our inner wisdom and find practical ways to act on it, something magical happens.
It isn’t that we’re always successful and happy and nothing goes wrong. Rather, the magic is that we find what we’re looking for, even if we don’t know exactly what that is.
When we want something like a new job, usually what we really want is to feel something: joy, freedom, fulfillment, a sense of being valuable or important or impactful.
And here’s the magical part:
- When we follow our inner wisdom, we often feel joyful because we’re engaging with the things we love and that make us come alive.
- We feel free because we’re making active choices, saying no to what’s not essential so we can do what matters most.
- We feel fulfilled because we’re doing something meaningful and important.
- And we feel valuable and impactful because we’re finding ways big and small to share our greatest gifts with a world that desperately needs them.
In other words, it doesn’t matter so much where your inner guidance leads you. You don’t find what you want most in a particular job. You find it in the search, in taking one step after another, in listening for what’s calling you and saying yes to that call.
Drawing on a Bigger Picture
Balancing practicality with guidance is a learned art, and mistakes are an integral part of the process. Sometimes we’re too practical. Other times we don’t think things through. We have to lose our balance and find it again over and over to learn anything worthwhile.
But maybe that’s okay. Maybe that’s what we’re here to do in this life—to find ways to bring our immense gifts, infinite imagination, and endless creativity to a flawed and finite world.
Maybe in embracing these twin parts of ourselves—our limitedness and our limitlessness—we discover the unconditional love and acceptance that are the true heart of all our desires.
Photo by Greg Rakozy on Unsplash
If we were all happy to spend the rest of our days in a job we hate, there would be no need for self-help books, inspirational TED Talks or Instagram accounts like Humans of New York. How do you find the job that you really love when you often don’t even know what that is when you’re in your 20s? This is the question posed by author Cal Newport in his book So Good They Can’t Ignore You.
I’ve been feeling down lately. I feel like I’m stuck in a rut, that this is all I can do in life. Sometimes I don’t know what I should do to overcome this. I’ve kept trying to stay positive, thinking this will all pass, that everything will eventually be okay. But I’m losing that drive, and I’m losing myself. I’m trying different things to hopefully help me find new opportunities for me to grow, like taking an online course and trying something new.
I’m sorry you’ve been feeling down, Dana. It’s painful to feel stuck. Finding opportunities to learn and grow can definitely shift things. I also find that when I feel down or stuck, talking to somebody else about how I’m feeling is what makes the difference. Often it takes more than one person, but eventually I feel heard, supported, and loved enough for something to click, or I hear the perspective that I needed.