Since leaving a corporate position last winter, I’ve had some time to consider myself and my talents apart from a ready-made title. How much simpler it is to walk into a job with defined objectives and expectations, set hours, and pay. I say simpler—not because the job was easy; it wasn’t—but because it did not require me to lay my truest self on the line.
In the words of poet David Whyte, “What you can plan is too small for you to live.”
Such relief in these words. Because discontent in a career that from the outside looks solid, can be confusing. Shouldn’t I feel more grateful? Aren’t there people who’d like to have what I do?
And under that relief, I sense something well, devastating. Most of us feel greater ease pursuing careers that our culture offers up on job boards. We can summon the willpower to write the resume, tick the boxes, show up for the interview, excel in the position. It’s easier to fit ourselves into a job that someone else wrote for us than to pursue the truest form of our own work.
The truest form of our own work does not have to be a career; we all have bills to pay. But in my experience, it does need to find some measure of expression. Discontent arises when there is little room for what is unplanned.
What happens when you recall the inklings of work that might set your soul on fire? When dreams resurface or reveal themselves anew? An unrealized vocation in music, an unwritten novel, a wish to be a yoga teacher, clothing designer, or pastry chef. These are the callings that live quietly inside us, biding time while we accomplish safer things.
“When you risk yourself for your core dream, the stakes are magnified,” says Whyte. Even taking a small step in the direction of a dream can feel paralyzing. Because who would you be if you failed at this essential thing?
To live authentically, to pursue truly one’s heart’s desire is the bravest act of all.
We may have more than one dream that stirs the soul. The point is not to drop everything recklessly. In the beginning, we may not even remember our dreams. But as they return to us, we can honor them with courage, however small those acts of bravery may be. Because it’s only when we step into our fear—shaky as we will feel—that we find our feet still underneath us.
I have recently resurrected a manuscript that’s been in a drawer for eight years. I wish I could say entering back into novel writing has been smooth sailing. My creative mind was rusty, and my confidence was too.
But when I finished a new draft a few weeks ago, I felt as though I’d kept a promise to myself—one that I’d made a long time ago, maybe even when I was a young girl.
I’m about to begin revisions to that new draft, and I’m petrified again. Why? Because this work matters to me deeply. It is very close to me; it is me.
David Whyte asks in his poem, What to Remember When Waking:
What shape waits in the seed of you
to grow and spread its branches
against a future sky?
I hope you’ll watch and listen for it, and then be brave in stepping toward it
Lisa Groen is a writer and listener for people in transition. Her course, Figuring Out What’s Next, helps people identify the first step to take in a life transition. If this blog post appeals to you, check out the course. I wrote it for you.