My 5 year old self wanted to be a marine biologist. Visits to the aquarium and the ocean had convinced me, quite solidly, that I would be happy working with animals in the water. So did my 15 year old self. Now a certified scuba diver and a volunteer for animal rescue, I wanted nothing more than to spend my life doing these things.
But then my 17 year old self started to weigh in on the conversation. Listening to the adults around me, I started to think that perhaps being a broke and unemployed marine biologist wasn’t a great idea. Apparently; too many people wanted to be marine biologists, meaning salaries were low and jobs were hard to come by.
Nonetheless, I entered college to pursue a degree in biochemistry. I did it because I enjoyed my high school chemistry classes, and did well in them; but also because my “true loves” – the ocean and the theater – didn’t earn high salaries. So, I eliminated them from the running of how I would spend my life.
I started off college at CalPoly, which (in California at least) has an amazing reputation. Basically, I went to CalPoly because I got it – and the boy I was dating, who’d wanted to go there for years, didn’t. When I mentioned not being enthused about going there, and considering somewhere else, he was horrified. All of my friends, in their 17-year-old wisdom, told me I simply couldn’t get in to such a great school and not go.
So I went.
And a year later, when I realized I didn’t want to do anything chemistry-related as a career, I stopped. I moved back in with my mother in my hometown, and started taking classes at the community college, trying to figure out what I did want to do.
Ultimately, I landed in Marketing; I now hold an undergraduate degree in business management and an MBA in marketing. And marketing is a great career – it gives me creativity, fun and flexbility, while paying well.
But is there really any surprise that it’s no longer giving me much in the way of satisfaction and fullfilment? For the first half of my life (I’m turning 36 this year), I knew absolutely what I wanted to do with my life. And for the last half, I’ve been trying to find something that would make me happy while making great money.
I can’t pinpoint the day that I decided making money was more important than loving the life you live. But I know it was somewhere around 18, and looking back, that’s rather horrifying.
I made a conscious decision that money was more important than doing what I loved.
And for a while, the high of successes like earning my MBA, buying my first condo, then my first house, owning rental properties in my 20s, got me by. I convinced myself that having all the things I was supposed to want was fulfilling my dreams.
Now, in my 30s, I know that’s utter garbage. All that stuff didn’t make me happy. In fact, it probably dulled my ability to hear my heart telling me what I should be doing.
All through my 20s, I followed the “supposed to” myth.
If I had one way to describe my 20s, it would be – doing things I thought I was supposed to. I have great parents; it wasn’t a matter of doing what they told me I had to do; but I nonetheless had gotten the message that, if I “won” financially, I would be happy.
Ha. Ha. Ha.
Maybe you don’t have this problem; perhaps you’ve long ago let go of the idea that you were supposed to do certain things. If so, you’re far ahead of me in this area. I still have to fight the urge to do what I think I’m supposed to, instead of what I truly want to do.
But I’m getting better at it, day by day.
So how do you start rediscovering what you love?
I won’t give you a primer on how to identify your strengths and what you might want to do in a job – it’s been done, very well, in books such as What Color is Your Parachute?
What I will encouarge you to do, however, is stop listening to the “supposed-to” voice in your head. Sometime in the next month, find a few days where you can eliminate all obligations. If you have children at home, perhaps they can stay with your spouse while you get away overnight? If you can’t do that, maybe just a four-hour block of time when the kids are at the movies with their friends and your spouse is out shopping.
However you do it, find some time where there is nothing required of you. When you don’t have to make anyone’s lunch, pick up the dry cleaning, or drop off donations for the church fundraiser.
Now, spend some time brainstorming what to do with your down time, whether it’s 4 hours or 4 days. And no, this can’t include have-to-do items such as weeding the garden or cleaning the pool, unless they’re precursors to what you really want to do with that time. For example, if what you really want to do is get back to painting, which you loved to do as a child…you might have to spend some time setting up your materials and work area.
If you’re having trouble figuring out what you want to do, it’s a sign that you’re doing way too many “supposed-tos.” Ask yourself:
- What would a day of pure joy look like for you?
- When was the last time you remember being truly happy?
- Are there activities that make you feel lighter and freer?
- Is there a location or activity that makes you feel like you can breathe better?
- Think back to your childhood…what did you want to be when you grew up?
- What were your favorite things to do as a child?
- When have people told you that you seemed really happy? For example, my friends swear that I become a different person out on the water, that I’m in my element.
Then, go DO that thing! Or visit that place. Whatever you’ve identified that makes you happy and brings you joy…go spend the remainder of your time doing it.
While you’re doing it (whatever “it” is), pay attention to how your body feels. How are your emotions reacting? Is whatever you’re doing making you a better person? More relaxed? More authentic?
Spending this time doing what you love won’t automatically stop the supposed-to cycle in your life. That will take intentional, conscious practice, and continued anti-supposed-to space.
If you use a written planner, consider using different colors for supposed-to items and joyful items on your to-do list and among your appointments and meetings.
What are some other ways you can raise your level of attention to what you love, and identify when you’re doing things just because you’re supposed to?
I hope that you’ve revisited something you love, and started to recognize how obligations and duty are impacting your day-to-day life today. I am working on increasing the things I love while decreasing the supposed-tos, day by day. I hope you’re inspired to do the same; to honor the knowledge of what makes you happy, and to find ways to incorporate it into your daily life.