There’s an episode of the Robcast called “Listener Questions“. As the name suggests, listeners write in with questions and Rob Bell answers them. Of all of his podcast episodes, this is one of my favorites. Lots of goodies in here, though I’d like to bring your attention to minute 4:20, when a woman named Susan asks, “How do you figure out what your thing in life is?”
Wow. Super succinct. I want to know the answer too.
Rob answers: “First off, we all have to eat and pay rent and mortgage and put gas in the car, […] so let’s take that issue and put that aside. And let’s talk about your thing in life.”
Okay Rob. It’s put aside ♣.
Rob says, “Listen to your life, because its been speaking to you the whole time. […] Look for the thread, look for the base note, look for the connections.” He asks: “When is it that you felt most alive? When is it and what were you doing when you felt the most peace? […] The most satisfaction? […] When is it and what were you doing when you felt like what you were doing mattered? Like it was bigger than you?”
Rob offers three ways to figure this out.
- “What do you love to do? What is that when you do it, that you lose track of time?”
- “What fills you with anger? What is it that when you see it, you think – someone should do something about that. […] Somebody should fix that. The question is, are you that somebody? This is not a petty – like, someone hurt my feelings anger – but a divine, sort of injustice anger, like, that’s…not…right”.
- “Curiosity. What vision of the future makes you most curious? What is it that you most want to know more about? A lot of my work is driven by curiosity. I write that book because I find that topic or theme fascinating. And I have to make it because I have to see what’s its like if I make it. […] Follow your curiosity.”
- “One more thought. The Japanese have a word called ikigai 生き甲斐 – translated to ‘that which gets you up in the morning’, […] at a deep, soul, spirit level. What is it that you wake up going ‘I get to do this for another day’. […] What is it that’s exhausting but also exhilarating? Somewhere in there, perhaps is the thing that is your thing in life”.
Before we move on, let me just say that I love Rob Bell and his humour and wisdom. When I’m lost, I turn to his podcast to remind me of what’s important in life and the miracle of my own existence. So thank you Rob Bell, for all that you do.
But let’s go back to that little clover ♣ , when Rob so sagely asked us to put aside the practical considerations of making money so you can support yourself/your family. It reminds me of this Venn diagram that went around on social networks about “purpose” – defined as the intersection of what you love to do, what you’re good at, what the world needs, with what others would pay you for. In essence, Rob asked us to take out “What others would pay you for” when talking about your purpose / calling / thing in life.
But, wait – that’s not what 21st century society tells me nowadays! I’m told I need to make money to live. But, I, coming from a rich, Western, developed country, shouldn’t be making that money in a soul-sucking job. I should be doing something that’s morally ethical, environmentally sustainable, intellectually challenging, fulfills a higher purpose, serves a bigger community, and oh, answers the call of my soul. While getting paid big bucks.
I don’t know about you, but this sounds a bit like the Holy Grail. Times sure have changed from when work was just work, and what brought you joy and meaning was something completely different altogether. And to combine the two and not know the answer yet, does that mean I’m supposed to suffer in quiet, existential angst while I slowly [read: over the course of my lifetime] try to figure it all out? This type of “life design” will likely take years of experimentation, failure, lessons, and creativity. Am I destined never to feel fulfillment until I finally reach this “destination”?
I imagine I feel the same as Marie Forleo once did. In her video intro to “Why you’ll never find your passion”, she writes: “When I think back to my earlier self, I often had a hard time enjoying simple pleasures because so much of my mental and emotional energy was focused (umm, obsessed) with figuring out my life’s passion. In other words, I spent an extraordinary amount of energy trying to figure out exactly what I was supposed to do with my life.” Her antidote was to “stop thinking, and start doing. [….] Clarity comes from engagement, not thought”.
So on Monday, I will begin a week of Doing, rather than Thinking. I will stop consuming articles and inspiration on the Internet in the pretext of “researching”. I will stop agonizing over which of the three ideas I’ve picked is the “right” one to move forward with. I will stop anticipating what I will or won’t like/enjoy in future scenarios. And I will separate the ‘making a living’ from the ‘call of your soul’ bit.
I will experiment and try. I will create, rather than consume.