The connection between mindfulness meditation and life purpose might not be apparent, but when it comes to aligning our career with our authentic passions and desires, we need the tools of mindfulness both to get started and see us through the process.
I teamed up with Grace, my friend and Life Purpose Coach, for a chat on Instagram Live. Grace and I discussed our career journeys, how to become more aware of what’s going on in our emotions and thoughts, and how to use this knowledge to find a career we love. Listen to the audio below and read the accompanying article!
You can listen to our conversation below.
Our Journeys To Life Purpose
When contemplating a new direction for our career, it’s crucial we surround ourselves with people who have already walked the path. While Grace and I can’t meet you in the flesh, we can share our stories from afar.
Ever since my early teens, I’ve known I wanted passion in my career. I used to have visions of myself creating ingenious solutions to problems and being the intellectual authority in my field.
As I excelled in school, family and teachers encouraged me to put my maths and science skills into a lucrative profession, and eventually I settled on becoming an actuary. Without exposure to the profession, my adolescent mind concocted all sorts of idealised images about what this career would look like, and I fell for them hook, line and sinker.
It wasn’t until I did two student internships that my ideas were exposed for what they were – fantasies. For two months, I was surrounded by miserable, moany people doing mind-numbing work. Though they were high earners, they seemed to hate their job. This was a rude awakening, and it preciptated a serious life crisis. I decided to drop my ambition to be an actuary, knowing something better was out there, but still nursing a lot of career trauma and lacking a clear direction.
I won’t go into the details of my life crisis, but let’s say it involved a lot of suffering and confusion. There were times when I had no idea what to do with myself. I was rudderless in a barren sea. I felt I’d never find a new direction in life, try as I might to find one.
Fast forward five years, and I now have the distance to realise that the crisis was the fertile ground in which my new purpose has sprouted. I’ve had to go it alone, trusting in my vision and ignoring the doubters, but I now feel that I’ve arrived with The Great Updraft. What’s more, I feel the best is yet to come.
Brought up in a family with traditional ideas about career (like mine), Grace was also swept away by the zeitgeist in her early years. She wound up in a corporate position that she hated. For eight years, she acted out a persona to enable her to survive in her job. She came to resent the work, but lacking the knowledge to change her situation, she struggled on through all the pain.
After serious health issues that lead to hospitalisation, stress and depression, she took a long, hard look at the choices she’d made. Eventually, she decided to make a bold move: she decided to start her own business as a life coach and become a digital nomad. Her family didn’t approve, but Grace knew it was a necessary step.
I never met the Grace of old, but it’s difficult to imagine her as a miserable and unfulfilled person. Now she’s passionate, focused and energetic. Her journey is proof that through boldness and determination we can change our career situation no matter the level of our suffering.
What Is Mindfulness Meditation?
So what is mindfulness and how can it help us in our career life? How can it help us find our purpose?
Grace says that mindfulness is about becoming aware of what’s happening to us and letting all thoughts and sensations pass through us. Doing so makes challenging emotional experiences less painful and takes us out of autopilot, enabling us to take control of our life.
In the Instagram Live, I say that mindfulness is a special way of experiencing what’s going on inside us and around us. Mindfulness (according to Shinzen Young’s Unified Mindfulness system) involves three core skills: Concentration, Sensory Clarity, and Equanimity all working together.
To look in more depth at the foundations of mindfulness practice, check out my Learn How To Meditate series.
In our career, gaining awareness of our emotions and thoughts is simply crucial. First of all, our inner world offers us invaluable insight into our relationship with our career. Second, our professional life stirs up a whole slew of emotional and mental activity. Without the tools to manage this, we can easily become overwhelmed.
What’s more, when we’re in a phase of searching and seeking a new direction in life, certain experiences are ultra-common. Mindfulness can help us skillfully manage those times.
Use Mindfulness Meditation To Handle Suffering in Career
Our career activates our emotions. For instance, if we dislike our daily work, we experience a slew of unpleasant emotions associated with it. Bringing awareness to this emotional stew and freeing ourselves from it is the first step in making a career change.
Have you ever felt the Sunday Night Dread? The Monday Morning Blues?
Though these are part of our everyday parlance, I suspect that most people never realise that these are visceral, first-person experiences. They’re phenomena in our emotional and mental life. That’s not to mention our lack of knowledge of how to deal with these ubiquitous emotions. As we develop our mindfulness skills, we develop a deeper connection to the part of ourselves that despises our job, letting it speak its mind to us. We can also free ourselves from the suffering we experience.
The Three Core Mindfulness Skills
The key to experiencing these benefits is to use the three skills:
- Concentration: track the emotions and thoughts moment to moment, maintaining our attention on them
- Sensory Clarity: locate, isolate and penetrate the thoughts and emotions, separating them from everything else in our sensory world
- Equanimity: lower our resistance and allow these emotions to flow through us
By doing so, we’re no longer on autopilot, as Grace says. We have more control over our reactions, and when we experience these unpleasant emotions, we suffer less. By turning towards these emotions, we find freedom from them. With practice, we become the observer of these emotions.
Bringing awareness to these emotions might shock us. We might realise just how emotionally charged we are and the suffering our career situation causes. We might realise how false we are in our career, as Grace did.
But in doing this, we garner important insights into our psychology and the various forces that push and pull our emotions. Equipped with this information, we can begin taking positive action to change the situation.
This connection to our emotional life also opens us up to new possibilities. For once, we can think: “What would it like to not feel this way every Sunday night?”, “Could I create a career that would transform how I feel day to day?”
Use Mindfulness Meditation To Find Your Life purpose
I think if everyone realised the powerful transformations that mindfulness meditation will bring about in their lives, everyone would do it.Grace
Mindfulness can help us suffer less when our career situation is far removed from our authentic desires, but how can we use it to find a new direction in life?
Here’s a key insight: everyone has an inkling towards a new career based on their passions, interests and visions for the world. I see this in everyone I interact with, even in people who have spent decades doing soul-destroying work. And Grace, a Life Purpose Coach, agreed!
While this is exciting and intriguing, there’s a sad truth behind it: most people will never even try to create a career based on their inklings. Closed-mindedness, complacency and lack of self-belief all come in and unceremoniously douse that fire inside them.
Grace and I aren’t aloof from all this. We’ve both experienced intense suffering around this topic, and only after deep searching and a lot of bold and risky moves do we feel aligned in our lives.
Strengthen Your Connection To Your Authentic Self
Here’s where mindfulness comes in. By applying the three skills of mindfulness to these inklings and desires, we strengthen our connection to them. By not resisting them with our body and mind, we create space for them and can participate in their creativity. That we resist thought is not an intellectual observation, but a lived, visceral experience.
Seriously – right now, ask yourself what your ideal career is. Let your mind wander, don’t impose restrictions on it based on what you think is possible. Go into imagination mode.
Visions and thoughts related to this passionate career will start coming up. Maybe you see yourself as an artist, or an entrepreneur, or a writer. Feel your body as these sensations arise – are you resisting them? If so, lower your resistance, and be there with those visions, paying close attention to them. This is a much more mindful way of experiencing them.
By attending to this psychic material, we strengthen our connection to it and contact the desires of our authentic self. Over time, we can distinguish patterns and start making moves towards our vision.
There’s much more to making your purpose in life a living reality, but contacting your initial vision is a huge step forwards. It’s what keeps you on track when you feel lost, doubtful and despairing. And getting started is half the battle won!
Best Ways to Apply Mindfulness Meditation to Career
1. On The Go
The best method for becoming proficient in mindfulness is to practice it on the go, during daily life. I suggest you target those moments of dread and the Monday Morning Blues, whatever you happen to be doing when you experience them.
Learn how to practice on-the-go with my article 17 Amazing Mindfulness Practices For Everyday Life.
2. Practice In Stillness
The common image of a meditator is someone sitting on a cushion, legs crossed and eyes closed. Though this is a limited view of what meditation is, practice in stillness (sitting, kneeling or standing) helps us build up our baseline mindfulness skills. Think of it as driving on an empty road, training yourself up so you can drive during rush hour.
Check out my Learn To Meditate Series to learn how to practice in stillness, and much more.
3. Get Out Into Nature
Nature stirs us and takes us beyond our habitual ways of thinking and acting. Head out into nature and notice the inner shifts that occur. Perhaps you’ll come to new realisations about your current career or future path. Again, apply the three skills of mindfulness as this is happening. Let yourself feel a new you on the horizon, and start stepping into it.
Journalling helps you articulate what’s going on inside you, giving you clarity over your thoughts and emotions. When exploring yourself on paper, pay close attention to what’s going on inside you. Whether you’re sifting through tricky emotions related to career struggles or trying to articulate a vision, make sure your words are tied to the emotional material you’re experiencing. By doing so, you’re bringing out what’s inside, clarifying it and making it easier to understand.
One of the superpowers of mindfulness is that it helps us get in touch with our inner life, revealing hidden parts of ourselves and bringing our thoughts and emotions to light. To move towards a career we love, we need to realise that we’re unhappy with our current situation, articulate a new vision, and be bold, brave and persistent enough to make it a reality. Mindfulness is the tool that helps us successfully tackle all of these obstacles.
To establish your mindfulness habit today, check out my Learn How To Meditate series.