“Listen to your being. It is continuously giving you hints; it is a still, small voice. It does not shout at you, that is true. And if you are a little silent you will start feeling your way. Be the person you are. Never try to be another, and you will become mature. Maturity is accepting the responsibility of being oneself, whatsoever the cost. Risking all to be oneself, that’s what maturity is all about.” — Osho
My story is a familiar one: I ardently pursue a dream only to find, in the end, it leaves me denuded of soul. Not just that but feeling a deep sense of loss in wasting so many years of my life, only to find what I thought would make me happy breaks my heart.
And before you say that’s no surprise given the nature of the work — law, sales, engineering — I can tell you it had nothing to do with trying to serve my clients et al but much more to do with the fact that it subsumed my true Self beneath a plethora of labels such as success, power and prestige.
For a while, I used to think it was me, but the more now I speak to people, the more I find that their once-prized vocation no longer fans the flame of genius that should be the sine qua non of vocation. (To be clear, vocation comes in many forms — mother, carer, friend — but for me it was no more and no less than paid work.)
If I look back on my father’s generation, I suspect this pandemic was no different save that there was an overwhelming sense of obligation that elided anything remotely personal. Sad as it is, all that did was develop a group of people who passed on to the next generation the message that they too had to live into a job, but this time a better paid one.
I’m no educationist, but I have this overwhelming sense of wanting to find out why, to this day, so many people are still being told to pursue the long-term career agenda, mostly ensconced in a fancy label. Instead, what all establishments should be cultivating is a cadre of useful people, i.e. people who have skills to offer a world of diminishing resources and in desperate need of community.
But as I said in last week’s post, it’s very unlikely that any institution is going to dismantle itself, do a volte face its previous success agenda and opt for something different. There’s simply too much at stake. That’s not to say that every institution is the same, but if we expect change to come from them, we’ll be waiting a very long time.
Perhaps we should look to Government to change the narrative. Dream on. They’re even more invested in the process. It wouldn’t just be political suicide we’re talking about but the end of the party. And then you have our so-called industrialists. Or what our about our faux celebrities?
Nope. It’s not going to come from any of these groupings. It has to start with each and every one of us whether as employer, employee, parent or child.
But it’s bloody hard. I should know, having tried to break the ice with my wife and my children on more than a few occasions. For a start, they just can’t see it. You know, it’s one thing to talk about global warming and resource depletion being linked to work, but something entirely different to get people to change their mindset or their life!
I accept that all of this can look a little confusing. For a start, how is anyone supposed to marry soul with role and from that emerge an all-consuming passion to do good by others, the planet and themselves? It’s a good question. For me, it’s very much an existential argument. I can’t see how we can pursue one thing, even if the money imperative is the sine qua non, without, at the same time, understanding our impact on mother earth and every species on the planet. But of course that’s a very different proposition to pursuing something that lifts our spirits and makes the most of our gifts.
Might there be a crossover?
No and yes.
No in the sense that I can think of many jobs that whilst, prima facie, they may appear to be environmentally neutral, e.g. advertising, nevertheless, are likely to exact a deleterious effect on the planet. (Making us buy more things we don’t need is hardly an auspicious start.)
On the other hand, working in community and upcycling or recycling things we actually need could be all we’re left with in a few years when we realise there’s no new materials left to consume.
Do you see the dilemma?
Perhaps it’s naive to think that in pursuing work that’s soulful we’re all going to reconnect with a deeper, less materialistic consciousness, but I can’t see it any other way. If we’re in tune with us then ipso facto we can’t expect to do that in a bubble. Not just that but it looks odd to say you’re pursuing a soulful role no matter the consequences.
At this stage, I’m reminded of something Mac Macartney said in his talk on The Twin Trail of Leadership, namely it’s nearly impossible to pursue an inner journey — one of deep spiritual reflection — without, at the same time, looking out and seeing our impact on the world.
But (of course) me nor Mac do a movement make. In the end, as I appear to repeat almost daily, all of this is a choice. And a very difficult one. No, it’s more than that. It means ending one life, and pursuing a new one. Like anything, letting go is never easy, but the challenge first is to come to a place where you know that you’re not wasting another day doing something you hate. That means taking a chance in pursuing something that may not give you the same level of income or it may take time to get back to where you are now, letting go of your old self (reflected in a series of faux masks) and working every day at something that may feel counter-intuitive to what you’ve known in the past.
I know, I’m hardly selling you on a new horizon but trust me there’s no need for me to offer much when, if like me, you’ve been drawn inexorably in the direction of your soul which doesn’t equate to working in an office and slowly dying from the inside out.
It would be trite for me to say leap and the net will appear (see The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron) but, in the end, that’s all you can do. Oh, you might also try connecting with like-minded folk who’ve walked the trail, climbed the mountain, or fallen off their bike more times than they care to remember. Trust me, if you look online, you’ll find plenty of people who are trying to grow into their true self. Reach out and connect. Ask for advice. Meet them. But don’t say you don’t know what to do, please.
One final thing. Don’t feel you’ve got to ditch your career capital — it takes a bloody long time to acquire skills — but don’t think that because you’ve only ever done one thing, or worked in one industry, you can’t do something else.
Remember whatever you do, you only have one life, and we’re duty bound to explore, develop and make the most of what we have.
Of course, if you think I can help please don’t be shy — reach out and send me a message. I can’t promise to have all the answers, but I might be able to cut through the thrashing that comes from not really knowing if (a) you’re making the right choice and or (b) you’re pursuing the right thing.