Sometimes you simply can’t predict your life. Earlier this year, I was living in Austin and writing my second book. Now I live in Denver and have a role as Chief Marketing Officer for a company in a completely different field. It was a surprise to everyone—including myself.
But in hindsight it makes perfect sense. As I wrote in Professional Destiny, you have to follow the signs and when they all line up and point in a certain direction—it’s time to morph and change. Luckily, after years of practice, I’m beginning to get this lesson down! When my former colleague, Katherine Ott (now CEO of SlimGenics), called me months ago to discuss a “business opportunity,” I, of course, thought it had to do with books—my books to be precise. I had left my marketing and advertising career almost two years before and didn’t have any immediate plans to go back. So my initial thought of her offer to run the marketing team was “that’s really nice, but no.”
Funny how no’s can turn into yes’s!
Sooner than I expected, I noticed how I had started to miss being “in the fray.” My life as an author and consultant was very satisfying—and calm. I loved Austin, but I’d lived in Colorado before and was happy there, so that wouldn’t be too traumatic. Plus, there were several people on the marketing team that I’d worked with twelve years ago, so in a sense the band was getting back together. And the kicker was that SlimGenics is a company dedicated to helping people change their life for the better. In a real and sustainable way. And this is something that drives me.
But the greatest thing about the change, I discovered after arriving here. When you’re doing something meaningful, you can’t help but being inspired. And then you meet more inspiring people. It all starts to build upon each other—in an entirely new way than I’d experienced before. I’m sharing with you a short video of a dynamic and compelling person I met once I came on board. It’s about his personal journey in weight loss. I met Jeff my very first week while I was in counselor training class trying to soak up everything I could about the SlimGenics program. He came in to share his perspective of what it was like to lose 110 pounds and we were all… mesmerized. Watch his story and I’m sure you will be too.
Jeff told me once that helping people improve their lives by helping them lose weight was his Professional Destiny. He said, “I can’t believe I get to wake up in the morning and do work that inspires people.” Watch out—doing this kind of thing is addictive and contagious, but it’s one of those natural highs that I highly recommend.
“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).
Professional Destiny is about finding purpose and meaning in our profession. It’s about realizing a deeper level of satisfaction in what we do. It’s about not accepting status quo, or allowing ourselves to become complacent.
In other words, we don’t get to numb out.
Just recently I saw this TEDx talk by Brene Brown about the importance of vulnerability and its link to connection, purpose and meaning. I found it fascinating. And although we come at it from different angles, I saw the similarities between the quest to become whole-hearted as she discusses, and the quest to discover purpose and meaning in what we do.
In my book Professional Destiny, I wrote: ”Many people confide in me that at some point in their careers, they feel as if they’ve come to a fork in the road. They have reached a level of success and confidence and now they need to make a choice between pursuing an unknown road toward fulfillment, or choosing the familiar path that feels secure. One client so aptly put it, ‘I know I can go work for company XYZ and make six figures if I want a mind-numbing job, but I don’t. Now what do I do?’ It’s a challenging choice. On the one hand, if you decide to bite the bullet and pursue a deep yearning that you have, you are often venturing into the unknown—especially if it’s very different from the career you’ve known. You are venturing into unfamiliar territory and you can expect to feel significant anxiety over this. If, on the other hand, you settle and choose not to take that next step forward, you can expect to feel a deep-seated sense of disappointment followed by a sense of lethargy and possibly a low-level or high-level depression. Many people try to mask these feelings by keeping themselves ‘numbed’ through alcohol, prescription drugs or anything that takes their focus away from the fact that they are ignoring a message from their soul. Others simply try to keep frantically busy and convince themselves that they are so important, that they don’t have time to notice the uneasiness from within.”
Brene adds another twist from her research and perspective on those who live whole-heartedly. She says in this excerpt from her talk: “We live in a vulnerable world. And one of the ways we deal with it is we numb vulnerability. I think there’s evidence—and it’s not the only reason this evidence exists, but I think it’s a huge cause—we are the most in-debt, obese, addicted and medicated adult cohort in U.S. history. The problem is—and I learned this from the research—that you cannot selectively numb emotion. You can’t say, here’s the bad stuff. Here’s vulnerability, here’s grief, here’s shame, here’s fear, here’s disappointment, I don’t want to feel these. I’m going to have a couple of beers and a banana nut muffin. I don’t want to feel these… you can’t numb those hard feelings without numbing the affects, our emotions. You cannot selectively numb. So when we numb those, we numb joy, we numb gratitude, we numb happiness. And then we are miserable, and we are looking for purpose and meaning, and then we feel vulnerable, so then we have a couple of beers and a banana nut muffin. And it becomes this dangerous cycle.”
So you can’t choose to numb the hard stuff—the uncertainty, the fear, the risks, the vulnerability—and expect to find a deep level of satisfaction and true creative expression in your life. In other words you’re not living your Professional Destiny and you’re not living wholeheartedly. Thanks Brene Brown for adding this perspective.
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.
Last night I had the great pleasure of listening to an interview with John O’Donohue, author of the book Anam Cara (and a great inspiration for the ideas in Professional Destiny). The interview was recorded with Krista Tippett of NPR shortly before he died in 2008 at the age of 52. O’Donohue talks about how each of us has a destiny—something to do here that can’t be done by anyone else. He says when you discover the necessity that brought you here, your gift and giftedness come alive. This newfound urgency of living and purpose rekindles your creativity and quickens your heart. Here is an excerpt from one of his final interviews:
“Since we spend over one third of our lives in the workplace, one of the loneliest things we can find is someone who is in the wrong kind of work, who shouldn’t be doing what they’re doing. They should be doing something else, yet haven’t the courage to get up and leave and make a new possibility for themselves.
But it is lovely when you find someone who is doing exactly what should be doing and whose work is an expression of their inner gift. By allowing us to witness that gift and by bringing it out, they are actually providing an incredible service to us all.
The gifts that are given to us are not for us alone, but they are also for the community and they are to be offered and shared.”
When you find your purpose, express your giftedness and practice it every day in your profession, you are doing your life’s work. You’ll feel a deep-seated sense of satisfaction and will positively impact others in a most meaningful way.
So perhaps it’s time to ask yourself… what is keeping you from your Professional Destiny?
Following your Professional Destiny doesn’t require a cold-turkey switch from less satisfying work to your dream job—especially when you’re starting out. Many people struggle with the idea that they can’t quit the work they’re doing to follow their passion. They have bills to pay. Or if they’re out of a job, they can’t rely solely on the income generated from the first years of doing something new and different. All of these concerns are real and valid. Although I wholeheartedly encourage people to go for it, there’s no need to be a Professional Destiny purist—especially if it’s painful!
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.
Taking a role that’s in your comfort zone may even have hidden benefits—you might meet an important new person that will help you later. Or you may have multiple interests, as I do, and they can be surprisingly synergistic to bring about a great outcome. For example, after completing the manuscript for Professional Destiny, I went back into advertising for a year and met our then Chief Creative Officer and now famous blogger—Ken Segall—who was instrumental with the design and editing of my book. Going back to a position where you’re capable and comfortable can also provide you with additional skills, funding and opportunities that are a step in the right direction. I also greatly enjoyed the benefit of a steady paycheck and it helped me fund the launch of Professional Destiny and re-establish my consulting and coaching business. Plus while I was in advertising, I met many other people I enjoyed and now work with and had several opportunities to expand my skills and experience. The challenges and trials of the particular role I had turned out to be well worth it.
Easing your stress level with compensation that you can count on, helps you to feel good about yourself and radiate enthusiasm for looking for a new position that’s a better match for you. When you exude confidence, enthusiasm and prosperity into your new endeavor, you’ll be far more effective than trying to get started while you’re feeling poor, unsuccessful and fearful.
The trick is to make sure that an interim position doesn’t take all your time and energy so that you don’t have any left to focus on work that truly energizes you.
Of course, you certainly can choose to go cold-turkey into your Professional Destiny too, but that’s another blog post…
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.
Last week I was interviewed by Jen Spencer of Jen Spencer Coaches about Professional Destiny and how to make it work both for large organizations and for individuals wanting to pursue a new interest. She had some great questions. Here is an excerpt of that interview. Enjoy!
How do you define Professional Destiny?
A job is something we do to earn a living. Oftentimes it is too small for our spirit.
Our Professional Destiny 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, our passion and creativity are ignited. Best of all, we feel like our work is meaningful and that we are making a difference.
You’ve worked for and consulted with Fortune 500 companies. What key pieces of Professional Destiny would you highlight for large organizations that are managing many talent pools?
Recognize people’s natural talents and that they may have “spiky” skills (i.e. they are remarkable at 1-2 things). Don’t try to “homogenize” them and make them well-rounded. Great leaders are like conductors of an orchestra. It’s not about how they look behind the podium; it’s how they bring out the unique brilliance of each of their players. For more information I write a blog series on this very subject called “Why Most Corporations Homogenize Remarkable People.”
What tips would you give to someone that is currently working in a six-figure job that doesn’t match their Professional Destiny. Tips for redirecting, especially when you have financial obligations?
I have two pieces of advice. The first is to start dedicating a portion of your time (in the evenings/weekends) toward the pursuit of your professional passion. Your time could be spent networking, building a website, writing, painting, doing research… whatever. This enables you to build a foundation and make interesting contacts that will open new doors and opportunities. The second piece of advice is to make a financial plan that allows you to pare down to the bare essentials so that you can invest in yourself to make your dream happen. I call this “The Freedom Plan.” It’s a plan that buys your freedom to do what you love.
What sources of inspiration do you use/read/watch? Any role models that guide you?
I find inspiration all around me in books, music and audio CD’s (my current favorites: Lynne Grabhorn, Caroline Myss, and Jerry and Esther Hicks – they’re great to listen to in the car!). I’m also a great observer of people—I find JK Rowling and Elizabeth Gilbert’s talks inspiring). I’ve had many coaches and I surround myself with supportive friends. I feel like I’m learning everywhere I turn!
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.
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!