How to find your joyful professional path

If your professional and educational journey to date has felt boring or unfulfilling, you might believe that you simply don’t have a passion. Perhaps you’ve embraced the mantras that work is about duty over pleasure, ‘no pain no gain’, and to just suck it up until you reach the weekend… or retirement.

On the surface it may seem that your personal and work histories do not reveal anything meaningful or special about your life path. You may not realize that your life history has left behind a trail of breadcrumbs that will help you find your way back home – to the place where work meets pleasure and effort meets ease.

I created a list of questions to help you identify these valuable clues and reflect on your past from fresh and unique angles. Before you start, be mindful that your ego will tempt you to hurry through the questions so you can finally figure it all out. After all, you’ve been waiting for this answer your whole life… Have patience. Don’t let your ego drive this exercise. Tune into your heart.

It’s also critical to discern your voice from the voices of any figures or institutions to whom you’ve pledged allegiance and handed over your personal power. They may have shown up in your life as authorities who always ‘knew best’. Years later you’ve internalized their voices and mistaken them for your own. Check in with yourself periodically to see how others’ expectations of you might be influencing your responses.

Let’s dig in, shall we?

  1. Reflect on any activities you engaged in at work that brought you joy or left you feeling proud, powerful or impactful. These activities may be totally unrelated to your assigned job duties and beyond the scope of your formal responsibilities.
  2. What painful experiences or major lessons have you learned that you now feel eager to teach others about?
  3. What was your favorite course in school? What specific subject matter intrigued you?
  4. What concepts or principles ignite you?
  5. What do you naturally engage in that feels like play?
  6. When do you experience flow? What do you engage in that causes you to lose your sense of time or forget your personal worries?
  7. What types of problems do you tend to attract and are you good at solving?
  8. What do friends, family or co-workers come to you for advice about?
  9. What advice or lessons do you love to dish to others (perhaps ad nauseum!)?
  10. What do you love to read or write about?
  11. What moments of genius have you experienced at or outside of work? What insight did you contribute?
  12. What place of employment or environment did you most enjoy working in, and why? Describe it in detail, including the people, physical appearance of the location, mood, climate, values, etc.
  13. What do you most often talk about with your friends? What subject matters do you feel you can talk about endlessly?
  14. What do others tell you you’re really good at?
  15. If you had to teach a subject matter, what would it be, and who would your students be?

Take your time with this exercise and let it all out! Complete it over the course of several days and be exhaustive as you record your responses. Don’t dismiss seemingly small or trivial details. Remember that you are looking for small breadcrumbs – not the jackpot.

Put your responses aside for a week before reviewing them. With fresh eyes, identify the trends, patterns and themes in your responses. Don’t rely on any one question to reveal everything you need to know about yourself. What clues can you pick up about the type of work you will most enjoy, the type of environment you will thrive in, the type of person you want to help or challenge you want to tackle? Weave it all together and try to come up with a new story, bio, or elevator pitch about you.

Over the course of several days, weeks, or months, open up to further insight from your higher wisdom. Pay close attention to your dreams and to synchronous events and messages in your waking life. Especially take note of the new: Did you attract a new opportunity? Get invited to partake in a new activity? Perhaps a new book or project has come your way?

Rather than chasing after your dream, allow it to come to you. Have faith that this exercise has initiated a powerful process of self-discovery and that you’ll soon find yourself walking on your highest professional path.