You’ve just bought an apartment in Tribeca, the most expensive neighborhood in New York City. The interior is lined with furniture from premier brands like Restoration Hardware, Roche Bobois and Edra. Everyday you wake up to the crisp early dusk that sends shivers down your cheek as you lather your face clean with Chanel skincare products. After your morning routine, you dress yourself in whichever designer brand fits your mood—maybe Louis Vuitton for today—and head off to your corporate job on Wall Street.
After a few months of this routine cycle, you decide it’s time for a vacation, and travel backpacking throughout Europe. You leave your normal luxuries behind. Although this was troubling at first, you figure it’d be best to fully immerse yourself in the various cultures. After all, how bad can it be without those items? Soon, you find that it’s not as bad as you thought.
In fact, it’s pretty good.
In fact, this is the happiest you’ve ever been.
Okay, okay, so what’s really going on in this scenario, and how realistic is it? While many of us don’t find ourselves uprooting our entire lifestyle in realization that our material things don’t bring happiness, (although some of us do, like this gentleman who went from living in Dubai to transforming into a “hippie”), most of us have experienced similar sentiments of dissatisfaction in our environment, particularly in work. Even if the job is high paying with plenty of comfortable benefits, many of us feel unfulfilled by our vocations. According to a recent Gallup study, “of America’s 100 million full-time employees, 51 percent aren’t engaged at work — meaning they feel no real connection at their job and tend to do the bare minimum.” Even more disturbingly, many report feeling depressed or ‘burnt out’ by their jobs. Why, if we’re getting our basic needs met, that is the ability to financially provide for food, water, clothing, shelter, i.e., everything necessarily to live comfortably, are so many individuals unfulfilled by their job?
It’s because people have failed to work towards what truly matters: self actualization.
What is Self Actualization?
Self actualization is striving towards one’s fullest potential. As psychologist Joaquín puts it in Positive Psychology Program, “Self actualization is not about making the most money or becoming the most famous person in the world. Instead, self actualization is about reaching one’s personal potential, whether that means becoming a painter, a politician, a philosopher, a teacher, or anything else.” It is not simply being good at something, it is being good at what one is best suited to doing. Christians refer to this as ‘God’s calling’ or His ‘plan for them’ while someone less religious may describe it as ‘trade’, ‘fitted’, work they were ‘born to do’, etc. As the father of self actualization theory, Abraham Maslow, so eloquently phrases it:
“A musician must make music, an artist must paint, a poet must write, if he is to ultimately be at peace with himself. What a man can be, he must be.”
Breaking self actualization down into a ‘calling’ is still vague, and doesn’t really help anyone find their own. A calling can refer to a broad number of things, and varies by individual. For teachers, their calling may be serving and nurturing future generations, hence why teaching is most adequate for them. For lawyers, defining and maintaining justice may be their best fit, you get the point. So how do you find your calling? In other words, how do you figure out you?
Finding Your Calling
If you Google this exact topic right now (finding your calling), you’ll get 253,000,000 results from rich sources like Forbes and Oprah. The advice will range from simple tasks like patience and reflection, to more passionate flings like traveling the world. But, I will tell you exactly why you shouldn’t trust any of this advice. Sorry, Oprah.
It’s because if you have to Google how to find what makes you happy, you are already setting yourself up for failure.
If you can’t tell me right now what makes you unmistakably happy, then exit this article, turn off your device, and go. Go to a loved one, outside, your favorite coffee shop, just go somewhere. Go be alone, go be in community, go with whatever your gut tells you. By the way, ‘gut feeling’ isn’t just a meaningless expression, you actually have more neurons in your gut than your brain, so trust your gut and explore!
…After all that’s done… then return to this article (please).
I know what makes me happy… now what?
So you figured out what makes you happy. Now you have to quit your job and live on the road doing just that, right? Wrong. You can still maintain your career even if it’s not exactly in line with what makes you happy. All you’ll need to do is channel that now realized self actualizing topic into a place where you can consistently practice it.
A great way to healthily channel your passions is by doing pro bono work.
Like volunteering, pro bono work is working free of charge. The difference between pro bono work and volunteering however is that working pro bono actually utilizes your own unique strengths. By taking up small gigs, or as some may call them, ‘passion projects‘, you get to exercise the part of your brain that requires fulfillment/purpose to achieve happiness. But, since working pro bono usually entails quick gigs, especially when done through JoeProBono.com, the online platform that matches experienced professionals willing to work for free with those in need of assistance, you can still have time for your actual career (y’know, the one that puts the bread on the table).
Overall, if your career matches up to what makes you happy, and causes you to be self actualized, great! If not, don’t worry. There are plenty of ways to pursue your purpose that don’t require you to leave the career you’ve probably worked so tirelessly for, and my favorite way is without a doubt by doing pro bono work. What’s your favorite way? Let us know!