“What you are doing right now has within it the seeds of your life’s work. As you may have discovered, each time you get a new job you use many of the skills you have already developed. It is as if every job prepares you in some way for the next one. Every skill you acquire that you love using will be important as you follow your higher path. You may not understand why you took a job or developed a particular talent or ability, but the skills you have learned will be of value to you. Trust that what you are doing right now is helping you gain skills that will be used in your greater life’s work.”
—Sanaya Roman in Creating Money
When I read this quote, I immediately thought of Steve Job’s commencement speech at Stanford University—an oldie but goodie. Jobs discussed his college years when he dropped out of school to informally drop in on only the subjects that interested him. It may have seemed irresponsible at the time, but it seems like legend now. Here is an excerpt from his speech:
“I dropped out of Reed College after the first six months, but then stayed around as a drop-in for another 18 months or so before I really quit. So why did I drop out? I naively chose a college that was almost as expensive as Stanford, and all of my working-class parents’ savings were being spent on my college tuition. After six months, I couldn’t see the value in it. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life and no idea how college was going to help me figure it out. And here I was spending all of the money my parents had saved their entire life. So I decided to drop out and trust that it would all work out okay. It was pretty scary at the time, but looking back it was one of the best decisions I ever made. The minute I dropped out I could stop taking the required classes that didn’t interest me, and begin dropping in on the ones that looked interesting.
It wasn’t all romantic. I didn’t have a dorm room, so I slept on the floor in friends’ rooms, I returned coke bottles for the 5¢ deposits to buy food with, and I would walk the seven miles across town every Sunday night to get one good meal a week at the Hare Krishna temple. I loved it. And much of what I stumbled into by following my curiosity and intuition turned out to be priceless later on. Let me give you one example:
Reed College at that time offered perhaps the best calligraphy instruction in the country. Throughout the campus every poster, every label on every drawer, was beautifully hand calligraphed. Because I had dropped out and didn’t have to take the normal classes, I decided to take a calligraphy class to learn how to do this. I learned about serif and sans serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great. It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can’t capture, and I found it fascinating.
None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life. But ten years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography. If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts. You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something —your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”
(More discussion of this subject and speech is also covered in the chapter aboutFearless Faithin Professional Destiny).
Finding your purpose and practicing it in your profession is an immensely gratifying and productive experience. Your Professional Destiny is Work (with a capital “W”) that reflects a deep desire with you. It’s Work that inspires you and ignites your creativity. But, how do you know if you are in it? Here are nine indicators, excerpted from my book, that will tell you:
You are engaged.When you’re doing what you love, you become passionate about your work and lose track of time. You feel alive, energetic and creative. There is simply not enough time in the day to do what you can’t wait to do.
You feel on track.Things come naturally. Work seems easy, though it may not for others—because you’re exercising your gift. Your level of satisfaction is your true guidance system.
You feel honest.You’re being yourself. You’re pursuing a path that is in line with your values and interests, and you’re living in true authenticity with yourself.
You become lighter.Being true to your values allows you to shed a huge burden—the burden of maintaining a facade. You instantly experience a sense of relief as the weight is lifted.
You are committed.You clearly set your vision and do what you say you will. You may not know how you are going to get there or when, but you know that you will.
You operate with compassion.Your sense of individual freedom gives you a new sense of community. Your interactions become genuinely rewarding and you create true connections with others.
You make a contribution.What you are doing is meaningful and, while you may be well compensated, your driving force is contribution above money.
You are fulfilled.When you fully express your gifts, talents and creativity, you feel a deep-seated sense of satisfaction. Being on the path to reaching your full potential just feels great.
You make a difference.Your work positively impacts others in a most meaningful way. You’re confident that you’re leaving a legacy, and you’re gratified by that knowledge.
Ultimately, your Professional Destiny is a soul-level urge to fully express yourself and try something deeply interesting to you. It’s a dream that you carry inside—maybe it’s time to let it out.
The path to reinvention may seem daunting in the beginning. What does it take to gain momentum?
(Note to readers: I’ve had so many questions on the following subject that I thought it was time to bring back an oldie, but goodie. This article was originally published for More.com.)
The journey to doing what you love is not for the faint of heart. The beginning can be downright tough. It takes strength, discipline and an unwavering commitment. At times, it even can feel like you’re pushing a massive boulder. In the beginning you need to clearly set your vision and become focused intensely on self-awareness: taking stock of your strengths, your interests, what you are good at and what you are not. You commit to being authentic with yourself, knowing yourself so completely that you become immune to self-deception. Then you get to the hard work…
The following is an excerpt from Professional Destiny…
“Imagine a large boulder sitting right in front of you and you need to move it to get started with your business and on your path.
In the first stage, the formulation stage, you define your vision and become self-aware saying, ‘This is who I am, this is where I am going and this is what I’m about.’ You begin the creation process.
In the second stage, the concentration stage, you need to give a concentrated amount of energy to make it happen. It is a time to prove to the Universe that you are committed and that you mean what you say. It is about discipline. If you say you are going to make ten calls today, you make ten calls. When you don’t feel like it, make the next one. You show confidence—you tell the world ‘watch out, I’m coming, don’t mess with me. I am absolutely the right person to make this happen.’
The concentration stage is no fun. It is when you start pushing the boulder and there is inertia—total resistance—at first. It hasn’t moved for a long time, but you need to push it, drive it and not give up. You may feel like you are fighting the Universe because you put a lot more energy out than you get back. You’re working hard, yet there are not a lot of results. It takes grit, determination, strength of will and persistence. You don’t see much progress in the beginning, but you keep your shoulder to the boulder and keep pushing. You refuse to become a victim and insist ‘I will make this happen. I’ve got the power. I can do it.’ Eventually the boulder will budge and begin to move. Slowly at first. But keep pushing, concentrate on pushing.
In the third stage, the momentum stage, the boulder gradually begins to move a little easier. It generates momentum and begins to take on a life of its own. Things start happening and you begin seeing the fruits of your labor. At this point the boulder moves without much effort. The forward movement is exciting and motivating. You experience the beginnings of success. The secret to continued success, however, is to keep pushing—calling, networking and managing so that the boulder doesn’t slow down and force you to overcome inertia again.”
Moving a boulder takes equal amounts of vision and discipline. Your vision must be strong enough to inspire you when the going gets tough. And you must have discipline to overcome the obstacles on your path. The moral of this story is that when you feel like there’s a massive boulder in your way—the only way to gain momentum is to power through.
Last week in one of my coaching sessions, my client and I had a riveting discussion about financial survival vs. doing what you love. This incredible individual is an extremely talented and capable person, but has unfortunately been out of a job for a while. She now feels like she’s reached the point of no return where she has to take any job to pay her bills and was deeply troubled that she was giving up and selling out.
She recently read Professional Destiny so I reminded her of the Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs discussion included right up front in chapter three. It’s essential to remember that our needs build upon each other. To demonstrate this, Maslow presents the hierarchy of needs as a triangle. At the base are Physiological (physical survival needs) and Safety (the need for security and stability). These needs MUST be met before you can address the higher level of Self Actualization at the top. As I mentioned in an earlier post When Temporary Work Leads to Your Life’s Work, if you’re living at a survival level and spending most of your time worrying about paying your bills and meeting basic needs, it’s quite hard to focus on finding your life’s work. If you’re anxious on a daily basis, you may want to consider taking a temporary job to pay the bills while you focus on finding your ideal career. In other words, it’s important to find a way to generate enough income so that you’re not in turmoil over a lack of it.
Even if an opportunity isn’t your idea of the perfect career, it can help you build a foundation while you focus on other things. You’ll be more effective and creative, if you’re not anxiety-ridden and struggling to survive.
If you find yourself in a financial crisis situation, my advice is twofold:
1. Take a survival job—and feel good about it! There is absolutely no shame in taking care of yourself. In fact, it’s smart. It’s incredibly hard to find your Professional Destiny if you’re beginning to panic about how to pay your rent, support your children or put food on the table. Take a position to ease the stress and meet your basic needs for survival and safety. But don’t stop there…
2. Invest time in your future. Find a minimum of three hours a week (in the evenings or weekends) to pursue your passion and develop your skills. It could be that you attend night school or vocational training. It could be that you build your website for a business that you want to start and begin building a community or customer base. Or it could be that you volunteer in an organization that you’re passionate about. As you learn the ropes, you’ll meet new people and build new contacts in the exact field you’re interested in. Who knows? You may be the next one hired!
As Maslow suggests, once your survival needs are met you are free to focus on your full self expression. Then you’ll have more energy and confidence to find work that truly energizes you, taps into your creative energy and reawakens your spirit. The path to your Professional Destiny isn’t always an expressway, but with determination and persistence you will get there.
One of the greatest ways to tell if you’re aligned with your Professional Destiny is simply to check in and see if your 9-5 day feels like a struggle, or if the time passes by before you know it. When you’re fully engaged in an activity, you enter the flow. You feel strong, alert, effortlessly effective and satisfied. You’re at the peak of your ability and become unaware of time. When you’re not well matched with what you’re doing, it’s the opposite—you’re feeling out of sync, less motivated, less productive, disengaged and more prone to watching the clock. Needless to say, it’s far more satisfying to find a way to be in alignment with your gifts, interests, values and creative abilities in the work environment—especially if you’re like most people and tend to spend so much of your time there.
How to do this? It all starts with awareness. The following is a passage from Professional Destiny that describes in more detail what to look for and what to avoid…
“Notice what you enjoy doing and what you are good at. Make some time to do these things and rekindle your creativity. Concentration, or being in the flow, means total absorption. We can only be masters of something that interests us greatly. Great leaders and great inventors are not bored with their work. If you pay attention, you will notice that you are experiencing moments of joy when you are creating, working and learning. You forget about the world around you and lose track of your surroundings, fully experiencing the joy of what you are doing.
You come into flow in your life when you awaken your sense of destiny. You fall out of flow when you renege on your gifts and potential, or when you ignore your deepest calling and settle for mediocrity. Our tasks cannot be too simple for our abilities or we become bored and less creative. Whether things are “seamlessly clicking” or “rapidly combusting” is a sign of whether you are in or out of step with the flow.”
In other words, when you’re in step—and in your gift—things tend to fall into place. You’re motivated and more effective. What you do is easy for you, although it may be far more difficult for others. When you’re not in your gift things tend to be more of a struggle or even worse, spiral downward.
Simplicity is a sign of being in the flow. Usually if something is simple, elegantly efficient and practically effortless, it is a wonderful indicator that you’re on the right track.
If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams,
and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined,
he will meet with success unexpected in common hours. —Henry David Thoreau
What happens when you reach a point in your career when you’re no longer fulfilled by what you do? The moment might come when you find yourself in a role that once challenged you and stoked your fire—so to speak—but now is no longer interesting. You realize that you’re merely going through the motions to collect a paycheck. Or it could be that you’re suffering from Career Dissonance and you actually still enjoy your craft—you just don’t like the environment you’re practicing it in. For whatever reason, the fulfillment you once felt is gone and instead of a thrill—it’s become a drill.
People who allow themselves to become complacent may enjoy tangible benefits such as bringing home a steady paycheck, saving for the future, possibly having prestige and power (and these are very real, positive, essential things) but they may be lacking a sense of purpose. And this can cause a persistent, nagging feeling of dissatisfaction.
It’s difficult to have a sense of purpose when you sacrifice your deepest yearnings, unexpressed creativity and natural talents because you’re afraid to take a risk or are constantly worried about the future. As Thoreau says, if you advance confidently in the direction of your dreams—and the key word is confidently—you will have success. Don’t expect it to happen overnight, but do expect it to happen. I remember reading the incredible book Three Cups of Tea and marveling that it took Greg Mortenson ten years to start having substantial support for building schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan. In 1993, Mortenson was a self-described bumbling, failed K2 mountain climber who wanted to build a school for the people who helped him in Pakistan. He started with very humble beginnings by writing mostly unanswered fundraising letters on a typewriter, going on wild goose chases to meet unlikely donors and giving talks to audiences of only 1-2 people in REI. Now his organization has built over 130 schools serving 58,000 students, Three Cups of Tea is a multi-million copy bestseller and his talks attract thousands of people at a time. Most of all, Mortenson is achieving his mission of building schools for children (mostly girls) and helping them to better their lives. He has a satisfying sense of purpose.
Would you and I have that kind of perseverance, stamina, faith and incredible drive to keep going for ten years before we achieved significant signs of momentum? The answer is—No—if we weren’t filled with passion for what we were doing. And—Yes—if our inner sense of purpose energized us and gave us the fortitude to take the next step.
Success is defined in many ways. It can bring a great deal of money as you pursue something you love and you’re good at, but it might also bring other benefits such as more freedom, more time with your family and most of all—a wonderful feeling of fulfillment.
Where there’s a will, there’s a way. The path might have obstacles, road blocks and dead-ends, but to give up means that you are marching to the drill of life (1-2-3-4!), not experiencing the thrill of life. Everyone wants to feel significant, important and unique. We want to feel like we have accomplished something that matters—even if it’s only to us. We want to feel challenged and to re-ignite our passion and creativity. That is the true difference between a job and our Professional Destiny.
This post is inspired by Dan Karslake, my friend and documentary filmmaker who I visited during last week’s trip to New York. Dan is following his Professional Destiny. He is making a film called Every Three Secondsabout ending world hunger. And during an interview I had with him he explained:
“There are two kinds of hunger—the hunger for food and the hunger for more. This film is really about us—it’s about me—and our own lack of relationship with enough. I’ve been taught to look past what I have to what I don’t have. I have a car but I’m always noticing the car I’d rather have. I have 12 shirts, but I’m always noticing the 13th shirt that I want to buy. We have no relationship with enough. We are about what we don’t have.”
How does this concept relate to your Professional Destiny?
Having enough financially enables us to be less distracted. If we are constantly struggling to make ends meet, we have less time, money and resources to help others and we might not get the luxury of pursuing our Professional Destiny right away. We often ignore our yearnings and choose practicality instead.
Yet, as I’ve written in my book:
“A trap that we are all susceptible to, especially in the Western world, is that we overlook the concept of having enough. We come to never fully enjoy what we have because we are always thinking about what we don’t yet have (a nicer home or car, more possessions, a bigger company, more money, finer art). This sense of wanting more is an insatiable hunger. It is poison to our soul and kills new, creative possibilities because it locks us into a pattern. It might make our life more comfortable but it doesn’t bring us true fulfillment, which only comes when we feel like we are making a difference in a genuine, meaningful way.
You can be financially successful, a respected leader in your profession, be admired for your status, have beautiful possessions and a lovely family—but still feel a nagging sense of emptiness.
I find that most people who have made it in their career and have achieved success have just about everything they want materially, but do not feel fulfilled. They want to venture out and make a difference, but are immobilized by fear and the need to have a familiar sense of security, stability and enough…
Security often means that they do not take risks or allow themselves to be open to new possibilities. Many have lost the concept of having ‘enough’ and cannot accept the idea of making less money for a while, even if it makes them happier. They cannot escape the money trap and therefore are not free. Because of the overwhelming need for survival, even beyond the point of enough, we ignore our deepest yearnings and continue in a job that is not fulfilling—or even worse, a job that is sapping our lifeblood and essence. We think we are making a living, but in reality our spirit is slowly dying.”
So recognize when enough is enough and get a grip on that insatiable hunger for more—you just may be surprised to discover a whole new richness in your life.
A few weeks ago in my blog post about How It Starts, I promised a summary of the five key steps to following your Professional Destiny. In between then and now, I admit to being diverted by that fantastic Elizabeth Gilbert talk about overcoming fear and the timeliness of the Graduation message. But, here we are… better late than never… with a discussion of the five things you need to do when making a significant change.
Get clear—Go within and remember what your unique talents and interests are. Your Professional Destiny is something that you are good at and love to do. Fill out the three-column exercise included in my book (Love to Do, Naturally Good At, Loathe to Do) and draw the parallels. Then set your vision and develop three to five simple, but powerful commitments.
Do something toward your goal every day, even if you can’t see the whole picture—Write a “to do” list each morning and include a least one thing that will help you move in the direction you want. Even if you can’t make a full transition right away, push yourself to make a little bit of progress toward your interests, even if it’s only for 30 minutes each day. If you don’t see where it all leads right now, that’s okay, just take the first step and new possibilities will open up. The next step will be revealed.
Actively weed out self-doubt—We all have a fear of failure, but refuse to give it power. When you find yourself thinking sabotaging thoughts, notice them and change your thinking—quickly! The journey can be unfamiliar and challenging, so be sure to have a support system in place. Many people will express their fears for you… to you. When they do, shake it off, avoid the naysayers and seek out the support of friends and coaches instead.
Show up and have discipline—Show up at least five days a week and put some time in toward the interests you’ve identified in step one. Having discipline means that if you need to make three calls a day, and don’t really want to, you make the three calls anyway. Discipline also means prioritizing and trimming down to the essentials to fund your dream. For more information on this, see The Freedom Plan.
Enjoy the journey—Go full speed ahead and be sure to notice the progress you’re making. Appreciate the small things along the way because they will lead to the big.
Remember, anyone can make a change at any time. We all have gifts and they are meant to be expressed and shared. It’s immensely fulfilling to put our unique talents into action and feel like we’re making a difference. When we do, we’ll soon notice that we’re on the path to discovering the career we were born for.
I was told three times last week that I really should watch the Elizabeth Gilbert’s TED talk about nurturing creativity and overcoming the fear of failure. Being told once is always interesting, twice gets my attention, but three times… hits the blog! Since failure is a favorite topic among us authors (see Failing Your Way to Success, inspired by JK Rowling), I read the signs of this consistent prompting to mean that the subject is quite worthy of more discussion. It’s important because the fear of failure goes hand-in-hand with pursuing anything new and different. And unless we overcome it—we may stop ourselves from doing what we were born to do.
Here’s a liberating perspective of how to deal with fear that Gilbert introduces in her talk:
“I recently wrote this book, this memoir called Eat, Pray, Love which, decidedly unlike any of my previous books, went out in the world and for some reason, became this big, mega-sensation, international bestseller thing. The result of which is that everywhere I go now, people treat me like I’m doomed. Seriously—doomed! Like, they come up to me now, all worried, and they say, ‘Aren’t you afraid—aren’t you afraid you’re never going to be able to top that? Aren’t you afraid you’re going to keep writing for your whole life and you’re never again going to create a book that anybody in the world cares about at all, ever again?’ So that’s reassuring, you know. But it would be worse, except for that I happen to remember that over 20 years ago, when I first started telling people—when I was a teenager—that I wanted to be a writer, I was met with this same kind of, sort of fear-based reaction. And people would say, ‘Aren’t you afraid you’re never going to have any success? Aren’t you afraid the humiliation of rejection will kill you? Aren’t you afraid that you’re going to work your whole life at this craft and nothing’s ever going to come of it and you’re going to die on a scrap heap of broken dreams with your mouth filled with bitter ash of failure?’ The answer—the short answer to all those questions is, ‘Yes.’ … But, is it logical that anybody should be expected to be afraid of the work that they feel they were put on this Earth to do?”
Gilbert goes on to share the idea (dating back to ancient Rome and Greece) that, instead of the rare person being a genius, all of us have a genius. It is our job to show up and do the work and invite the genius, the divine inspiration, to flow through us. This way if our work is brilliant, we stay humble because we know we had help. But if our work bombs, it’s not entirely our fault—we just know that our genius was temporarily out to lunch.
In my book Professional Destiny, I cover the topic of fear in two chapters. It’s worth such emphasis because nothing stands between us and our greatest work as much as doubt and fear. Fear of failure, fear of humiliation, fear of not being enough, or fear of not having enough. And unless we find a way to tame our fear, it can stop us from moving forward.
Gilbert gives us a great perspective on how to overcome it: “Don’t be afraid. Don’t be daunted. Just do your job. Continue to show up for your piece of it, whatever that might be. If your job is to dance, do your dance. If the divine, cockeyed genius assigned to your case decides to let some sort of wonderment be glimpsed, for just one moment, then ‘Ole!’ And if not, do your dance anyhow. ‘Ole!’ to you, nonetheless, just for having the sheer human love and stubbornness to keep showing up.”
A few weeks ago, I had the amazing opportunity to take part in the inaugural TEDx Austin event. I’ll freely admit that if I hadn’t been sitting down, I just might have been knocked off my feet by Steven Tomlinson’s talk. It was about how to play big—authentically. As with Daniel Pink’s discussion about the Surprising Science of Motivation, the insightful concepts of how to play big were, again, absolute music to my Professional Destiny ears!
Tomlinson is a business educator, performer and playwright—a unique and interesting combination. He began his talk with a story about how he sought advice at age 28 from a wise professor at a local seminary who was known for giving insight and tough love. Tomlinson loved three things: business education, theology and theatre, and was seeking a concrete, specific answer about which one to pursue in order to make a living. The “answer” he got was not what he expected—it was “don’t discard—pursue all three.”
As Tomlinson experimented with this advice, he began to see connections and perspectives he hadn’t noticed before. Then, after years of first-hand experience, he condensed the concept of playing BIG to be about five things:
Practice—spend some time (two hours per week) wholeheartedly engaged in each of the things you love
Paying attention—let the things you love talk to each other and observe what begins to happen in your life that is unique and powerful
Not discarding—be determined to keep all your gifts in play and trust that there is some wisdom that will start to bubble to the surface
Leading with what you love—find your calling where your gifts meet the world’s deep need
Making degrees of freedom—simplify in order to free yourself to do the work the world wants you to do. For more ideas on this see, The Freedom Plan.
As I wrote in Professional Destiny, “A job is something we do to earn a living. Oftentimes it is too small for our spirit. Our life’s work is a mighty undertaking that challenges us, taps into our creative energy and reawakens our spirit. It is our work with a capital W. Once we start on the path, the urgency of this work is bigger than us. Our passion and creativity are ignited.”
Finding your own Professional Destiny takes commitment and a deep yearning to express your unique gifts in a way that matters. It’s an exciting journey. Playing big requires creating small ways of demonstrating what you can do well—and letting them prosper and grow. When Tomlinson delivered this presentation to the TEDx crowd, he received a standing ovation. The message resonates at some level with all of us. Watch the video clip and see if you’re inspired—you may just be prompted to give a standing ovation of your own.
Professional Destiny® is about finding the career you were born for. I've created this site to help you in your pursuit. Here, you'll find excerpts from my book, as well as new ideas and stories to help you make the most of your natural gifts. We're a community, so please join the conversation!