Clarity comes not from seeking the answers but living the questions
I used to believe there was only one right answer to every question, such as the question “What am I meant to do for work?” I was very rigid in how I perceived myself and the world around me. Since then, I’ve been on an evolutionary journey in my relationship with questions and answers. I’ve also been on a parallel journey in the unfolding of my work. When I was young, I thought I knew what I wanted to do with my life. I wanted to be a scientist. However, those threads of knowing began to unravel as early as my university days.
One right answer
As someone who loves designing processes, it’s not unusual that I chose to study the field of engineering. Engineering is the application of science and mathematics to transform innovative ideas into real-world things. Throughout my studies, I was conditioned to believe there was only one right answer to every question. In that field, it’s true. It is crucial to our well-being to know the right answer. We want our bridges to bridge and our computers to compute. However, the rest of life is not so black or white.
Many right answers
Ironically, during my five years in an intensive scientific program, the course that had the most impact was an arts elective. I had chosen a philosophy course called Environmental Ethics. It wasn’t as much the content of the course that had the effect, as being exposed to the concept of philosophy itself. Philosophy, from the ancient Greek for “love of wisdom”, is the study of truth and the meaning of life. It is a subject in which questioning is not suppressed but encouraged. In fact, the root premise is to question everything. I was shocked to learn not only was it possible to have more than one answer to any question, it was also correct to answer a question with another question. This blew my linear-loving mind. And it awoke me to something I had then forgotten about myself – I have a deep-seated passion for inquiry.
Every answer is the right answer
After university, I took a left-turn into the seemingly unrelated field of graphic design. But it wasn’t so strange, really. Graphic design is also a career in problem-solving. My clients had messages they wanted to convey, and it was my job to apply the tools of visual arts to communicate their ideas in a way that they were well-received by others. This career connected me with my source of creativity. Every project began as a blank page and I learned how to tap into the infinite well of possibilities to draw forth original works.
There are no answers
It’s almost cliché that inevitably I reached a point when I began to ask myself, “What is the meaning of all of this?” Seven years into my communications business, my work began to feel pointless and eventually I just closed the doors and walked away. I thought this decision would lead me into the lightness of freedom, but in reality it lead me into the darkness of existential angst. In that fiery pit, all of my ideas about who I thought I was and what I thought work was were burned away. I lived in a suspended state of nothingness for an uncomfortably long time. It was only when I realized there was no absolute answer to the question of our existence that I felt truly free, because then I was able to determine my own meaning. With this new perspective, I went back to work.
I don’t want to know the answers
Around that time, I was invited to teach business at several wellness schools. Even though I had always enjoyed education, before I was asked, it had never occurred to me to become a teacher. Again, it made sense as one of my core values is learning and there is no better way to truly grasp a subject than to be responsible for teaching it to others. I thrived in the classroom setting except for one little thing: tests. I took no pleasure in assessing whether someone else’s answer was deemed right or wrong. I much preferred to spend my time working with people to determine their own answers.
The questions are the answer
The answer to what I was meant to do for work was never going to be black or white. My work is now black and white… and green and blue and… I have created work that integrates the best of all of my life experiences. Though, my work is less about what I know and more about who I am. I still design processes, they just happen to transform human lives instead of natural resources. And the processes I design are inquiry-based. I have a knack for being able to ask the right questions in the right order to help people get to clarity. I teach others how to tap into their creative abilities and birth their dreams into real-world work. I use my talents at communicating in both my marketing and with my clients. And, of course, my state of awareness informs my lens on the world of work. All of those years I questioned my work, and now I can see that I had been living it the whole time.
We choose the answer
From where I now live, I have no singular work identity. I am everything that I am. I am an engineer. I am a philosopher. I am a communicator. I am a teacher. I am a conscious creator. But these roles are not really who I am. They are just a myriad of ways that I express who I am. I am not limited by them, nor am I defined by them. I have simply chosen them as how I show up in my work. For now. The evolution is never complete and I’m excited for the unravelling to continue.
My story is a long-winded way of saying that our inspired work is about recognizing who we are and creating work that allows us to be all of who we are. Too often we seek the answers out in the world when we would be better served by living the questions within.
I have some questions for you
If you have been seeking clarity about your work, I don’t have answers for you, but I do have some great questions. If you would like to bring all of who you are to your work, I have created a workbook with some insightful questions for you to explore. You can get the workbook by clicking on the button below.