I know I have something in me. It kind of burns in my heart like wild excitement and love and pure energy. A fire, a creative purpose. A gift maybe. Something to bring to the world. I know I have something in me and I know other people see it too. I seem to stumble into jobs without much effort or intent, good jobs too. I think people are drawn to the spark, they have faith in it, even when I don’t. Executives have even said it to me.
And when I say ‘stumble into jobs’, I don’t mean I’m entirely thoughtless about what I’m doing, I have a strong sense of what I value in work — cultural alignment is imperative. I want to work with people I admire, and I want to work for companies that care. But I don’t have much direction or drive, nor do I feel entirely fulfilled.
Honestly, I’m not sure I’ve ever lived up to my potential, I’m not even sure I know what it is I’m meant to be living up to. I don’t even know what this damn spark is! Sometimes I do work I’m proud of. But often it’s just OK, a task ticked off a list. I get a little apathetic, probably so I don’t have to admit to the averageness of it all. I decided a while back that I work to live, I don’t live for work. I’ve thought deeply on this and I genuinely believe it can be dangerous to identify ourselves so strongly with our work. I think we’re allowed to ‘do it’ and not ‘be it’, I think that’s healthy and forces us to reconcile our worth without needing a title or accolades. But, I still know I have this thing in me, this passion unfulfilled. I know I’m not a special snowflake. I’m one of many, I won’t be remembered when I die. And yet, it’s still there, burning away. Bloody spark!
Get business news first
Sign up to SmartCompany’s daily newsletter
I feel like I’m catapulting into a life of abject mediocrity and maybe, just maybe, I’m not as ok with it as I like to think I am.
I invest in my life deeply, in my people, my love, my adventures, my home. I’m great at that. But at work, I’m disengaged. I wish life could be my job!
But truthfully I think I’m lazy about the spark. I have a film script in my head, but I just can’t motivate myself to write it down. I have a children’s book, business ideas, photos I’d like to take. And in one breath I don’t think I’m talented enough to pursue any of these little fires, and in the next, I think I’m making excuses. Do I even want to do my own thing? Or do I just want to work for a company that wildly inspires me?
I’m a little lost, a little frustrated, and a little disengaged.
So how do I work out what the spark is, Dear Human? And better yet, how do I pursue it?
Yours in vulnerability,
~ ~ ~
Dear Smouldering Spark,
You’re a wonderful writer. I know that’s not the point, but it was a pleasure to read your question, and I couldn’t let it go unsaid.
Now, let’s get to unpacking this artful dance of deception. Something in you that burns like wild excitement and love and fire and pure energy.
You speak of creative purpose! Something to bring to the world. There it is. Oh, to find that thing you’re here on this earth to do … what a beautiful and powerful thing to find.
Worth searching for.
But what if you find it? What then? That feels like you would then have to do it. But what if … What if …
Of all your beautiful words, little Spark, one phrase stood up and demanded to be heard. Actually, it was but a murmur, from the quiet child sitting off to the side. But we all heard it.
“I don’t think I’m talented enough.”
Thank you for being brave enough to say that. You’re not alone.
I’ll come back to that, after a bit of dancing.
You say you decided to work to live, because you don’t want to live to work. I can tell you that this is exactly why you feel unfulfilled. You are indeed ticking off tasks.
But then you know this. You know it all. And yet you’re still dancing around.
That makes me sad for you. I bet your days feel long.
What if it was different? What if living was working, and loving, and travelling, and learning, and all of the things?
Because it is, you know. It’s all we get, this one life. You want to look back fondly on all of it you can.
What if ‘work’ felt more like something of your choosing, from the same part of you that chose where in the world to see, or where to have a wine with friends? Which plants or books to fill your home with?
What if work was the thing you give back to society. Your gift to the world.
I don’t believe there is happiness or fulfilment to be had by simply focusing on ourselves. I think we need to offer ourselves to the world in some way.
You speak of some sort of potential to living up to. I don’t like that. That’s not what it’s about. Purpose is not some standard, some goal to reach. It’s in us. Already. It’s about connecting with what fulfils you.
Ask yourself ‘if I could do one thing in the world, for others, what would that be?’
There may be many things. Pick one. You seem to have a fair idea of what that might be already. Doesn’t have to be your own startup. There’s much fulfilment to be had by joining an organisation whose purpose inspires you, and giving your gift to the world through them.
You’ll be right. Finding the thing is not stopping you. Nor is laziness. I don’t hear laziness.
I hear fear. Fear of failure. Or perhaps fear of flying.
What an odd thing we have in us, we humans, that we are sometimes afraid to shine.
You must step in. You must. You must open your arms wide and throw your head back and scream, and then step firmly and boldly in.
What is it you don’t think you’re talented enough for? What’s the goal? Do you have to be the best in the world before you think your gift might be worth sharing? What about being the best for the world instead?
Or even just a little bit okay for the world. That will be enough, for starters.
Don’t be afraid to live. That’s all it is. Living. Don’t waste life doing something you don’t truly love for such a big part of it as ‘work’ takes up.
That’s what you should be afraid of.
And it sounds like you are.
Keep us all posted, I’d like to see you alight.
~ ~ ~
One of the most important things in business is to be human, and this is exactly what old-school advice column Dear Human aspires to encourage. If you have a question for Good Empire founder André Eikmeier, please email him at [email protected]