In his book Onward, Howard Schultz, ceo & chairman of Starbucks, describes the experience that fueled him to create the Starbucks we know today. Schultz was on a business trip in Milan when he made his way into an Italian espresso bar.
“‘Buon giornio!’ an older, thin man behind the counter greeted me, as if I were a regular. Moving gracefully and with precision, he seemed to be doing a delicate dance as he ground coffee beans, steamed milk, pulled shots of espresso, made cappuccinos, and chatted with customers standing side by side at the coffee bar. Everyone in the tiny shop seemed to know each other, and I sensed that I was witnessing a daily ritual.
‘Espresso?’ he asked me.
I nodded and watched as he repeated the ritual for me, looking up to smile as the espresso machine hissed and whirred with purpose.”
This is not his job, I thought, it’s his passion.
Passion—today let’s talk about it.
For the entirety of my adult life, I’ve wanted to find that passion—that thing that drives me. It was never a question of existence—with everything inside of me, I’ve always known that there was something I wanted to do with all my soul, something that was inseparable from my sense of purpose, of aliveness, my sense of self. Yes, I’ve always known that this thing existed. The maddening part, though, was that I hadn’t a clue what it was.
There comes a point—say, sometime in your mid-to-early twenties, often coinciding with your graduation from college—when people all of the sudden expect you to know exactly what you want to do with your life. The conversation typically goes something like this:
Aunt Sally at the family barbeque: “Wow, you’re graduating from college already! So what do you want to do after graduation?”
Since you’ve already chosen a major (somewhat blindly, mind you), you rattle off an answer somewhere along that line: “You know, like, um, something in business.”
“Like in operations? Or on the finance side? What kind of work are you thinking?”
Your face goes blank.
“Um, I think…”
All you can do is stare at that blob of barbeque sauce that’s fallen onto her shirt, right above her boob.
“I think, uh…”
Uncle Bob all of the sudden chimes in: “You know, I know this guy who does, like, negotiable securities and stuff for [XYZ Company]. I should get you two in touch.”
You nod and play along, all along wondering in the back of your head what the hell are negotiable securities?
And so you talk to a few people and you end up getting some job as an analyst at a bank or whatever because, hey, what else is there to do, really?
You have no clue what you’re getting into—I mean, just because you studied something in school doesn’t mean that you have the slightest idea about what it’ll actually be like to do real work. You know, like a real grown-up job.
Soon enough you learn, though, and it’s OK and all, but you still spend your days and nights wondering what the hell you actually want to do.
So what to do about it?
Guys, it’s not easy. Trust me, I know.
But somehow, somewhere in between working my day job and pondering this weird thing called life, I’ve finally touched upon it—I’ve finally found that thing that drives me.
When I’m writing; when I’m spreading messages and building community; when I’m doing exactly what I’m doing right here and right now—this is when I feel the most alive. It’s that thing that wakes me up at night, that thing that whispers to me whether I’m driving in my car or walking in the park or washing the dishes. It literally won’t leave me alone, and I’m so freaking OK with that. In fact, it’s become so much a part of me that I have no choice but to do it.
I can’t say how or when it’ll happen for you, but here are some things that I’ve learned along the way.
1. BE PATIENT—IT TAKES TIME
I was looking back at some of my old journals the other night, and I found a lot of entries just like this one, written the year after I’d graduated college:
It seems like my life has been consumed lately by trying to figure out where I want to go with my life and what I want to do. But the more I think about it, the more confused and frustrated I get.
Guys, this was over four years ago, and only recently have things started becoming clear for me. I wondered about this crap for well over five years before anything began to make any sense to me at all. I know how it is, guys—it’s maddening. You want the answers to come to you right now. You want to wake up tomorrow and jump out of your bed with purpose, shouting, “AHA! Finally I know what I was put on this earth to do!”
But let’s get real. It almost always takes time to figure things out—usually years, not days. And once you figure one thing out, it’s on to the next thing, anyhow. I’ve discovered what I love to do and what makes me come alive, but now I’m in the process of figuring out how or if I can make it into my day job or even my side job.
So be patient. Life is a question that never ends. Even as you keep searching for the answers, see if you can learn to live in that mystery and to be OK with the unanswered questions that lie before you. See if you can learn to be OK with the fact that you don’t know how or when they’ll come to you.
“I think what I am starting to see is that this is not necessarily something I can plan,” I wrote later on in my journal.
“This is not something I can just think about for awhile and come up with an adequate answer. It seems that what I need to do, despite that it is the most difficult thing for me to do, is not to plan, but to accept that ‘I don’t know.’”
You don’t know right now, and that’s OK. Can you let go of needing to know and instead accept the fact that it may take some time for you to figure things out?
Our culture teaches that to find our purpose, we must control our future actions and make a plan and stick to it. Paradoxically, the movement we desire comes just at the moment when we stop being so afraid.
– Carol Adrienne
OK… that’s cool and all, you’re thinking, but what the hell do I do in the meantime?
Well, you just keep doing the very best that you can do right now. You use your best judgment and you do what you need to do to pay the bills—what else can you really do, anyhow?
I’d also recommend exploring lots of different things outside of work and seeing what pushes your buttons (read more about this here). Stay open, and most importantly, stay patient.
There are few other things that will help you while you’re waiting, too.
2. ASK FOR GUIDANCE
This might be weird or nerdy (or maybe it’s both), but I ask for guidance every day. Not guidance from my teachers or parents or mentors (although this can be a good thing, too), but guidance from… well, life. Or God. Or whatever you want to call he/she/it.
“Please show me the path I need to take to find the answers I’m seeking,” I ask. “Please give me the strength to walk this path even though I don’t know where it will lead. I’m open to your guidance and I trust that I’m being led to the people and places and experiences that will bring me home.”
The thing is, you don’t have to do it all by yourself. Especially when you don’t know where you’re going, you can ask for guidance and for patience and for strength. You don’t have to figure it out on your own—something greater and stronger and wiser than you is always here.
Just to be clear, this has nothing to do with religion (unless you choose for it to). Anyone can do this, and everyone probably should.
3. FIND PURPOSE RIGHT WHERE YOU’RE AT
Whatever you’re doing in the meantime, whether it’s ringing up groceries or writing up reports or making sales calls to customers, ask yourself how you can bring purpose into whatever it is that you’re doing right now. The thing is, we’re always looking for passion and purpose somewhere else, but it often turns out that we can find it right here, right where we’re at.
Our purpose, I believe, is not a thing, place, title, or even a talent. Our purpose is to be. Our purpose is how we live life, not what role we live. Our purpose is found each moment as we make choices to be who we really are.
– Carol Adrienne
This isn’t to say that you should stop striving to find something that drives you or that you should stay at a job you hate, but it is to say that the answers aren’t always out there. If you haven’t yet found those things that speak strongly to you, just try focusing on how you can bring presence into your current situation. I think you’ll find that purpose and passion already exist for you.
If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.’
-Martin Luther King, Jr.
So there you have it: the three things that no one’s ever told you about finding your life’s work. Or at least, the three things that no one ever told me.
Here’s wishing you all the passion and purpose and clarity that your world can handle. And as always, thank you for reading, my friend.
– Therese : -)
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[Image by enggul]