A recent article in Business Insider noted that the average person will spend 90,000 hours of their lives at work. Yet when it comes to our jobs, I speak to too many humans who feel apathetic, powerless or uninspired.
The millennial perspective plays an important role in conversations like these. Why? First, we are the largest demographic to have entered the workforce, so if you want to understand more of what drives us I’m sure much of my sentiment will reflect it. Second, if you’re in the millennial generation and you’re looking for purpose, you aren’t alone. You have at least 64,000 hours left to work in your life, how could you not want to use them with intent? And guess what, there are more than 75 million others in your shoes (Korn Ferry, 2019).
I’ve worked since I was 11. My first job was substituting for my brother’s paper route, though I was secretly plotting to take it over myself (which I eventually did). From then onward, I’ve been a “worker bee”. I love work, always have. I was not a star student, so work has held that much more significance. Many gifts have come from my desire to rebel in the face of homework. But that’s for another time.If you stick with me for a bit, I’m going to share 3 incredibly valuable lessons I’ve learned so far as they apply to life (of which 90,000 hours is work). My hope is you find some words you needed to read.
Be Your Own Compass, Accept Your Call
I remember when I first started my coaching certification. On day one in a room with 24 strangers, our facilitators said, “most people want to be coaches because they think they’re good at giving advice…that’s not at all what coaching is”. The record screeched and my balloon deflated. What was this program about if it didn’t lead to me saying, “I’m officially certified to tell people what to do”? But the next year was one of the most eye-opening of my life and drags me right back to this point time and time again.
See, I was the advice seeker, the semi-professional friend poller. If I didn’t know what to do I called every good friend and waited expectantly for their response to my dilemma, which I believed would be better than my own. And then I’d make the best choice I heard. My parents would ask me why I thought anyone knew more than I did. And ultimately it was because I didn’t trust the person in the mirror.
If you’re waiting for anyone to give you direction, kick that habit now!
And let me tell you why. No one, and I mean no one has to look back on your life and decide if you did it the way you wanted. Even with the best of intentions, people will tell you what they believe you should do based on their own lens, their own fears, their desires, their own truth. Not yours.
This is not to say you should never ask for advice again, but that you proactively take stock of where you are and what you want through solo reflection. I once had a big decision to make about a path in my career that I knew would change my trajectory. On paper it made perfect sense; it was nice and shiny and everyone said, “go for it!”. I knew I was totally qualified and would be a strong contender for any role like this.
But something just didn’t feel right, it didn’t feel aligned. And that’s all I had to go on…my gut. I reached out to someone I trust and consider to be a mentor and told him the situation. Finally, I shared the truth out loud: that I didn’t know what exactly it was, but something just felt off. What he said to me was this, “I don’t have the answer for you, but what I can say is follow your heart”. In that moment, I knew he’d just given me better guidance than anyone could. It wasn’t about his thoughts or beliefs, he was throwing the ball back into my court so I could take my shot. In my year of coaching I realized that’s all most of us need to feel inspired about our lives.
Each one of us has a call to answer. Maybe it’s your purpose, your passion, what lights your soul on fire. However you want to label it, I promise you’ve felt it. It is up to each of us to answer that call and decide what to do with it. Some people will build a business to answer the call, some will carve out time on weekends to give it attention, others will find ways to weave it into their lives every single day. It really doesn’t matter how you do it…whichever way you answer it, just answer it. Self-betrayal is an ugly beast.
And if you haven’t felt it yet, don’t fret. I’ll share Elizabeth Gilbert’s amazing advice…follow your curiosities. Ask yourself the question, “How can I inspire myself?” It’s just that simple, something will show up for you.
Be More like Indiana Jones, Fear is a Beautiful Indicator and a Seductive Liar
Harrison Ford was a big part of my childhood. Seeing him run is still one of the joys of life. In Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, there’s this unforgettable scene where his father has just been shot by the Nazis in the temple that houses the Holy Grail. And the only way for Indiana to save his dying father is to bring back the Holy Grail by making his way through this wild obstacle course riddled with death traps. As in, we’re seeing severed heads roll out of the course before Indi goes in.
We think Indiana has made it through the traps, but he comes to an opening where there is an infinite, death-promising drop between him and a cave where the grail is. In the scene you see him in this moment of shock. He says, “impossible…nobody can jump this”. He’s bewildered until he realizes his only option is a leap of faith. In a nail-biting moment, he takes a step off the ledge and to his surprise, his foot lands on what was an invisible bridge. As soon as he takes a step, the bridge becomes totally visible. And after a few timid movements forward, he “runs” across the bridge.
So what’s the point? It’s probably pretty clear to you now, but we all ignore this truth. In your work (and your life), there will be many, “death drop” moments that will scare the hell out of you.
Do the things you’re scared to do!
Because fear is a good liar. Our fear response is based largely on our amygdala, which determines threats and tells our hypothalamus how to respond (fight or flight). Fear can be incredibly important when we’re deciding whether to walk home alone or take an uber late at night. But it responds to all types of stimuli, including our basic everyday experiences. And not only does it respond to present stimuli, our amygdala can decide we’re in danger through just anticipating something bad happening.
When you do what you fear, you’re actually rewiring neural pathways in your brain that will eventually tell it not to be afraid. I can remember the first time I started writing and even the consideration of sharing brought the hairs on my neck upright. I was SO afraid! My brain was perceiving a threat and wanted me to run. I put the pen down or closed the laptop.
But fear does not have to control us. When Indiana Jones walked off the ledge, his brain was sending every signal that he would die. And yet he overrode it and moved his feet. You can and should walk off that proverbial ledge!
And what you’ll find is this:on the other side of fear is your whole life is waiting for you.
You can shift your conditioned beliefs of who you get to be in this world. Fear is a good indicator that there’s possibility for your expansion.
When you walk boldly to the other side of fear, guess what you also do? You give others the permission to do the same. And let me tell you, you never know whose life you might impact. Marianne Williamson’s famous quote beautifully states: “…As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others”.
The Survivor Tree
In 2012, I went to ground zero in New York City with a friend and her family. As we walked around the recently opened 9/11 Memorial, I stopped to listen to a docent describe the “Survivor Tree”. It was discovered a month after the horrific attacks on September 11th and was the only living tree left. The tree now stands as a symbol of resilience, survival and rebirth.
Standing firmly in the ground, the tree looked totally normal. But I could envision Survivor Tree hanging on for dear life in the midst of so much devastation and it gave me immense hope. While we aren’t all dealing with massive destruction and devastation, we are all fighting our own internal battles.
As you navigate the path of life including work, storms will meet you. At times it will feel like you’re left in the wake of an unexpected wave. You’ll be twisted up and your leaves will be pulled off. I can say for sure, the more you live into the last two lessons I shared, the more this will happen.
Think about this- 20% of a tree is it’s roots and if a large part of the root system is destroyed, parts of the tree’s branches and leaves will reflect that and die too. As we all know, the roots serve as an unseen feeding mechanism for the tree. No healthy roots, no healthy tree.
What do your roots look like? Some people cultivate gratitude to deeply enjoy the present moment. Others use their “why” as motivation no matter the challenge. For some, it’s a deeper connection to themselves (or something greater) through mindfulness practices like free writing, meditation, sitting quietly or prayer.Whatever that is for you, find a practice that will keep you grounded and steady. Let it live vibrantly under your feet, nourishing you. Remember- no root, no tree.
Time is easy to overlook, not to recoup. And 90,000 hours can seem both incomprehensible and infinite. While we know that’s not true, what it does create is space. Each moment we have the space to be more intentional and do things that create a sense of purpose and pride. We can choose to jump to the other side of fear, to follow our curiosities and to inspire ourselves.
How will you spend the rest of your 90,000 hours?