How to Find Your Thing

thinkerBased on the title of this post, you might think that it’s going to be a revelatory piece on sexual exploration. If it were, it would go something like this:

Step 1: Stick your hand down the front of your pants.
Step 2: Keep going until you find “your thing.”

Instead, what I really want to talk about is how to find your calling, or rather how to get your hands out of your pants long enough for “it” to find you.

Actually, I’m not even sure that’s true; I don’t think you have to find “it” or let “it” find you, because – from my own experience as someone who teeters perpetually on the edge of an existential crisis – “it” was never lost. It’s just that my thinking, analyzing, ruminating mind has never shut up long enough to actually hear what is calling.

You see, I’m a thinker. Much like Rodin’s famous piece of the same name, I like to sit around (mostly in pants, though) and ponder the meaning of life – both my life and the meaning of life in general. I think about a lot of stuff – from the relationship between reincarnation and epigenetics to what I’m going to eat for dinner. (If it’s Tuesday night, it’s pizza night.)

My favorite thing to think about, though, is: “What the hell am I doing with my life?”

As you can imagine, this is a colossal waste of time: first of all, I’m actually doing great stuff with my life! I have some of the most amazing friends, colleagues, and clients you could imagine. I’m teaching, connecting, mentoring, coaching, and writing. But the problem is that my brain has been searching for the meaning of my life for so long that sometimes it just doesn’t know when it’s got a good thing going.

That sense of being separated from my “thing” – my calling, you pervert – has been my life’s go-to feeling for so long that I’m not sure what it would feel like to function without it. Heck, I’m not even sure I have ever actually taken the time to learn the real language of what has been calling me! Instead, I’ve been walking around, like a stranger in France, claiming, “Je ne parle pas français,” when, in fact, I’ve been fluent in the language of my calling all along (which clearly has a French accent). However, I have never shut up the infernal chatter of my brain long enough to interpret what is being said.

Now, if you’ve been hanging in with me so far, my hunch is that you either have nothing better to do than to read my ramblings or you are seriously picking up what I am putting down. If the former is true: you’re right – this is the place to be. And if the latter is true: I’m going to guess that you resonate with this urgent, pervasive feeling that something is calling you and, yet, also feel like you have no idea what “it” is or how to figure “it” out.

For those of us plagued by that seemingly unquenchable yearning for a divinely guided and deliberately purposeful life, the truth is that we are receiving guidance all the time – through every hunch, sign, synchronicity, or that tingly feeling when we see a shirtless photo of Christian Bale. Our life has been speaking to us in the language of “our thing” all this time, but we’ve been too busy thinking about our thing and doubting that we’ll ever find it to notice that we’ve been receiving messages about it all along. We want the certainty and clarity of what’s calling us to be like a giant smack in the face and unless we get that smack, we feel unreconciled and adrift in longing. Oh, Christian. I’ll wait for you.

As Gregg Levoy says in the aptly titled, Callings: Finding and Following an Authentic Life, “There is such a thing as thinking too much about a calling.” Boy howdy. It’s this constant worrying, wondering, yearning, poking, and pondering that pulls me from being fully present to what calls me, which ultimately means I end up missing it through the addiction to its pursuit. Ironic isn’t it? The very pursuit of “finding our thing” can paradoxically distract us from ever connecting with our heart’s desire.

So how do we stop the lurid siren song of our busy, maddening minds?Excellent question. I am so glad you asked. Have a cookie.

The first thing we can do is clear up some of the long-standing cultural misconceptions that “your thing” has to be how you make money in the world. I mean, just because I’ve got mad pole-dancing skills doesn’t mean I have to become a stripper. (Or does it?) Your thing may not be a way of “doing” in the world at all, but rather a way of being in the world. Maybe you want to be more peaceful, more loving, more connected, or more forgiving. Maybe you want to learn how to listen more and talk less. (Weird.) Maybe you want to be, as Rumi says, “A Mighty Kindness” in the world. Or hike more. Make music. Carve wood. Save the orangutans. Or just be a better pole-dancer. (Pole-dancing orangutan? Why not?)

When it comes to hearing – really, truly hearing what calls us – money (or more specifically the fear of not having it) is what stops us dead in our tracks. In the words of the great pop star Jessie J. “It’s not about the money money money.” Look, I’m not saying you can’t earn a lot of money doing what you love. But if your brain is anything like mine, the moment you latch onto the idea that “calling=cash,” you beat, bludgeon, and choke the living daylights out of your passion. And there’s no faster way to kill passion than to put a price tag on it.

Speaking of passion…the other problem we encounter on our quest to find “our thing” is that our culture has slowly poisoned us with its idea of our One True Love – not only in the bedroom, but also when it comes to our calling. From a very young age we are told that we have A calling, as in one, singular thing that calls to us. And that calling should be something we do every day that will earn us a boat-load of money AND bring us great joy. (If that were the case – I’d be the first Cheese Billionaire of the World.) However, for those of us Renaissance men or women who have multiple and varied interests and desires that range from fantasy baseball leaguing to Hummel figurine collecting to mid-century antiquing, putting this Baby in a corner by telling her that she has to have A calling is like telling me I have to eat the same meal every day for the rest of my life. Sure, I might think that I love pizza that much, but the reality is that even I would get sick of pizza eventually. (No I wouldn’t, baby. I love you. I’m just trying to make a point.)

When we carry around the notion that we have A calling, we may stifle the opportunity to live a richly fulfilling and meaningful life by getting locked into our narrow, artificial cultural constructs of “career” and “earning”. Or, more likely, we end up feeling like a miserable failure because we haven’t found that One True Love that we were told exists and therefore something is wrong with us as a result. There’s nothing wrong with us. As Auntie Mame says, “Life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death.”

Life is a banquet and your thing doesn’t have to come off of some prix fixe menu of socially-acceptable and financially-viable callings pre-approved for us by God herself. Lawyer. Doctor. Financial Advisor. Human Resources Manager. Sometimes what calls to your soul is a smorgasbord of being and doing in the world that cannot be confined to a title on a business card. (Or it can. I do call myself Chief Mischief Maker, which says both nothing and everything all at once.) Your existence and how you make your way in the world is so much bigger than that. And yet, your whole life you are told you have to choose. And it should be something you love. And you have to make a living doing it. And you have to choose that thing when you are a teenager. Let’s be clear, when I was a teenager, all I could really think about was if Ty Osborne likes me likes me or just likes me? (I’m still not sure of the answer.)

Truth be told, it’s no wonder that what calls to us is falling on deaf ears. What a tremendous amount of pressure to put on our life’s purpose. No wonder we keep seeking. We’ve been brainwashed into believing that what we were built to do or be in this world is singular, extraordinary, culturally-ordained, and lucrative. As such, nothing can ever live up to the outside world’s projection of our interior life of longing. And honestly, that just sucks. 

In the end, when it comes to finding your thing, remember that there is no “there” there. A calling comes to offer you direction and motivation, not a destination. A calling is an invitation to experience the divine in all her forms, not an expectation that you shut yourself off from all other life experiences once you find it. “Your thing” is neither singular nor elusive. It is neither unknowable nor unique. Your life is speaking to you constantly and it is your job to listen – to quiet the roaring voices in your head that sound suspiciously like your parents and your tenth-grade teacher – and instead tune into that small tugging in your belly and that quiet sparkle up your spine.

As our favorite Sufi mystic, Rumi, says,

What in your life is calling you,
When all the noise is silenced,
The meetings adjourned…
The lists laid aside,
And the Wild Iris blooms
By itself In the dark forest…
What still pulls on your soul?

Let yourself be led. And if what you want to do with your life leads to putting a hand down your pants, well then who am I to stop you?