July 2013: Do You Love Your Work?

by Brad on June 30, 2013

“Work is love made visible.” — Kahlil Gibran        .

Among life’s big challenges, “I hate my job” is perhaps the most common. Many of my clients feel they’re doing meaningless jobs, for lifeless organizations, in environments devoid of human spirit. Dire circumstances for what accounts for half our waking hours. Most are resigned, however, because, “Don’t you get it; I need to make a living.”

If this hits close to home, I’ve got two questions for you:

  • Are you just making a living or are you making a life? While you’re thinking, name how these differ for you.
  • If you’re not living your dreams, can you name the obstacles you perceive keep you from doing so? 

Here’s my take, which comes from experiences of helping many people imagine, then live, lives they love. No matter what’s on your list of obstacles, none of them block your path. What blocks your path is a belief that the list is valid. That’s not a rock in the road; it’s a thought. It’s also a thought you made up, not a universal truth. Although we’re not conscious of it, the gap between making a living and making a life is a major source of dissonance in our lives.

17150069If you’re still with me, here’s a path you may not have considered exploring: If you don’t know who you are, chances are not good you’ll find work that brings you joy. Sure, you have skills. Sure, you have experience. Sure, there are places that need those things. But if you follow that path, what will sustain you when the going gets rough? If your work is not fueled by an inner love that offers you meaning, you’ll often find yourself wishing you could quit. And even if you do know who you are, it’s tough to find “you” in the want ads. Unaccustomed as we are, however, to questioning our thoughts and beliefs, we never dream that the freedom we seek is, and always has been, inside us.

I love to travel. Before each trip, I re-read The Art of Pilgrimage, by Phil Cousineau. Its inspiration is that in preparing for travel as a sacred pilgrimage, you become open to discovering meaning along the way. A consistent message is this: Uncover what you long for and discover who you are. Perhaps good advice for the greater pilgrimage called life, too. An underlying “truth” – your deepest love is your work in the world. Find it and honor its message. Yes, you’ll still have challenges. The energy of your love, however, will cause you to see them with curiosity, not dread.

Discovering the sacred work of your life is a natural by-product of knowing yourself very well, from the inside out. Self-knowing comes though a regular practice of quiet inquiry and reflection, during which you allow your deepest truth to emerge. As you come to know yourself more and more deeply, you’ll realize the joy you may experience by bringing your spirit to the world instead of trying so hard to get spirit from the world.   

Exercise: Discovering personal truth: You feel the energy of your inner essence many times a day, pointing to your truth, asking you to listen. You discover it by noticing. Sit quietly; name distinct phases of life. Possibilities include childhood, school, family, transitions, jobs, relationships. Overlap is OK. Now look inside each phase, one at a time, asking yourself: Who was I always being? What was I always drawn to? What did I wonder or imagine? What did I do whether I gained approval or not? Look for places in your “always” stories that ran against convention. Review your notes and see what you find in common across multiple lists. When you discover who you can’t not be/do, you find that piece of yourself that is so naturally you that you may have missed your unique, deepest essence (purpose).

After you develop a sense of your true self, listen to its message. Stop a few times a day for quiet reflection. Identify instances in the present where your deepest longing (the first part of this exercise) spoke to you. Question how you responded in that moment? Did you honor the message; did you deny it; did you ignore it in favor of what was happening at the time? Just notice; no judgment; no need to change anything. Your truth is a “pattern” deep inside you. You can recognize it as you would a friend’s voice in a noisy room. With clarity and awareness, answers you struggle with today become obvious or inconsequential. This practice is “heavy” and carries huge potential. Absorb it.


A River Runs Through It  [Life lessons offered by nature]

In doing the exercise suggested in this month’s article, I recall an event from early in life – a learning moment, and a  “hint” about my true nature. When I was in sixth grade, my parents came home from a teacher conference, where my science teacher had told them, “I go home at night and study; I’m afraid of the questions he might ask me.” Humor aside, a few pieces of insight. As a sixth-grader, I wasn’t trying to bust the teacher. I simply wanted to learn. More specifically, I want to learn how & why (which are not always part of public school’s everyday curriculum) – how and why the world works, how the pieces fit together, and how that impacts all of life. Even in the sixth grade, that mattered to me. With that as a “big clue” as to my true nature, I investigated other parts of my life (see exercise).

I recall a physics teacher answering one of my ‘why’ questions with, “just use the formula.” My response: “Tell me how it works, and I’ll give you the formula.” Curiosity and wonder; and probably a hint of my rebel archetype at the same time. The Air Force didn’t like my questioning nature; even as an officer, my superiors were intent on squashing my curiosity. I did not make that a career. The software world loved me; I found new ways of seeing old things, new possibilities for solutions to big problems. My avocation as a nature tour leader was a scary venture for me at first; I was in the company of some of the best known biologists, ecologists and photographers in the country. Yet what inspired me on those tours was not the science detail, but the “why.” Why is the Arctic? Years later, I hear from people still grateful for how their trip with me helped them “get” why our world is worth protecting. See the threads here? Discovery. A message revealing itself, just for the listening – but only with the listening.

It’s perhaps no surprise I was drawn to professional coaching. Helping others see and think – about themselves, others and the world – in new ways was a natural consequence of getting to know my true self, honoring its message of personal truth, then bringing that “me” to the world. My life and my work are “one.” That brings me joy.

Openings to New Possibility

Available for you:

  • The Road Not Taken Community, a no-cost subscription that offers you connection, interaction, challenge, and learning. See articles, newsletters and blogs; you’ll find “new stuff” here regularly. I welcome comments and conversation; this kind of dialogue is an example of how we may all learn together.
  • “In Nature’s Image,” a series of blog posts here. A new post every few days, each a simple suggestion for adding meaning to your life, accompanied by one of my images from nature. If you’d like have them delivered to you by email, you may use the green icon (“receive blog via RSS feed”) on any page of my website or right here. If we’re connected on Facebook, you’ll also find each post there.
  • My e-book, A Field Guide to Life: How to Live With Authenticity and Freedom, offering a path beyond the limiting belief that you can’t live an extraordinary life. Reclaim the power of your deepest longing. You can purchase the ebook, or read it at no cost as a series of blog articles posted on my website.
  • The Road Not Taken newsletters (11 years, 132 issues of Purposeful Wanderings) available here as a pdf file.  
  • Photo images from my travels available here on fun products – note cards, coffee mugs – great gift ideas.

An invitation to possibility: If you have the courage and determination to step apart from the crowd and challenge conventional thinking, so you can live instead with authenticity and freedom, contact me for a conversation that can shift your thinking forever. I will help you reach a level of clarity and perspective – about yourself, others, your life, your work and the world – that allows you to live your truth, every day. Trade the way it is for the way it could be.

Book of the month The Great Work of Your Life, by Stephen Cope.  Subtitled “A Guide for the Journey to Your True Calling,” this book shows, largely through stories of those who’ve ‘been there,’ the pathways to self-discovery that lead us to our true work in the world. Gandhi, Jane Goodall, Thoreau, Keats, Frost, Harriet Tubman – figures we know, perhaps because they found and followed their true nature. Insight, awareness, and an invitation to self-reflection. … And if you’re on Cape Cod, you’ll find this book available at the Market Street Bookshop in Mashpee Commons – 508-539-6985.

 Download July 2013 pdf

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