As a child, I believed I could be anything I wanted to be. I was fascinated by many different subjects and loved reading, which led me to dive deeply into topics that often had little correlation. Under the old English school system, at 14 I had to pick subjects to study that would eventually define the university degree I could apply to study. This was a big decision for a 14-year-old. What did I want to be when I grew up? Of course, this was the day of one career per lifetime, and from this limited framework, I allowed myself to feel the pressure of deciding the direction of my life’s work.
As the child of a migrant family, there was the expectation that I would choose a profession, the most favoured being medicine. Medicine was what I thought I should do, although there was a little voice inside me whispering “no”. Thankfully, I listened to that voice, even though it spoke ever so softly and I had no rational reason to do so. It just felt right and while I disappointed many people in my choice of degree, little did I know that it would set me off in a direction to find my path.
Can you do anything you choose to?
Well, in a literal sense you can “do” whatever you want. I spent much time qualifying and then practising as a lawyer. In that sense, I did do what I wanted to do. However, I transitioned my career into strategy/banking and then leadership development because the best I could help my clients to achieve as a lawyer was that they could live with the outcome. As any lawyer will tell you, it’s scarce that a client walks out of your office, fist pumping the air with excitement about their legal result. Most results are negotiated outcomes. I wanted to help my clients to thrive.
Yoga philosophy has the concept of dharma. Stephen Cope describes dharma as meaning:
“… variously, “path,” “teaching,” or “law.” For our purposes … it will mean primarily “vocation,” or “sacred duty.” It means, most of all—and in all cases—truth. Yogis believe that our greatest responsibility in life is to this inner possibility—this dharma—and they believe that every human being must utterly, fully, and completely embody his idiosyncratic dharma.
The fundamental concepts in this definition are:
- Vocation (I prefer sacred duty and truth, but then I’m a yogini)
- Inner possibility
Your vocation, your sacred duty
The Cambridge dictionary defines vocation as
‘a type of work that you feel you are suited to doing and to which you should give all your time and energy, or the feeling that a type of work suits you in this way.”
So your vocation is much more than a job or career. It’s work you feel you are suited to doing and for which you are prepared to give ALL your time and energy.
The work you do must be challenging and rewarding. Challenging because you are growing and rewarding when the work is suited to you and matches your strengths; those unique gifts that, when used, make an impact. It is only then when you feel the flow, which, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi says makes life worth living.
Your inner possibility
Yogis believe that your life’s purpose is to use your strengths to make an impact and in that process, you become the best version of yourself. You overcome challenges, learn how and when to grow and help others along the way.
Your life’s purpose is not a soft path or process; it’s the challenges that forge and shape our strengths and ultimately our dharma.
The impact does not have to be solving world poverty. We are often led to believe that making a difference means a grand impact. My paternal grandfather had a brother, Hari. He was literate and knowledgeable, even though he left school very early to support my grandfather’s education financially. My grandparents never forgot this sacrifice and Hari lived his life with my grandparents in India, and they helped him in his old age. I met him several times, and he would read me many classic western stories, in English. His impact was small in that no one outside my father’s family knows of him. In educating my grandfather, he directly influenced my father and his brothers receiving a tertiary education, and Hari’s legacy has shaped our family through successive generations. Can you see how Hari’s impact was small but profound?
I love this concept; it means that your dharma is uniquely yours and can not be shared. Hari could not share his dharma with anyone.
Even when you feel that your colleagues or others are working with you, the impact you can make in a team or as a leader is uniquely your own. The key is to understand this, owing it and living on purpose, intentionally, with your idiosyncratic dharma.
Many leaders I work with are already very successful. Despite this, they feel something is missing, and they often catch glimpses of their idiosyncratic work like an intermittent mobile reception when you move from one town to another.
Do you have a career or have you found your vocation? It’s a great question to ask yourself regularly, being mindful of why you do what you do, thinking about what it means to you, considering what is spoken about in this article. If you realise that you are not in your vocation – it’s okay – you still have time… As Steve Jobs said in his infamous Stanford Commencement Address in 2005…
“If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on.”