One of my favorite books on career and mission is called Let your Life Speak by Parker Palmer. In the book, he talks about the importance of being a student of yourself, and observing your own life course, in order to clarify your mission and expertise.
I think this is an important point. Often we get so caught up in pleasing other people or making money, that we forget who we really are. We let our true selves get brushed aside, and set out on a path that isn’t our own. Over time, we might get the nagging feeling that we aren’t living the life we are supposed to be living. If we don’t listen to this still, small voice inside us, we begin to die inside.
Parker Palmer advocates for a different approach. He believes it is important to honor and learn from our true selves, and let that inform our mission and expertise. He tells a beautiful story of his relationship with his granddaughter. He admits that when he had his own children, he was too caught up in wanting them to be a success, or wanting them to be like him, that he struggled to truly explore and honor their true selves. But now, with his granddaughter, he is better able to love and respect who she really is. He is keeping a journal for her, in which he writes down any time he sees her truly come alive and express joy in what she is doing. He hopes that this journal will help her stay true to herself as she grows older and other things fight for her attention.
What about you? Take some time and think about your true self. When you aren’t pushed in a particular direction by money or the expectations of others, what do you find yourself doing? What kinds of activities do you do in your free time? What kinds of things do you just get lost in? What kind of work do you do that doesn’t feel like work?
Sometimes it’s hard to think like this. As adults, we are so conditioned by the expectations society places on us. It can be hard to get back to our true self. In cases like these, it can be helpful to think back on our childhood. What kinds of activities did you engage in as a kid? Did you like building things or working with your hands? Did you enjoy asking questions and figuring things out? Were you artistic? Did you prefer to play and socialize with others? Were you focused on business—did you have a lemonade stand? Did you like to keep things organized? Thinking back to the activities you engaged in as a child can help you clarify an area of expertise.
For example, I remember when I was a child, I was very much into the statistics of my favorite athletes. I even calculated my own batting average after each baseball game I played. There was a part of my mind that was very analytical. A big part of my job today is research—and the analytical part of my mind that showed up when I was a kid helps me in my work today.
Take some time to think and reflect on your life. Let your life speak—not your life conditioned by the expectations of others or society—but your true self. What comes up for you? Can you see any connection between letting your life speak and your expertise? How might what you discovered here inform your “how?”