It took me quite a while to find my exact purpose, and I am sure as time passes that too will evolve, and with this evolution will come brand new challenges. Before I found my purpose, I was hell bent on finding it. By that I mean I would get myself all worked up about what it might be (hell) and contort myself in a million directions until I could work no harder (bent) and then I would call my most trusted advisor, a.k.a. my mom. It didn’t hurt that she was a psychologist, grounded, and extraordinarily wise, but there are some things even such a person cannot answer for you.
I am not sorry about my path. It led me to military college and business, writing and a liberal arts education, critical theory (the math of language and how it works), to Ireland to study Joyce, France to study comparative literature, feminism, and psycholinguistics, motivational instruction and outreach work, boxing, breakdancing, meditation, and psychology. If you can believe it, they actually work together, and I could not do my present job as a psychologist without this journey. If there is anything I lament though, it is that some of this journey sure could have been easier (especially those calls to my trusted advisor) had I developed a strong practice of self-compassion.
Choosing a job or a major in college are understandably difficult things. Given the vast areas available and interesting jobs abound in the world there is so much from which to choose. We often find ourselves meeting with job or major consultants (perhaps professionals, family members, and friends), and the refrain we here the most often is, “Well what are you good at?”
We like these questions you know like we would like to roll down an icy hill in a bathing suit. We respond with stuff like, “I’m good at a lot of stuff,” or “I don’t know what I am good at,” “or won’t they teach me to be good at something at this school or job?” Then, frustration sets in because we feel we are no closer to our goal, but have given up a whole lot of energy and are left with yet a new disappointment. It was bad enough to be worried about not knowing what we should study or do, now we have to worry about being an idiot.
A good deal of meditation and self-compassion work teaches you two things. First, you are not alone. There are (I promise) very real people who are struggling with the same thing right now. If you are asking these questions, you are already heading in the right direction. So, you see you are not dumb; you are actually pretty smart! Second, you cannot demand insight. In fact, most insight will come with time, if you simply trust your brain and your experience.
I know. I know. You must be thinking let me get this straight. You want me to sit there with all this uncertainty and just wait for the a-ha moment to occur. Hey, it works with childbirth (well most of the time), and look what becomes of that! Babies are amazing, but I am not asking you to just sit there and do nothing. That’s not even what meditation is.
Meditation is a good way of explaining how this process works. In meditation, your job is to follow your breath, be aware of what comes up in your body, identify the sensation or feeling connected to it, and allow it to pass. If a theme shows up and you feel that you are able, you can open yourself up to being an interested observer, and see rather than guide your mind in terms of understanding what is actually there. Epiphanies are simply a natural conclusion of this process and occur when it is appropriate to guide your experience the way it needs to go to be meaningful and compassionate.
Life works similarly to meditation in this way. What is most important is that you identify now what fills you up with well being and passion and move towards those things with an action plan. Commit to this plan and be present to these activities, while allowing your understanding of what is absolutely important and necessary for your life to grow naturally.
This process will nurture your self-understanding and help you process what you absolutely need in your life and what you do not. It will also allow your brain to do what it does best, which is to understand the world through patterns and come up the situation that fits you best.
Self-compassion comes in with a steady self-compassion practice to support and bring kindness to your experience while you struggle, at times, to find the vocation or major that fits you best. It also manifests in the patience you will actively bring to your experience with the understanding that important developments take the time that they take, and for their own reasons. Sometimes these reasons are not immediately clear, but other times they are, such as being able to help someone down the road because of knowledge gained through your own similar struggles. Sometimes we struggle because experience is trying to let us know that our current path is not the optimal one.
Here are some secret gains that occur through the self-compassionate approach to vocation and education:
· Trusting in your own process increases self-confidence and self-agency (your ability to manage difficulties).
· Being passionate is contagious. Other people around you will likely be inspired and want to spend more time with you.
· The self-compassion you bring to yourself will free up your resources to seek out mentors. These mentors may not only help you learn and perhaps master different areas of life. They may also become some of your most prized relationships.
· Wherever you end up, you will have diverse experience with which to draw on for your vocation or major, and it will also make for easier conversation amongst new people (this is so helpful when you start a new job, move, go to a new gym, or are looking for romantic or platonic partners).
· Perhaps the best part is that trying new things inevitably leads to challenges, which provide lots of opportunities for self-compassion, and over time you will become a strong self-compassion practitioner (think what this will mean for you, your family, your friends, kids, pets, etc!).
In the end, your path and decisions should reflect your most basic needs- feeling alive, inspired, meaningful, and compensated. Yes, I said compensated. Never sell yourself short. You do not need to walk around with laminated $100 bill wristbands and necklaces, but make sure that you have enough to not be suffering.
Because you are interesting and bound for an interesting life, there will be ups and downs, but that will make for a very human and interesting story that no doubt will inspire and warm us all.
No matter your decision, you are by your very nature, whole, lovable, a tribe member of all human kind, and deserving of compassion and kindness.
365 Days of Kindness. Self-Compassion. Day 29. In the Books.