Do you dread being asked, “What do you do?”

Or maybe you see others excited about their job and wonder if there is something wrong with you because you don’t feel that way.

What you know for sure is that you want your work to mean something or at least be more enjoyable every day.

But it feels overwhelming on how to make that happen.

There is a lot of push that tells us we should be chasing after or searching hard for our passion, purpose, “calling”, or other loaded labels that are used. What if that advice is backwards?

As Terri Trespicio expertly conveys in this TED Talk,
“To live a life full of meaning and value you don’t follow your passion, your passion follows you.”

I believe the work that we would most enjoy changes as we change. Our passion is not always something that stays the same and “faking until we make it” only makes us more confused. 

Our passions will change based on what happens to us and around us in our daily lives. ​Our job is to pay more attention.

What has made this lesson crystal clear for me?
Three near-death experiences.

​By sharing these stories with you below, I am hoping that you can see that it it is time to let go of some of that pressure you are putting on yourself. 

It is okay to stop putting so much energy into planning out every step of your future or beating yourself up over what has or has not happened yet in your career.

​Instead, give yourself permission to start listening to what your mind, body, and spirit are trying to show you in your life right now. From what I have experienced, that is how more work that lights you up will follow you.

Almost Slipping Away

The first time I almost died, thankfully someone caught me before I went over the edge. I was in college and exploring in some dense woods on a trail. We came across a huge mountain of rubble that seemed out of place. It was piled up at least seven or eight stories high. The explorer in me dared us both to climb to the top. 

We raced eagerly up the pile of unbalanced stones and reached the top, acting like superheroes. I did not notice how close I was to the edge and lost my balance. 

I started to slip over the top of the rocks, but by some miracle my friend’s quick instincts went into gear. He caught my hand at the last second. I remember the thick film of dust and dirt that clouded what I could see as I held on. My breathing seemed far away as he yanked my arm. Every part of me was scraping upwards across the rocks. I could hear my heart beat loudly in my ears and I thought my arm was going to break from the strong, desperate tugging.

Somehow we worked together to get me back up. I was finally safe again. It was the first time I realized at my core that at any moment our time here could be up. 

It got me thinking at a deeper level than I had before about my purpose. About what value I had to offer the world. I had lost a friend that year to a car accident and another the year before to mental illness. Why did I get to be saved?  

This new appreciation for life made me get into action instead of rethinking and overanalyzing my next steps. I felt accountable. I felt there was no time to waste anymore. 

I stopped living on automatic mode and began putting my full attention into what I was doing. ​

Healing From Pain

The second time I got brought to the edge was in a different way. Years later, on a frigid day in December, while making a left turn, I was sideswiped by a huge Chevy truck who ran a red light. I blacked out as my head crashed into the side window of my small Toyota Tercel.   

I was rushed to a trauma hospital and arrived as a “code yellow”–way too close to the even scarier “code blue” that means you are flatlining. Again, a higher force and incredible surgeons intervened and I escaped in much better condition than most may have from such a brutal car wreck.

My car after the almost fatal crash

I had to go through a lot of follow up surgeries, three years of physical therapy, and emotional healing to be able to even just drive again. One thing that helped my recovery was that I learned my boyfriend at the time (now my husband) had Vietnamese aunts who practiced an incredible healing practice. They introduced me to Reiki, a Japanese stress-relieving relieving method that uses energy work. 

Two or three times a week they would offer this soothing stress relief of Reiki to me. While my wounds became less painful and transformed into scars, I could feel myself also changing on another, deeper level. Through this discovery, I became fascinated with the healing arts and sought out an incredible teacher to gain my Reiki certifications.

I paid more attention to the spark I felt when I studied or performed Reiki on myself or others. I later followed that strong interest and completed graduate school in a counseling program that offered courses in well-being. I studied and learned about all kinds of stress reduction methods and how to help others find work that they enjoy.

​I did not know at the time that these subjects would lead me to a career path that I now love. I just knew I wanted to keep giving them my full attention.

       Suffering Through Illness

My third experience with brushing too close to the other side involved a rare illness. I’m normally a very healthy person but a couple of years ago, my body started signaling to me that the pace I was keeping was not healthy.

I ignored it.

I was a successful manager of employment centers and training my staff to be incredible supports to jobseekers and career changers. The work was in line with my values and what I was strong at doing. Over time, the 1.5 hour commute, senior management politics, and other negativity there were becoming toxic to me on several levels. 

I wish I had not dismissed the signs that were trying to point me towards making a needed change in my career.

​One day, I found myself being admitted into a hospital intensive care unit. The doctors said I was battling a rare case of meningitis. It was a close call at one point and I was in much pain. My husband was only allowed to visit me in scrubs and I had no choice but to completely put my life on hold for several weeks.

My husband beside my hospital bed trying to keep my scary health situation positive

Finally, I had to listen to this loud, terrible, in my face wake-up call. 

            As Elizabeth Gilbert says in her podcast Magic Lessons (episode 201), 

“If your body and your mind are breaking down, you are not where you are suppose to be.”

I could no longer deny the costs of my “successful” career. It finally became clear that I wanted, no I actually NEEDED, to do something more authentically me and work in a better environment.

I found out later that my boss and one of his relatives had been ill with meningitis. I may have picked up the illness from that exposure. But I also think that I became more vulnerable to getting meningitis because I got used to feeling stressed and overworked. It was a “norm” in my field that I thought I had to put up with.

Not paying attention to the warning signs cost me so much energy, time, and suffering.

My salary, benefits, and reputation were incredible, but I was paying too high a price to my well-being and family life.

Breaking up with the lifestyle and identity that were wrapped around that job was hard to do. ​Thankfully, my husband literally held my hand as I pushed the “send” button on my resignation email.

​I wondered for awhile why my soul had not gotten the message sooner that my mind, body, and spirit were no longer thriving in my work environment.

I know now that I had let my attention slip to the wrong things. All the external signs of “success” such as getting promoted, receiving awards, and increasing salary had been keeping me distracted from what really matters.

Where Passion Finds Me Now

All of these moments of being so near the end of this life were scary. But I also received the gift of knowing where to put more of my attention.

When we think passion has to be something we follow instead of the other way around, it causes us more struggle. This leads to loosing a work-life balance, good health, and often sight of what really matters the most.

There is an easier way to attract work that lights us up.

As a holistic career coach, I get the privilege of helping twenty and thirty-somethings discover that work they enjoy is closer than they may see. Sometimes, after starting coaching sessions with me, they do choose to leave their current work. Other times, the professional support helps them discover new ways to make their current situation better.

Either way, my clients end up happier and healthier at work. That result is priceless and is where I want to keep putting more of my full attention. 

One day life may present more challenges. These changes might direct my passion to follow me into work that goes in a different direction. I am more mindful now to recognize the subtle signs of this happening before they have to become loud, damaging warning bells.

Your turn: It can be hard figuring out how to align with more enjoyable work. Worries about the future, mistakes about our past, or other negativity often takes our attention. What is one action you can take this week to boost your happiness at work?