What many of us want most deeply—assuming our basic needs are met—is to live a kind of life where spontaneously being our Selves is most able to happen again and again (for proof of this assertion, if you need it, look at Part II: How to Want What You Really Want in my new book How to Be Alive). One way to create the conditions that allow for that “spontaneous being” is to build our corrals exactly where we can really live. To shape our lives—not just our careers—after who we are really called to be.
To do that, it helps to discern our life vocation. Life vocation is what we might call the pattern that emerges if we connect all the moment vocation dots together (“moment vocation” is a concept I discuss in How to Be Alive). By the way, life vocation can change. It does not just come from within us, since it depends on the world and the world can change. Or we can change. It is not static. So it might even be better to call it our life-for-now vocation (how exciting that we may later in our lives get to have other adventures, too!).
Anyway, what we are going to do now is begin to discern our life vocation—or at least our life-for-now vocation—by looking at the pattern that arises when we string all the times of moment vocation together. What have we done, whom have we helped, and how have we been when we have followed our call in the past?
Where does our horse naturally end up when we open the stable door and let it roam free? When in our lives or even in our days have we found ourselves at the intersection of the world’s greatest sorrows and our own greatest passions?
One way to structure this inquiry is to spend some time writing, though of course you could make images, too.
WHAT WORLD CONCERNS HAVE MOST MOVED YOU?
Take some time to write and write and write. Not for someone else to read. Just ask yourself, What are the many things I care about in the world? What are things I have actually been moved to do something about? What do you come back to again and again in your thoughts? In what way would you most like the world to heal? Then write as fast as you can. Tell yourself you won’t stop until you’ve written four pages. Don’t read it. The next day, do it again. Don’t read it. Do it every day for a week or until you feel you are done. When you are done, read over your pages and make a bullet-point list of the things that seem most important to you.
WHAT PERSONAL PASSIONS HAVE MOST MOVED YOU?
The next thing is finding out how you can work in service of your concerns in a way that makes you happy. What are the skills you use and activities you do that make you lose yourself? Happiness is a kind of energy that, when we have it, can be used to help. It is not the destination, but it does provide some fuel. So, what has made you happy?
Do another writing exercise. Don’t write what activities you think will make you happy. Research shows that we are very bad at predicting our future happiness. So, instead, write about the activities that have made you happy and fulfilled in the past. The kind of experiences that have made you forget yourself while you were doing them.
Do the same thing as you did for your concerns: write four pages as fast as you can each day for several days. At the end, read through and make another list of important bullet points of the activities that make you happy.
WHAT CIRCUMSTANCES SUPPORT YOUR PASSIONS AND CONCERNS?
Lastly, it might be good to be clear about what conditions you need to keep you comfortable in the world. Are you okay with not knowing how you will earn next month’s rent until next month, or do you need a longer-term sense of security? Do you care if you are in hot weather or cold?
The previous exercise was about what you’ve done that makes you happy. This one is about what circumstances allow you to lose yourself. Are you okay being by yourself or do you need people around you? Again, try to stick with what you’ve experienced about yourself for sure rather than what you think might be true about you. Write your four pages a day about this for a week. At the end, read through your pages and make a bullet-point list.
NOW MOVE TOWARDS YOUR CALLING
When you’re done with all that, you have a list of the things you really care about, a list of what you like doing the most and the parts of yourself you like using, and finally a list of the conditions you need in your life.
The next step is beginning to envisage and slowly build a life situation that fits all these criteria. From all the things you’ve written, write out a way you want to be in the world that fits them all, where you use your passions to assist in solutions to the world’s concerns in circumstances that support you.
Don’t expect this exercise to identify a job. How to Be Alive is not a job book! Instead, what you will get is a set of criteria against which to measure the Truth of a job—and the rest of your life. It will help you discover how you want to use your life. Then you can choose to have a job (or not to have a job) that fits with that.
Remember, though, that you have to trust yourself throughout this process. It won’t work if you write down things that you feel you should like or things that should make you happy. Don’t write what you think your parents and teachers want. You don’t have to show this to anyone. It is all private for you.
The above is an extract from my new book How to Be Alive: A Guide to the Kind of Happiness that Helps the World. To learn more about the book or to order it, go here.