By Jon Acuff
Whenever you start trying to actively figure out what it is you want to do with your life, whenever you start to search for the thing that makes you come alive, something weird happens. You imagine you are going to discover it.
You might not verbalize this, but inside you start to think that when you finally land upon what it is you are supposed to be doing with your life, it will be a pleasant surprise. We all tend to view the process of finding our dream job like arriving at our surprise birthday party. We imagine we will take a personality test, arrive at the results and be blown away. Like we never saw it coming.
“Circus acrobat? Wow! And I’m an accountant. No wonder these years have been so hard. I should be in the circus.”
We think finding out what we want to do is going to be a revelation. In our 20s or 30s or 40s, we will serendipitously stumble upon some activity we’ve never done and like a kid tasting ice cream for the first time, we’ll be hooked.
But dreams rarely work that way. In his book Start with Why, author Simon Sinek discusses this reality. He calls our dreams, or calling, our “WHY.” He says, “The WHY for every individual or organization comes from the past. It is born out of the upbringing and life experience of an individual.” He further explains that finding WHY is not a process of “invention.” I agree with that. And I would take it one step further.
I think finding your dream job or what Sinek calls your WHY is more than a revelation or an act of discovery. I believe it’s a process of recovery.
More often than not, finding out what you love doing most is about recovering an old love or an inescapable truth that has been silenced for years, even decades. When you come to your dream job, your thing, it is rarely a first encounter. It’s usually a reunion. So instead of setting out to discover this thing you love doing, you’ve got to change your thinking and set out to recover it, maybe even rescue it.
Because somehow you lost it along the way.
I think this happens for a few reasons. For one thing, you might not have been ready for it the first time around. I once heard Bono tell Bill Hybels in an interview that in the 80s, he and his wife visited Ethiopia and saw the tremendous need there first-hand. On the way home, he told his wife, Ali, “We will never forget this.” She responded, “You know we will because to carry this with you everyday is too much.” Bono reflected on that moment and said despite that, “We were both clear that at some point, we would be called upon to revisit these questions that in truth were probably too big for our young minds.”
The young, rising star was not ready to start his work with One, the charity organization, in 1985. He was not yet a philanthropist interacting with people like Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela. He was an up-and-coming musician who needed to grow before he could actually step into his calling. Still, it was there. And in the 90s he and his calling were reunited for good.
Another thing that estranges us from our dreams is everyday distraction. Rarely is the distraction so large you notice it. I’ve never met someone who says, “I was unable to write my great American novel because my house burned down.” Instead, I’ve met hundreds of people who tell me they’ve never written their books because they are too busy. When you are in college, it’s easy to daydream what you’ll be when you grow up. You have huge chunks of time for the pursuit of whatever. But the chunks turn to crumbs when you hit the real world.
When life gets full, it’s a shame that your dream is one of the first things to get lost in the fray. You and your dream lose touch and then years or decades later, like that summer-camp love September stole away, we bump back into our dreams and that bittersweet beckoning. “Ohhh, I remember you.”
When you ask the question, “What do I want to do with my life?” you should feel at least a little overwhelmed. There are a million possible answers to that question. Where do you begin? A sport I’m pretty good at? A hobby? A city where I’d like to live? Should I take a cooking class or a tango class? Should I go back to school and get a degree or just grow a really great garden? Of all the countless paths I could take, which one leads me home?
It’s exhausting. The question, “What do I want to do with my life?” is nearly impossible to answer confidently and concisely, and that’s because it’s a discovery question. You’re really asking, “How do I discover what I want to do with my life?” That is a question that points you into the vast expanse of the entire universe for an answer. It might sound fun, but once you’re there it can quickly swallow you up.
But if finding your dream is an act of recovery, that changes everything.
You don’t ask the bottomless, “What do I want to do with my life?” but instead, “What have I done in my life that I loved doing?” Instead of a million different options from out there, you’re suddenly left with a manageable handful of options from within your own experience. Instead of trying to hitch your star to an endless black hole of options, you hitch a ride on your rewarding past.
Once you make this mental switch, you can immediately start combing through your history for hints that will reveal your something.
Excerpted from Quitter by Jon Acuff. Copyright 2011 Lampo Licensing, LLC. Published by The Lampo Press. Used with permission.
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