Considering how much of our lives we spend working, the most important business decision you will ever make is choosing your profession. We all want to feel creative, inspired and driven by the contributions we make to society through our jobs, but how do we figure out what profession would best allow us to express our passion?
I recently received a letter from a young man asking for help. He said he wanted to be a writer, though his training was in accounting. His parents were not supportive of his desire to leap into unknown waters. I felt this man’s sincere longing in the letter, but something didn’t sit right with me.
He wanted to be a writer? To me, that seemed a little upside down. I would think that first, there would be something he really wanted to say. There would have to be deep passion, a life’s longing, a feeling of life purpose that preceded his career choice. Then from that place of commitment and dedication, he would know what it was he wanted to say. Writing then would be the vehicle he used to fulfill his longing for self-expression and self-actualization. Who knows? After he really got traction with what it was he wanted to express, he might even decide that writing was not the right vehicle.
This is a terribly common syndrome. Young people feel pressured to know what it is they want to do for the rest of their life, as if they have to sit down and figure it out. This is not how life works, though. One’s passion is very rarely experienced early on as a clear, well-defined concept or idea. More commonly, early passion is experienced as a vague but powerful feeling in one’s soul.
This unquenchable thirst naturally leads us to move in a concrete direction, pursuing a particular art form, college major or career training. However, it is very unlikely that those first steps will point in a straight line that leads to your goal. After all, you are still defining your goal.
In my own life, even at an early age I felt the need to understand the deeper truths about life and existence. In the fifth-grade, I looked for answers by reading Thoreau. Over the next several years, I read the work of several more philosophy touchstones. At some point, I lost interest in the philosophers, whose inquiries didn’t seem to be going anywhere. I then discovered the physicists and the mathematicians. At that time, they seemed to be the people really pursuing answers to the burning questions inside me. I later realized that life was far more than just a physics equation. So I got into the healing arts, getting a degree in veterinary medicine. Only after that did I find my real passion: spirituality. Not spirituality in the conventional sense, but a spirituality that amalgamates physics, philosophy and life with spirituality. This eventually led me to create Mount Soma, a place where everything -- group meditation, classes, work-study programs, retreats, the buildings and the environment as a whole -- promotes people’s health and spiritual evolution.
Because our educational system is largely structured to usher young people into well-defined career paths, too many people end up in professions they feel too vested in to let go of, often with massive student loan debts in tow. Then they wonder why they are unhappy.
It can be scary to follow our inner longing and make a change when we know change is necessary. However, the risk is worth the reward. The alternative is painting ourselves into a corner, where we become stuck, feeling unfulfilled and despondent.
Remember that life is a process. For it to unfold in a fulfilling manner, we must follow the inner abstraction of our longing for self-actualization. Rarely does it come in a concrete form at an early age.
Courage is an essential ingredient. In my own life, it took a lot of courage to abandon a very successful and lucrative veterinary medical practice. In hindsight, I’m so glad I did. As Allen Saunders and later John Lennon said, “Life is what happens to you when you are busy making other plans.”
My advice to the young man who wrote me about wanting to be a writer, and to others yearning to find their “perfect career path” would be this: Pick a direction as best you can. Consider all the parameters of your personal situation, both practical and idealistic. Move in that direction, but be ready for things to change, because they always do. Keep moving in the direction of what you believe in, your passion.