The idea that we should do what we love – not to make money, not to get famous – but because we’ll be miserably, whiney cube-bots hiding our beautiful gifts from the world if we don’t is a central tenant of my teacher, mentor and friend Barbara Sher’s work.
But what is it like to discover what you love and follow the strange compelling pull of it into unknown territory?
I think it is to honour the seeds of potential inside ourselves, and to take one step in front of the other in directions that feel strangely delicious and compelling but for no good reason we can think of. And I think it works. Truly, at some bone-deep, certain like a solid piece of granite, and shimmery like a dragon fly’s wings level inside me, I think it works. I am certain, and at the same time can’t quite believe it does. It seems almost too magical, that by following our deep down pull towards things we transform and open up the paths before us and find ourselves happier and better suited to our lives.
I’ll give you an example.
When I was most miserable in my job 5 or so years ago, I found myself drawing simple line drawings and complaining on the page. Day after day, week after week. I made them into tiny little badly photocopied zines. I sold a couple. I kept making them. For no particular reason other than because it kept me alive. Sometimes I’d send them to my friends (oh you wanted an unsolicited litany of complaint in biro with stick figures arriving in your mailbox? You are WELCOME!) And sometimes it made me laugh, or cry a little, and that made everything easier. I had no grand plan or end point in mind, I just knew that drawing and writing made me feel better. 100’s of pages amassed. Now I work as an art therapist and creativity coach, helping people to find the daily piece of creativity that will make their lives richer and more authentic, and part of the reason I feel confident to do this work is because I have lived it and breathed it myself. Little did I know on those evenings with just a black pen to express myself that I was giving myself an apprenticeship in the healing powers of creative expression, that would help give me confidence to make a huge leap of a career shift.
But enough about me. Here is another.
I have a colleague who was in a bit of a slump for a few years. She wasn’t sure about her job, it wasn’t particularly fulfilling, her relationship came to an end, connection with extended family was a bit stressful, and she couldn’t seem to find her spark. Nothing much interested her, no hobbies or afterwork activities really called to her. The only thing that really spoke to her in a strange and hard to understand way was…Italy. Italian culture, mid century Italian literature, food, Italian film. The imagery of the golden undulating hills, the fresh crispness of the crinkled coastline, the optimism she perceived as steeped into the words of the thinkers from that country, the openness to debate and discussion, the humour. So she decided to go. On a trip across Northern Italy by herself. Going to jazz bars by herself. Meeting a local, where suddenly, there was a spark. Which led to a holiday romance, then an extended long distance romance, then visits across the seas, and before long it led to packing up and moving across the world to be together, a wedding, and now a beautiful little baby. The last time I saw her she was happier and more self assured than I had ever seen her.
I just read a book, ‘Julie and Julia’ (by Julie Powell).
Have you read it? Don’t let the sugary yellow and pink cover of the edition I read fool you – it’s not the badly written light fluffball of ‘chick lit’ (I know, I hate that term too) the cover suggests, it is a funny, well constructed, sharp and engaging look at the experience of the author over a one year period as she follows up her hard to explain, not exactly rational decision to cook all of the recipes from a cookbook by Julia Childs called Mastering the Art of French Cooking. It is a great example of following the tug of what fascinates you, without knowing where it will lead, or why, or having it be a rational-minded step towards some predestined future. In her case making complicated French recipes every day in her tiny grotty New York apartment, led to her keeping a blog about it, which led to media coverage, which ultimately led to a book deal, which lead to a move (WITH MERYL STREEP STARRING!!) and being able to leave the sh*tty job she was bored in. From the book’s description of the journey anyway, it also sounds like it led to lots of self reflection and developing an encouraging inner voice and hope for the future. Not a bad outcome for a whim that her family probably thought was bonkers to begin with.
So.. do what you love. At least the nub of it – the solid core of what you love that brings the most fascination and satisfaction.
But let me warn you: it wont magically transform you into someone who is always chirpy, only eats kale smoothies, has perfect teeth, loves to jog before dawn and drives a platinum plated low emissions batman ferrari. It wont neccessarily give you a Willy Wonky style golden ticket out of your day job. It wont save you from losing your keys, tucking your skirt into your knickers accidentally, your one day death or the death of your loved ones, or even existential terror appearing at 4 in the morning sometimes. That, I’m sorry is the human condition and I don’t have a cure for that one. But what it WILL do is make your life more interesting, more authentically ‘you’ and more satisfying at a deep level. Which is nice even while when you are tucking your skirt out of your knickers awkwardly in the middle of a shopping centre or ferreting around at home for keys that are making you later and later for your next meeting.
To get there you might need to practice tuning out the ego (that says things like ‘it will have to be the BEST and BIGGEST project that makes us the MOST money and fame and gold stars’, because it loves us and thinks this is what makes us happy)… and practice tuning into the quiet inner voice (lets call it soul for the sake of having a name) that says ‘just do a little bit of it. In your pyjamas, in the soft morning light, let your fingers, eyes, mind, senses enjoy and delight in this thing you want to do, for no reason other than joy’. Because you see the soul loves us too, and knows that even though we often forget, the simple pleasures, the irrational and childlike delights make us truly happy.
For help to reconnect with your old dreams and the things that light you up, come along to my Sydney based face to face vision board workshop on 6th February. We use guided journalling, group discussion, collage and mixed media art fun to create a roadmap of what you love and care about and need more of in your life.
If you are located somewhere else and want to rediscover what makes you come alive, drop me a line about my art therapy informed coaching. I work with clients all over the world to help reconnect with dreams and make them happen, and we can make creating a vision for your year a key step in our work together.
I am also running a very nourishing and relaxing 6-week Women’s Wellbeing Group on Wednesday evenings in Sydney. The next group is starting on Wednesday the 17th February in Glebe. To find out more or get your ticket see here.