I write this to you, a little more than 24 hours into my retirement from the corporate world. It is a guide for anyone who craves to live a life greater than the one you are living, but are too afraid to leave the security of the life you have settled for.
Yesterday morning I walked into my employer’s office building to attend a training event. I arrived at the building, scanned my card through security and walked toward the elevator bank.
The familiar knot in my stomach and heaviness in my chest surged through me. Every time I made this march the same narrative played out in my mind as the elevator doors closed and raced to the top.
‘Is anyone else in this box dying inside?’
Upon exiting the elevator my manager ushered me into an office where I was met with a voice coming from the speakerphone. It was *Jane, from HR. She explained that due to cutbacks I was being laid off, and that we would be going through the exit paperwork together. Out of nowhere, a bloated manilla folder appeared. My jaw dropped open, I could feel my eyes widen and well. I started to cry, but the tears and look of shock betrayed my real emotions — joy and excitement.
Unlike job changes in the past, I had been quietly preparing for this one.
For most of the 20 years I spent in my profession I felt like a fraud. Day in and out I had to feign enthusiasm for something I didn’t want to be doing. That it carried zero personal weight in my life, made me feel dirty. That it took up a sizable portion of my life, made me feel cheap. An enduring voice inside kept reminding me that this was not the life I was meant to live. Though year after year, I kept pursuing it — because I didn’t know how to get out…or frankly, what I would do when I did get out. I had so entrenched myself in the life of Linkedin, Networking, and Doing What is Expected that I lost my way. It’s wasn’t as though I couldn’t see the forest from the trees — I could, and it was breathtaking. But, somewhere along the way I stopped dropping the crumbs that would show me the way out.
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I — I took the one less traveled by,
and that has made all the difference. ~ Robert Frost
I’ve always loved this poem. A professor in college offered to give anyone who would memorize and read it to the class an A+ on an upcoming exam. It was a challenge I was not going to turn down. I got the A+ and in the process grew an affinity for Frost’s poem, which has called me back many times since. In college it seemed pretty obvious to me that this was a tale of a gutsy trailblazer striking out on his own, going where others wouldn’t dare. Now I know it to be a much more accessible lesson than that. It is about choice. The small ones that we make everyday from the time we wake up and the massive ones that keep us awake at night. The man in the poem is not a renegade or a visionary he’s just a person, like you and me, contemplating another life choice.
There are the lucky few out there who seem to have been born with the call of the wild in their veins. You know the ones, the ones who left home as soon as they had fulfilled life’s fundamental obligation of high school. They then set out as wayfarer’s on an adventure of self-discovery. I revel in their bravery — because, while romantic, I know it isn’t always easy to go against the current. But more, I admire the experiences they have collected in their lives because they kept making the choice to live a life less ordinary.
Most of us though, have not chosen that path. The great majority of us did what we understood were the next steps to take: go to college, earn a degree, celebrate our first jobs — and somehow, after the newness wore off, we found satisfaction in simply finding a bigger paycheck with each successive move thereafter.
We shouldn’t be too hard on ourselves though. It was not fear that got us in this precarious situation, though fear has kept us here. It was adaptation. We adapted to what everyone around us was doing — and fell in line without question. Because, when our young lives were just starting out, there was no hesitation to do otherwise. Blessed are those who developed a passion early on. For you may have always had a talent or a gift tugging at your sleeve, encouraging you to step outside the lines. For those of us without an overwhelming intensity for something, it can prove to be a bit trickier to follow your passion — certainly, when you aren’t sure of what that is yet.
The theme of wanting more meaning in my life was one that kept recurring. It cycled through at different points: unhappiness with a job, losing a job, accepting a job. I wandered through these revolutions, asking “What the hell am I doing?” On and on the cycle continued, and I continued to shrug it off. Unfortunately, this isn’t a problem you can just shrug off. Discontent only festers and builds energy.
But what was I to do? Afterall, without a passion, there was nowhere to start, right? Wrong.
All these years I had missed the point. I used to look at the people I admired and mistakenly assumed that they were “lucky” enough to have been given a passion for something. Then, with their own gumption, took action upon it and are now reaping the rewards of their pursuit. So, I waited patiently by for life to hand me my one sure thing to pursue…and when it did, by golly, I would pursue it with a vengeance.
Unless you are Mozart writing your first symphony at eight years old, chances these “passion-pursuers” were not born with “it”. It all started with a mere interest in something, a curiosity. The people you and I both admire, living lives of purpose, thrive because they found an interest in something that uniquely lit a spark inside, and then they just kept paying attention to. They kept stroking the fire, investigating it, working on it, learning more about it and in the midst of their attraction to it…. a passion grew inside them.
As Dilbert creator, *Scott Adams has said,”Passion does not breed success — success breeds passion.”
This is not to say that every curiosity or interest you have will mature into a million dollar business or a spiritually life-altering episode. But, if you would simply pick it up, poke it, turn it around a bit I guarantee it will enrich your life, and yes, might lead to something of greater value.
For me, this revelation led to what author *Frans Johannson would call a “Click Moment”. From his book The Click Moment he says that when a serendipitous, lucky, or interesting moment occurs — a successful person sees it as an opportunity.
I believe these click moments are happening to us all the time. We just aren’t aware enough to recognize them — or maybe we’re too immersed in the social media scroll of death to see them pass us by. After I became aware, and stopped burying my head in my phone, my click moment happened. I was in the car and was listening to my usual YouTube content through Bluetooth: Ted Talks, inspirational snippets, spiritual junkies sharing whatever — when a video struck me with such bolt I knew it was an idea for a book I had to write. That very day, some five months ago, my project began and is now nearly finished. And THIS is why I was prepared for the date with destiny I had with *Jane from HR.
In an article *Carolyn Gregorie did on Huffington Post she says that studies show only 1 out of 3 of us are happy. Only 33% of us are happy?! After some digging, I found this echos the same conclusion shared by various sources and has remained fairly the same for many many years. Additionally, an article in Forbes by *Susan Adams says that over 52% of us are unhappy at work. All of this despite our average income continuing to rise.
So, why? Because it isn’t about the the things we accumulate or the titles we wear.
As Carl Jung said,
“He who looks outside dreams, he who looks inside — Awakens.”
In *Oprah’s final show she reminded us, “Your number one job in life is to find your calling” Without that it is hard to claim meaning in your life. And without meaning in our lives there isn’t enough “stuff” that will keep unhappiness at bay. It will hunt you down and knock you over if you don’t take care of it.
Rhodes Scholar, *Nat Ware, discusses the economics of happiness In his Ted Talk. He says that we have been terrible predictors of happiness; that the things we anticipate or expect will make us happy, sometimes do just the opposite. It’s why studies show a Bronze medalist is sometimes happier on the podium then the silver medalist or why often a lottery winner’s happiness is incredibly fleeting. He attributes this to the fact that our expectations are way off. We expect that those things will fill us with what we need to feel satisfied. Then end up even unhappier than before we had them — when they don’t.
I think we’ve been given the wrong idea when it comes to finding and following your purpose. We’ve all been inundated with countless quotes and pictures on social media suggesting we can change it all if we just take action — right now! “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. Don’t wait for your ship to come in, swim out to it. Today is the first day of the rest of your life”.
While well meaning and inspirational, they are too overwhelming to propel someone into action. Harvard Professor *Ann Cuddy, also a Ted Talk favorite, says that ideas like these only focus on the outcome, not the process.
“They’re so big. They’re so distant,” Cuddy says of moonshots such as losing 40 pounds or getting a dream job. “They require a million little steps in between, and each of those little steps is an opportunity to fail.”
The truth is you don’t have to be all that those Instagram quotes ask you to be right now. By taking small steps you can immediately begin to honor who you are and increase your chance of succeeding. Don’t get too ahead of yourself, think about what you can do today. The work will scale with you as as the intensity and consistency of your dedication grows.
Find a way to determine what lights you up inside.
Listen for the Click.
Then, do something small to respect it…..sign up for a class, find a meetup, see an exhibition, attend a show, write it down — and share it, when you are ready.
I feel obligated to include that it’s not going to be all wine and roses. You’re going to have moments of fear where you’re not sure if you made the right decision. You’ll wonder if you’re too inexperienced, too old, too young, too tired…be prepared for for these fears, acknowledge them — and keep working.
*Arianna Huffington writes in her book Thrive, “We may not be able to witness our own eulogy, but we’re actually writing it all the time, every day.”
Yesterday afternoon was a roller-coaster of emotions with tears and elation, freedom and panic. There will not be a job search, my safety net is gone. I am staring into the abyss and ready to take my leap of faith. I have no idea where this journey might take me from here. Though I am positive the rewards of leaping far outweighs the risk of regret.
There’s a wonderful story in *Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat Pray Love that has never left me:
Today, I’m cashing in my chips and buying a ticket.
Cheers to you my fellow soul seekers!
Originally published at medium.com