Life & work transitions – how to listen to the yearning of your heart

Life & work transitions – how to listen to the yearning of your heart
4th April 2018 Tim Malnick

What would you do if money were no object?

D is a creative middle-aged man in a period of personal and work transition. In a coaching session we talked about how money, or rather our hopes and fears about money, restrict life choices. I asked D what he’d love to be doing in 5 years if money were no object. D’s dream is to write books, screenplays and comics. He longs to use words as a writer to tell the story of a more just, harmonious and healthy world.


How we disrespect our dreams:

As is often the way, D found it hard to stay with his dream. The words ‘but’ and ‘however’ crept in repeatedly as he started articulating what he really wanted. Although practicalities, risk assessment and the testing of dreams in the cold light of day are important it is also important to know that their place is not at the beginning of a new transition. We must give ourselves space to dream.

            “A man (sic) must have time for serious thought, for imagination, for dreaming even, or the race of men (sic) will inevitably worsen”   William Morris

Without creating and protecting space to turn towards our ideal, to hold in our mind-heart’s eye what we long for, however impractical it seems, it is impossible to embark in a new direction. The conversation got me thinking. In what ways do we avoid listening to the yearnings of our heart? Here’s a simple list:

1. Getting trapped by the ‘Near Enemy’:

D’s dream is to write. But much of his professional life so far has meant not writing. He’s taught creative writing. He’s been a successful script editor for a film company. This work has been creative, interesting and helped support his family. It’s just not what he truly wants to do. D teaches, critiques and edits other people’s writing and he is good at it. This keeps him in contact with creative writing. But it also allows him perpetually to postpone the moment where he takes a blank piece of paper and actually (gulp) … writes.

In line with Buddhist thinking I call this ‘the Near Enemy’. The Near Enemy is when we do something related to the thing we really want to do, but not actually what we really want to do. The Near Enemy is a subtle distortion of our yearning and therefore very easy to miss. The Far Enemy of the work we most wish to do, is when we find ourselves stuck somewhere awful, a million miles away from what we really want. Perhaps we need money, or feel we have very limited opportunities or oppressive circumstances. In some ways escaping the Far Enemy can be easier than escaping the New Enemy because eventually it just becomes too painful and we have to do something.

The Near Enemy offers many seductive whispers, rationalities and enticements. We think maybe it will eventually lead to what we really want. Maybe we don’t even notice that we’re not doing what we want. Often the Near Enemy carries a degree of status, satisfaction and security – we seem to measure up. But we don’t measure up to what we actually yearn for. Recognising that and choosing to move is a big and scary step. It is also a necessary one.


2. Our ‘buts’ are too early and too loud

If we start to move our ‘buts’ will appear. ‘Buts’ reflect the many judgements and evaluations of the thinking mind. Listening to them prematurely squashes new possibilities. It is still time to allow the dream some life, space and energy in support of exploration, cultivation and evolution. Eventually a cooler detached weighing of opportunities, costs and possibilities is useful. Whatever my dream, I am never going to play NBA basketball. To dream otherwise would be foolhardy (I am 49, five foot nine with dodgy knees). But there are many things one could do, and would love to do, that are possible. They are made impossible simply by a premature rushing to judgement.

As Goethe writes, “Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it; Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.”

When our ‘buts’ are too loud it means we’ve put the conceptual, critical mind on a pedestal, valuing it over and above other ways of deciding – for example our intuitive vision or bodily knowing. Rational evaluation is a useful method in planning and action. But it is simply one strategy, one tool, one aspect of our mind/body. It has its place but when this voice gets too loud – as it does for many of us – it drowns out a deeper, quieter knowing, which has great wisdom too. We very much need to access and listen to that deeper knowing.


3. We accept our culture’s stories about work as true:

Most of us accept without question our inherited cultural stories about things like effort, individuality, money, security, responsibility and the way these intertwine with work. We forget that they are just stories and by forgetting we give them life and truth and call them reality. And then we become trapped by them.

Many of the words related to work e.g. “labour”, “travail” (French), “compensation” have their roots in words related to pain and torture and being “compensated” for suffering. Many of us believe deep down that we must suffer from work, in order to get money that will then make us feel secure, valid and worthwhile people. With this view it is hard to imagine ever making the leap to doing something joyful and life enriching. And it is equally hard to imagine we could ever be supported and resourced by life to take such a step.

It is extremely important to notice our stories about money and life, and to question how we got them and whether they are true. There are other ways of thinking about money, life and work that are much closer to reality, just not how we have been socialised to think.


How to honour the yearning of the heart:

If you are embarking on a transition, or considering a new direction how do you honour the deeper pull of the heart? Here are some ideas:

1. Give yourself space and time to acknowledge your dream or vision. Invite it in, allow it to speak, nurture it. Do not reject it for fear of the impact it may have on your current situation. Do not make premature demands on it.

2. Allow yourself to acknowledge and experience any frustration, regret and pain associated with your current situation without judgement or shame. Offer a simple acknowledgement that the time is now coming to embrace something larger and different.

3. Gratitude is also important. Can you find gratitude for everything you have been and done so far? It has got you to this point, a point of leaping or moving into something new.

4. Acknowledge the judgements, evaluations and critiques that inevitably come up when you give space to your dream. They have every right to be there. But do not take them too seriously. Do not allow them to take centre stage, to drown out other inner knowings. They are merely thoughts. If necessary, smile politely when they start to bang on incessantly like a well meaning but misguided uncle or auntie at Christmas.

5. Consider that most of what you’ve been taught about work, money, security, and their relation to life is probably false and certainly uninvestigated. We inherit these stories from parents, schooling, society and peers. What stories are you living that are unhelpful and may not be true?

6. Recognise we are at a time in history where a new story is emerging. Just as the industrial revolution 200 years ago radically transformed existing narratives about work, money, activity and culture. Consider that a similar reinvention is now underway. What role would you like to play in that?

7. Finally, recognise that any meaningful change will inevitably be accompanied by anxiety – your own and those around you. You can’t avoid the anxiety. Consider that acting according to a deeper intuition in the face of anxiety will not just help you personally, but is also a radical political act. It is revolutionary because moving with wisdom, courage and conviction toward a dream goes against many prevailing norms and assumptions about how things work and what is possible in life.