the art of finding your calling
The potential of our own creativity is rapidly being compromised by the era we live in. I believe that genius in the 21st century will be attributed to people who are able to unplug from the constant state of reactionary workflow, reduce their amount of insecurity work, and allow their minds to solve the great challenges of our era. Brilliance is so rare because it is always obstructed, often by the very stuff that keeps us so busy. — Scott Belsky
I went to hear Gabrielle Bernstein and Mastin Kipp speak to a packed room of mostly women, mostly young. During the Q & A a dark-haired beauty stood up in the second row and asked: what do you do in the meantime when you’re still trying to find your Purpose? How do you find your Purpose?
(Yes, this is the kind of scene where people talk about ‘spirit’ and use the word purpose with a capital P. If you’re not into that vocab, I get it, but bear with me.)
She said she was doing the soul-searching and writing in her journal and taking action to explore different things and opening herself up to be receptive and letting things come to her. She said she was “praying on it”. But what should she do?
“Everything you’re already doing,” Gabby said instantly. “You answered your own question. You’re doing your spiritual practice – “ She snapped her fingers. “Deepen your spiritual practice! That’s your Purpose right now! See, spirit is speaking through me, from me to you, and now you know. That’s your Purpose.” She beamed.
I liked this answer. Maybe you don’t officially believe in god(dess)– I consider myself to be an atheist – but you can think of a spiritual practice as a creative practice. It’s when you carve out time each day to tap into the “internal guidance system” as Gabby put it: the enigmatic underside of your mind that doesn’t deal in words but sends up messages like flares: hunches, dreams, images, gut feelings, all forms of an intuitive and nonverbal intelligence that lives in your heart and stomach as well as your head.
In his book THE CLICK MOMENT, Frans Johannson has a chapter called “The Twilight of Logic”. In a world that’s changing so quickly – and when the speed of change itself is speeding up – planning for the future becomes problematic. The rules are too random. And the same logic that is apparent to you is also apparent to all the other guys, which means that everybody ends up doing the same things — which means that logic is no longer a competitive advantage.
If you have an English degree and you don’t know what to do with your life, it makes a lot of sense to go to law school. You can graduate along with everybody else who had the equally good sense to go to law school. You can then enter a job market so flooded with lawyers that now there aren’t enough jobs for them, let alone genuine career tracks.
As Johannson points out:
“Your chances of success actually drop when you analyze the market and try to predict what you need to succeed. Because logic led people to conclude that law school was a great way to become successful, law school became the exact opposite.”
So what’s the alternative?
Do something magical.
“There is really only one answer,” says Johannson, “it has to be an approach that is not logical, however strange that may sound.”
This is where the X factor comes in. Luck. Serendipity. The click moment: that moment of insight, that creative leap, that changes everything. When Diane Von Furstenberg thought up the wrap dress. When Apple came out with the iPod. When Stephenie Meyer dreamed into being the plot and characters of TWILIGHT.
Johannson talks in terms of big, career-defining, category-reinventing ‘click moments’, but what if a life can also be composed of small ‘click moments’ — one after another after another — that build on each other…and open up into something amazing?
How can you prepare yourself, in the course of daily life, to have those moments as often as possible?
Creativity builds on itself. It’s like links in a chain. Each link hooks off the other — off the other — off the other until you’ve made it to the opposite shore.
But you can’t get to that final link until you’ve progressed along all the ones preceding it.
It’s the unknowing that’s scary. I deal with this as a writer of fiction; I wrestle it to the ground (except when I don’t). No matter how extensively you outline, there is – at least for me – that sense of groping through the dark with barely enough light to see by. When the characters start talking, when the story starts lifting its head off the screen, I realize all over again that the world of an outline – a plan – is fixed and unchanging. The world of a story is not.
But even so, there’s enough light to see by.
And you can make the whole journey that way.
Creative intelligence is an intuitive intelligence. It speaks to you in a way that doesn’t seem logical at the time – that often seems to go against logic. You’ve got the chain in your hand but ahead of you it vanishes into darkness: where the hell is it leading you?
If creativity, as Steve Jobs so famously said, is a matter of connecting the dots, then the logic of those connections can only appear after the fact. That’s when it seems both obvious and inevitable. But before they connect, they’re just a bunch of random dots — and everybody else cocks their head at you and wonders what you’re doing. You wonder what you’re doing.
Gabby Bernstein made this point when she told the young woman (and the audience) why logic alone isn’t enough to find your Purpose. She offered Mastin and herself as examples: as “inspirational motivational type humans,” as Mastin referred to them, they are bestselling authors and A-list bloggers, they speak at sold-out events, they have followings that number in the hundreds of thousands.
“But our career paths made no sense,” Gabby stressed. “There’s no way we could have planned it all out in our heads. We could only do it by doing.” They moved forward action by action, link by link, responding to the moment, leaning into what worked and felt right, building on what came before. They were learning deeply and developing mastery — and they were also improvising. No matter how it might have looked to others, they had direction. Each day, they were tapping into their intuitive intelligence.
They didn’t know where it was leading them, but they managed to keep the faith.
In her book IMPROV WISDOM, Patricia Ryan Madson talks about creativity as a process of surrender rather than control. She invokes Eastern notions of art in which
“the artist is considered the servant of the muses, not their master. The artist shows up, practices carefully the strokes or steps, and then humbly takes his place as channel, as shepherd for the images to be brought forth. Ideas, songs, poems, paintings come through the individual but are not thought to be of him.”
Which is why a central maxim of improv is Don’t prepare
“…which really means to let go of our ego involvement in the process. When we give up the struggle to show off our talent, a natural wisdom can emerge…All of our past experience, all that we have ever known, prepares us for this moment.”
Which is another way of saying:
A big part of the battle is just showing up.
Day after day after day.
As, you know, a practice.
When you decide that your purpose is finding your purpose, you set your intention. And that thing is powerful. It directs the focus of your undermind, which co-creates your reality according to what it decides to bring to your conscious attention — and what to ignore.
When you carve out time each day to do some kind of creative practice, something that slows the chatter of the conscious mind and downshifts you into those relaxed, creative brain waves, you are creating the conditions that enable your purpose (of finding your purpose).
You open the door for your purpose to enter.
You show up.
And it’s possible that your Purpose will arrive in a flash of blinding revelation – cue the music of angels, or a really transcendent house DJ – but I think that’s rare.
I think your Purpose builds on itself over time.
It’s the voice in your head, sometimes so soft it’s easy to shunt aside, but keeps nagging you to Write that email. Read that book. Go to that seminar. Check out volunteer opportunities at that nonprofit. Go on that trip. Call that friend.
It’s that heightened attunement to the messages your own unconscious sends you by signaling out details in your environment that seem to relate to your inner life in an uncanny way. They must be carrying secret messages for you – and they are. (Otherwise known as synchronicity.)
Each action you take opens up into another action. Each action causes new things to happen that alters your environment in some way and gives you something new to work with or respond to.
No matter how lost you think you are, that inner sense of guidance is the chain you can grab to get to the other side. There might be just barely enough light to see by. But it’s enough. That’s the thing. It’s enough.