The full article appears in Kindred Spirit Summer Special, issue 138.
What is my calling? What is truly worth achieving? How can I be of service to the world? Psychologist Sarah Rozenthuler has the answers.
Finding our heart’s desire is, I believe, the key to a joyful and fulfilling life. When we don’t have a mission, we become stuck, stale or soggy. When we connect with our deeper purpose, we are propelled to move forward with greater confidence, excitement and ease. We not only energise ourselves, we inspire – and serve – each other.
The happiest people I know are those that have found a noble purpose and keep on moving towards it. Neale Donald Walsch, author of the best-selling Conversations with God books, is a great example of someone who has given himself a grand purpose, a glorious assignment and a mission that will never end. He can also articulate it in just seven words. Neale’s purpose is to change the world’s mind about God.
The raison d’être of Neale is to create a new cultural story about Life (a word he regards as interchangeable with God). Neale wants to shift our thinking about how life functions and the purpose behind it all. Why? Because he believes that out of this will emerge a new idea about ourselves and a new thought about ourselves in relationship to each other. We might then, individually and collectively, experience more peace on earth and good will among us.
Neale has certainly changed my own perspective about God. Having been a skeptical and struggling Catholic and then an anxious and angry atheist, the Conversations with God cosmology has enriched my life and relationships in a truly transformative way. There is now peace where there was turmoil, trust where there was angst and abundance where there was scarcity. I am deeply grateful for Neale’s clarity of purpose and dedication to live it out.
How, then, do I establish a purpose for myself? If having an expansive life purpose is the juice that nourishes me, how can I find a reason for living? What can I do to create a more meaningful life? Having sat with these questions myself for over twenty years, I offer three suggestions below.
A skinny 17 year old
In my book Life-Changing Conversations I tell the story of how a short conversation with my Mum changed the course of my life forever. I was a skinny 17-year-old, taking my A-level exams. I’d spent the previous four years agonizing over which degree I was going to take − a decision that my parents had told me would affect the rest of my life. I had an offer from the University of Nottingham to read architecture, a subject that I’d selected at the tender age of 13. I’d chosen my A-level subjects in maths and science to support this decision, even though I was more of an artistic type at heart.
The evening before my final exam, the dinner conversation took an unexpected turn. My mum looked at me across the table and said:
‘I don’t think you really want to study architecture, do you?’
I was astounded. I thought I’d known for years what I wanted to be when I grew up. ‘What makes you say that?’, I asked slowly.
‘Well’, Mum continued carefully, ‘Whenever I bring up the subject of you going to Nottingham, you don’t want to talk about it. I know you’ll enjoy university so the only thing I can put it down to is that you don’t want to study architecture’.
I was lost for words. I left the dinner table and went upstairs to my room. Closing my algebra books, I put away all my revision notes and sat at my desk staring out of the window. As my breathing slowed down, I could feel my shoulders drop and my whole being relax. I thought about how being an architect had really been my dad’s dream. I admitted to myself how hopeless I was at three-dimensional geometry, how hard I found technical drawing and how much more interested I was in people than in floor plans. I was no more an architect than I was an engineer, my dad’s chosen profession, which he often said lacked the creative outlet he needed.
As I sat there, poised on the edge of my adult life, I felt the truth of my mum’s words pulsing inside me. She had voiced something I’d known but hadn’t known that I’d known. I felt my heart lift as I realized that I didn’t want to become an architect after all. As I watched the sun slip below the skyline, little did I know that, as a result of a short talk with my mum, my life would fork down a different path entirely.
That conversation proved to be a turning point. Without it, I’d never have switched to studying psychology, specialized in occupational psychology or become a dialogue consultant. I wouldn’t have written this article, you wouldn’t be reading it and there would probably be a few more quirky buildings in some corner of the world. This episode, which happened more than twenty-five years ago, also illuminated some valuable insights into living your heart’s calling.
Listen to your heart
Your heart is a brilliant barometer. When something energises you, pay attention. If your heart lifts at the thought of making that job application, going for that interview or setting up your own business, stay tuned. Lightness of heart is a green light that says, ‘Walk this way’. Ask yourself, ‘What door might be opening here? What would I really love to happen? What could I do to help myself move forward?’
When you feel heavy-hearted, take note too. This is valuable data that something might be off-track in your life. Instead of ignoring it (as I did for the four years before my Mum intervened), listen to what the heaviness is telling you. Other signs that you might be wandering off your path include a health crisis, feeling depressed or simply being restless.
Our journey through has been compared to the flight path of an aeroplane. A plane spends most of its time slightly off-track. The job of the pilot is to take notice and course correct. This requires some monitoring. Our heart is the biggest dial we have on the dashboard of our life. Heaviness in our heart is a red light flashing. Ask yourself, ‘What change is needed? What might I have to let go of? How can I create some space for myself?’
Find out more: Sarah Rozenthuler is a professional psychologist, leadership consultant and author of Life-Changing Conversations: 7 Strategies to Help You Talk About What Matters Most. www.sarahrozenthuler.com