When I was stuck in the downward spiral of my career question, I only wanted one thing: the answer. The answer to the questions, “Who am I?” and “What is my work?”
I wanted to be able to craft an elevator pitch that could convey in 30 seconds just what I am about and why you should care. I wanted to have a test that could tell me in an instant if this job, or activity, or path would be right for me or not.
If I choose this door, will it bring me closer to who I am meant to be, or further away? Yes, or no?
What life has taught me is both simpler and more difficult than what I wanted. I never got my answer. Instead I learned how to keep asking questions.
My previous mindset came from what I was taught: set a goal (for example, becoming a university professor), and then do what I need to do to achieve that goal.
That works for some people. For instance, my father discovered at a young age that he truly loves the law. So he did what he needed to do to become a lawyer and practiced law quite literally until the day he died.
For many of us, however, things change. As we grow older, we get to know ourselves better. We learn new things about the world. And on top of that, we, and the world, keep changing.
Although I sometimes envy the directness of my father’s path, for many of us, it’s more important that we learn to see, sense, and feel ourselves, and our context in the moment. To know what is ours to do right now, and follow that next step towards our future.
As Steve Jobs said in his Stanford commencement address, we can connect the dots of our lives when we look backwards, but looking forward we can only look for our next step and trust that all the steps will connect.
Life has taught me to hold my “identity” lightly. To practice opening my mind for curiosity, my heart for compassion, and my will for courage so that I might see my next step.
At the end of the day, learning to see clearly what is here right now, and what is mine to do right now is challenging enough. And the reality is that my past, and my future, are just a long series of present moments. So it’s not my job to “figure out my life.” It’s my job to live in this present moment and stay open to what is here now.
Because as one of my teachers said, I will get to know who I am for the rest of my days.6 September 2022