After a recent session for The White Box Club™ (a Meetup group I founded for people laid off or in career transition), a new member approached me with some questions. She was curious about how I'd personally recovered after being laid off from a full-time job.
"So is this what you do now for work--run this group?" "Yes," I replied. "Oh, so you get paid for this?" "No." "So what do you do for money?" "I do many things. Some of which pay me in money; others pay me in gratitude or appreciation--like leading this group." "Oh, so you're not going back to work?" To which I replied, "Oh, I already have. This is my work."
She looked a bit bewildered at first, but then smiled kindly. "Oh, cool," she said.
After many years, I am one of those people who proclaim that they've found their life's work: activities that fully use my strengths, talents, and experiences. By focusing on refining my path for many years, I've come into better alignment with my purpose--and it continues to manifest itself in new opportunities all the time.
But it hasn't always been this way.
For many years, I found a decent amount of satisfaction in the work I did--whether it was creating new curriculum, teaching college, or facilitating corporate training programs. Formal education and certifications reinforced my love of technology and education, but to balance my creative energies, I started documenting my experiences and stories along the way.
Deep inside I always sensed there was more to do. New forms of creative expressions were within me, waiting to be discovered--I just wasn't sure how to tap them.
It was only after I realized through the years of journaling that my writing started taking on a new life of its own. I found great power and clarity in my stories, so I started writing more formally. This eventually led to self-publishing, life coaching, and leading keynote presentations based on my stories and ideas.
I finally felt that I'd found my life's work. Or that it had found me.
Doing what we love is not impossible. In fact, we can find happiness and appreciation in any job. It just takes a dose of deliberate effort and whole lot of focus.
And a truckload of patience.
In another recent conversation, friend and fellow inspirational speaker David Mann and I were comparing notes about our respective journeys. As our synergies coalesced, we discovered that we are both experiencing incremental manifestation--a term we coined to describe the outcomes of paying attention to our life's work. When we spent more time focused on doing the things we love, new and different opportunities manifested more quickly. But we still needed to remain patient. Big things always happen one step at a time.
Curious about finding your life's work? You don't have to be a solopreneur to be aligned with your job. Here are a few tips for finding your life's work in whatever you are doing:
Focus on your strengths. When you already do something naturally well, keep doing more of it. Of course, it's always important to be aware of our areas of opportunity, but there's no need to focus on them. We have the greatest impact when we keep our sights set on where we shine.
Seek clarity. Just as a camera lens can focus on whatever it's pointed towards, so can our thoughts and energies. Since there are unlimited things to focus on in the world, choosing wisely where to place our attentions will determine our direction. Keep the big picture in mind, but aim carefully and focus on the object of your intention before you shoot the photo.
Do what makes you happy. This isn't just a catchy cliché--it is one of the most intelligent things we can do. Happiness is essential: it drives our attitudes, actions, and words. And when we feel good about something, our creative flow is engaged and new ideas come easily and effortlessly.
Appreciate your own colors. You are special. You are unique. You are different. And that is always a good thing. There is no need to be like anyone else--in fact, you can't be. Your differences will always make you stand out, not your similarities. Stay focused, stay confident, and appreciate yourself, even when you feel nobody else can.
All that glitters is not gold. Whether you agree with it or not, the pursuit of money is part of the American way. But it's not the only way. Many have learned that money doesn't buy happiness--it buys groceries and gasoline. Doing our life's work can, indeed, include making money, but keep in mind that your journey may not result in a pot of actual, tangible gold at the end. Your gold may be the reflection of a heart that shines from living with purpose.
Trust the process. All things happen in their own time. Just as an apple doesn't instantly appear on a tree, nature has a process: Seeds become trees; trees bear fruit; fruit bears seeds; and the cycle continues. It doesn't happen overnight. Like the life of an apple, our biggest and greatest accomplishments build incrementally over time. If you can learn to develop patience for the process, before you know it, your life's work will reveal itself to you, too.
Learn more about finding your life's work in Balancing Work, Relationships & Life in Three Simples Steps, or another book in Michael's collection at michaelsunnarborg.com/books
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