5 Ways to Find the Work You Love
by Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg
We all have our callings: the work we're alive to do; yet for most of us, the path is not linear but a tangle that runs through mosquito-filled forests, swampy grasslands, and even along the sea bottom before being tossing us back onto the shore.
By conversing with our callings, we can drop an anchor, connecting us to the main story we're meant to live, and from that story finding our own Right Livelihood. Traditionally Right Livelihood, part of the Buddhist Noble Eightfold Path, means work that does no harm, but a more contemporary definition is work that follows our callings, helps us grow, and serves the world in some way, however small.
Growing up as a mediocre student and expert daydreamer in New Jersey, I had no idea that my love of art, music, and writing, would lead me to call myself a Transformative Language Artist, someone who uses writing, storytelling, and performance for personal and community transformation. As a teenage poet, when my dad told me I had two choices for a career—advertising or journalism—I followed the conventional wisdom of the day. I chose journalism, which didn't stick, but it got me to the Midwest where my passion for the stories I was covering led me to grassroots organizing until poetry called me to grad school. Paying my bills by gigging as a teaching assistant, I happened upon a twin calling: teaching.
I now make my living in a kaleidoscope of ways: leading writing workshops for people with serious illness, collaborating with singer-songwriter Kelley Hunt on Brave Voice writing and singing retreats, teaching and coaching people on the power of our words. I continually find meaning, connection, and joy on the wild road trip of living my calling.
Over my many years of studying and reaching Right Livelihood, I’ve learned how important following our calling is, which led me to develop Your Right Livelihood with creativity and career coach Kathryn Lorenzen to help people find and put into action the work they love. Here’s some of the uncommon wisdom we’ve discovered in just starting out, making a mid-career shift, or launching a third act after retirement:
Converse with Your Calling: Callings, according to writer Gregg Levoy, aren't so much lightning bolts as they are continual conversations, sometimes with a whispering voice and sometimes with a loud billboard. You can catch more of what's coming your way by keeping a callings journal: write for 10-15 minutes regularly about what work calls to you, how you might do it, what would be required for you to launch yourself, and what questions and answers you have. You can even write a dialogue between you and your calling as you meet for coffee at a local cafe.
Look for Signs and Wonders: Finding ways to cover your bills while doing the work of your heart is sometimes like dowsing for water in a big field. It can take a lot of meandering, but you can be on the watch for signs and wonders: hints that this new direction is the right one for you. Listen to what little hints you find: snippets of conversation you might overhear, repeated lessons the universe keeps giving you, or something you dream about each night. Write down these signs and wonders in your callings journal because the more attention you pay, the more signs and wonders show up.
Practice, Practice, Practice: “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” goes the old joke. “Practice, practice, practice,” is the answer, and the same is true for changing your job or shifting careers. You can practice by learning all you can about what the new work may entail. For example, if you plan to launch a small consulting business, shadow someone else who does similar work, then practice by offering free sessions to people in exchange for their honest feedback on how to improve. Even when you're doing your beloved work in the right balance for your life—whether as a paid job, volunteer work, or art—you're always learning from the work itself how to do it better.
Leap When the Time is Right: “Timing is everything” goes the old adage. For most of us, leaping from a less-than-fulfilling day job without tried-and-true plans, connections, and experience doing the work we love may be far more exciting, exhausting, and fearful than anticipated. Take your time to transition. Study the field and learn the ins and outs from others doing this kind of work, develop a strong business and marketing plan, and surround yourself with people and resources that support your new work. Also, consider taking baby steps into the new work. Moonlighting and volunteering are noble ways to test the waters and get some experience under your belt. There are also times the universe forces us to jump when a job or contract ends, and at such moments, we have a little extra push.
Take Care of Yourself: Even once you’ve leaped (or are in mid-leap), it’s a good idea to keep checking in with yourself to make sure you’re going in the right direction. Remember to take time off for your well-being, hang out with friends or family, and make time for hobbies and other passions. Do whatever is self-care for you, from taking ten deep breaths in the morning before you start answering emails to showing up at a restorative yoga class regularly to slipping out of a stuck moment to see a movie or take a walk instead. This also entails surrounding yourself with people who “get” and support you. Taking good care of yourself is essential to cultivating the perspective you'll need for living your calling and doing the work you love, and it will inevitably make that adventure all the more sustainable.
Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg is the past poet laureate of Kansas and the author or editor of over 24 books of poetry, fiction, memoir, and anthologies. With Kathryn Lorenzen, she offers the Your Right Livelihood annual class, which next begins Jan. 23, 2022, and an annual retreat, April 1-3 at Unity Village. She also offers Your Right Livelihood, writing, and facilitation coaching and teaches workshops widely.