Are you feeling a sense of restlessness in your career and find yourself constantly wondering if perhaps there’s something else you could/should be doing?
Do you ‘like’ your work, but you don’t come home at the end of each day feeling completely fulfilled and satisfied?
If so, you’re not alone. It’s becoming more and more common for professionals to question their career path after a certain amount of time because we get to the point where we think “Is this it?”. We spend such a large portion of our lives working in our jobs, that we want to make sure we spend it doing something we really love, and that feels meaningful.
I spent the best part of fifteen years in a career path that I liked, and I was really good at it, but it drained me (you can read my story here). In my mid-thirties a life-crisis finally forced me to face that fact that I needed to change career paths entirely.
Thankfully, it’s no longer considered reckless to make a complete career switch mid-life and it’s becoming more widely accepted that we may have a couple, if not many, different career paths during our working lives.
In addition to this, the internet has revolutionised the way we work. It’s now possible for everyone, everywhere, to be connected. This global inter-connectivity means that it’s no longer necessary to be bound to a desk or an office to do your work and more and more people are embracing the freedom and flexibility that the internet is offering us. Small start-ups and entrepreneurs are flourishing more than ever before. As this sea of possibility and opportunity is opening up, we’re feeling a call to self-actualise and do something deeply meaningful with our lives.
The great thing about living in these exciting times is that the concept of ‘follow your heart’ is no longer an impossible fantasy.
It’s not an easy decision to leave the comforts and security of a stable career. We all have financial obligations and commitments and it’s simply not always possible to throw caution to the wind and make a big career change, without the assurance that we’re going to make good money while doing it and it’s actually going to give us the fulfilment and meaning we’re chasing. Otherwise, we’ll end up back where we were. So before making a big change, we want to be sure we’re making the right decision.
And this is why I believe it’s so important to find and live your true ‘inspired path’. What do I mean by your ‘inspired path’? This is how I define it:
Your inspired path feels like coming home. All niggling feelings of doubt and frustration are replaced by a deep and lasting sense of fulfillment. You know deep inside that you’re finally doing exactly what you’re ‘meant’ to be doing. It comes with a feeling of sudden clarity, optimism, and energy.
I believe we come into this world already having a sense of what our joyful and meaningful professional path could be, but most of us go through a process of disconnecting from our ‘true self’ at a young age, while trying to become acceptable citizens and to fit into the mould that our society or family imposes on us.
If you’ve been fortunate enough to grow up in an environment that encouraged you to nurture and embrace your unique self, it’s likely that you’ve been able to live a life true to your heart and you have a good sense of your true professional purpose. However, if like most of us, you grew up trying to be a ‘good kid’ or to fit the image of success that your environment demanded, you may need some more time to excavate the nature of the specific calling that lights you up and makes you want to jump out of bed each morning, and allows you to be fully you. After years of reflection on this topic and coaching others to find their purpose, I’ve come to believe that the ‘secret’ to finding your true path and purpose is to look for the special zone where the following 4 things overlap:
Figure 1: Your PURPOSE – or BIG WHY – where your natural ability meets your passion and your true nature.
Let me define what I mean by these terms.
Proficiency – a.k.a. Your Strengths
Everyone has many different abilities and skills. But when you’re trying to find your inspired and authentic career path, you need to connect with what I call your natural genius. Everyone – yes, EVERYONE! – has a zone of natural genius. These are the things you’re naturally good at without even trying. The problem is, we’re often blind to the things we’re really good at, because we assume that everyone else finds these things easy too. You might be an excellent organiser, or be able to connect intuitively with animals, or make delicious meals without recipes, or take amazing photos without much effort.
There will be something that you’re extremely good at. Perhaps you discounted it as a child because it wasn’t valued or rewarded in your environment. Perhaps it’s so obvious that you can’t even see it. Or perhaps you haven’t discovered it because you haven’t yet had the opportunity to express it or develop it.
Strengths tests such as the Gallup Strengthsfinder 2.0 can be very helpful in helping you narrow down the areas of your natural genius. But take heart – you absolutely have your own specific zone of natural genius and with a little exploring, you can find it. A good way to start finding your natural genius is to think back to the things that came easily to you as a child. What would your friends ask for help with? What came naturally to you? What would the people in your environment compliment you about? Ask your friends, family and work colleagues what they think you’re good at. Often they can see these things more clearly than we can.
If you need help uncovering your unique Zone of Natural Genius, get your FREE copy of my workbook UNCOVER YOUR NATURAL GENIUS: Complete Strengths Analysis for a Lifetime of Success, Fulfilment, and Happiness!
Your personality is your true nature; it’s who you are when you’re being yourself fully.
It’s the type of person you are when you’re not worried about what others think of you, or when you’re in an environment that makes you feel at home and connected to yourself.
There are certain environments that bring out your true nature more than others. Do you know what those environments are for you? Perhaps you love being with animals, or working with antique furniture, or being out on the water, or solving complex technical problems. Perhaps you love being in large groups, or working alone. Perhaps you love drawing, or orienteering, or leading, or coming up with new ideas. It’s important to think here about the things you love doing. When you’re being true to yourself and you’re engaged in activities you love, feelings of joy, happiness and fulfilment emerge as a natural consequence.
Write down all the things you love doing. If you had an abundance of free time, how would you spend it? What are the things you get so completely immersed in that you lose track of time? What are the things in life that bring you joy and satisfaction? Another good exercise is to write down all the ‘high points’ of your life; times when you felt blissful and carefree. What were you doing and where were you? Often those high points contain important clues about your true nature and where your joy lies.
When you’re passionate about something, it means you care very deeply about it. But being passionate about something doesn’t guarantee that you’ll always feels upbeat and joyful.
In fact, in Joseph Campbell’s famous book The Power of Myth he explains that the Greek root of the word passion translates to suffering. Annabelle Parr describes beautifully that “Following your passion means choosing a vocation that is so important to you, so vital to your being that you’re willing to suffer for it.” She goes on to define passion as being “where fulfilment, growth, joy and change exist”. Your passion will push you to your growth edge and force you to fully develop and express your gifts which can feel scary, challenging and very difficult at times. But through this unfolding of your full potential, while being in service to something you care about, you’ll naturally feel deeply fulfilled and satisfied throughout this process of growth and change.
A good place to start looking for things you’re passionate about is to find those things that evoke an emotional response in you when you’re watching TV, listening to the radio, or hearing others talk. What breaks your heart the most in the world? What would you most love to dedicate your precious time and resources to? Studies have shown that people who feel most fulfilled are those who are giving their gifts in service to something larger than themselves, to something they care about. Brainstorm as many ideas as you can about things that you’re passionate about. Write them down.
Profit – What Society Gladly Pays You For
Of course, in order for your purpose to be a true, sustainable livelihood it must generate a reliable and abundant income for you. So you need to find a way to integrate all the aspects of your purpose into something that people need and will happily pay for. But don’t worry, this part comes very easily when your intention is to be of service to others and to contribute something valuable to society. Where there is a genuine need met or a positive outcome generated from your work, people will gladly pay you for your help.
Bringing It All Together
The key now is to reflect on your answers and to see where and how these different parts of you might overlap. Brainstorm different ideas or vocations that would incorporate the three different areas. At this stage it’s important that you don’t limit yourself – wild and crazy ideas are very welcome at this point! You have to think wild and crazy before you can locate what feels ‘right’. Make a list of all the ideas you can think of. I highly recommend LiteMind’s technique of writing a ‘list of 100’ to do this properly. Also, think of your role models and people you admire and use what they do to inspire your ideas. A good litmus test for any idea you come up with is to ask yourself if it would bring you great joy, if it’s aligned with one of your deepest passions, and if it would allow you to fully express and develop your natural genius.
Finding your purpose connects you to something fundamental to your sense of identity and well-being. Living in this zone provides a sense of self-revelation, of defining and expressing who you really are and you finally know – without a shadow of a doubt – that this is what you’re ‘meant’ to be doing with your life. There’s a feeling of devotion and obsession, almost. Many people who finally find their unique calling describe it as an ‘epiphany’. You might start to feel unfulfilled, empty, burned out or lost when you find yourself in one of the following three situations:
1. You have passion and ability, but no joy
You might feel deeply passionate about your work and dedicated to making a positive difference in your chosen field. And you might also be naturally very good at the work you do (you’re in your zone of genius). But if it doesn’t feel light and joyful, you’re not in your sweet spot of life and things may often feel like a struggle. When you’ve found your unique calling, you’ll love what you do and the sense of lightheartedness and joy will light you up and fill you with positive energy.
2. You have ability and joy in your work, but no passion
You might be really good at what you do, and love doing it. For some people this is absolutely enough and they lead a happy and content life in this zone. But if you don’t feel completely fulfilled and satisfied, it’s probably because you have a niggling feeling that there’s something more you should be doing with your life; you want to feel truly passionate about the field you’re working in or the cause you’re contributing to. Many studies have shown that people who feel most fulfilled are those who are giving their gifts in service to something larger than themselves. This is the key to feeling deep and lasting fulfilment. Perhaps you feel like there’s a positive legacy you’re meant to leave, but you don’t know what it is. And you won’t feel truly content until you find it.
3. You feel joy and passion in your work, but you it’s not in your zone of genius
It’s almost impossible to feel fulfilled and deeply satisfied in your work if you have to struggle or work really hard to produce great results. You’ll tend to feel frustrated and demotivated because you’re not operating within your own specific zone of natural genius where things flow easily and effortlessly. In your zone of genius you don’t have to try to be good at your work; it’s what you’re naturally brilliant at anyway.
The problem I had in my professional career of almost 15 years was that I wasn’t operating in my zone of natural genius and my work didn’t feel joyful. I only had one of the circles covered in the diagram above – passion; I was passionate about my field of environmental protection. But despite my passion, the work always felt hard and a struggle and it drained me of energy. As a result, overwhelm eventually turned into chronic fatigue and a perpetual feeling of being on the edge of burnout. I don’t recommend living like this!
You’ll want to have at least three of the four elements covered in your life work (profit, proficiency, personality, and passion). But the intersection where all four overlap is where the real magic happens. This is where you’ll find your inspired professional purpose.
The search for your unique purpose can require a little excavating and digging. The fastest way to uncover your calling is to make space and time in your life right now, to not only get very quiet on a regular basis and connect with your heart, but to also start doing things that come easily to you, that feel joyful or that ignite your passion. Start by doing anything that fits into one of these categories, even if it’s just for ten minutes a day initially. You purpose will start to reveal itself to you as soon as you set the intention and make the commitment to find it, and then start taking actions in the direction of something that feels joyful. If you’re feeling the call to action, go ahead and get started my friend. The rewards and treasures are awaiting you. You won’t be disappointed. And the world needs your precious gifts more than ever right now. You have something incredibly special and valuable to contribute.
As Dr Wayne Dyer always used to say “Don’t die with your music still inside of you”.
Try not to be one of those people who wishes they had taken their dreams seriously when they had the chance! Studies show that the number one regret people have when they’re dying is “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me” (Bronnie Ware, Palliative Nurse, 2000).
If you’d like more help in identifying the best professional path for you, CLICK HERE TO LEARN MORE ABOUT MY PRIVATE COACHING PATHFINDING PROGRAM – and let’s get you clear and on your way – quickly!
In the meantime, you can download my free eBook PATHFINDING: HOW TO FIND YOUR INSPIRED PROFESSIONAL PATH AND PURPOSE and learn all the tips and strategies you need to build a life you truly love.
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In service to helping you live your brightest life,
Katie De Jong, Ph.D
Fempire Coach for Thriving Professionals