While the two core activities I’ve shared with you so far are things I’ve loved since early in life, this last one blossomed from the intense personal healing work of my later years. I may have known somewhere deep down inside that I had an affinity for this activity, but that affinity was buried under so much crap it wasn’t until the recent pandemic forced my withdrawal from the bustle of daily life that I managed to excavate it. I emerged from COVID-19 quarantine in touch with my passion for writing, and no one is more surprised than I am. (My closest friends aren’t surprised at all, having waited patiently for me to figure it out.)
Interest in writing isn’t completely new to me. I did keep a diary intermittently as a young person and journaled throughout adulthood in fits and starts, always enjoying the experience but unable to maintain the discipline of consistency. And, of course, I wrote academically too. But, perhaps like many students, I saw it simply as something I had to do to get through school, not as something to relish for itself. During my college years, one professor did suggest I develop my ideas and pursue publication, really dig into writing as a career. But I paid no heed to her.
Whom I was really paying no heed to was me. Though I didn’t understand it at the time, I was out of contact with my inner core and shut down to myself, locked in my nervous system’s freeze response to the dangers present throughout my early life. I didn’t know how to read my body, heart, and mind to understand what I loved to do so I could make healthy decisions for my present and future. I only knew how to conform to what close others needed from me, which was to stay small, tamp down my energy, not make waves. So, after college, I plodded off toward what immediate family and much of culture maintained made for a “successful” life: stable, conventional employment.
Stability never figured into it, though. Over the course of my working years, I bounced from one occupation to another, trying out different fields, even, at one point, getting a graduate degree in one of them. I did it all well enough, but never felt truly at home, fulfilled, aligned with my work. Proof that competence alone is not a measure of right livelihood. The closest I came to it was during the six years leading up to retirement when I had a job as a higher ed grant writer, an occupation I found very satisfying at the time. I both enjoyed the work of writing itself and valued making a positive impact on the lives of students in need, and I suspect I was finally—though at that point in my life, still unknowingly—sneaking up on right livelihood, on my purpose.
We are learning more and more about how vital being on purpose is to deep enduring wellness for the human animal—for both individuals and the collective. True purpose is about embracing our own unique gifts and offering them to the world for its betterment. And I love how Howard Thurman expressed this truth when he said, “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” Now more than ever, the world doesn’t need me shut down, turned off, conforming, robotic. It needs me juicy, tuned-in to my core, fully alive, like when I’m dancing and swimming. But also, I discovered during quarantine, like when I’m writing.
In the two years preceding COVID, I’d begun somatic trauma recovery and acquired some key tools for tuning into my body and knowing my own heart and mind. (See Resources and Growing into the Gray.) So, during the hours of forced isolation and quietude, when I turned to writing almost on a lark and applied those tools, this is what I found out: Holding a mechanical pencil in my hand and letting it fly across the page of an open notebook, with no agenda, while I sit cross-legged in my favorite chair exhilarates me, puts me in a state of flow, and opens me to receive profound insight about my life and the world around me. I rise from freewriting more joyful, wise, and energized than when I sit down. And the same is true of the time I spend in front of my laptop, engaging in writing of a more directed, but no less transformative, nature. I found out I am meant to write. To write for myself and others, and for women in particular.
I regret not getting to this awareness sooner in my life, but I’ve decided not to dwell on that feeling. After all, it’s rooted in the past, and I’m here now. So, at age sixty-four, I’m moving forward with gratitude into my new vocation, wondering where it’ll take me in the years that might remain to me on this planet. How about you? Were you one of the lucky ones who found purpose earlier in life? What a joy to know deep inside yourself that you were aligned with your work, and to have that inner knowing to sustain you throughout the inevitable vocational challenges. Or did you chronically struggle as I did, maybe give up on the whole notion of purpose for yourself? If so, take heart. I can say from lived experience that it’s never too late to ask yourself what makes you come alive, and then to go do it.
Warning: To find what you really love, you may have to wade through some difficult stuff first. (And we’ll get to that in future posts.)
Promise: It’s so worth it!
Nudge: The world needs us all.