Finding your direction: “True life is lived when tiny changes occur” – Leo Tolstoy.
So many people believe that they don’t know what their ‘calling’ is in life and that they are failing because they should know. In fact, 'how do I find my direction?' is the number one question I get asked by clients at the start of a coaching programme. They are embarrassed or frustrated that they don’t know what they want and they feel stuck because of this, but they don’t realise how many others also feel the same.
We seem to think everyone else was born with a crystal clear purpose or direction in life that they instantly and unequivocally know, but that we somehow haven't got our s*** together enough to know our own calling. We cannot see the whole path in front of us and, therefore, we don’t act. We think that we have to take a giant into the unknown, when it’s actually more like a series of tiny changes or steps that add up to a big difference.
I know what this feels like as I have been in the same position myself; feeling like something wasn’t quite right, but not wanting to rashly leap into anything until I could see the entire picture laid out before me. It was thinking like this and fear of the unknown that kept me in a corporate work environment where I wasn’t being true to myself for seventeen years of my life before I decided to, in the words of Susan Jeffers, "feel the fear and do it anyway!" and to take some steps in what felt like it could be a good direction for me. (And it turned out to be one of the best decisions I ever made!) So what did I learn from this? How can we recognise our calling? And how can we actively fuel this feeling to become a clear pathway that we can then set goals and work towards? Here are a few key pointers:
There is no holy grail here, but don’t let that stop you!
I have a newsflash for you: Your calling is not likely to be a shining beacon, but more like a feeble barely glowing ember. Mostly, at the start of a change in direction (when you don’t even realise it’s going to be a change), you are working in the dark with a glimmer of something that you can’t even name. It doesn’t so much call to you as a whisper. The issue that keeps most people stuck is that they are still waiting for the flashing beacon or to have all the answers bestowed upon them in tablets of stone and it just doesn’t work like that!
Identify what calls to you - listen for the whisper
Maybe it’s niggling at you and won’t go away, like an itch you want to scratch, but you don’t imagine it’s very important ‘in the grand scheme of things’. This is a sign for you to follow that feeling towards what you are passionate about or at least what you enjoy doing. The good news here is that, if you follow what you will come to understand is your intuition, it gets brighter and louder, but it’s often so tiny and quiet to start with that you may not recognise it. The key here is to be true to yourself and not to be solely influenced by the outside world.
Stoke the fire of your intuition - just start walking
In order to strengthen the voice of your intuition, you need to listen carefully and also, crucially, start taking some action - even if you’re not sure yet exactly where you will end up. Before you panic here, I mean just small steps, not a ten-page action plan – at least, not yet! You will try something and, if you like it, it might lead you to the next step. Just one after another. As they say, 'If you are facing in the right direction, all you have to do is keep walking'.
When you start walking new opportunities reveal themselves to you
Since I made the decision to take a change of approach in my life and to ‘follow my bliss’, as I called it (after the Joseph Campbell quote), I have found that things become clearer once you start taking small steps towards them. You need to start walking along the path before you can see what might come up next. If you stay where you are, nothing will change - except the inevitable, that you will grow older.
The direction of your life is not set in stone – constant course correction is normal
Not only is there no holy grail, but the course of your life keeps moving and that’s ok. Your plans and ambitions may change and don’t have to remain static. It doesn’t mean you were ‘wrong’, it means that our path in life is dynamic and alters as we learn and experience new things. Also, this course of action doesn't have to be forever. It is likely to change, grow and evolve as you do. It’s just a little step that reflects how you feel right now. You don't have to take it too seriously - just play with it and get curious about it. You do not have to feel the weight of a decision as if it is for the rest of your life.
Get comfortable with not knowing how things will turn out – drop your expectations
Embracing uncertainty, getting rid of your expectations and learning to flow with things is also crucial for our sanity! I don’t necessarily mean don’t have a plan at all. Have one, so you can set goals to work towards, but keep it flexible in order to take advantage of unexpected developments that come up. After all, they might be better than you could possibly have planned for or imagined for yourself! Our fears and our need for security make us want to control everything and that leads to all sorts of crazy-making! To make things a lot easier on yourself, better to get comfortable with not knowing and with trusting that one step in the right direction will lead to another step.
Follow your bliss…
In short, what I am saying here is listen to the quiet voice of your intuition (instead of what you think you ‘should’ do) and don't be put off making small incremental changes in your life just because you can't see the big picture yet. As Martin Luther King said “You don’t have to see the whole staircase. Just take the first step”. You could spend your whole life looking for the ‘sign’, or instead just make a start. Take one step towards what you love (or even just something you are curious about) and take that inner feeling of interest as the ‘sign’ you were looking for.
This concept of following what feels like it calls to you, even softly at first, was summed up beautifully by the great mythologist, Joseph Campbell (after whom my blog is named) when he said: “Follow your bliss and the universe will open doors for you where there were only walls”. Remember also – as you are following your bliss - that, as Lao Tzu said; “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”.
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