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Have you ever wondered how to listen to your heart? How to read yourself so you know what you want to do with your life? Career aspirations can change all throughout life. As a kid, I wanted to be a veterinarian. This aspiration died with my first dog when I realized that I’d never be able to handle the emotions involved with caring for animals. Shortly afterward, I just knew I wanted to be an author. I wrote heartfelt but terrible fiction, never improving until I took a creative writing elective in high school. Realization dawned that becoming published can be a long and difficult path, and so I transferred the energy of that dream into writing FanFiction.
But I still hadn’t found out what I really want from life.
I moved through career picks in sort of a slow wade: criminologist, psychologist, and then mechanical engineer. I went to college for the last one but never became passionate about it. Then I got a job in it, and it took over a year for me to realize exactly why I felt so bored and uninspired and wrong in that position.
So What Changed?
I’m not a technical person.
I’m a creative person.
I went to college for a degree that could get me a job, but not a job I would be happy in or necessarily good at. I may be “good” at math and understand the logic of physics and materials, but ask me to explain the fundamentals of mechatronics and I’m as lost as you are. My parents raised me on the idea that you need a college degree to get a good job, but your degree can’t be in the liberal arts because it won’t make me any money.
Needless to say, I’ve recently realized how misleading of an ideology this is. How does excluding an entire branch of knowledge help determine your calling? How does pushing for college as the only option not limit you?
I ignored what I loved doing to pursue the promise of a stable career.
At the time of this writing in January 2017, it’s falling apart around me.
At the same time, it’s showing me yet another path forward. It took me a while to understand that there is always a path forward. That path might not be where we expect it to, or what we want it to be, but it’s a path. It could loop around behind you but it always points forward and comes out ahead.
It’s Not About the Destination
I came to this conclusion by spending a lot of time thinking about what I liked doing, what I’m good at, and how I could combine those things into something that matters and makes a difference. Something that helps people. It took a lot of self-reflection to figure out.
It might take a while. Your journey to finding out what you really want out of life might take your entire life, but that’s not a bad thing. Our society is built on the idea that life is about the destination. You graduate high school. You graduate college. You get a job. You work for forty, fifty years. You retire. You die.
Isn’t it so much more beautiful when you stop for a moment to admire the landscape? Isn’t it more revolutionary and inspired to break from the mold of conformity and blaze your own path? Of course, we need doctors and lawyers and engineers…but not any more desperately than we need entrepreneurs, artists, and musicians.
Listen to Your Heart
I’ve never liked the idea of being chained to a cubicle for forty years, missing all the opportunities of experience and time spent simply enjoying what life has brought and has to give. I don’t want to waffle between having a comfy retirement or a half-million dollar house since practically, I can’t have both.
I’ve discovered that what I want is freedom, security, and stability. I want the freedom to choose to do something because it makes me excited, not because I’m required to if I want money for rent. I want the security of a cushion that can catch me if unexpected expenses arise. And I want the stability that comes with knowing I don’t have to worry about the thing that causes the most strain in marriages.
What I want from life is financial independence, but not as a goal, as a mechanism. The point of it is the journey, not the destination. I don’t want this to be a goal that, after reaching, I say “Now what?” For me, this is my definition of success: living in such a way that affords me mental freedom and minimal stress.
Find Your Calling
But how does one do that? Here are some questions to ask yourself. What can you do? What are you good at? What do you like doing? What are you passionate about? And probably the most important question, what’s holding you back?
Let me use myself as an example for you.
What Can I Do?
I can write. I can look at things with an objective eye, and I can listen. Not to mention, I make a particularly delicious banana bread.
What Am I Good At?
I’m scarily well organized, usually articulate, and the go-to of my friends and family for advice and encouraging words. I’m also good at thinking about all the possibilities. (Sometimes called “overthinking.” Whoops.)
What Do I Like Doing?
I love writing, planning, organizing, and giving practical advice to my friends and family. As an introvert, I get my energy from tucking myself away with a good book and a big cup of coffee.
What’s Holding Me Back?
Fear of failure and judgment are harsh enemies. I work at them, beating them down along with my anxiety. What makes it especially difficult is that self-promotion is out of my comfort zone. I can’t stay there forever, though. It’s hard but pays off. I posted this, didn’t I?
Your Choices Define You
One line that resonates with me is from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets:
“It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”
I can choose to stay inside my comfort zone, to never promote myself on a platform that could bring real good to people, or keep my opinions and advice to myself, for fear of confrontation.
But I could also choose to do the opposite of those things.
I know that by sharing my experiences and insights, by listening to my heart, I can help enact change in how the world thinks.
I can make a difference, even if it’s only for one person. So can you.