If the Road Doesn’t Exist, Create It.

There’s no single, risk-proof formula to finding one’s calling. If there were, I could spare my husband and sons from the six month, no-pay hiatus I’m taking right now to find it. There are hundreds and maybe thousands of books, articles, podcasts and TED talks on the subject. Over the years I’ve met with a career coach, listened to podcasts and taken tests like the Myers Briggs and Clifton StrengthsFinder. I’ve attended a few leadership development workshops, gotten 360 degree feedback about my management and work styles. I know what I do well, but I don’t know what color my parachute is.

As someone who is blessed (or cursed) with too many interests, I’ve developed skills that pay well but I don’t enjoy doing and sap my energy, and voila:  you get Mid-life crisis. If you don’t like the road you’re on, you’ve got to find another. This search for my next calling feels like the cross-country road trip I once took in my 20s with my friend David. My tiny Geo Metro was packed with everything I owned. We set out from Philadelphia, then the car died in St. Louis right under the Arch. We shipped the car to California, rented another and pressed on. We experienced moments of clear coasting then rough uphill climbs. Interesting diversions and disappointing detours. Some roads were breathtaking, grand and majestic, and some were flat, endless and monotonous. Once we got lost and had to backtrack a hundred miles. In the end, the trip was worth taking, even though we wondered at times where the hell we were, and if we’d have enough to eat.

Will this approach work? I don’t know. Will I definitely find my calling in six months or less? God, I hope so. I have a family, after all. What if I have to backtrack? It scares me sometimes, but I’ve decided there’s no point to worrying about it. I’m creating a space that I can walk into and explore who I am and what I can contribute.  The space provides both structure and play.

The map looks like this — with room to adapt as I go:

Name My Passions. List out all the things that gave me extreme joy. When I lost all track of time doing something? Where did I go the extra mile on a project just because I felt like it? What hobbies or activities have I pursued with reckless abandon? What topics could I go on endlessly about? What aspects of jobs or volunteer experiences did I find myself really into?

Describe My Drive. What have I felt driven to do in life? In work? What do I daydream about? Look at experiences where I did everything that was needed because I simply wanted to.

Define My Onlyness. I heard Nilofer Merchant speak about the importance of finding your onlyness.  Onlyness is not a mining of strengths, skills and professional experience but includes your whole life story and your passions. She suggests that everything in your life matters because it shapes the unique way we each perceive the world, and contribute to it. Wow, I’ve done a lot of work in therapy to overcome negative life experiences, mindsets and habits — to think they offer valuable insight for finding my calling? It never occurred to me. Time to open up the story and explore in the deep.

Gather Insights about Myself from Others. Ask trusted friends and my mom what they’ve seen me doing that bring me pure joy. What topics of conversation do they notice “light me up?” Use Nilofer’s questions to get a sense of what people pick up on about me in the world. What consistently comes up? What surprises me?

Write a Personal Mission That Makes My Heart Sing. This will be a sentence that clearly describes what I feel called to do. If it makes me want to do a happy dance when I say it, then it passes the test.

Build My Village of Cheerleaders. This is a tough road to walk alone. I’ll need different types of cheerleaders to help with the various roadblocks, pitstops and setbacks I may face.

  • At least one person who believes in me and will help me believe in myself when doubts come
  • At least one person who has trekked this path before and can offer wisdom of experience
  • At least one person who offers a safe space for meltdowns and venting when needed. Who won’t judge me when I’m feeling lost or sad
  • At least one person who helps me brainstorm ideas or solutions when I get stuck
  • At least one person who encourages my bravery and holds me accountable
  • At least one person who can help me focus

Meet with People Who Have What I Want. Reach out by email, phone or in-person with folks who are doing things I feel called to do. Learn from them, ask them questions, offer to help them on a project, shadow them for a day.

Take Tony Luna’s Crafting a Meaningul Career Class. I’ve eyed this class for three years and now that I finally am not working and traveling, I’m making the commitment to do this with others.

Start Doing It Anyway. It could be volunteering or taking on a freelance opportunity. It could be doing it on my own even though I’m not getting paid to see if I enjoy the work. If it ties to my mission and I hear my heart saying yes, just do it — with or without a paycheck.

Okay, this all sounds well and good. But since I’m prone to chickening out, I will have to back this up with daily inspiration, and other tips and tools to keep me honest and brave. More to come on these.

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