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We live in a society where life follows a certain pattern that has us chasing after success defined by fame and fortune and all the “perks” that come with it. We are made to believe that this is the key to happiness and feeling fulfilled. But if that is really the case, why are there so many successful people who are still unhappy, get depressed, or worse, end up taking their own lives? Doesn’t this make you wonder, “Is that really the kind of life that we’re meant to live?”
My whole life, I tried very hard to follow the template that society made for many of us—get a degree, get a job, build a career, get married, start a family. I tried to stay on the mainstream—color within the lines—but “failed” in some cases. These “failures” are the areas in my life that get the sometimes-quizzical- sometimes-pitying-but-most-of-the-time-judgmental look from others.
I sat in a taxi once where the driver spent the whole ride lecturing me when my reply to his question, “Do you have kids?” was “No.” For almost an hour, he made it clear to me why deciding not to have kids is wrong. “You have to have kids. It’s the right thing to do.” The truth—which I was not about to share with this middle-aged man driving me home—is that I did choose to have a child once in my life. But life didn’t turn out the way I planned. Her father and I split up and went on our separate ways thousands of miles from each other. I made the painful decision that she will have a better life with him than me. For that, I got criticized, judged, and condemned. People threw stones at me until I was bloody and almost lifeless. And the meanest, cruelest of them all was me. And yet there I was at the back of a cab with a total stranger telling me why I should have kids. Preach.
If you followed the “normal” pattern and you are truly, absolutely happy and content with your life, well done! Move along, because this article is not for you. But there are those of us who are asking deeper questions and looking for something more meaningful than “getting ahead” in life because we begin to realize, that is not what life is all about. More money, bigger house, fancier car, and all that stuff simply don’t cut it. Those things are great and we are extremely grateful for them but there is something within—like an itch that needs to be scratched—that leads us to search for something else that we cannot easily and quickly define.
What if life is not about following a pattern for money-driven success to become happy, successful and fulfilled? What if the life that we carefully and meticulously planned is not the life we’re meant to live?
Since I was a child, I’ve always had that feeling that I was meant to do something with my life. I didn’t know what that ‘something’ was but there was this tiny voice—soft, gentle, and loving—always trying to steer me in that direction and, often, I didn’t listen. Sometimes, I did, but most of the time I allowed myself to listen to others because it seemed like everybody else knew better than me. What I didn’t know was that if you keep ignoring that little voice, you could end up in the wrong place. I learned that the hard way. It took a life-shattering event in my life to get my full attention. But no matter how many times I lost my way, it never told me, “I told you so.” It just kept saying, “You’re okay. You’re doing great. You can do this. I have faith in you. Keep going.” Through that painful experience, I was given a chance to take another shot at being true to my soul.
Each of us has a purpose, whether that be to fight for defenseless animals, protect the environment, care for the sick or the elderly, become a good parent, educate and inspire young children or some other version of what comes naturally to us and feel passionate about. If that happens to be your current job or work, that’s fantastic. For some, though, it is something they do outside their normal job—often a volunteer work—because it’s something they are happy to do for free. For some still, they are yet to find what it is.
Who am I? Why am I here? What is my life intended to be?
Looking desperately for my purpose, these were the questions I’ve asked many times in my life and after my latest version of personal tragedy, they plagued my mind constantly. I stood at a dark crossroads next to a signpost pointing in different directions but the signs were blank. The answers didn’t come easily. And even when they did, they didn’t come all at once. The process involves a lot of meditating and going deep within, learning to make some quiet space for that soft, loving voice so it may be able to speak freely. Sometimes, the answer goes against the very plan we’ve made for our lives, but if you’re lucky—meaning, you’ve listened to that inner guidance throughout your life—you will only need to make some minor changes to your itinerary. Or not at all.
The unfolding of the answers for me was long and elaborate. Most of the time it’s frustrating, as the ego goes head-to-head with it, trying to make sense of it all and telling you to go back to that place in your life where it’s safe and comfortable. “Be sensible,” it says, “It’s too risky, impractical, illogical, unrealistic.” It tries to do what it does best—make you feel worried and afraid—so you would play it safe. Finding one’s true purpose or calling is certainly not for the faint of heart.
Think of all those inspiring stories of people who followed their gut and took a leap of faith—one of my favorites was that of actor Sylvester Stallone’s (seriously, that bit about selling his dog and buying him back got me). Following your heart and changing directions in your life usually involves believing in yourself, doing a ton of hard work, persistence and—the toughest of them all—taking a leap of faith. When you don’t know where you’ll end up, your mind will make up all sorts of scenarios in your head and most of them will be negative. But when you have enough determination and resolve, you take the leap anyway. It’s like jumping off a cliff and you can’t even see the bottom but you do it anyway trusting that the wide, open arms of the sea are waiting to embrace you to “cushion” your fall.
Our talent isn’t always our gift
Everyone was born with a gift. According to Steve Harvey, author of Act Like a Success, Think Like a Success, there is a difference between our gift and our talent. He said, “Your talent will allow you to have a wonderful career.” He explained that one could be a good lawyer or accountant and build a good career out of that. “Your career is what you're paid for. Your calling is what you're made for. Your calling is tied directly to your gift." Our gift, he says, is “the thing you do at your absolute best with the least amount of effort.” What is it that comes easily to you but not to others? Do you see a mangy, stray dog out on the street and get into action to help it while others kick it to the curb? Do you come alive when you help take care of the sick while others stay as far away as they can? Are you able to make people feel at ease with your presence and make them feel that they matter while many others ignored them as if they don’t exist?
As far back as I can remember, I’ve loved to write. When I poured my heart out on paper, I felt heard even if there’s no one listening. I felt seen even if there was no one looking. I wrote even when there was nobody to read it. My thoughts and feelings come alive on paper in ways that they never could if I speak about them. It makes me feel free. I realize now that this is not my gift because it only feels right when I write something that is close to my heart. In the past, I’ve used this talent to do my job—spinning words to make something awful look good—but the outcome was never good and I certainly did not feel good about it. It was only in the recent years that I realized I could use this talent to express my true gift—to help those who go through a (usually difficult) process similar than mine...even if it helps just one.
It took a while for me to finally embrace my gift. For some time, I wanted my gift to be something else—something cool, like in a Jesus or X-Men kind of way. I tried to negotiate my way through that explaining how I could save the world with a superpower. No one fell for it, obviously, so I accepted that to make a difference in this world, I don’t have to have superhuman self-healing powers like Wolverine or change water into wine like Jesus. However deceptively “small” or “mundane” our gift is, we are here to use it to help others and be of service in profound ways. It is better to have this “simple” gift and use it to influence one person’s life positively than to have a profound gift and affect many negatively.
If we want to make a difference in our own unique way, we need to go within to find the answers. No one can ever tell us what our gift is and what we need to do with it. Otherwise, we’ll end up confused and lose our direction. We need to follow the breadcrumbs that our very own guidance leaves out for us to find. We need to tune out the white noise of the external world and listen to that inner voice, follow our heart and let passion lead us to that which comes naturally to us, brings out the best in us and gives us true joy.
So, what is your gift and what do you intend to with it?
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PLUS! Get your FREE Guide: 12 Mindfulness Practices to a Peaceful Mind