Steve Jobs’ recent announcement about stepping down as the CEO of Apple prompted a lot of discussions about his legacy as a major business leader. Among the reflections shared were those around the commencement speech he gave at Stanford University in 2005 during which he urged everyone to do what you love. If you don’t happen to love what you do, “Keep looking. Don’t settle,” he said.
As we head into the Labor Day weekend, it’s a good question to ask, “Am I doing what I love?” If your answer is “No,” what are you doing about it? The answer to that question may seem too obvious to state but probably too uncomfortable to face as well. That is, figure out what you love and go do it! After all, life is too short. Do you really want to wait for terminal illness, being laid off or having some other disruptive life event to make the choice for you to leave what you don’t love?
Finding what we love requires us to have a very intimate understanding of ourselves and our purpose in this life. Yet, this can be a tall order. After all, with the way life works, we started learning since we were kids who to be, how to behave to be accepted. There was a finite window in our childhood when there were no contingencies around our dreams and desires, nor limits to what was possible. That is before we learned to filter every wish and desire through the lens of social acceptance. Then, we spend decades continuing to build our lives – and our identities – to conform to acceptable norms and expectations, e.g., getting educated, getting married and raising a family, being financially secure, etc. Many of us get really, really good at following these socially sanctioned prescriptions of how to live. Before we know it, we’ve created a life we’re supposed to love, except we don’t. How did that happen? Does this sound familiar?
So, what do you do if you aren’t doing what you love? Jobs’ recommendation is right on, “Keep looking. Don’t settle.” I’d go one step further to emphasize that the looking starts internally. Try the following.
If you aren’t doing what you love, love what you’re doing right now.
This step is a must: Honor what you’re doing right now. Identify the good in your unsatisfying work life, e.g., good friends you’ve made at work, the paychecks you get regularly to sustain your life, etc. Appreciate them. Be grateful for them. Charge your consciousness to be magnetic to these conditions wherever you go next professionally. Start releasing the negative emotions and judgments associated with your current job by practicing forgiveness. Don’t forget to include yourself, if you’ve judged yourself for not having the guts to leave what you know doesn’t serve you. If you’re currently out of work, practice appreciation and gratitude for your previous job(s), and release any resentment, anger and other negative energy around the economy, being let go, etc..
Turn what you hate into what you love.
Make a list of all the undesirable conditions in your current job. Be exhaustive with your list. Once you’ve done that, pivot each condition to the opposite. For instance, “underpaid” to ”being paid well,” “overworked” to “great work-life balance,” etc. Identify the top 5 pivoted conditions. Visualize yourself working in these conditions often.
Engage your forgotten inner child.
Go back to the unfiltered days of your childhood and remember what you truly loved to do. Was it being creative? Was it about building things? Tell your rational mind to take a nap. In your mind’s eye, close the door for a few moments to challenging thoughts like, “Yeah but I can’t make a living doing this,” or “That was only child’s play, not practical now considering the responsibilities I have,” etc. Journal on the insights that come up. Draw if it resonates with you more. Give your inner child some air time to tell you what you’ve forgotten that your true self loved to express.
What’s the legacy you want to leave behind?
If you were to think ahead to the end of your life looking back, for what would you like to be remembered? Clearly, your legacy would include much more than work. But, if you were to leave this world having lived a fulfilling life of joy, loving what you do will have been a part of it, whether it’s work for pay or not. This question is worth pondering. And, when you know the legacy you want to leave behind, how would you live to fulfill this picture?
Once you are tuned into your inner compass to direct you, what’s revealed to you one step at a time will bring more purpose and fulfillment. Before long, the word “work” will take on a whole different meaning, because it won’t feel like work anymore. This journey of looking within may take some time, and the length varies from individual to individual. But know that you cannot miss your life. As you continue looking, remember always to honor yourself and where you are in your life. Whether or not it makes sense right now, you’re always exactly where you need to be.
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