Finding the work you love isn't simple, but it's worth the effort.
This summer we gave you a challenge: Design your dream job. Boy, did you ever take us up on it—from farming in Hells Kitchen to curating a Doodle Museum, the ideas you dreamt up pushed even our creative limits!
But we all know there’s a big difference between dreaming a job and actually making it happen, which is why we chose one person with a powerful passion to work in green burial to take part in a one-on-one career coaching session with me (five runner-ups also got a copy of my new book). I’m not a coach, but I work for an organization that has been unleashing next-generation talent to solve the world’s biggest problems for the past 25 years, and in the process, I’ve learned a thing or two about how to make your career dreams a reality.
I called Irene, our challenge winner, during her lunch break. She told me her current job, which is not in green burial or anything close to it, was “very easy, boring, and lonely, not to mention dead-end.” Which she said may have been a blessing in disguise.
“I took it right out of college because I was terrified of not being able to pay my bills when student loans came due,” she explained. “I applied to lots of places, and this was simply the first to say yes. Eight years later, I'm still here.”
Sound familiar? It’s a story I hear all the time. More than anything, Irene told me, she wanted to help others through her work. But something kept getting in her way. And over the course of our conversation, we realized that something was her.
Irene is smart, intuitive, authentic, and has a tremendous amount to offer to the world through her work. The only problem was, she hadn’t fully embraced just how big she can be.
After our session, Irene wrote my colleagues at Echoing Green, “hearing Lara say that it was obvious that I was afraid to think big brought it home that my mental default setting was failure. [Since our conversation], when I think about things I want to do, or of the life I want to make for myself and my girlfriend, I question if I'm setting the bar too low, or if I am motivated by fear.”
To help Irene internally experience the feeling of being excited by a job that served both her and the world rather than experiencing a feeling of dread and emptiness as she left for work each day, I had her try a visualization exercise. Perhaps you would like to try it as well:
Close your eyes and imagine yourself several years from now. You have a career and life that is both right for you and good the world. Amazing. It is morning and you are feeling good as you prepare for your day.
As you watch yourself, pay attention to what you are wearing. Is it a uniform? A suit? A lab coat, or maybe something funky? Follow yourself around as you get ready for work. What do you eat for breakfast? Where to do eat it? How do you get to your job? Do you take the train, a car, or maybe you amble down the hallway to your kitchen? As you arrive at your job, what do you see? A big building? A small office? A forest?\n
I then challenged Irene to free-write about her visualization for ten minutes. Here is what Irene later wrote to Echoing Green about the exercise: “Some parts of it were a challenge for me. I gave it a sincere effort, but just could not get my mind to wander very far. [Discovering] that it was such a challenge was telling.”
Irene is exactly right! Exercises such as this one are thermometers. The more difficult they are for us to go through, the more we know we have an area on which we need to work. After you’ve taken your temperature and found a fever, you have a choice: Ignore it, or deal with it. Irene has chosen to deal.
“It's a small step, but with the help and support of my girlfriend, I have been trying to compile a visualization board, as well as keeping track of things or moments when my head or heart feel engaged,” she wrote. “Lara's 'head & heart' exercise seemed like my best chance to figure out where I am drawn. I'm still trying to get the hang of that one.”
Irene, I cannot thank you enough for allowing me to write your story. I know people will identify with it, because it is a story I hear often. Finding our “hustle,” which I describe in my book as the alignment of your heart and your head, isn’t simple. Pushing past the blocks in order to go after your hustle is even harder, but it is possible. And when our hustle is aimed at making the world a better place, what a world we can create!