Today, and for many days, I have found myself in a state of “transition” as we like to call it in everyday conversation. One that is not set on a particular career path and is burnt out on past paths. One that is questioning the assumption of what “success” really means and how it is linked to happiness. And one that is asking the big question, “What is my purpose, my true passion?” and “What should I be doing with the rest of my life?” Sound familiar?
It happens at many stages of life. There are the purpose and meaningful exasperation in our late 20’s and 30’s where we realize that work is not filling a void and we start to question the direction of our path.
Between ages 35-49 it has been given the classic yet poorly termed label “mid-life crisis.” We find ourselves stuck in a rut and seek change that will recharge our lives.
Later in life, we start to question our legacy: what is it that I will leave behind? What are the meaningful connections that I have successfully nurtured? Was my life purposeful? Although these questions direct towards actions, they are really motivated by a deeper calling.
We start to examine what it is we are doing with our lives because there is something those actions are not providing, happiness. With all the derivations and different experiential manifestations, it really boils down to the same question, “What will make me happy right now?”
An Inside Job
What I have been finding lately in my quest to answer this question, gives me much hope. We typically seek answers to our question of purpose and meaning by looking to make changes in our lives, to find “something.” We get a new job, move to a new city, explore a new relationship and so on, yet as we all know too well, situational change doesn’t completely satisfy for a sustainable period of time. When things get muddled and we’ve lost our way, sometimes it takes a new structure for understanding our desires of how to “BE” in the world. We must clarify our personal values and intentions and explore new ways to channel them. I have read countless books on spirituality and Mindfulness and most recently attended a 10-week course at Naropa University (the only accredited higher Ed program that teaches spirituality) on Authentic Leadership.
Through my journey, what I have come to understand is that to find my own purpose and happiness the answers are rooted within.
It’s really an inside job.
So, How Do We Look Within?
In short, we must suspend the search for “something” and get closer to the stillness of “nothing” to best root ourselves and allow the transition that is supposed to happen, happen.
Meditation allows this. This means allowing our brain to run like wild horses and not expect an exact answer. Settle into stillness so that after the dust clears, we get the clarity we need to understand what it is we really want. Most times, our brain only gets in the way. Our heart has the answers and our body gives us clues to what the heart really wants through sensations.
We have been so trained to plan and think through solutions that if we try to plan our way through this we will only, sadly, get back to the same place where we started. It’s that very paradigm of thinking and planning that has kept us on a hamster wheel for so long. No thinking or less thinking is key. And yes, it won’t be easy. How do we begin? Do things differently. Change your routine. Find more time for quiet moments, long walks, yoga, and meditation. And yes, be alone. However painfully lonely that is, we mustn’t seek answers through others. We can ask for a little help here and there, but ALONE in your HEART is where the reality of clarity becomes truth.
Stuck In Our Ways aka “Fixed Thinking”
It is difficult to let go of all the things that we believe to be important. There will be many obstacles to cross. In order for this to work, we have to accept that our past beliefs and societal expectations are mostly untrue. We must, for the moment, suspend our beliefs and open our heart to explore new ideas. I’m not discounting your beliefs or values, but it is important that you clear the slate for this to work. In our lives, we hold on to the things that we believe to be important. That includes the things we have acted on like building a company, buying a nice house, or finding the best school for our kids. You may claim your values are to be kind, and generous, you believe in the Golden Rule, or you are a Christian who follows the beliefs of the Bible, but unless your claim is at the top of the list of things you hold yourself accountable for every day then they are passive values that you might philosophically believe but are not truly living. In short, they are not your values or beliefs. Rather, your false notion of self. . Get clear on this and be honest with yourself. And do it in a kind and caring way as to avoid the heaviness of judgment that tends to happen. It will be an eye-opening discovery, kind of a “Holy-Moly! How have I been like this for so many years? What have I been doing with my life?” realization.
Letting Go Of Money, First
The reality of money often gets in the way of clarity. We must hold back from that worry as it will dominate our mind and energy and obfuscate the truth. But once you get some truth and clarity, then, of course, you must answer the question, how will I make enough money to live? And mind you, I really mean ” enough to live,” not “thrive.” We have no preordained right to such for anyone in any country for any reason. Don’t let worries of material things or living a particular lifestyle slow your progress. All you need is to be happy, at peace, and connected. For what is success without peace?
All comes back to Fear
Within this process, you will come in contact with fear. We must embrace it versus our normal way of pushing it away or avoiding it. If you can face your fear, directly, get clarity on that fear or set of fears, name it, label it, breathe it in and release it, it will go away. You need to get clear that it is fear getting in your way and be one with it for a while. The solution of any lasting value will be a result of clarity on this fear that is holding you back. And in case you may be having the self-talk of, “It’s not fear for me.” or “I’m not afraid, I’ve done XYZ.” let me assure, ALL OF US have it. There are no exceptions. Let us not dwell on it. Know it’s there. Know you are working on it. When faced with choices larger (next career) or smaller (how to react to that email) ask yourself, “Am I acting from a place of Love or Fear?”
Lastly, we must accept that who we really are, has nothing to do with what we do at work or in our personal life. The attachment to identity and the fear that drives so many of our decisions and even subconscious actions is what gets in the way. We are more than our work. We are more than the role we take in our daily lives. As you seek to understand your purpose in life doesn’t focus on big ideas, jobs, roles, or paths. What you need to understand is that we may only have one purpose, just to “Be” in the world. And we don’t need to compensate in any other way than to just find peace and joy, in every day, now. Once you find that, the other things will fall into place. The creation of energy from a joyful state and transmitting that energy to others, is really what creates amazing things in this world. Find your joy, then help others find theirs.
Moving Forward With Compassion
Once you get some alone time and find truth and clarity from within, you can translate your personal growth to your connections with others. You must start to let your guard down (some call it vulnerability) and interact with others without judgment. Just as we let ourselves “Be,” we start to let others “Be” with acceptance. It becomes a nice learning ground for refining our own life lessons as we become more accepting of others (and ourselves) and stop trying to label, judge, or fix them.
You will start to see, it’s the connection you want so desperately that allows everyone and everything to be at ease. With compassion and acceptance, we can feel a sense of belonging in a group, however large or small. Without such, we use our spouse, significant other, or our nuclear family to replace this sense of belonging to a broader community. And its this added pressure of finding happiness and belonging to one or small group of family that creates so much strain and unhappiness.
We must use the inner work to then broaden to a bigger group of connections. It’s the ancient need to be part of a tribe, to have a place, to belong. It’s why we keep looping around the idea of purpose. Really it’s a connection, understanding our purpose, finding how we truly belong in the world that we seek.
Lastly, you must continue to be kind and compassionate towards yourself. Minimize the self-talk of “How can I not just power through this and figure it out?” or “What’s wrong with me, jeez!” In summary, get still with yourself and find clarity through presence. Allow radical acceptance of not believing what you have been taught and not letting fear get in the way. Be compassionate towards others and yourself and allow the sense of connection to form. Life is always changing, impermanent and this transition is one of many more. Will you let life “Be?” Will you let it alone? The answers to your next step in this time of “transition” will come if you will only let it.