“Start where you are. Distant fields always look greener, but opportunity lies right where you are. Take advantage of every opportunity of service.”— Robert Collier
I was flying back to Melbourne from Thailand after a week scuba diving in the Similan Islands, staring out the window at the star-studded sky, I knew for the first time in a long time what I wanted— freedom.
I was in the midst of a career crisis and was shaken by the nagging feeling that I didn’t want to work in financial planning anymore after years of studying and working hard on my career. For months I had tried to figure out what else I was going to do but kept coming up blank, until I discovered this yearning in my heart to take time out for a while, to explore my passion for scuba diving, and to travel around Southeast Asia.
I quit my job and contracted for a while before packing up my life and flying to Thailand to complete my Divemaster course as the starting point to my twelve-month sabbatical. During that time out, I hoped that I would find the answer to my career crisis.
I quickly found a new way of life: I traded heels for flip-flops and bare feet; suits for wetsuits; driving a car for riding a motorbike; meetings and schedules for the freedom of following my intuition; the Monday to Friday 9 to 5 routine for what felt like Friday everyday.
I discovered my great love for the earth and a way of living that felt free and expansive to my soul.
After travelling around Southeast Asia, I returned to Phuket to visit friends on my way to India. Instead I met my Italian love and completed my scuba instructor course and stayed in Phuket. I still hadn’t decided what to do with my life other than to live in a way that felt so free to my spirit – in Thailand, with my love, near the sea, diving often.
When the year was over and tourist low season began, I returned to Melbourne to work for my former employer for 6 months so I could feed my bank account then go back to Thailand to dive and be with my love. I did this for three years.
After spending so much time outdoors and in the sea, returning to corporate office life was a shock to my system. Once upon a time, I loved being part of a management team — organising, leading, in the thick of decision-making — now it felt profit driven and void of meaning.
In the office I felt constrained and disliked working to someone else’s set hours that didn’t match my flow. I hated corporate attire and having to look a certain way that felt foreign to the free spirit I was inside.
I spent most lunch hours at the nearby gardens surrounded by trees, feeling the earth support my body, the sun kiss my skin and watching the clouds float in the sky. I stopped catching the train and walked the four kilometres to and from work — it made me feel energized and peaceful and it became addictive.
I loved walking so much that when I followed my love to Italy one summer, I decided to walk 120 kilometres of the ancient Via Francigena pilgrimage route through Tuscany before I met up with him in his hometown. And when I was eventually made redundant from my employer, instead of getting another job, I decided to go and live my dream and walk that whole pilgrimage route from the beginning in Canterbury, England to the end 2,000 kilometres later in Saint Peter’s Square, Rome.
There were times when I was really hard on myself for returning to corporate life. I felt like I had failed because I hadn’t found my purpose and my happy-ever-after and was returning to the old life I thought I was leaving behind. Eventually, I realised that I hadn’t failed and that it was actually a blessing.
Returning to corporate life has been a critical part of how I have found my way. It has enabled me to earn a living to support my exploration and dreams. It was because I returned to corporate that I discovered exactly how critical nature is to nurturing my spirit and that I loved walking.
If I had not started walking to work to feed my spirit I might never have walked that small section of the Via Francigena to discover that I wanted to walk the whole trail one day.
If I had not been made redundant, perhaps I would never have walked the whole Via Francigena to discover that I wanted to walk from Rome to Jerusalem, my next pilgrimage that I am planning now.
When I finally stopped resisting the work that I was doing, when I could look at my life with a higher perspective, as if I were an eagle circling high above, I could also see how my presence, and sharing my stories and experiences has helped to inspire and transform those around me.
Purpose is not just about a job or career. Purpose is about how we live. The problem is we so often think it is about what we are doing rather than who we are being.
Our purpose is expressed through us as a quality, maybe it is love or joy or kindness. We bring that quality to whatever we do so that activity is an expression of who we are — that is purpose in action.
I believe that each of us has a unique message that we have come here to embody and express in this lifetime but there are many ways we can do that and in many settings. Whilst ultimately your long-term career might not be within corporate, know that right here and now it is serving your purpose, that you are meeting people that need your essence, that it is bringing you opportunities to practice your message and the intricacies of relationship with different people whilst also bringing you money to support you in your life and enable you to take your next step.
If you viewed your work from these perspectives, how might this change how you feel about your work right now? And how might it change the essence and attitude that you bring to your work?