|Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on February 2, 2014 at 12:15 PM|
When I was 13 years old, I went through what some might call a renaissance period. At the time, most of my friends were on the cusp between childhood and adolescence, and their biggest concern was deciding whether to play with their barbies or their mother's makeup. I, on the other hand, spent hours and hours in my bedroom doing one thing. Rain or shine, I felt compelled to do this one activity almost every day. And, as is always the case, the universe conspired to give me the perfect gift to pursue this one thing with passion: My great grandmother's typewriter.
It was a beast of a machine. Black, with perfectly round keys and a bell that rang every time you reached the end of a line. It didn't have an eraser, and I have no clue how I supplied it with ink. In my eyes it was ancient - and perfect. I spent hours at that typewriter doing exactly what I'm doing right now.
I wrote. And I wrote. And I wrote. I wrote fictional stories - usually about teenaged girls going on a variety of adventures. I wrote poems. I wrote non-fiction books about cats. I dated and signed each piece. I even took a stack of blank paper and cut it so that it would be the size of a paperback novel. I drew a cover page, typed my story, and then on the back of my "novel" I wrote a synopsis that included a quote from the "New York Times" about how awesome my book was.
The lovely thing is that I have an old accordion folder that contains all of my stories. It's musty and dusty, and it's a treasure trove that holds many truths about what I'm meant to do in the world. Here are a few photos of my stories:
After my early adolescent "renaissance," I shifted from short stories to poetry. In high school, I scribbled hundreds of poems into notebooks. In 10th grade, I even got a poem published in a national literary magazine (and my friend spilled coffee on it):
When I got to college, my writing became less creative and more practical. I wrote essays and exams. In grad school, I wrote theses and dissertations. When my schooling was finally complete, I wrote white papers for an IT research company. Then I quit my job and wrote a book. Now I'm back in the ivory tower and guess what I'm doing?
Now I write grant applications and research papers about the benefits of yoga for youth. And I write blogs like this one.
It's funny because I've often struggled with questions about what to do with my life, and how to be of service in the world. Based on my history, I think the answer is pretty obvious.
I'm meant to write.
Recently, while meditating, this message entered my consciousness loud and clear. I was sitting with my legs crossed as I do every morning, bringing my attention to my breath, when I received an almost visceral sensation that my purpose is to write. I was "told" that I need to accept this fact, own it, and do it.
I still have questions about exactly what I'm supposed to write and how this writing can be of the highest service to the world, but I'm trying to trust that those answers will come with perfect timing. Right now, the writing that I do for my job is of service because it helps my lab raise money to do studies on the benefits of implementing yoga in schools. The writing that I do in my spare time, like this blog, helps readers around the world discover their True Self. And while my blogs are definitely meant to serve readers like you, they serve me as well, because when tied together my blogs chronicle my personal journey of self-discovery.
What Are You Meant to Do?
One of the main questions that comes up when I lead workshops about creating a life you love is that many people can't figure out what they're meant to do. My advice is always the same. Look back into your childhood - before society had its claws firmly embedded in you - and notice what you loved to do. What did you win awards for? In which subjects did you score your highest grades? What did you do during your free time? What did you feel compelled to do, just for fun, or for other reasons?
The answer might be obvious. For example, it might be that you always won art awards or poster contests. Or you might have loved playing the guitar. Or you might have been really into technology.
Sometimes, however, if a passion doesn't immediately jump out at you, you'll need to do a bit more digging. Think about an overarching factor that ties together the various things that you liked to do as a child. For example, maybe you enjoyed leading youth groups, selling lemonade, and rounding up your friends to play capture the flag. One thing that all of these activities have in common is a sense of leadership. Or perhaps you enjoyed volunteer work, cleaning up your local park, and informing your neighbourhood about local events. Taken together, these three activities share a common theme of service and community building.
When I look back at my childhood, I realize that my desire to write seems to have started even before I knew how to write. My mom has a notebook that I filled out every school year from kindergarten until the 6th grade. The notebook asked a few questions, like who my best friends were and which subjects I enjoyed the most. It also asked what I wanted to be when I grew up.
Every year, starting in kindergarten, I wrote "author."
My family members also tell me that by the age of 4, I already had an insatiable curiosity that caused me to ask baffling questions about the meaning of life, why there were stars, and where people go when they die.
The problem is that starting in around 6th grade, as I began absorbing the cultural idea that no one could possibly make a decent living as an author, I started to write "veterinarian" in my mom's notebook. I still wrote stories in my spare time, but I began to see writing as a hobby, not as something that I could reasonably expect to be when I grew up.
However I now see that both my insatiable curiosity and my writing have always been with me, and have led me to my current profession, where I make a living doing research. What is research? It's a process of asking questions, looking for answers, and then writing about those answers.
My advice to you is this. Pay attention to your life and notice how your passions might have been with you all along. Perhaps you grew up with a strong desire to make things beautiful. You might not be a full-time interior designer right now, but I bet you constantly receive compliments about your ability to create beautiful spaces in your home. Perhaps your love for technology didn't lead you to a degree in computer engineering, but you might spend all of your spare time scouring the internet for articles about nanotechnology. Your love of service and community building might not have led you to become Mother Theresa, but you might be the best mommy and baby reading group organizer in your city.
Simply pay attention. You don't need to quit your job or put pressure on yourself to make millions of dollars doing what you love. Just notice what you like doing. Appreciate how it is already part of your life, even in tiny ways. Trust that you will be guided to use your gifts in the exact right way at the exact right time - even if the timing isn't happening fast enough for you.
Personally, I'm taking this advice to heart by trying to trust that I will always be shown what to write exactly when it needs to be written. Like a glass waiting to be filled, the water will arrive when it's meant to. And, just like my great grandmother's typewriter showed up for me right when I needed it, I will always be given the exact people, places, and opportunities to use my gifts to be of service to humanity, and to bring me closer to my True Self. Because that is, after all, the ultimate goal.