I am 30 which – in my generation – tends to be the time where the consequences of our mid-twenties choices manifest. Those who studied hard and went for the high-end jobs now can afford their first truly crazy cars and start getting invited to circles that ”normal people“ can only read about. Those who got married early now see their kids enter primary school. Those who succeeded with their first company are featured on Inc.com and TedX. Those who failed their first company are back to square zero… something close to where we all were after graduation.
It comes with little surprise that it’s when we are between 27 and 35 we all realise that what we’ve been told in secondary school (i.e. we are all equal, we are all going to be fine, the economy will continue to grow, the dollar is stable and God is a DJ) is deeply flawed. Euhm.. no, we are not all equal. And it doesn’t matter whether our socio-economic environment, our genetic constitution, our belief systems or the portion of luck that destiny reserved for us is to blame: What seemed to have been minor differences in the choices we took compared to our peers now reveals itself as pretty substantial differences in the way we lead (or in some cases: are led by) our lives.
Follow your inner calling and your worries shall disappear…
In early 2000s funky books like ”The 4 hour work week“ or ”Think and grow rich“ unwillingly tricked us into thinking that money, romantic love and lifelong fulfillment (yes, in THAT order) fly to us only provided that we set our mind to it. We all secretly streamed Steve Jobs Stanford Commencement Speech (maybe not to the end, but we got the general idea) where the key to our happiness was essentially presented to us on a silver plate: You follow your passion and chances are you will become all of the admirable things mentioned above.
AND in our early twenties we made a promise to ourselves: Sure, I will follow my passion – later.
Today, we envy the workaholics for their cars, but we secretly calm our pain by telling us that they have a 70h work week and must hence by definition be unhappy. We envy the young families for the love they experience when bringing up their offspring, but in a (very) mean moment roll our eyes “Seriously? You stopped studying at 24 and then went part time? Woah, how empty will you feel at the age of 42 when you are bored, unemployable and your kids have moved out?“.
Yet, there is one group of people that is hard to get around: Those that followed their dreams. However messy or hard, their life seemed to have been pretty cool (or at least: So much cooler than ours!). In times of YOLO, FOMO and JOMO, following your dreams seems to just be the ultimate thing that knows no „but“. I followed my dream, “but“ I don’t make a lot of money. Or: I followed my dream, “but“ I do not yet have kids. Whatever the “but“ is, it just doesn’t sound bad enough to make that choice unreasonable.
The problem: The average 26+ years of age human knows little about what her or his inner calling is supposed to be
One finds it hard to think that there should be one interest (the boring beginner version of “a true passion“) that is so strong that it would justify one or more years of a substantially lower salary, sleepless nights and general uncertainty in the face of mere survival. Is it dancing that I like or is it really gardening? Is the fact that I sometimes google food blogs really indicative of a passion for vegan veggie bowls? Do I really wanna be a food blogger for the rest of my life? Is it time to panic, because people keep saying that if you follow your dreams, you should do it “when you are still young“ (whatever that means to them)?
Here are 5 truths for the undecided, for those who doubt and for those who (unnecessarily but understandably) wonder if their life makes sense:
1. Do not confuse “finding my inner calling” with “becoming rich and famous”
What we fail to see is that those who planted the idea into our brains that “following one’s passion” is the non-plus-ultra, tend to be those who in one way or another have been tremendously successful in doing so. Would we be equally thrilled by that message, if it was communicated by the 95% who fail? Truth be said: “The 7 steps on how to become a millionaire” is still a way better seller than “Learning from bankruptcy”.
There is a curious side-taste to the fact that many of these “fiery passion-followers” are both highly extraverted and gifted self-marketers.
In some way many of them have managed to reverse-engineer a potentially random, but broadly positive trait of their own perceived personality to whichever business/project/message they are bringing to the world: “I have so much love inside of me that the universe forced me to write a book about it! Now I am hot on Ted!” Honestly, if I asked that person’s mum if that son of hers really was such a love bug, or if he was as much of a brat as any other child, chances are that he was a bit of both.
No doubt – it’s an art to differentiate between the sender and the message: Do you want to find your inner calling or do you just want to become like the person who tells you that following your passion is really your thing? If you wanna know what you want, what you gotta answer first is: What on earth am I REALLY trying to get from this?
2. Understand your reward: What on earth am I REALLY trying to get from finding my inner calling?
As hinted already before, people confuse “finding their inner calling” with “getting rich/attractive/loved/recognized” (pick your favourite!): I want to find their life purpose to feel _ _ _ (fill in the blank!).
There is nothing bad or unusual to this. People have needs. After all we all wanna feel safe, loved and important. However, if you build your life on an unmet need, how will you get your energy and inspiration when times are rough, when you have to pivot or borrow money from your parents? What will happen to you when you are “actually” living your dream? Will you really get the fulfillment you hoped for from being rich, loved or recognized? Or will you just come up with another “thingy” you don’t yet possess and you need to go for next? Even worse: Suppose you found your inner calling, you feel fulfilled – and now what? Will you be happier, if you have put a plaster on your wounds, but you don’t have an aim anymore?
You are probably getting it: This whole “I-wanna-find-my-inner-calling-to-get-rich”-thingy sounds like a high-risk strategy. There are just too many question marks. It just doesn’t make enough sense, so that you should bet the few days you have left on this planet on it.
3. Understand the voices in your head and listen to the silence beneath
Fear, anger, grief, the need to be loved and the need to feel safe, the exhilaration that comes from being successful can be very loud voices in your head. The challenge: Your inner calling tends to be small and subtle. You gotta master your loud voices to be able to listen to the silence beneath.
Here’s how to do this: Write down what you think your subconsciousness is really trying to get with this whole “finding my inner calling”-stuff. If you end up with any of the following: I wanna feel more (!) loved, safe, important, ask yourself the following to questions:
a) What makes me so passionate about refusing to give these things to myself?
Chances are: You are not “not lovable”. You are not “unimportant” by nature, but it is a certain belief about yourself that pulls you down. This sounds “bad”, yet: Every limiting belief has a protective purpose. The purpose of being “not lovable” might be that you never wanted to take a risk of being disappointed by another human (“I am not lovable, hence I will never let friends/a relationship touch me anyways, hence I can never EVER be disappointed.”). The purpose of being “not important” might have been that you never desired to take over responsibility (“I can’t f****** influence it anways!”).
Think about what protection you would be giving up if you switched your belief into the opposite, from “I am not lovable” to “I am totally, utterly, freakin’ lovable”. Then think about how important that protection is versus how much you want to discover your inner calling. You choose! (But don’t tell yourself it is impossible to find it!)
To be fair, this in itself doesn’t make our need to feel loved/safe/important disappear, so don’t forget this second question:
b) What would it look like if I gave that thing that I really want to myself?
In other words: What would it look like if I started loving myself like I want others to love me? What would it look like if I started to think of myself as worthy and important like I want others to think of me? If you can’t think of ANY way on how this would look like, start behaving like someone who is lovable, and you will probably be loved back. Start getting engaged in things that are important and you will probably be important, too.
If you do this for a while, chances are that at some point you will face this situation: “Dear destiny, what am I trying to really get by finding my inner calling?” Destiny whispers: “Nothing.” This is when you have listened to the silence beneath. As a matter of fact: Your true inner calling doesn’t have a purpose. It just is. You follow it, not because you want to get anything from it. You follow it just for the sake of it. There is no justification needed. No material or emotional reward behind. It just is.
This sounds deeply inhumane and unrealistic. That side of Buddhism any normal western hipster – despite a series of high-end yoga retreats – just still hasn’t managed to grasp. And yeah. It’s totally weird. That’s because there is something inherently wrong about society telling us that we are supposed to discover our “life purpose” in one glorious, intergalactic moment.
4. Your life purpose on a silver tablet? Nope, it’s a puzzle!
Why on earth did humanity come up with this bullox that you have to chase after your inner calling like a Tom after Jerry? Finding your life purpose is not like getting married: It’s not an act. The reason why all those spiritual movies, bloggers and opinion leaders say “it’s not about the end, it’s all about the journey”, is because your inner calling – if ever – unfolds to you in reverse. Simply said: You only know afterwards WHY you did all the stuff you did.
Expecting to find your life purpose (e.g. as a result of reading an article like this one) is like being a startup that tries to prevent rapid prototyping in the hope to find the big fat hit right away – nope! Doesn’t work like that.
5. The cosmic shortcut: Two questions to reverse-engineer your life-purpose today
Is there really no better way than just to wait and see? Hmm, we wouldn’t be writing this, if there wasn’t. So here’s a shortcut you can take: Your inner calling will drive your ultimate priorities. Your ultimate priorities will surface in your daily decisions. Especially those decisions where you need to leave your comfort zone, where you trust your dreams and aspirations more than you trust your fears, give you a pretty good hint as to what direction your “totally true and ridiculously amazing inner calling” might be coming from.
Rather than trying to over-analyse which underlying passion could be the origin of your “interest in jazz dance and gardening”, look at it as the sum of the millions of tiny tiny decisions you have taken in your life. Pick 10 random important and possibly unimportant decisions and ask yourself this:
- What were two big things I could choose from and which one did I ultimately go for? The night before the exam: Did I go for grit (study another hour?) or did I go for bliss (f*** it, just go to bed)? The day that you had to meet an important client: Did I go for career (adjusted my tie and headed into the building) or did I go for love (cancelled the meeting, had dinner with my girlfriend)?
- When I had to fight for something, when I had to dare something – what excited me to do so? The dinner where I defended my sibling against my dad, the day I needed to quit my job: Why did I do so? What bigger thing was I a servant of?
Sounds hard to do? Sure. It’s not easy, but nudge your inner perfectionist into shutting up for 5min and your answers might surprise you. More importantly: Next week, take of 3min, 2x a week and ask yourself: the last 3 decisions I took, were they in line with what I really value? If you choose to live consciously, to observe your decisions as a sum of what it is you truly value and act accordingly, chances are your underlying drivers, your inner callings will unveil in front of you without you even calling them.
After all: Your life purpose is always nothing more than your next best guess!
So go out an love it!
Picture by www.mosaiquedesidees.wordpress.com Thanks, Julia!