A favorite exercise of coaches and career counselors is to ask the client to think back to their childhood and remember what they loved to do before societal pressures and the need to earn a living intruded on their lives. I’m willing to bet that I’m not the only one who hasn’t gotten anything from this, despite trying multiple variations on the theme.
The problem is that from the moment we’re born, we’re impacted by our environment. The people around us, their values and personalities, the kind of attention we receive or are denied, and the resources and opportunities that are available to us or not are just a few of the hugely influential variables that affect each of us.
Besides, everything we’ve learned and experienced since then has shaped us even further. We’re not even the same person as we were yesterday, let alone as a child.
There is some value in reflecting on how circumstances and the adults around us may have pushed us in one direction or another, but what really matters in this moment is who we are now. What is important to us now? What really matters now? What will motivate us to commit and persevere through difficulty now?
And how can we know that what we think we care about, is what we care about? In other words, how do we know that it’s coming from inside us, rather than from outside expectations of society or even our friends?
This “inner knowing” is not knowledge, but a skill. It’s not something we can capture in a weekend workshop, but rather a capability and a capacity that we can build over time by learning to listen to our own self. Noticing what we like and dislike, and being honest with ourselves about it. Investigating what we think we know about ourselves with the question, “Is that true?” Picking up on clues like how energized or tired we feel after an activity or conversation.
Growing up, most of us were taught to listen to our parent, teacher, and boss, rather than to listen to ourselves — to our own body and mind. So it can take time to relearn how to listen to what truly matters to us in this moment.
But it’s a relearning, because we were born with this skill. And each step we make towards understanding who we are, brings a little more joy into our lives.1 July 2022