What it takes to venture out onto your own path
A few years ago, I attended my 25th-year reunion for my university class where I attained my degree in chemical engineering. Before the event, I was hesitant to go. During my time in the program, I always felt like a bit of an outsider, and that’s saying something given it’s a group of people who often already felt on the edges of society. Having said that, I enjoyed my stint at university and did make some life-long friends. What made me unenthusiastic about seeing everyone at this time was the thought of having to talk about the career path I had chosen.
The overwhelming majority of my classmates continued in the field of engineering and now have what many would consider to be prestigious careers. In contrast, my life has been a series of entrepreneurial adventures – some wildly successful, some epic failures – none of which have been scientific in the least. A couple of them have even been a little “out there”. However, it turned out my concerns were unwarranted. And ridiculous, of course.
Throughout the weekend, many of my classmates came to my side and confessed in my ear, “I wish I had had the courage to venture out onto my own path like you did.” Very few of them said they were inspired by their work. Mostly they complained of feeling stuck in a track that had led them to a life they didn’t want to live. And now, given the amount of time that has passed, they felt resigned to their choice. They didn’t believe their future could be any different. Their stories made me sad. They left me pondering why is it that some people choose a path of inspired work and others do not.
To answer that, first I have to elaborate on what I mean when I say “inspired work”. I have many definitions for inspired work, but in the context of this story, I mean it to be the work you are called toward by your inner being.
Inspired work is that which you are called toward by your inner being.
I’m not suggesting that for my classmates engineering isn’t their inspired work. For some, it very much is. They just might not define it as such. However, for others it was something they chose from their mind, not from their heart and soul. It is perfectly logical why they would have gone down that path, though. It makes good use of their skills, it earns them substantial salaries, and it serves an important need in society. So if I look at the reasons that would cause someone to pursue an alternative career path, many of my classmates would not even meet the first criteria, which is you have to be really uncomfortable where you are.
Reasons you might choose to take a different path
I believe each and every person is capable of carving out their own path, but not every person wants to. Most times it takes insufferable external circumstances to prompt the inner desire necessary to make a significant change.
You are really uncomfortable where you are
It’s not enough to have a vague sense of dissatisfaction rattling around in the background of our minds. What prompts humans to make significant life changes is that our discomfort is big and in our face on a daily basis. It might start out subtly at first, as a sense of restlessness or boredom. If nothing in our circumstances change, then it might progress to disillusionment or frustration. Unfortunately, instead of allowing ourselves to feel this discomfort, we tend to develop distraction strategies such as engaging in numbing behaviour. If this all goes on too long without being addressed, it will devolve into more intense emotions such as misery, rage, and, at last, depression. At this stage, we find ourselves with the option to either make a change or self-destruct. The latter is what is referred to as “having a meltdown”.
Your work (and your life) feel meaningless
There is an innate need within most humans to want to feel purposeful. We want to be valued for who we are. We want to believe that the fact we exist at all matters. When a person feels the role they are playing in their work is an important part of something larger than themselves, they feel the satisfaction of meaning. Their work serves a purpose and, therefore, they feel purposeful. However, if there arrives a day when we no longer see the relevance of our work as a worthwhile part of the greater whole, then it loses its meaning. And if we are over-identified with our work, then our entire life loses its meaning. That day is usually a bad day.
Your inner being is calling you to something more
When I say something “more”, I don’t mean it as something “better”, I mean it as something more “expansive”. We are evolutionary beings. As we live our lives, we learn more about who we are and what we have to offer the world. As we grow, our work must grow with us, otherwise we will start to suffocate within its bounds. If we are not free to expand, to bear the suffering of feeling trapped, we attempt to shut out the call of our inner being. The result is we become lifeless. This is when people say their jobs are “sucking the life out of them”. It’s not actually the job, though, it’s the fact that we’ve disconnected from who we really are. It is when we bump up against the limitations of our existing work that we start to feel the undeniable call to something “more”. And if we want any peace, we’d best answer.
Traits that will help you venture onto your own path
Of course, every person is unique and everyone’s path will look different, however, there are a few characteristics common to those who make the journey.
Embrace the unknown
One of the greatest barriers to making your own path is a fear of the unknown. The comforts of the familiar can be soothing, but can also lull you into a rut. To step into the void, you must befriend your discomfort. When you invite the uncomfortable sensations, you translate them into excitement which you can then use to fuel your journey.
Accept your role as a creator
The unknown doesn’t yet exist, it is your role to create it. This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to be an entrepreneur or an artist. Every job has the potential for innovation, including an engineer’s. Engineering is actually a very creative pursuit, it’s the ultimate problem-solving job. Being a creator simply means you have the self-determined authority to take action to make your ideas real in the world.
By zodiac sign, I am an Aquarius and we are known for our penchant to be eccentric. There’s a joke about people such as myself, “All you people who like to be different, you’re all the same.” Jokes aside, there is an aspect of making your own path that requires you to operate outside of the norms. To others, it may seem risky to separate yourself from the crowd in this way, but to you it feels like the sanest thing you can do.
Nurture the relationship with your own guidance
Obviously, if you are being called to a different path of work by your inner being, then you are already in relationship with your inner being. However, it’s not a relationship you can take for granted. It requires practiced awareness to maintain the connection with your own inner guidance and not be swayed by the voices of others.
Dismantle limiting beliefs
Your journey will provide ample opportunity to face and acknowledge any limitations you are using to hold yourself back. Your thriving is dependent on your ability to release and navigate past those internal barriers as quickly as possible.
Take responsibility for your experience
With the freedom of choosing your own path comes the equal charge of having to take responsibility for whatever happens. Because you are the author of your life’s story, you cannot blame others when it doesn’t go as written. Well, you could, but it certainly won’t do anything to enhance your situation.
As your path unfolds, it is inevitable that at times you will get stuck, fail, or become lost. There is no way to circumvent having these experiences, nor do you want to as they provide valuable insights into your journey, but establishing trust with yourself means you know you will move forward when you get stuck, figure things out when you fail, and find your way when you get lost.
Desire to make a meaningful contribution
You have tremendous value and if you have been minimizing yourself and your gifts, you will certainly feel the pang of not allowing yourself to be fully realized in your work. Your inspired work is your opportunity to make the contribution that you came into this lifetime to make.
The evolutionary path of inspired work
The reality is that most people who venture onto their own path aren’t confident to begin with, and are not necessarily consciously aware of all of the above. They tend to live into the embodiment of these traits over time with experience. They most certainly don’t know where their path will take them when they start out, but they do feel as though it’s the only option that makes sense. The call of their inner being is too strong to ignore.
The advantage of being on the evolutionary path of your inspired work is that there is no final destination. It grows with you as you grow. You can never be trapped because you are always free to expand into the next phase of your journey and every day is a new opportunity to live into the life you truly want to live.