Photo Credit: Smart, Unsplash.com

I’ve encountered this question at a few different times in my life. It’s led me both into and out of connection with myself, purpose, and fulfillment on multiple occasions.

Asked early on in my education and career, it led me away from creative pursuits and expressions that I had passion for and towards more “responsible” directions like marketing and business.

Not long into that responsible career, this question led me out of the corporate world and into entrepreneurship, and then a whole host of decisions that simultaneously paid off and put me on a collision course with burn out and a lack of fulfillment.

There was an instruction–a starting point–that I was missing in asking this question and I only found it years later. And I’ve found through the many interviews I’ve conducted on the One Idea Away podcast, that I wasn’t alone in what I was experiencing or in what I was uncovering.

Peter Matthies, the founder of the Conscious Business Institute, shared a similar story and journey. Matthies found himself on a good career path, with opportunities and growth continuing to present themselves. He was doing quite well and yet “there was always this persistent itch that I couldn’t get to . . . this yearning, this dissatisfaction, this knowing that something wasn’t quite right.”

I’ve heard highly successful people ask this question near the pinnacle of their careers, “Is this really what you want to do with your life?” While also hearing other versions of “what am I doing with my life?” asked by those experiencing the valleys of life and career. This question (and its various forms) comes regardless.

A Question of Purpose or Connection–It’s Still a Similar Theme

Matthies refers to this as an epidemic of purpose (or lack thereof). I describe it as a crisis of disconnection (from our essential selves and each other), but it all points to a similar theme: are you living in alignment with and expressing the true, authentic nature of who you are?

Partly through good intentions and partly through handed-down expectations of what’s best, our families, educators, and society influence and condition us to be a certain way and know what we’re “supposed” to do in this world and life. We respond to these expectations because it’s what connects us to what we believe is love, recognition, validation, and a path to happiness.

And yet, these societal norms and choices get us to conform to an image of life that isn’t our own, that we haven’t intentionally or consciously chosen for ourselves.

There’s no class in school that teaches us how to uncover who we really are or asks us how we wish to connect to and express that part of ourselves in our lives and work. We wind our way through jobs and relationships, doing what we believe is right, only to continually find that persistent itch that we can’t quite get to—not realizing we need to turn within, to turn into ourselves, and stop moving to what’s next to do or what’s expected of us.

And that leads me to the instruction, the starting point, I’d been missing—that Matthies too, found on his journey. That instruction?

To Stay.

Most days I would (and will) tell you the key to all this is awareness—and I do believe that; but it was only when I realized that to connect to the awareness that would open my eyes wide, I had to be willing to stay in the experience I was having long enough without trying to change it, avoid it, distract myself from it, fight it, or simply keep too busy to know it was there.

Staying is a courageous, powerful, and life-transforming (perhaps even liberating) practice and instruction.

. . . to stay with the stress, discomfort, and even unhappiness so that, as opposed to blocking or diluting it in any way, you acknowledge it and see the part of you that’s calling out for attention.

. . . to stay with the experience so that you truly feel what’s there to be felt. It’s like bearing witness to your own self and experience without the need to fix anything in that moment. Do that, stay present with that experience in this way, and it’ll thank you for truly seeing it.

. . . to stay with the energy that’s rising and swirling and not with the stories that attach themselves to this energy as a means of explaining, rationalizing, justifying, or easing the experience. The story’s just an interpretation, a convenient way to make you believe it makes sense according to your ongoing inner dialogue. Instead, just stay with the energy, let the story and need to act right then pass, and you’ll observe how the energy rises, crests, and falls and settles just like every wave ultimately does in the sea.

. . . to stay with the question and not fall for the first answers that surface because you know those are the easy to access ones–the ones that’ll fall in line with your usual internal narrative. You’re looking to explore, to uncover, to excavate the insights and wisdom that lie close to the center of who you are.

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything.”

~ Ranier Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

Staying allows us to more fully experience what’s present for us, to see it more clearly, and to allow it to move through us. When we don’t stay with our experience and instead avoid or deny it, unresolved fragments will stay with us, impacting what we see, experience, and also choose going forward.

We may think we’re supporting ourselves by moving on to the next thing more quickly or by keeping busy because that’s what we’re supposed to and need to do; but it’ll catch up with us, asking “What are you doing with your life?”

Staying doesn’t mean being passive and not taking action. It’s simply that the time for choices and action comes after you’ve stayed with, witnessed, and genuinely acknowledged your experience. This staying could take a few minutes, a few days, a few weeks, or more. It depends what you’re experiencing and what you’re meant to connect to at that time.

Ultimately, you’ll feel a sense of release and relief. Perhaps even a calmness or peace will set in. You may find new understanding has emerged. Or you may just find that you’re able to move forward more clarity and confidence without allowing unsettled or disruptive energy to dictate your next choice or direction.

Do Yourself a Favor: Get a Coach, a Guide, or Be In Community

As we go on this journey of uncovering, we’ll peel back many layers getting ever closer to revealing the essence of who we are and meeting life from that place. It’ll have its ups and downs.

It can even untether us from so much of what we think we know and hold onto. That untethering’s a key step of answering these questions for yourself—to untether and walk away from the answers you know, that you’ve been taught or learned to this point, and look for the answers that resonate deeply within you. You’ll know the truth in those answers when you feel, as Matthies described, “like I’ve come home again.”

In those times of untethering, uncertainty, of staying with the uncomfortable experiences, that’s when you’re going to wish you had a lifeline—so don’t wait for those moments to come. If you’re facing big questions of purpose and meaning, potentially significant transitions, or even remaking aspects of your life to be in greater alignment with your values and self-expression, then work with a professional coach who has the experience to support you in the process.

You can also support yourself by finding a community or small group you can really trust and be open with. This journey can feel very lonely and isolating, and yet whenever we realize that we’re not the first or only ones to go through it, that we aren’t alone, it makes the road ahead just a little bit easier and less scary. You could travel this journey and face these challenges alone, but you don’t have to.

Hear more from Peter Matthies on the One Idea Away Podcast!

Photo Credit: Smart, Unsplash.com