Pay attention to what you envy. Jealousy is an ugly emotion, but it tells the truth. You only envy those who have what you desire. Back when I was a Wall Street lawyer, some of my former law school classmates got together one evening, and compared notes on alumni career tracks. They spoke with admiration and, yes, jealousy, of a classmate who argued regularly before the Supreme Court. At first I felt critical of their envy. More power to that classmate! I thought, congratulating myself on my magnanimity. Then I realized that my largesse came cheap, because deep down I didn’t aspire to the accolades of lawyering. When I asked myself whom I did envy, the answer came back instantly. My college classmates who’d grown up to be writers, or psychologists.
Ask yourself what you loved to do when you were a child. How did you answer the question of what you wanted to be when you grew up? The specific answer you gave may have been off the mark, but the underlying impulse was not. If you wanted to be a fireman, what did a fireman mean to you? A good man who rescued people in distress? A daredevil? Or the simple pleasure of operating a truck? If you wanted to be a dancer, was it because you got to wear a costume, or because you craved applause, or was it the pure joy of twirling around at lightning speed? You may have known more about who you were then than you do now.
Pay attention to the work you gravitate to. When I was a lawyer, I never once volunteered to take on an extra corporate legal assignment, but I spent a lot of time doing pro bono work for a women’s leadership organization. I also sat on several law firm committees dedicated to mentoring and training young lawyers in the firm. Now I am not the committee type (I’m an introvert!), but the goals of those committees lit me up, so that’s what I did. Today I’m doing a version of this kind of work with my writing and consulting, and I wake up every day excited to get started.
What makes you cry? This one comes courtesy of Steve Pavlina, over at Personal Development for Smart People. He advises that you sit down with a blank sheet of paper, ask yourself what your life purpose is, and keep writing down answers until you come to the one that makes you cry. I experienced a variation of this many years ago. I was having dinner with my good friend Katie Orenstein. I mentioned that I’d always wanted to be a writer but could never find the time to actually write anything. We were having a casual conversation, but I saw the depth of my emotions reflected back in Katie’s face. And I burst into tears. Now here I am, with my first book coming out next year. (Check out Katie’s inspiring Op-Ed project here; she may change your life too.)
You may think I’m conflating work with life purpose here. I am. In an ideal world they will be one and the same. For many people, however, it’s not an ideal world. In that case, try to earn your income from work that doesn’t take too much time and energy. Then spend the rest of your time doing what you truly love.
Yes! Yes! Yes!
Some really good tips in this article by Marc Edwards, writing for Smashing Magazine. Several of these I was not aware of.
I learned stuff… Recommended.