As a child I spent several years living in the Philippines, where I learned to speak Tagalog. The language contains a beautiful expression for work, hanapbuhay, which literally translates to “the search for life.” I’ve always liked thinking about work this way: an inward journey to discover the things that make you feel most alive, and making those your work.
At some point during childhood, a well-meaning adult asks, “So, what do you want to be when you grow up?” What I like about this question is that it embraces the idea that work is an expression of who you are as well as who you want to be. Yet that question takes an odd turn when you become an adult. “What do you do for a living?” is what we typically ask each other. Gone is the inquiry about what you aspire to “be.” This shift in emphasis from “being” to “doing” focuses you solely on the external activities and behaviors that you perform for your work, rather than on your intrinsic values, strengths, and motivations.
“Most of us think too much about what we should do and not enough about what we should be,” said the 14th-century mystic Meister Eckhart. “If we would pay more attention to what we should be, our work would shine forth brightly.” How true.
What if instead of simply creating To Do lists for ourselves, we also create To Be lists of what we aspire to in our working lives and beyond?
Being in your work does not require any extraordinary effort, nor does it necessitate finding your “dream job.” You simply need to be present and allow yourself to experience what is most alive for you, what decisions you make relative to it, and how you take action.
Try asking yourself the following questions to begin to mine what really matters to you. By placing attention on what it means to be fully yourself, aligned, and present, you’re able to give your best to your work and to the world.
- How would I like each day to unfold?
- What would I like to focus my energy and attention on?
- What brings me joy?
- What makes me feel balanced?
- What state of mind would I like to be in while I work?
- What other aspects of my life do I wish to be paying more attention to?
- By the end of my life, what kind of person do I wish to be?
Follow Your Inspiration
The answers that emerge from the previous questions illuminate how you can thrive by following your life’s energy instead of opposing, fighting, or suppressing it. For example, “being” in my work has guided me to make decisions that aren’t motivated by a desire for achievement, but to do work I find truly meaningful and that makes me feel alive. Always, I’ve made the decision to move into an area of endeavor by following what most inspired me, even as that changed over the years.
No matter what meaning you ascribe to your work—whether it is a job (a means to an end), a career (a purposeful drive toward attainment in a certain discipline), or a calling (a sense of fulfilling a life’s purpose)—by focusing on being fully present to it you can better connect to your own vitality within the experience.
Being in your work does not require any extraordinary effort, nor does it necessitate finding your “dream job.” You simply need to be present and allow yourself to experience what is most alive for you, what decisions you make relative to it, and how you take action. Working in this way, you can find success and fulfillment within yourself.