Meaningful Work

I have been spending a great deal of time these last months thinking about my passions, what is important to me and how these things fit into my future. The thing is, I have had a great many “titles” in this life. And sometimes that makes it difficult to draw a straight line through all of the various identities and ventures. And without drawing some sort of line, it’s a hard thing to envision a future that still connects with those things that have been deeply me.

I don’t know about you, but I tend to move from idea to idea, responding when it seems just right enough to explore. Sure, sure, I know what things I don’t want to explore more in depth, but the range of things I could be interested in is pretty large.

A friend lent me Parker Palmer’s Let Your Life Speak about a decade ago when I was questioning my vocation. I had sort of hung up my hat as a performing musician and was working with my first wife to grow our graphic design and branding company. I was in a liminal space, in between the here and the there. While I enjoyed the work of graphic design, I didn’t find it as meaningful as I had found my time with music and speaking.

Palmer has such a gentle writing voice (and speaking voice as I would learn later), so he was easy to trust. I connected with most everything he offered, so I let him be my guide.

Before I can tell my life what I want to do with it, I must listen to my life telling me who I am. ― Parker J. Palmer

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The process of going into myself (and into yourself!) requires quiet. We move at such a frantic pace that we hardly take note of who we are and what moves us. Hell, I can hardly remember what I said an hour ago, let alone with I was saying 10 years ago.

So quietly, I tried to remember who I had been in different phases of my life. What could put them all together in a nice bundle?

Between my many ventures of being a performing musician, a communicator, a business owner and now a winemaker, I began to see that I only ignited my passion when I felt that the venture was meaningful. Now that word could mean different things to different people, but for me, it has to do with Palmer’s definition of vocation: Something that is tied to me deeply and uniquely. It has to be a part of who I am.

At first, I saw in myself a deep desire to create things. Good! I found something. I am a creative/creator. That wasn’t much of an aha moment, so I dug more deeply. It wasn’t enough to merely create, I had to then present my creation for others. Boom! Okay, so I like to communicate, get the word out and inspire others toward creative living.

But then I looked even deeper. Underneath that last part, the “inspire others toward creative living”, I saw a string that connected the dots. I like to help people experience their own aha moments. To help them explore the assumptions about themselves and their world. And then to help them move in a direction that is true for them.

Go into yourself. Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its roots into the very depths of your heart; confess to yourself whether you would have to die if you were forbidden to write. — Rainer Maria Rilke

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Rilke has been another guide for me. His deep longing for meaning in this world and a connection to his creator felt so familiar to me. While I do not live a necessarily religious life, I have always loved the romantic idea of a deity who calls us his/her child, cares for us, is there every step of the way and also asks us to grow up and be better humans. (I fear that last part has not been a widely-believed aspect of current deities unfortunately.)

When I first came across this particular letter from Rilke to a young student, I understood what he was asking, but I didn’t have any specific thing that would make me die if I could not do it. I had done so many things, so I could always just try something new!

There it is, the question: What must you do?

When I left my life of being a traveling musician, I didn’t pick up the guitar in my spare time. It hung on the wall. A souvenir of a life lived. And this didn’t make me sad. Sure, I love music, but it wasn’t something I must do. And that’s okay.

But what I must do is create. What I must do is share. What I must do is be part of aha moments for myself and others. What I must do is meaningful work.

And so I realized, yes, I could do anything, true, but only if I could integrate my own creative perspective (dare I say, my soul?) into it.

So for you, what is it you must do? Begin by threading your life together, but don’t get too caught up in the particulars of a role; instead dig a little deeper and see where your true passion and wisdom lives. And go from there. You got this. It’s all right there. Everything you need, you have. I promise. Just give yourself some quiet and see what you come up with.