Listening When Your Life Speaks

“Your life speaks. You have to learn to listen.” – Iyanla VanZant

Just 15 years ago, if you had asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would have told you that I would be a professional musician.

This news would shock just about anyone that I know, today–but fifteen years ago, there was nothing in my life that indicated anything otherwise.

My entire life was music. I had gone to a performing arts high school where regular math, science and English classes were supplemented with courses in your major, and I was a music major. I played five instruments and participated in 5 different groups. Each year, I prepared solos or ensembles to take to district and state competitions.

After hours of practice time at school, it was not uncommon to come home and put in an additional 1-2 hours each night, plus a weekly private lesson. To afford a professional model instrument, I worked two jobs, 20-25 hours a week. For college, I had been accepted to a music school in Chicago, and fully intended to major in music and then go on to be a professional musician with freelance gigs, or a conductor, or to teach music.

There’s just this one catch: it didn’t happen.

I ended up not attending the music college that I had worked so hard to get in to. Instead, I attended a smaller college outside of Chicago that had no music program to speak of, telling myself that music would still be in my life because they had a small orchestra.

The orchestra was sub-par, and I dropped out after my first semester.

Yet: I don’t regret a thing.

What Are You Getting?

People can get really hung up on this question of “What am I supposed to do with my life?”

When coaching clients approach me with that question, I ask them to consider one that’s far more interesting: “What do you think you would ‘get’ out of knowing what you want to do with your life?”

Time and again, the answer comes back to “safety,” and when we dig around a bit with “safety,” we find that at the root of that is “control.”

Or–at least–the illusion of control, because control is always an illusion. Aside from our intention and where we place our attention, we really can’t control life.

If we acknowledge the root issue of trying to control something that is impossible to control, the entire house of cards starts to fall apart.

Whether we know our life path, or whether we don’t, we don’t have any control, either way.

I can say that if I had chosen to go to music school, I would have become a professional musician, but the truth is that there’s no way that I could know that. I could just as easily have ended up a programmer, a sommelier, or what I ended up as–a writer, which was what I said I wanted to be as early as the age of 2 or 3, and which is what I have ended up becoming.

Your Life Speaks

People talk of having a true calling that’s part of an innate nature, something you’re born with, and I can see how that feels true for them.

What I question is the Story that so many tell themselves about needing to know what their life purpose is, as if it’s transcribed somewhere in the world and the job is to try to find it.

I have an alternative view: your life purpose/path/vision is what you say it is. You define your life purpose in every moment, with every action, with every word, with every thought, with every belief.

If there is some purpose out there, awaiting you, and you want to find it, then inhabit your life, fully. If you commit to your life like crazy, the things that are intolerable to your spirit will rise up and make themselves known. Listen to your life when it speaks to you.

When that happens, the question put before you is: Will you practice the courage that it takes to actually take action?

Taking Action

When you start taking action and making choices, the world starts to move with you.

The illusion is that you have to know what you want to do, before you start making choices.

I ask you: had I stuck with being a musician, convinced that I “knew” my path and thus “must” follow it, how would I ever have created space in my life to become a writer?

What I see in hindsight, that beautiful 20/20 vision, are the benefits that came from being “all in” with whatever presented itself in my life. I was “all in” as a musician, until I was “all in” as a double-major in English and Sociology, and then I was “all in” as a writer when I got my Masters degree, and then I was “all in” as a professor of English, and then I was “all in” when I pursued my counseling training.

Perhaps right now you’re a mother of three; or a frustrated engineering student who isn’t sure she wants to continue; or a 48-year-old man who thought his career was set until the economy tanked and he was laid off.

The only time we get jostled by “not being on our life’s path” is when we insist that the reality before us is not part of our life’s path.

Music taught me discipline, majoring in Sociology got me curious about people, writing freed my personal story and continues to keep me fascinated by the stories people tell about their lives, and being a professor of English gave me organization and delegation skills that inform every single aspect of running my business.

Whatever paths you’ve walked have all contributed to being where you are here, right now, in this moment.

Consider the gifts that could lie ahead for you if you dropped the idea of a pre-determined path, entirely.

You don’t know where it will all lead–and this is the most beautiful part of being alive.

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