Photo: copyright D.W. 2013
Near Montefiridolfi, Tuscany
Lately, I’ve been coaching and mentoring folks who are trying to heed their soul’s call. What would you do if money were no object, i.e. if you could do anything? How would you choose to be? Many of us don’t know. It is hard to imagine from the confines of a job or longstanding career. Perhaps we worry that if we were to blue sky, it would be hard to fit back into the box. Once we imagine, we look at reality differently.
In the passage below, Whyte likens longing to an irresistible “magnetic field“. There is orderliness to ambition; whereas pursuing one’s longing is organic. There is a strong pull and direction, but it unfolds with a certain mystery.
I see so many of us trapped in jobs that don’t feed our souls. For many, they feed the acquisition of more and more things – things to look after that we don’t need. (Of course, there are even more who are truly subsisting on the bare necessities.) “I can’t change careers or take an income cut” is a common refrain, even though they are sure that the job they go to each day is soul-destroying at worst and simply ok at best.
I plugged away at my previous job long past its time. Why? I wanted my family to be financially secure, I said. But I spent more money than required on shoes and clothes, and extravagant holidays. I liked the incredible support of the corporate mother ship, in the form of 2 assistants and a regular paycheque. I equated who I was with what I did. A senior vice-president. Ego.
I am currently “crossing an unknown sea”, as Whyte named his book. I have no title and no assistants. If I travel, I book it all myself. I print directions and write invoices in addition to the soul-satisfying work of coaching and speaking on how to realize potential. Some days, I miss the lack of choice. In corporate land, an executive’s day is not his or her own. I ran from meeting to meeting, and felt ridiculously needed. At home, my cat insistently needs to sit on me. That’s about it.
I am learning how to say no, a completely alien competency. If I listen to what feeds my soul, I find that there are many things that deserve a “no”. If one has time and has always longed to start a business, well, there is time aplenty. If one has always wanted to write, well, the space and empty screen are there. Excuses and barriers are stripped away. All that is left is the longing … and the river.
AMBITION AND LONGING: KNOWING THE DIFFERENCE
Ambition takes willpower and constant applications of energy to stay on a perceived bearing; longing demands a deeper allegiance to unknown elements which are drawing us beyond ourselves, making us larger than an overdrawn, ambitious identity with set, unforgiving goals. The magnetic field of desire in longing demands a constant attention to the unknowngravitational field which surrounds us and from which we eventually find we can recharge ourselves every moment, as if breathing from the atmosphere of possibility itself. Ambition looks for the surface recognition of arrival. Desire and longing shapes the identity as it moves along, refusing to choose between what is looked for on the outside and what might be found on the inside. Longing is the basis of all art forms and even, of the very best explorative science. A life’s work is not a series of stepping-stones onto which we calmly place our feet, but more like the river itself, or an ocean crossing where there is no path, only a heading, a direction, which, of itself, is a conversation with the elements, magnified and made real by what it encounters along the way.”
© David Whyte
‘Crossing the Unknown Sea:
Work as Pilgrimage of Identity’