Finding the Joy in Whatever You Do. Part 1

“When a man or woman follows bliss, and acts from the heart, that commitment seems in turn to energize the world.” Jean Shinoda Bolen

Some of us know what it’s like to work from the heart, but others know instead the sense of great discomfort that comes when the “real you” is trapped inside a life that feels like a charade.

I started to experience that discomfort back when I was an editor. I was very good at what I did — I got high marks for my creativity and attention to detail — but a major piece was missing nevertheless. It took only an hour or so of concentrated personal writing for me to get to the essence of what was wrong — that what I really wanted to be was a writer, not an editor, even though that meant giving up a certain amount of power and status. The sacrifice of status, though, was more than compensated for by my new visibility, not to mention the feeling I had of being more closely aligned with who I really am, which is the true power in life.

It’s too bad I didn’t just know that from the start, but life is complex, and so is the human psyche. It seems my vision was clouded by all kinds of doubts, some of which might resonate with you: “I’m not talented enough.” “I’ll embarrass myself.” “I’m really good at what I’m doing — why rock the boat?”

But sometimes, as in my case, the discomfort becomes so intense that you just have to start searching out — and testing — the truth. That’s what Barbara Luther thinks, too. She’s a personal life coach in College Station, Texas, who says we need to start recognizing the “societal shoulds” that keep us doing work we don’t truly love. And the fears, such as “having to step up to and own the strengths we have.”

We’re so worried about facing our potential inadequacy that we lose track of the fact that “it’s OK to grow into something new.” And that what’s most important is that we feel energized, not beaten down, by our work — a concept that goes against what she calls the “residual Puritan ethic” that tells us work has to be a struggle or it doesn’t really count.

So, we also have to get past the thinking that sounds like, “I’ve spent all this time and money getting educated to become an X and I can’t change now.” (Which, of course, means “I’m trapped.”) But, with all due respect to the Puritans who passed along their ethic, multiple careers in one lifetime is the name of the game today, says Luther.

When she works with people, she starts by giving them a research project. And who does she ask them to research? Why, themselves, that’s who. What gifts and talents did they enjoy using as children? What do friends and family say about their talents — praise that is so often brushed under the rug with the thinking — “Oh that? Anyone can do that.” This research is part of the dreaming phase.

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