There are a lot of people trying to make sense out of their work lives these days. Many of them are feeling called to be of service to the world in a wide variety of fields. But they often find themselves competing with each other for a shrinking pool of jobs that often won’t allow them to implement their new ideas anyway. So along with unemployment, we also are facing what I call a creativity crisis in which there are a lot of people all dressed up but with no where to go.
What this looks like in real life is the school teacher who is burned out with his or her inability to incorporate creative teaching strategies in an old, established school system. Or the nurse, who loves nursing, but is going crazy because the hospital system forces her to promote an approach to healing that she finds inappropriate.
As part of my work as a career counselor, I frequently meet people caught up in this crisis. They come from all fields. Many are confused about how to plug in, they can’t see the outlet for their talents.
If I may play with a slightly romantic model to describe what’s occurring at this time, I’d like to suggest that many people are being called to begin making the changes required to move on with their life’s purpose. Change needs to occur in all arenas of life. Life itself is coordinating this change, and that powerful tug you may feel to use your talents in a more effective way, is Life giving you a sign that you are on deck.
Imagine that the people of the Earth form part of the global immune system. Various clusters of cells (people) throughout the system have certain functions that serve the system as a whole. There is now a need for new forms of response, and the signals are being sent out to the various cells. You, as a member of this system, have your special function – your vocation – although the next steps in following that calling may not yet be clear.
While I was working as a career counselor in 1989, I was struggling with my own, "What do I want to be when I grow up?" type of questions. I knew well the depth of despair associated with this issue.
That was the year, however, when I came to understand that there are cycles of indeterminate length during which a person would not be able to know what they were supposed to do. I myself was in such a cycle. It was not the same as being confused or baffled by options; it was more like having a thick, heavy blanket thrown over me. In my case, when I would look ahead, I saw nothing, yet I knew the darkness was not empty. I now believe that this cycle is an incubation period that allows us to mature enough to be able to handle the responsibilities of that next step.
As I related to this state in myself and observed it in some of the people I was counseling, I realized that there was something sacred about this darkness of the unknown. I felt that even if I could shine an artificial light upon my inner sanctum, I would only disturb the seed that was germinating there. The darkness was giving birth to something that could not be viewed from the outside.
Recently, Mary, an oncology nurse, shared a dream with me. She saw herself covered with a dark gray cloak; only her feet protruded at the bottom, and they were plastic-like and lifeless. She said the dream symbolized her inability to see where she should go with her life and work.
Although Mary had long worked with people who were dying, her patient load did not allow her to spend time really getting to know the people she cared for. She wanted to find a way to work that would allow her to have more opportunities to connect deeply with the people she served. Mary did have a sense of what she wanted, but the critical details of how her next step would unfold were hidden.
MAKING PEACE WITH THE DARKNESS
Sometimes, when I meet with a group of people who are exploring these issues, we sit quietly for a while, relaxing into the present moment. We relax our foreheads, and allow our eyes to soften. We let our jaws sag and relax. We breath deep into our bellies, and with the exhaled breath we let go of our tension. As we settle into the moment we simply acknowledge the presence of peace. We let that peace deepen, and the stillness becomes deeper and deeper. There is so much pleasure and gratitude in contacting this ever-present peace, that it is natural to want to share it.
We each think of someone in our life whom we care about. We picture them breathing easily and relaxing into this same peace. We then bring our attention back to our own bodies and the room we’re in, slowly open our eyes, and there we are.
Though I do believe in the value of linear approaches to problem solving and goal setting, I have seen as much, if not more value, come from exercises like the one above. The energy of the group changes, and there is a distinct new potential available.
A kind of knowing emerges when we let go of our hold on ourselves and open to a space in which we can once again be surprised.
The list of things that can help a person to open are endless and individual. Listen to music, go for a walk, cry, sing, suffer, watch a movie, meditate, pray, read, it goes on and on. A holistic clarity can emerge from this open heart space that reflects a different kind of knowing.
One year ago I quit my counseling job and began to devote my full attention to teaching workshops and consulting with people to explore new ways of understanding our relationship with work and our times. Every month I have taken money from savings to keep the operation afloat. At this writing I have nearly tapped out my financial reserves. I am meeting wonderful people, and I find the workshops tremendously inspiring. More importantly, though, the year has deepened my faith in the goodness inherent in life, even though it has been one of my most difficult years ever.
So, what will happen to me next? And what will Mary do? How does an improvisational musician or dancer know what the next note or gesture will be? Does he or she choose the next bit of expression or does it emerge from the creative web of life itself? I am not proposing carelessness; after all, you don’t play improv without some foundation of skill. I am, however, pointing to the inevitability of assuming risk. I find that in those moments when I can relax my need to know what will happen next that I become sensitive to this enormous web of influence.
If you feel a passionate calling, but feel confused and stuck, have faith. Embrace the unknown; take time for simple rituals that help restore your faith and peace of mind.
You may be personally experiencing the pain of loss or simply the raw fear of an uncertain future. If this pain and fear can serve the purpose of opening our hearts, then it will not have been suffered in vain. To allow our hearts to open is an utterly practical act, for it allows us to feel that we are not just acting as puny individuals. We are co-creators in the great web of life.