“What do you do for a living?” might be the second-most frequently asked question, after your name. If it weren’t so commonplace, it might be considered odd and perhaps a little rude. But given the emphasis that society places on our career choice, it’s no wonder many think their job title defines who they are.
So what does that mean for those of us who don’t even like our job, let alone want to be defined by it? Well, you’re not alone: According to a 2012 Gallup poll, only 13 percent of Americans are engaged (or feel psychologically committed) at work.
You Are More Than Your Job Title
Here’s the good news: You are not your job. You are much bigger than and not restricted by whatever your job title says you are—even if you love your current career choice.
As a life coach, the top reason people come to me is because they feel limited—and unfulfilled—by their work. They come to me for help figuring out their “purpose” or “calling.” All day at work they are humming along, looking happy on the surface, but feeling frustrated. They feel bored, they feel inauthentic, which eats away at their self-esteem. Or they feel like a “shadow version” of themselves. They know that they have the energy, passion, and smarts to do anything—they just don’t know what exactly. Or how to begin.
Sadly, no one is going to hand you your passion (plus instructions to bring it to life!) in an envelope. But there are some important questions you can ask yourself to identify what calls to you and ignites your spirit. A combination of getting quiet, going inward, and being honest about what sparks joy within you, and then taking action to actualize it is very, very powerful. Listening to your inner wisdom and being guided by it brings with it certain magic.
5 Questions to Ask Yourself
1. “What activities am I doing when I’m slacking off at work?”
One of my first coaching clients said to me, “Susie, when I’m at work at an ad agency, all I do (secretly) is pin fashion looks together and research vintage jewelry.” Her passion was so obvious—she created lookbooks on the weekends, followed only designers on Instagram, and always looked chic on a pretty tight budget. She just needed to step back and realize it. Now? She works nights and weekends as a personal stylist and plans to transition full-time in January.
2. “What brought me joy as a kid?”
Believe it or not, your passions may evolve and grow, but they never actually change or leave you. When you were very young, what made you happy—playing music, writing stories, helping animals, being captain of a sports team, building stuff?
Jack Canfield, motivational speaker and co-author of the Chicken Soup for the Soul series, recommends conducting what he calls a “joy review:” Write down times in your life that you felt most happy—when you backpacked through Asia on a shoestring budget? Led the debate team in high school? Trained junior staff at work? Or decorated your past two apartments? Likely, you’ll find a common thread throughout those joyful moments. When you see it all on paper, it’s easier to connect the dots.
3. “What blogs and books do I love to read?”
Think about the top five websites you peruse once you power up your laptop. For example, I worked with a realtor who spent hours reading recipes in cookbooks, websites, and natural food blogs. He now has a decent following as a food blogger himself and earns a small revenue stream from it.
This is what is often referred to as a “side hustle,” working on a passion business outside of your day job. It can be a great way to build your confidence, see if there is a market for what you have to offer, and make some extra cash. And hey, it’s never a bad idea to hedge your bets in times of economic uncertainty. Like the aforementioned stylist, it can also turn into something much bigger!
4. “What conversation topic never gets boring?”
What subject brings on that “I could talk about this all day!” feeling? My husband, for example, loves talking about investments—if he had a second job, it would be flipping homes, he always says. It’s a total snoozefest for me, but luckily he has a brother and a couple of close friends who share his passion.
Not only is it important to ask yourself which topics energize you but which people can get excited about them with you. It’s critical to nurture relationships where a common passion unites you. Which leads us to…
5. “Who is my tribe?”
Your tribe consists of people who get you. It might not be your colleagues, your college pals, or even your siblings. A close former coworker of mine found her tribe at a popular, local fitness class. When I see her around her tribe, she is the brightest and most energized version of herself. It’s awesome!
If you don’t have a “tribe” already, you can find one. Use all of the clues above to pinpoint your interest and then locate a group that shares it. Join a book club. Take a cooking class. Learn to code at a local college. Volunteer at an animal shelter. Opportunities and people are everywhere when you open your eyes and look. I found some remarkable tribal pals at New York University, where people of all ages and professional backgrounds spent their Saturdays with me to become certified life coaches.
Your Action Plan
Once you have some clarity, you have to take action. Nothing, nothing, nothing changes without action. For example, when I started coaching, I was working full-time as an advertising sales director. I thought I wanted to coach people on how to sell. I enjoyed it, but realized what I love most is coaching people how to harness their personal power to gain confidence and pursue their dreams.
Ask yourself: What are three things that I can do over the next seven days to bring my passion to life? Then do them. Buy the website URL for the blog you’ve always dreamed of writing. Tell your friends and colleagues that you’re available as a party planner in exchange for a testimonial. Ask the woman that you look up to in marketing if you can buy her a latte for 20 minutes of her time. The options are endless.
The following week, do three more. Then three more. And watch what happens. Keep doing this—never stop doing. The results will astound you once you get busy. Remember: Anything good that has ever been created has been the result of small, consistent actions. A few dollars here, a few dollars there adds up to a sweet sum of savings. Smart lunch choices repeated over time result in a healthier body. This is no accident, and self-exploration is no exception. At any moment you can begin the process of going deeper into yourself and bringing the innermost (gorgeous, ready, willing!) part of you to life.
You are not your job. Your job is one part of your multifaceted, potential-filled self. And deep down you know it too. What are you waiting for? As the poet Rumi wrote, “What you seek is seeking you.” Your joy, tribe, and bliss are patiently waiting. They will always be waiting. You just need to decide.