Growing up, my mother repeatedly told my siblings and me: “Do what you love and the money will follow.” As a teacher-turned-entrepreneur, she walked the talk. She transformed her passion for educational books into a calling, and successful one at that.
I feel as if I’m at a juncture in my career. Four years ago, I fell into an exciting position that has been a great fit for my talents and strengths. I rapidly excelled, receiving near-constant promotions and large performance bonuses. Yet, early on, something felt wrong. I’ve always dreamed of a career in which I can help people, and this job has never satisfied that longing.
After four years of climbing the stairway to success, racking up new responsibilities and accomplishments along the way, I’ve hit a ceiling. I am realizing, and slowly coming to accept, that there’s nothing more for me to learn, accomplish or contribute in my current position. I have been sitting at the end of a dead-end street, waiting for constructions crews to come in and build me a through road. But no one seems to notice me here, waiting patiently for a change.
“If you want to be happy, set a goal that commands your thoughts, liberates your energy, and inspires your hopes.”
― Andrew Carnegie
From eight-to-five, Monday through Friday, I feel empty. Though my free time is packed with loved ones, laughter and meaningful projects, it’s becoming painfully evident that I yearn for more. I don’t need balance–that myth of one-half work and one-half play–but instead, alignment. I need to do work that does not drain my energy, but instead sustains a sense of purposeful drive.
The figurative roadside is sprinkled with various camps, each picketing for their cause. Some insist that I do what I love, follow my passion and embrace my true nature. They assure me that my personal well-being and sense of fulfillment are worth more than all the money in the world. On the opposite side of the street, others tell me to stick to what I’m good at and later leverage those skills to achieve my life’s mission.
“Passion comes after you put in the hard work to become excellent at something valuable, not before. In other words, what you do for a living is much less important than how you do it.”
― Cal Newport
I have so many interests. There are so many things I wish to accomplish. I want to help people and have a positive impact. When I muse on how I could make a difference in the world, the possibilities seem overwhelmingly endless.
I met up with a friend over the weekend and expressed this sense of indecision. “Sit with yourself, clear away the mental chatter and then you’ll find clarity,” she assured me. “You already have your answer… you just can’t see it yet.” I know that she’s right. Yet, finding stillness and listening to the quiet whisper of your heart is often harder said than done.
Lately, I’ve been thinking about what I would choose to do if there were no restrictions. What would I choose to do if I could pursue any type of work, partner with anyone, live anywhere and accomplish seemingly impossible feats? When I reach the end of my life, what do I want written on my headstone? Or, perhaps less morbid a question, what would I be supremely proud to list on my resume?
“If you can’t figure out your purpose, figure out your passion. For your passion will lead you right into your purpose.”
– T.D. Jakes
I don’t know about you, but my day job does little to liberate, inspire or compel. Unfortunately, over time, it’s become little more than a steady paycheck, which I’ve tucked away to fund my eventual escape. I trust that a better opportunity it just around the corner, yet I also believe that I am fully responsible for fostering the mindset and energy to invite such a job into my life.
I’ve decided to take a break from assessing my transferable skills, seeking out potential employers and revising my target salary to instead revisit someplace deeper–my hopes and dreams for the future. However, being highly pragmatic, this hasn’t been easy.
As bill-paying, responsibility-wielding adults, dreaming isn’t always as easy as it was as a child or young adult. Perhaps we’ve become jaded by a few failures, or maybe we’re so embedded in our reality that we forget what possibilities exist on the other side of fear. A few years ago, I cut up a North Face catalog and taped a small square to my computer. There was a line down the middle and on one side was the word “Free,” but “Fear” would appear when the square was turned upside down. Freedom is on the other side of fear. The reminder is still there every time I sit down at my computer.
“My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.”
– Maya Angelou
I’ve had to take a big leap backwards to gain that clarity my friend suggested I discover. I’ve had to view my life through the lens of an unbiased observer who just happens to know everything about me, yet has no biases regarding my decisions. I keep asking myself the following question, and I keep patiently waiting for the wisdom and insight to recognize the answer.
If I had a full year off, and a stipend of $100,000, how would I spend it?
The time, that is?
And then the money?
“There is no passion to be found playing small, in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.”
– Nelson Mandela
So, I’ve taken inventory. Given both time and monetary resources, how could I best allocate that which I have to gain that mysterious something that I long for.
My Passions, Hobbies & Interests:
- Writing, reading and learning new things
- Problem-solving and puzzles
- Ethical and societal implications of technology
- Longevity research and medical advancements
- Spirituality and the origins of consciousness
- Higher education accessibility and palatability
- Gardening, agriculture and the idea of food as medicine
- Investing, budgeting and achieving financial independence
- Intellectual discussions with open-minded people
- Functional, minimalist and human-centered design
- Travel, especially by car or train
- Hiking, yoga and weightlifting
My Strengths & Skills:
- Complex problem-solving
- Collecting and archiving information
- Project management
- Empathy and compassion
- Research and analysis
- Strategy and leadership
- Systems engineering
- Recognizing patterns and connections between disparate ideas
- Marrying analytical and creative thinking
My Values & Purpose:
- Compassion and service to other, ideally on a large scale
- Curiosity and an openness to new ideas
- Self-awareness, humility and continual growth
- Pursuit and application of wisdom in daily life
- Meaningful work and recognition for significant achievements
- Travel abroad to experience new cultures
- Attend conferences and seminars across the country
- Take classes and courses to launch a new career, or just for fun
- Go to a coding boot camp and create an exciting program
- Network with my favorite authors and scientists
- Write a novel or an investigative journal piece
- Knock out the pre-requisites for a MD-PhD in gerontology
- Apply for a MS program in human factors engineering
- Quit my job and then play it by ear
- Find a mentor or start an apprenticeship
- Start a small business doing something I sincerely enjoy
“Joy isn’t a signal that you’re not serious. It’s a sign that you’re curious and engaged.”
– Ingrid Fetell
I don’t yet have clarity, or my answer. However, I’m finding that exploring my interests, bolstering my skills and staying true to my values is bringing me closer to to an answer. I’m wondering more and more whether, perhaps, there never is a clear understanding, but instead a series of clues and experiments. A good friend once told me that she wasn’t certain about her career choice when she began preparing for her master’s program, but her excitement grew as she shadowed professionals, took prerequisite classes and was accepted to programs. In the doing, she found her resounding “yes.”
So, as I navigate this unknown territory, I am committed to remaining open, continually taking action, and looking out for those small clues that I’m heading in the right direction. I plan to continue my questioning from an observer’s vantage point, replacing limitations with the idea of limitless resources. It’s my hope that, one day soon, the all pieces will begin coalesce and I’ll hear a faint whisper of “yes” in the distance, letting me know that I am exactly where I need to be.
How about you?
If you had a full year off, and a stipend of $100,000, how would you spend the time and the money?
Ooh, I want to do this self-reflective thought experiment for myself now! Nice post.
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Thanks, Lily! If you do, I hope that it offers you new insights. 🙂
I would just write. Ideally I’d go off and hide in a remote area once a month for 3-5 days at a time, grind out writing in isolation, and do my research day-to-day. If you know anyone willing to give me $100,000 to go write for a year, I’m happy to talk to them.
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I have dozens of interests, but I writing is the one thing I continually return to when I wake up at 3am and can’t fall back to sleep. I think I’d also be pretty damn content if I could go grind out a book or two in complete isolation. Maybe we can each find a benefactor… hahaha!
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Just doing nothing really…being in present. And a bit traveling.
I love your reflection over “what I am”, but it’s very detailed. Anyway, if ur purpose is compassion – u should choose the job with any living creatures 🙂 on this Earth
What a wonderful answer! I think “we” as a collective humanity are addicted to being busy. Simply being present and paying attention is probably one of the most rewarding things one could do. 🙂
Thanks for your thoughts!! I think I’m definitely meant to do compassion-based work. 🙂
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thanks for your replay.. I mentioned you in my new post today, really enjoyed the question, waiting for my 100k now 😂
I am honored! Thank you so much for mentioning my post. I hope that the $100k flows into your life in the near future, allowing you to practice simply being. 🙂
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*patiently waiting* 😂😉✌️
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You do not know what you want to do. This is evident by the length of the list of possibilities. So, you should go find out. You should go in search of the next layer of your onion to peel.
It is correct, I think, inferring from your description & current degree of freedom, that the job should be axed. You have stopped growing within it — learned what it can teach you. You should do some sort of time limit: 3-4 weeks of travel or encampment in some out of the way locale (or mini-project) which appeals to you. This should be after you leave the job, with a major goal being to select the thing you will do with the rest of the year. It may involved exploring, getting input from others, placing yourself into unusual surroundings. Maybe you could begin a website/book/podcast/lecture tour/TED talk about just this inflection point in your life: how to next grow?
You are absolutely right. As difficult as it was for me to face that I do not know what I want to do, the list it evidence I need to figure it out. I *really* like your idea of leaving my current job, spending a full month focused on devising a 6-month plan, and then committing the rest of the year to a project that will lead me closer to a new career or at least offer me to opportunity to grow. Lots to think about here–thank you so much!! I’ve been saving extra money for the past year with no particular goal in mind, and I’m almost certain this would be the best use of that money and my time. Additionally, I’m sure many people are in a similar position, so sharing my experience probably isn’t a bad idea. Thanks!
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I’ve done something similar to what you are considering a couple of times in life. The fear around money is an enormously influential background noise within our psychological makeup. In the moment, during the heat of deciding, it seems of paramount pragmatic import. But I can tell you, that after decades pass and a more ‘musical’ or artistic perspective takes hold when we consider our past, we see it differently. Something essential develops within us because of taking these free-form haituses in our life, and it is not to be understood in merely practical or material terms. We come to feel freer, more able to flexibly negotiate the possibilities inherent in any situation — which first means perceiving them. Good Luck! (And you are right that it is a widespread ‘spiritual’ problem.)
Thank you!! You’re absolutely right–money seems so important; I’ve saved enough to get by for 6+ months, yet there’s still my inner “responsible adult” is nagging. In retrospect, I’ve nearly drained my savings more than a few time to travel and experience those free-form hiatuses. I’m certain that’s the best thing for me right now. Thank you for much for sharing your insights, experience, and support!