Four questions from Steven Pressfield to help you find your calling

On her Super Soul Sundays series on OWN, Oprah Winfrey recently talked with author Steven Pressfield about finding your calling.

Pressfield suggests four questions to help you find your calling:

  1. What are you more afraid of than anything else in the world?
  2. What would you do if you knew you were going to die in three months?
  3. What would you do if fear were not a factor?
  4. What would you do if money were not a factor?

Here’s a bit of how OWN describes his authority on the subject:

As he describes in his book The War of Art, Steven believes we all have our own unique creative genius. However, he says, there is an internal force—resistance—that often keeps us from expressing it. Whether you want to change careers, run a marathon, write the great American novel or be an entrepreneur, Steven’s advice can help you express your deepest yearnings from the inside out.

Click here to watch a snippet of Steven Pressfield talking with Oprah Winfrey about finding your calling.

Click here to watch a snippet of Steven Pressfield talking with Oprah Winfrey about finding your calling.

I love the advice to reflect on what you’re passionate about and to not let fear hold you back. I especially love Pressfield’s encouragement to “Put your ass where your heart wants to be.”

I see too many people stuck in routines they hate, paralyzed by fear or inertia.

But I also worry all the modern talk about following your bliss in your career can a poor fit for some people.

When I told my dad I was going to major in journalism, he sighed and asked, “Don’t you want to be able to feed yourself?” And I did work some long, hard hours for terrible money in my 20s. But I went into that career choice aware that I would likely spend several years in low-paying jobs before I’d have the experience to apply for better gigs.

Not everyone has that luxury. If I’d graduated with huge student debt, for example, I couldn’t have made the choices I did. If I’d had a child to provide for, I think the hours might have even been tougher than the pay.

My husband is an artist. Many years ago, an artist friend of ours urged him to keep a day job so he could focus on creating art that brings him pleasure and satisfaction, instead of having to trade inspiration for what sells.

I think there’s a lot of wisdom in that advice — not only that you can pursue your calling in ways other than your work, but that in some cases, it might be preferable not to pay the rent with your passion.

This is not to say John wouldn’t be delighted to make huge money from his art. Feel free to throw huge checks his way. Instead, it’s saying you can honor your calling in multiple ways.

I recently read an article — which I simply cannot find again, in spite of repeated Googling — that analyzed the use of phrases like “pursuing your passion” as compared to phrases like “steady income” in talking about careers. Charts showed that the urging to follow your bliss is a new phenomenon in the last few decades.

It made me wonder if, especially in a down economy, we’re undervaluing the satisfaction from doing a job well and providing for your family, and encouraging too many young people to pursue traditionally underpaid passion jobs like art, writing, theater, fashion and the like.

Not that it’s wrong to chase a creative dream, but should you feel like a sellout if you work as a lawyer during the day so you can afford to do your passion on the side? And don’t we also need electricians, pharmacists and engineers — which might be your passion or might be the closest thing to your passion that actually pays.

A related thought is that sometimes when you’re starting out at something, the learning curve isn’t especially pleasant. I don’t know if I’ve ever sat at the piano and played for pleasure as a beginner. Writing is pleasurable to me (though far from effortless) because I’ve spent decades doing it. The blog Study Hacks says:

you have to be good at what you do before you can expect your job to be good to you. This is why I push myself and others to stop worrying about their “passion” and day dreaming about courageously bucking the status quo. Navel-gazing and conformity-defiance, I argue, is not how people end up loving what they do. Instead, they start by getting good at something rare and valuable, and then leverage this “career capital” to construct — not discover — a fantastic career.

Maybe I’m sounding like this “advice” from parody newspaper The Onion:

I have always been a big proponent of following your heart and doing exactly what you want to do. It sounds so simple, right? But there are people who spend years—decades, even—trying to find a true sense of purpose for themselves. My advice? Just find the thing you enjoy doing more than anything else, your one true passion, and do it for the rest of your life on nights and weekends when you’re exhausted and cranky and just want to go to bed.

What do you think? Are you following your calling in your career? Do you know what your calling is?

Click her to watch the 42-minute conversation between Steven Pressfield and Oprah Winfrey about finding your calling.

Click her to watch the 42-minute conversation between Steven Pressfield and Oprah Winfrey about finding your calling.

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Categories: career, lifestyle

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3 replies

  1. As someone who has followed her passion a few times now, I think there’s a lot of value in it. How you follow your passion can look a lot of ways though. As you said, by being a good lawyer who enjoys painting in her free time is one of them.

    Maybe the answer is: Do what you can live with. I am a throw-yourself-in kind of person. If stability is #1 to you, then choose that first. I read an article which I can’t find either that said you might not be able to have everything so be clear about what it is you want. If following your passion leaves you anxious all the time about financial security, then maybe you need to reassess your priorities and choose a life that better fits them.

    I believe it’s valuable to tell children to follow their passion. There are enough naysayers in the world that will bring you back to reality. Your passion is easy to find as a kid, and can easily be lost. I work with a lot of people who have forgotten their passion or believe they never had one. I help them remember how easy it was in their childhood and see how they can do that now as an adult. Even in small ways. If kids were taught to value their passion, we would have happier adults who find ways to pursue it no matter their day jobs.

    • Lauree, this is such excellent advice — everyone has different needs and priorities, and they need to make decisions that suit them. You can follow your passion in numerous ways, whether that’s as a hobby or working for someone or flying solo.

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