Articles about Career Development

Building a Career from Your Heart
(Part 1 of 5 - 1998-2012 Carol James)


If you do the work you love, you will love the work you do. Sounds simple enough, but is it? Does our culture really encourage people to choose a career based on what they love? While moving through our educational system, how many opportunities are we given to uncover our natural talents, abilities, intelligences and knowing and to learn how to apply them to our true calling? Do our schools teach us how to find and pursue our purpose in life, to follow our passions?

Most of us grow up in an environment where our parents, teachers, school counselors or friends all seem to know what is best for us. They are quick to tell us which career we are best suited for and what skills and education we should acquire to pursue that career, all without taking the time to find out who we really are or what is in our hearts. We are encouraged to prepare for the jobs that pay the highest, have the most security, follow our parents profession or are in most abundant supply. And because we often do what they suggest, we empower them to decide how we will spend the largest portion of our life.

Then there is the other side of the coin in which we are given no guidance whatsoever. We are not encouraged to develop potentials that poke their heads above the surface, and often those potentials drift aimlessly away.Art was one of those potentials for me. As a child I always had my nose in a coloring book, and my greatest joy was coloring the costumes that a friend would create for my paper dolls. My artistic pursuits were mostly hidden in the privacy of my world, rarely exposed to others' criticism, until I took an art class as an elective in tenth grade. A whole new World opened up to me as my creative spirit soared and my latent talent flourished. Once I latched onto the joys of exploring my artistic abilities, I was obsessed, filling all my elective courses with art classes. By my senior year I had completed all the classes that the school had to offer, so they graciously allowed me to continue my artistic endeavors in the art department as a teacher's aid.

Unfortunately, things came crashing down in twelfth grade when I was interviewed for an art scholarship. Because of my upbringing I was extremely shy and inhibited and through art I had finally found a way to express my inner soul. I was passionate about art and wanted to study only art, but in a four-year college it was mandatory that I study all those "required" courses. I refused to waste my time studying stuff that held no interest for me. Even back then I understood that if one wasn't interested in a given subject, then trying to make one learn it was a waste of time and energy, as those long forgotten classes that I was forced to take in high school have proven.

Back then, I saw no other option: To continue my art studies I would have to go to a four-year college and take all that other stuff - courses that were as uninteresting to me as eating bugs - just so I could continue to pursue my passion. I refused to budge. The college refused to budge.Thus ended my career in art.

Of course, you might be wondering why I didn't pursue art on my own if I was so passionate about it. Well, I did. I painted for years, but it didn't pay the rent or make the car payment, so I found myself a "real" job and joined the ranks of the employed. My artistic dreams ended when a so-called "critic" told me my talent was non-existent, and my confidence crashed to the floor. Whether he was right or not is immaterial, because I believed him to be right and lost my passion.

That's what started my aimless jump from career to career searching for something to rekindle that passion. Too bad career counseling wasn't fashionable back in the sixties. But then, in the world of career counseling, there tends to be a prevalent belief that you must prepare yourself for the jobs that are most abundant - those jobs that are in demand; for instance computer programming, engineering, etc. - or jobs for which you already have some training. Forget about doing what you love, forget about following the urges of your heart, forget about pursuing that which extends from your natural talents and abilities, because it is more important to have a job, any job, that pays well, offers security, is recognized as appropriate by others and for which there are plenty of openings.

The biggest problem with doing what is expected or what is popular is that we usually end up sticking with a job that is only marginally satisfying, then living a life filled with complaints and regrets. I've observed this trap up close and personal, watching my father put in the hours, laboring at a job that brought him little challenge and less satisfaction. I watched him labor for 35 years in a job that he hated. That hate drove him to drink, literally, and to such great anger and resentment that it eventually poisoned his body along with his personality.

Why did he do this? Why does anyone stay in an unfulfilling or dead-end job? I can think of a few reasons: to pay the rent or support a lifestyle that one is afraid to give up, for security or because it is expected. In the case of my father, my mother was so focused on the extra retirement pay that my father's job would supply, that she bullied him into staying in a job that he hated.Why did he allow her to bully him? I'll probably never know why, other than to suspect that he thought it was his "duty" to provide for the family, no matter what the cost. At work he counted the hours until he could go home and "crash," first taking a pit stop at the local bar to take the edge off his stress, then landing home exhausted and ill-tempered at the end of the day. He marked off days on the calendar until he could retire, impatiently waiting for the day when he could finally take it easy, and do . . . do what? The answer was to do nothing, to take it easy, to be a person of leisure and pursue his passions and hobbies.

His anger and resentment battered his body, initially pounding it with high blood pressure and hypertension, then seguing into borderline diabetes. A year after retiring my father had a stroke which ended his dreams of a leisurely life, and progressed his journey into the world of illness and disease as one problem after another attacked his body. Did he enjoy the retirement for which he gave up his joy of life? I think not. He spent his entire retirement going from one illness to another - after the stroke came insulin-dependent adult diabetes followed swiftly by a leg amputation, a heart attack and other assorted ills - until finally, after nearly 15 years of sickness, he finally fell down, broke his hip, and gave up and died. What a sad price he paid to do what was expected.

Watching my father's hate, anger, resentment and subsequent physical deterioration, I swore that I would never stay at any job that didn't bring me satisfaction and fulfillment. He stayed at a job that ended up destroying his life and he was not alone. The majority of people hate their job, or at best, find them unrewarding, unfulfilling or unchallenging. Is it any wonder why people are so stressed out and plagued by disease and chronic illness?

In the beginning of my working career, I, too, followed his patterning, staying in a job for nearly 6 years that paid extremely well, that had benefits up the wazoo and that was so secure that I would have had to blow up the building to ever get fired. While my security quotient was extremely high, I spent tremendous amounts of time feeling unfulfilled, feeling unappreciated, feeling frustrated, feeling bored and feeling useless. So I quit. Everyone told me that I was crazy. I had tremendous pressure from my parents, from my friends, from my boss and from my co-workers to reconsider my decision and to not throw away my life. Thank God I didn't listen.

I took a stand and overcame the first problem inherent in choosing to do what one loves: "What will other people think or say?" It is my nature to want to please other people, as I know it is others' nature, too, and my choice to follow my own purpose and passion in life often went against what others thought I should do. In their well-meaning way, they tried to convince me of the "foolishness" of my desire to leave my secure and well-paying job to do what I loved. But they didn't seem to understand my need for professional fulfillment (perhaps they had given up on their own need to be fulfilled), and they automatically assumed that I would fail.Eventually I discovered that what was really going on with them was that they couldn't imagine succeeding if they had chucked their job to do what they loved, and so they were projecting their own fears onto me.

Pause & Ponder

Has that happened to you? Have your family, friends or counselors pressured you to do the "right" thing and choose a job that THEY felt was best for you? Have you had others tell you that you would fail if you chose to follow your heart? Have you listened to them?

If you think that other people's opinions of your ability to succeed holds more validity than your own inner knowing, then perhaps they are right and you should stay in your "safe" job. If you don't believe that you can succeed, then most likely you are right, you can't.

If, on the other hand, your desire to have a more rewarding and fulfilling career outweighs your fear of failure or rejection, then the next question to answer is, "What would I love to do?"

Finding the answer to that question will take some exploration into yourself to discover who you are and who you want to be.For me, I didn't have the advantage of someone to help me discover what was in my heart, so it took a dozen more jobs, a variety of different careers and a failed business for me to find my way. Eventually I discovered that I had been barking up the wrong trees and looking in the wrong direction for professional fulfillment. Eventually I discovered how to find my niche in life, how to know what I really wanted to do with my life and how to go about reaching my goals. This newsletter is the culmination of what we've learned along the way, and it is designed to help you find your way.

Pause & Ponder

So here you are at a crossroads in your life, trying to decide what is more important: Stay with your current professional circumstances or take the leap into doing what you love. Basically, there are three directions to follow: Do what is expected of you by your parents, teachers, counselors or peers

Do what is popular, pays the best or offers the most security

Do what naturally extends from who you are and your niche in life

Which one do you think will bring you the greatest job and life satisfaction and fulfillment? If you answered, "door number 3," then this guide will help you to reveal your unique niche in life and to discover how to build a career from your heart.

Build a Career Profile

An inspired career is a career that is a natural extension of who you are.When you choose to do what you love, you express your natural talents and abilities and your innermost passions to the world. Why is it so important to do what you love? The answer can be found in exploring what activities and actions bring you the most joy in your life. It is when you are "doing" the things that you love that you are at your most "alive" state - energized, passionate, enthusiastic, vibrant, creative and productive.Since you are at your peak of beingness when you are doing what you love, then why wouldn't you want to spend more of your time doing what you love?And since our "working life" takes up roughly one-third of our time, it is only natural to want to spend that time in our peak of beingness.

Yet how do you spend your "working life" doing what you love? And what determines "what you love to do?" In the following issues the answers to both these questions will be explored, the latter before the former. For having an inspired career begins with knowing what you love to do before finding out how to do what you love for a living.

An inspired career evolves from your unique personal profile, which is an inventory of your special talents, abilities, preferences, aspirations, limitations and motivations and your unique niche in life. Once you have discovered in which direction you want to express yourself, then your professional profile, which is an inventory of the skills, education and credentials you have acquired along the way, will help you to identify gaps that will need to be filled to reach your dream career. This month's newsletters will explore ways that will lead to the discovery of your unique niche in life - your soul urge.

Your Unique Personal Profile

Your unique personal profile is an inventory of your special talents, abilities, intelligences, knowings, preferences, aspirations, motivations, limitations and ambitions. It is who you are, the person you were born as and how you have expanded upon your natural state. It begins by asking yourself the question: Who am I?

Who are you? Have you ever asked yourself that question? Are you the thoughts that you have about yourself? Are you the food you eat? Are you the body that contains your essence? Are you what you do for a living? Are you the credentials you've acquired? How can you know who you are?

You are a complex, unique and individual being, who at any given moment in time is a composite of your dreams, your personality, your natural and acquired talents and abilities, your personal and professional experiences and your innermost passions and desires. Who you are is that which makes you unique.

At the core of an inspired career resides an intimate awareness of self's assets, which represent that which you inherently and naturally know - the special gifts with which you were born. Without knowing those, it will be difficult to come to know who you are capable of being. Being aware of who you are will allow you to creatively direct your career, instead of having your career direct you.

Dream Recovery

Most people dream about having a rewarding career - earning more money, enjoying their work more, being more successful, having a purpose in what they do, making a difference in the world. They frequently wish, and sometimes crave, to have a different career. Even while they are longing for that career, they are choosing to not do anything to change their career.

People want to choose what they do with their lives based on who they are.One way to discover who we are is by reconnecting with our dreams. As children we all dreamed of who we'd be when we grew up. We tried on various hats and roles, experimenting with what felt good to us. Fireman, doctor, scientist, baker, banker and cowboy; we pretended. And we didn't just dream about what we'd do when we grew up, we dreamed about how it would feel.

Some of us grew into those dreams. And for some the dreams changed. However, for many of us, by the time we'd reached our thirties, we'd exchanged our dreams for a mortgage payment, sacrificed them for relationships, to raise children, or just plain lost them in the shuffle of everyday living.

Others didn't even start dreaming until they reached adulthood or much later in their adult life. I fit into this latter category. After leaving that secure job of 6 years, I stumbled around for a dozen years trying out new careers - a directory assistance operator, a frameman, a receptionist, a legal secretary, an administrative assistant, a loan officer, a life insurance agent - and trying to rekindle the passion I experienced in the artistic endeavors of my youth. The lesson my father taught me about staying in a job that he hated never left my thoughts, and I was determined to find a job that I loved.

Finally, in the late seventies I stumbled upon a career selling and implementing accounting systems to the healthcare profession, which kept me stimulated (if not impassioned) for the next thirteen years. For the first time in my life I felt successful in my career. I loved sales, I loved teaching people and I loved using my mind. I grew to be the top salesperson, I built the number two territory from scratch, money was plentiful, my customers liked me and I was riding a wave of success. More importantly, some natural talents that I never knew existed emerged from that experience: That I had a knack for working with people and that I was intelligent.

You may be surprised to hear that, but if you understand a bit more about my background you will see how significant those two discoveries were. I grew up in an environment where children were seen but NEVER heard. I was never given a choice, I was never allowed to express my opinion, I was never allowed to question rules and I was frequently punished for asking "why." Nothing I did ever seemed good enough to merit recognition from my parents: The straight A's in school, the pictures I painted, the awards I received, the sports accomplishments. Every new friend I found moved away. I was often the object of cruel jokes and was regularly told what was wrong with me. Even my ex-husband frequently told me how stupid I was as he expanded upon his superiority to people. So, not only was I shy and awkward around people in my personal life, but I had little confidence inky value as a human being.

It was in my professional life that I emerged as strong and confident, even while my social self remained immature and insecure. For thirteen years I thrived and survived professionally, but something was still missing. I became bored with my job, craving more of a challenge, craving more stimulation, craving more meaning in my life. Again I quit. Again people thought I was crazy. Again I ignored what they thought. And then the visions began.

They started as brief flickers of images. I would see myself speaking to large groups of people, but I never knew what I was saying. I didn't even know the subject about which I was speaking, but I knew that somehow my destiny involved teaching others. Yet teaching WHAT eluded me. Even though I continued to change careers a few more times in the next few years - gaining more experience in the fine points of managing people, expanding my knowledge about running a business, branching out into a wider business market and extending and fine-tuning my skills - the visions of the work that I would be doing continued. As the visions grew and expanded so did my craving for more meaning and purpose in my life. My dreams were like dormant volcanoes, smoldering just below the surface, waiting for an eruption to release the pent up energy. The eruption occurred one day several years ago, when I finally realized that my dreams could be fulfilled.

So let's begin your journey, taking the first step toward building your dream career, by reconnecting with your early dreams or by starting to dream new ones.

Experiential Activity

Do you remember what your dreams were? As a child who did you dream of becoming or what did you dream of achieving?

It's Never Too Late to Dream

The dreams we dreamed as a child often change as we learn more about the world and as we come to understand ourselves better. Although we may stop telling others about our dreams, do we really ever stop having dreams? No matter how old we grow, it is never too late to pursue our dreams. There are hundreds of stories about people, who in mid-life or later, decided to change their career. A recent People Magazine publication (People, 6/1/98) has an article about people "Going For It." It profiles people who decided to chuck their careers - a district sales manager, a lawyer, a surgeon, a banker, a sales executive, a product manager and a newsman - to pursue their dream career. Here's what they do now and what they have to say about their choice to change their career:

"It was like leaping off a building, but I've never regretted it." . . . the Lawyer who is now an actress.

"It worked out beyond my wildest dreams." . . . the District Sales Manager who started a new business called Renaissance Balloons, which sells a ride on hot-air balloons.

"I don't pretend to know all the answers, but I love that I am now able to share my passion for wine with people all over the world." . . . the Newsman who is now a wine maker.

"I can't do this for the rest of my life [my former career]. . .[Now] I am being true to myself. It takes guts not to sell out." . . . the Product Manager who started a new business called Film Buffs, which hosts screenings of independent films and after-show chats with directors.

"When a sign comes, you have to go with it." . . . the Banker who is now a full-time pianist for the Louisville Orchestra.

"Now I live hand-to-mouth, but the way I feel almost every day, I can't believe I get paid for this.". . . the Sales Executive who is now a ranch hand and drives cattle.

The common theme among all people who have the courage to change their careers to do what they love is their strong desire to follow their heart. And we are NEVER too old to make those changes. Would you rather spend a few years loving what you do or a lifetime of regrets, wishing you had done what you love?

Experiential Activity

Today, what direction do you want your life to take? What do you find yourself longing for? What dreams are still pining in your heart? Don't worry about how foolish or silly you think your dreams may be. Remember, no one is peeking. These are your private desires, and you have every right to dream them. Besides, you can never get to the place of living the life of your dreams if you hold back thinking about your dreams.

Pause & Ponder

As a result of reading and doing the activities in this section, have you learned anything new about yourself? Take a moment to pause and reflect on how this information has changed the way you look at yourself, your career or your life.

(Click here for part 2 of 5)

1998-2012 Carol A James All rights reserved.

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