A friend recently lost the job he’d held for a decade.
He’d tolerated things for a long time. Bullies. Mismanagement. Poor leadership. So when he got laid off, he felt both relief and shock.
When I asked why he’d stayed so long, he said, “I liked the work itself when I got left alone to do it.”
It’s been a couple of months since the layoff notice. He was calling for some coaching and to say he’s excited about a new project he’s working on. Led by a nationally known leader in the field he most wants to pursue, he’s seeing some red flags. In a few weeks of work, he’s given away hours of uncompensated time. His gut’s telling him, all will not be right if he takes on a full time job with the project.
We talked about the pros and cons.
“I’m being myself in this work. I can’t recall the last time I felt I could be myself in my workplace.”
I asked, “Why did you think you could not be yourself in your other jobs?” He paused. Then he offered a list of reasons:
- He was not sure where else he could find work.
- It’s hard to find work in the region where he lives.
- He felt he had a good job that supported a living.
- The work was in a field he likes.
- He felt he was making a contribution.
I asked, what did he love to do as a child? How or what did he play?
“Oh, I don’t even have to think about that. As soon as I got home from school I played teacher. That’s all I wanted to be.”
Then came the buts:
- But I did not see myself in the classroom.
- I did not want to get a teacher’s license.
- I didn’t …
I stopped him.
“Why did you narrow your thinking so much about what it means to teach? Could you imagine yourself teaching in some other ways? For example, could you be ‘teaching’ in the arena you most want to commit to working to change?
He drew in a breath. “Oh, I’m feeling so emotional!” His response gave him a vital clue to explore further as he sorts out his choices and next steps.
Each one of us knows down deep that we have a call, an urge, our core identity that wants come alive — our truest self.
And each one of us gets to ‘author’ our life story. Our essential task is to quiet our doubts and demons so we can honor our longing and desires. Too often we allow our inner bully to talk us out of what we know is right for us. We let our doubts stop us. It’s our essential self who knows the answer to these key questions:
What is it only I can do because of who I am? What’s not going to get done unless I do it?
Now my friend is “sitting” in his place of rediscovery, this muddy place he’s known for so long. He’s navigating a transition. He can choose again whether he will listen to his true, clear voice.
Claiming this clarity of purpose brings him alive, surfaces his strengths. Puts them to use in the cause of making a good life for himself, while making the world better, too.
I’m eager for him to call back with an update. I’m betting his next steps will move him closer to his deep longing to be the unselfconscious teacher who holds the rapt attention of his students. Those students eagerly await his arrival to teach in their “classroom,” wherever that may be.
Happy he chose to respond to the urgent call to be exactly who he is.
Catherine Reid Day, founder of Storyslices, speaks, teaches and writes on the topic “Identity, Longing and Desire: Four Pathways to a Larger Life.”
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