By the time we hit a certain age in our life and a certain stage in our career, many of us begin to ask that age-old question: “Is this all there is?” If you’re seeking to find more meaning in your life and thinking that the next – or what may be the last – act in your career will be more fulfilling than your previous roles, this episode is for you. Stay tuned!
I was chatting with an acquaintance the other day in a park. As we watched our children playing on a warm, summer’s day, she gazed wistfully at the carefree nature of preschoolers and told me that she was considering retiring from her long career in a demanding job. “What will you do next?” I asked. “I have no idea,” she replied, and not without a twinge of anxiety creeping into her response. “I can’t figure out how to take my particular experience where the skills and knowledge are not obviously transferable and apply them to any other job. And I certainly can’t see myself working retail, or serving coffee, or becoming a Walmart greeter.” (No disrespect intended to those who do work retail, serve coffee, or greet Walmart shoppers!)
What I said in response surprised her: “Starting with what you’ve done in the past as a basis for creating a more meaningful future won’t work. You’ll simply end up with more of the same. Where you want to start is with two fundamental questions—who are you at your best, and how do you want to touch the world? In other words, what is your tactility?”
Let’s start with the first one. Think of a time – a particular circumstance or situation – when everything was going amazingly well, when you were fully aware, energized, and engaged, when you were completely in flow. Think of a time when you were being your best self, whether it was in the workplace, the home-place, the volunteer-place, the play-place, or any other place. What were the circumstances that enabled you to bring your best? What were you drawing upon from deep within that demonstrated to everyone around you that you were enacting your best self? Exploring these questions in depth will help you discover elements of both an environment that is conducive to meaningful and fulfilling work, and the aspects of yourself that come to the fore when you are most highly engaged.
The second question asks, what effects will you have on the world? This might, if you’re very fortunate, apply to the great, wide world and a large portion of society. Or, more probably, this question of effects will apply to the entire world inhabited by another person or a small group of people. Whom do you intend to touch by your actions? In what ways will you touch them? What is important to you about touching them in this particular manner, and to what long-term, sustaining effect? Answering these tactility questions will help you create a Mindful Intention for your life, and guide you towards a wider domain of career possibilities than simply narrowing your field to directly applicable prior experience.
Reflecting on your past history – when were you at your best? – and considering your intentions for a future yet to be written – whom do you want to touch and how do you want to touch them? – will enable you to navigate your own career trajectory towards meaningful, fulfilling endeavours and quite possibly your best career choice for your best self.