I love dogs because everything they feel, they reveal. When they are happy, they show us their unmitigated joy with the most beautiful, exuberant expressions of mind and body. People, in contrast, are often hesitant to seek joy for themselves and celebrate joyous moments when they are lucky enough to find them. Why is this? Is it because in today’s fast-paced world joy is seen as frivolous? Extra? Unnecessary? Is a joyful person seen as one who isn’t taking life seriously? Are joy and success perceived as mutually exclusive?
I teach a course called Advanced Professional Writing. Most of my students are college seniors majoring in a range of disciplines. I have made it part of my mission to encourage students to make it their goal to find a career that they love: “If you love what you do,” I tell them, citing the old adage, “you’ll never work a day in your life.” I’ve discovered that most of them do not think finding work that they genuinely love is a reasonable or realistic goal. “My dad hates his job,” one student told me, “but he makes great money and he only has to do it for 8 hours a day.” It is mind-boggling to me that someone could see spending 8 hours a day doing something one hates as okay. As I see it, if going to work feels like you’re showing up in someone else’s life, then that’s not okay. We don’t have to settle for a life we do not love. Really, we don’t.
I’m not saying that everyone should expect to land their dream job right out of college. Obviously, most people are going to have to do what they need to do to do what they want to do. (Oprah–did I take that from you?) I am saying that if, from the get go, you’re ready to settle for a job that pays the bills and lets you afford some of the nice things in life–a house, good stuff for your kids, etc.–then you’re setting your sights too low. Life is too short to just write off 8 hours a day as time that doesn’t matter as long as you bring home a paycheck.
A person should not settle for anything less than a job that aligns with his or her purpose. As I’ve said before, I believe that everyone has a purpose. Our passions direct us to our gifts, and our gifts direct us to our purposes. Is it easy to figure out what our purposes are? Of course not. Nothing worth doing is easy. That doesn’t mean it’s not worth the effort. To be sure, seeking your purpose is not for the faint of heart; the faint of heart should embrace the suck and do it anyway. Why? Because you only live once? Nope. As my friend Kelley Moore is fond of saying, the idea that you only live once is a lie. The fact is, we only die once; we live over and over and over again between the day we are born and the day we die. That’s why we owe it to ourselves to make the most of every hour of the days between our birth and our death and that includes the 8 hours we spend working.
But isn’t it selfish to pursue your passions and purposes by insisting on pursuing ways to do work that you love? No. It is not selfish to seek out a way to live a life of purpose because inevitably that life of purpose will involve service to others, in one way or another. As Dr. King insisted, “You don’t need a college degree to serve. . . . All you need is a heart full of grace and a soul generated by love.” It is selfish not to seek ways to do work you love. It is selfish not to invest your energy in finding your purpose and work that allows you to serve it. To deny yourself the opportunity to fulfill your purpose(s) is to deny others opportunities to reap the benefits of what you and only you have to offer; that is selfish. Will there be resistance to your efforts to seek work that serves your purpose? You bet. Shake it off. Others’ willingness to settle for less-than-is-possible should not get in the way of your pursuit of work that allows you to find joy in the work that you do and fulfill your purpose in the process. Will you find your purpose right away? Probably not.
Take my friend Erica. Erica is super smart, stunningly beautiful, ridiculously talented, and was blessed with the resources to do pretty much whatever she chose to do in life. As a youth, she participated in musical theater and she showed horses competitively winning more World Championship titles than she can count. She gave up theater to pursue her passion for horses. After high school, she gave up her amateur status to become a full-time horse trainer and attended college part-time, eventually earning a degree in Communications. She was successful as a horse trainer–almost immediately she had a stable full of six-figure horses and talented riders. She was also miserable. Erica missed showing her own horse as an amateur and she hated the politics and pettiness that plagued the world of horse training. So she stopped training and sat out for the time required before she could resume competing as an amateur.
Meanwhile, she went to cosmetology school. She finished the program, worked in the industry for a while, and discovered that the career for which she’d trained wasn’t for her after all. Along the way, she got married, had two beautiful baby boys, and kept her eyes open for whatever it was she was supposed to be doing with her life. Today, Erica and I were messaging back and forth on Facebook and she shared with me that she is going back to school to earn a BSN because she has decided she wants to work in labor and delivery. The birth experience, she said, is “magical, unexplainable. My heart has never been so open and full.” When Erica said that, it dawned on me that we’ll know we’ve found our purposes when we find what makes our hearts feel open and full like never before and figure out how to do that for a living.
Sadly, most people stop looking for whatever it is that makes their hearts feel that way. Instead, they settle for work that pays the bills, or that they don’t mind doing all that much, or for something they like. But don’t be fooled; doing something you “like” isn’t enough. It’s just a slightly more pleasant version of settling.
Erica did not settle. Instead, she kept looking until she found what was “magical, unexplainable” and what made her heart feel more open and full than ever before. Was it easy? No. Was it frustrating? Yes. Did she take a lot of flack from people who couldn’t figure out why she kept trying different things, but couldn’t seem to settle on any of them? Yes. Did she waste precious time? Absolutely not. She did not waste any time at all because each step she took from earning a degree to having her babies was a step toward her discovery of what she now knows, with certainty, is her purpose. It’s about the journey.
I will tell my students about Erica and I’m sure there will be some who will settle for a life they do not love anyway. I hope they understand, though, that settling is a choice; it is not an inevitability. It IS possible to live a life which involves doing work that you love. It IS possible to find your purpose and a career that allows you to serve it. It is possible to tune out the naysayers who may be well-meaning, but who are terribly misguided. We owe ourselves and the world nothing less than the best we have to offer. We can find what that “best” is when we find a way to do work, day in, and day out, that seems magical and unexplainable and that makes our hearts feel more open and full than ever before. It is just that simple. Have you been on such a journey or are you on one now? Please share your story.
As always, thank you for reading. I appreciate you.