Searching for your perspective on the timeless "what work am I meant to do?" question

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lake yogaOne of the best parts of my work is helping people figure out deep and meaningful personal questions such as “What am I meant to do with my life?”  It is also one of the most challenging parts of my work, since the process to discover the answer is totally different for different individuals.  Through my own life experience and witnessing those of others, I am convinced that the process, loosely defined, contains some of the following elements:

  • Commitment to finding an answer.  Not being satisfied that your current life is “as good as it gets,” you want to continually evolve and grow and get more and more in the flow of work you are meant to do.  This is different than being perpetually dissatisfied … it is more a continued commitment to stay engaged and happy with what you are doing.
  • Research, analysis and attention to the external world.  It is important to expand your view of work from that which you have experienced personally to all the different ways work is done in the world.  This will give you new ideas for both what you could do and how you could do it.
  • Quiet, internal reflection where you tune into your intuitive and emotional self for answers.  This mainly involves listening to your internal voice and gently quieting the one that screams “but how can you ever make money at that?” or “what kind of responsible corporate father wants to become a pastry chef?”
  • Healthy, supportive environments where you feel safe to explore alternative ways to view yourself and the world, and are surrounded by people who like to do the same.  These can be on-line or in person, and include the most important environment you frequent, your home.
  • Attention to and reflection on the work you do every day.  When do you feel energized?  What drains you?  What are you excited to learn about?
  • Participation in a wide variety of formal and non-formal learning activities.  This allows you to test new areas that you are interested in, surround yourself with others interested in the same topic, and develop specific knowledge and skills in new areas of interest.
  • Engagement in creative and physical endeavors.  This includes everything from visiting a favorite hiking trail to seeing an art exhibit.  Although I have a hard time describing it rationally, there is something very important in this process about tuning into your body and expressing yourself creatively.

In my own journey to discover the work that I am passionate about, I did the following assortment of things:

  • Voracious reading
  • Workshops where I focused on this question exclusively, such as with my mentor Martha Beck
  • A trip to the top of Machu Picchu in Peru
  • Years of martial arts training where I pushed myself to the edge of my physical and mental limits
  • Years of doing creative work and reflecting on what I liked and didn’t like
  • Experience living for extended periods of time in other parts of the world
  • A slew of personal assessments such as the DiSC and Myers-Briggs
  • Some miserable personal and professional situations where I felt what it was like to not be doing work I was meant to do
  • Writing, blogging, and connecting with those I am interested in working with
  • Many conversations with my best friend Desiree and husband Darryl

I have taken some stabs at writing about this topic here:

5 ways to discover what you are meant to do with your life
Prologue to 5 ways to discover what you are meant to do with your life
Don’t know what you want?  A picture paints a thousand words
Why do some struggle with their life purpose while others seem born knowing it?
Is “do what you love the money will follow” a bunch of new age crap?
Go in search of your people
The sweet spot of your work

But despite the fact that I feel extremely excited by my work, I still struggle with finding the best ways to help others answer the question: What work am I meant to do? So I was curious:

  • For those of you who have figured this question out, what was your process?
  • For those of you who work with others to figure this question out, what tools do you find the most helpful?  Feel free to be very specific, and include links to books or URLs, even if they are your own!  No shame in self-promotion here, if what you have to offer is relevant to the topic and audience.
  • For those that are still figuring this question out, what has worked for you so far?  What are your biggest stumbling blocks?

I don’t believe there is a magic potion to quench this deep personal thirst, as it is part of what gives each of us spice and intrigue as we journey through our life.  What else would drive us to the top of mountains in Nepal, into jungles in the Amazon, to quiet cathedrals, temples or mosques or to enroll in yoga classes where we gaze at our belly buttons looking for meaning and purpose?

But I do find the pursuit of helping others answer this question to be a very interesting and exciting thing to do for the next decade or so. So let’s get started!  I will share the helpful anecdotes, tools and processes I encounter with you and with my coaching clients, who are used to my strange and unconventional ways.

Thanks in advance for your wisdom!

10 Responses to “Searching for your perspective on the timeless "what work am I meant to do?" question”

  1. PODO says:

    Great info, thanks a lot!!! I wish I will have such a writing skills.

  2. Great, great list, Pam. I think it comes down to:

    o make space
    o take in lots of new/different things
    o listen for the quiet inner voice (it rarely yells “this is your thing!”)

    Above all, TRY STUFF.

    One thing you didn’t mention here (but frequently do) is this: Making changes like this involves upsetting homeostasis, and it will be uncomfortable. I wrote about it in “Stretch Marks!” ( http://curtrosengren.typepad.com/collectivegenius/2006/12/stretch_marks.html ), FYI.

  3. gayle says:

    I agree… you don’t have to choose just ONE thing you were “meant to do”, this may come in many, many packages!

    Also, sometimes that job you hate is a resource… perhaps it is your money-maker until your new thing gets rolling, or maybe it provides human contacts that can advance your cause.

    A friend of mine has realized this… she believes she is on this planet to help others, and therefore volunteers a lot with charities. Her day job not only pays the bills, but provides contact with lots of friends/aquaintances who help her fundraise, make donations, walk with her on walkathons, etc.

    Keep your eyes open!

  4. Gayle has it right… you typically begin wondering what you want to be doing when what you’re doing is not what you want to do. Personally, I have jockeyed from one particular slice of my profession to another without coming to that realization, ‘cos the work was always interesting… the lack of focus may have hurt me, tho’.

    And you needen’t choose ONE thing that you’re “meant” to do… do as many things that you like as you can. There is no meaning to life above that which you give it.

  5. Kathi says:

    For a long time, my biggest stumbling block was hearing the question as “what _job_ do I want to do”. I tried too hard to find an existing label for what I wanted, rather than just listening for smaller characteristics that my work should satisfy. When I later realized that I care less about what I work on and more about the environment I work in, I understood just how limiting it had been to view this in terms of a job. Focusing on how I’d like to experience work has helped me make significant progress.

  6. Pam says:

    In my own life and in the lives of my clients I have used a tool called, “Calling Cards – A Journey of Discovery”, created by The Inventure Group, http://www.inventuregroup.com.

    Thanks for this topic Pam it’s one we can all connect on at some level.

  7. gayle says:

    In my experience, there is that golden (yet slightly tarnished) moment when we realize, “Well, this is definitely NOT what I want to be doing. Now what?”

    The best advice I have been given is:
    1. Figure out your strengths
    2. Figure out your weaknesses
    3. Figure out your resources

    This should help in taking that first soft footstep on one’s long and winding path.

  8. I’m not trying to do too much self-promo here, but I have created a site fully devoted to this topic. I have conducted interviews with over 75 people who HAVE found their passion, and our site documents the path they took to find it.

    It might help anyone searching for their business calling, so check it out!

  9. A lessons I have learned is to accept three things:
    – You are who you are, and you are where you are.
    – You cannot do everything that you wish, only the things that you choose to do
    – You can redetermine your course every day, every minute of the day.

    The second has the implication that if you choose NOT to do something, you have to accept that you are not doing that.

    Finally, I think that not the work is what defines you, but what you do with your life. You are “meant to find your own way, and go that way”.

  10. Suzanne says:

    I must say my “come to Jesus” moment for deciding to end the corporate path was two-fold. One, my daytime home was called a Coffice. That gave me the eebie jeebies with it sounding too much like a coffin. Two, my children decided they wanted to live with their dad because we (the 3 of us) didn’t have a “family” life.

    Making the unselfish, yet gut wrenching decision to allow them to live with their father was the worst possible feeling I have ever experienced. The second was actually turning in my notice 8 months later and realizing I wasn’t getting a normal paycheck, but was entirely dependent on myself.

    I haven’t regretted either decision. I have my children back with me, my own business that supports us, and I am doing what I LOVE to do.

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