This is part 4 of the special series “Discover the Work You Were Born to Do”, by author Nick Williams.

By the end of this article, you will have explored:

  • The nine signposts of the work you were born to do.
  • Why discovering the work you were born to do is a gift to us all.

1 – Your inner voice and your inspired ideas.

The idea for the work you were born to do is already within you…

… when you look into your heart, you’ll recognise the still, small voice that calls out to you – as it has many times before – and speaks of the vocation that is yours and yours alone. You know its truth and no one else needs persuade you of it.

The most natural way that the work we were born to do shows up in our lives is through the things that most inspire us, thrill us and excite us. It lies in whatever we’re passionate about. It is the activity that we are most drawn to, dream about, are curious about and uplifted by.
It is what we know in our heart we are here to do. When we really trust ourselves enough to listen to that inner voice it all becomes obvious: we are meant to extend what is in our heart to others.

Some people are blessed by being raised in families in which they were encouraged to listen to and trust themselves. In certain cultures, it is actually assumed that each child is born with particular gifts and talents for their own joy and the benefit of the community.

There, children are mentored to help them discover and develop their own gifts. However, many of us today have been encouraged to listen to the guidance of others at the expense of our own instincts. If we find that we are overriding our own inner voice and intuition, we have probably been taught to work for money, not for love.

Question: What do you know in your heart you are here to do and be, even if this presently exists only as an idea or thought?

2 – Behind your resistance.

I find that whatever is most important to us and most significant to our personal evolution is often the very thing we most resist and fail to follow through on…

… anything that involves a commitment of the heart or a response to a higher calling will most likely stimulate our resistance. Indeed the more important a project is to our own personal evolution and calling, the more likely it is we will experience some resistance around it. Resistance is how we try to blot out our soul’s call. We do this through sabotage and by stopping ourselves from setting out in the direction that is the most authentic for us. Resistance is the dragon we have to duel with – and defeat – in order to reach our personal treasure.

We may put more energy into distracting ourselves from our sense of calling than in following it and we may even keep ourselves busy so as to avoid it. We may tell ourselves we could “never do it” and become terrified at the very thought of it – justifying the many reasons why we simply can’t proceed. Or we may procrastinate and tell ourselves that we will pursue it “one day”, or just “not yet”. Some of us fall into the trap of studying our calling to death – but never taking action.

Sometimes our resistance kicks in habitually, in a heart-beat. For each great idea we generate, within seconds we come up with seven major reasons why it would never work and why we could never do it.

Here’s the bottom line: your callings often will activate your resistance.

But here is the trick: recognise that your resistance is often a pointer to your personal North Star, showing you the true direction of your life. The work you were born to do will regularly invite you to encounter your resistance and to grow beyond it.

You can learn to starve your resistance and feed your inspiration!

Nevertheless, it’s very important that you understand that your resistance is not a personal character defect on your part – but simply part of the software of being human. Practically everybody experiences resistance, and unfortunately, most people wait for their resistance to subside before they try to follow their heart.

You might be waiting a very long time before this happens!

Successful people are not necessarily those who have somehow become immunised against their resistance. Rather, they are people who have made a commitment to act in the face of their resistance and despite it.

In doing so, they connect with something in them that is greater than their resistance – their spirit, their creativity, their passion. You may have come across the quote from writer and diarist Anaïs Nin (1903-1977), who wrote, ‘Then the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk to blossom.’

… Remaining tight like a bud is a kind of death when you are being called to blossom into a fuller life. Overcoming your resistance is about beginning to act in faith without the need of guarantees of success or approval, and creating your own path as you go.

Question: What are you aware of that you are resisting the most and keep talking yourself out of? What brilliant idea(s) of yours do you keep trying to dismiss, but which won’t go away?

3 – In your shadow life.

Your shadow life will usually show up in two ways: in situations in which you are involved on the fringes of a creative activity that interests you, yet where you are not being fully creative yourself; and in instances where you are supporting the creativity and success of others, but neglecting your own. It might also be expressed in an area of your life that is flourishing in some respects, but that you nevertheless keep hidden away…

Joan was a coaching client who told me that her long-term goal was to paint and then put on an exhibition to see if anyone would buy her art.

As we talked, it emerged that she already had nine finished canvases, and so, with my encouragement, she organised an exhibition at her home just six weeks after our session. She was terrified but willing to give it a go!

She followed through on our discussions and held the exhibition, selling four canvases and receiving lots of positive feedback. When she moved her talent from the shadows out into the light at the centre of her life, she was quickly rewarded with an extremely positive response.

When we are living a shadow life, we are hiding out and not showing up fully in the world. It could be that we are investing our energy in other people, their creativity and their success, whilst neglecting our own needs and creative expression because we don’t think we are good enough, talented or important enough.

Let me share an example from my own life. For ten years I was involved in the Alternatives programme at St James’s in Piccadilly, London, where I helped to organise events for the likes of Dame Anita Roddick, Deepak Chopra, Wayne Dyer and Susan Jeffers. I loved the work for a long time, but then started to become a little bored and critical, thinking I could probably perform just as well on stage as many of the guest speakers.

… Then one day it hit me – I was judging these people for doing exactly what I didn’t have the courage to do myself: writing, talking out and inspiring others to lead more creative and fulfilled lives.

They embodied the very qualities I had largely disowned in myself and which I had relegated to my shadow life. Whilst this was a scary and painful insight, it also opened the doors to my taking my own speaking and writing more seriously, and I began to put them at the centre of my work.

I gradually moved from being a promoter to being the one promoted, from supporting the creativity and spirituality of others to finding and expressing my own creativity and spirituality. I moved centre stage in my own life.

Question: Where are you hiding out or supporting other people more than yourself?

4 – Under the statement ‘I don’t know’.

When I ask people what they would love to do in their work, they often respond with the words, ‘I don’t know!’

For some people, this is genuinely true – they simply don’t know – and if this is the case for you, the guidance in this series will help you to gain some clarity. However, although we may not consciously realise it, a part of us always does know what we want to do – we just need to learn how to connect with that deeper part of ourselves.

We can achieve this through contemplation, prayer, meditation, or anything that puts us in touch with our own soul or spirit.

Whatever works for you, do that!

When faced with the statement ‘I don’t know’, I often find that (when I delve a little deeper) these words hide at least three other dynamics.

Firstly, they may mean, ‘I do have an idea – or several ideas – about what I’d love to do, but I have no strategies for making them happen. I don’t know how I could realise them or how I could earn a living from them.’

So don’t fall into the trap of confusing ‘I don’t know what’ with ‘I don’t know how’.

Secondly, ‘I don’t know’ can mean, ‘I’m afraid to know. Unhappy and unfulfilled as I am, this situation is familiar to me. Becoming clear about the next step would be scary for me, so I’d rather stay confused, thank you! If I became clearer about what I want, I’d have to do something about it.’

Thirdly, the phrase can mean, ‘I want a bolt of lightning to come down and make it really clear for me. I am waiting for God and the Universe to write it on a twenty-foot-high billboard in words I understand, which will then give me permission to act. I don’t want to have to go out looking, or research, explore and then trust myself to make a decision. I am afraid to know myself and take greater responsibility for my life!’

‘I don’t know’ often signifies fear-masked, confused thinking, indicating a need for us to take a clear and honest approach.

Question: What are you pretending you don’t know or are afraid to become clear about?

5 – Through your naturalness, which shows up in other people’s eyes.

Each of us has our own blind spots, and one of the most common blind spots we have is for the very talents that come most easily and naturally to us. They feel so natural we can’t imagine they are anything particularly special; or maybe we don’t even notice them at all.

We may have been doing something for so long we’ve become really good at it and it feels easy for us. So sometimes we need the perspective of others to show us the special facets of ourselves.

Whilst there can be a danger in letting other people tell us what they think we should be doing with our lives, there is also a great wisdom in listening to – and filtering – other people’s perceptions of ourselves. They can often recognise more clearly those talents and skills that are so close to us we fail to spot them ourselves. It may take courage, but asking other people what they think your talents and strengths are can be very enlightening and help you to learn a lot about yourself.

Question: What comes easily to you and what abilities or characteristics are you most appreciated and acknowledged for? What can’t you stop yourself doing because it just flows from you?

6 – Behind the words ‘If only I could find someone to pay me to do it’.

Other variations on the statement above include, ‘It’s what I’ll do when I’ve been successful and made my money’, and ‘When I’ve won the lottery, then I’ll . . .’

You may have been brought up with the belief that you can either sell your soul for a salary, or follow your heart. Many of us believe that if we choose to do what we love – whatever comes easily and most naturally to us – that we shouldn’t expect to earn much money…

… we fall into the trap of being virtuous but poor.

We may have trouble imagining that anyone would pay us to do what we’d love to do; or perhaps we think that if we really love doing it – then we should do it for free. Thinking this way means that every time we have a great idea about what we’d love to do – because we can’t immediately see how we’d earn any money from it – we don’t pursue it.

My teaching is very much about a third way: not to work for love OR money, but to work for love AND money. When you have discovered the work you were born to do – you’ll often be paid very handsomely for it – because you’ll be using your unique combination of talents to make a real difference in the world.

Question: If you knew you could earn all the money you needed, what would you most love to do?

7 – In your lost and neglected dreams and your unutilised talent.

I believe that when we are children we often know what we’d truly love to do, but we either talk ourselves out of it, or someone else convinces us to “play it safe” or “be more realistic”.

We hear our true calling, but for some reason we don’t answer and become distracted.

… We may be afraid of going against the wishes of family, peers or school, or afraid of breaking with the social conditioning we’ve grown up with in order to follow our own path. We may fear loss of approval or rejection, and so go on to make choices that were never really ours. But those dreams are still there, even if they are buried! There is a tremendous amount lying dormant in us which we can still activate.

During a coaching session, Muriel talked about how she had loved sewing and making blouses when she was a child, but that she had stopped doing this when her mother discouraged her. Now she was in her mid-forties and a mother herself, and had not done any sewing for thirty years. I offered her a coaching goal: to get her sewing machine out, then to design and make a blouse by the next time we spoke.

Hesitantly, she accepted the goal, and the next time we talked she explained, ‘It was so emotional! I cried my eyes out as I started to sew. It was like I was reconnecting with that fifteen-year-old in me who I’d neglected and ignored. But I felt so proud and energised when I finished it.’

This was the beginning of a whole new dimension of her life – creating blouses and getting involved with fashion. She said, ‘My kids have remarked how I am better with them; and they like seeing me happier and more fulfilled.’

Sometimes reconnecting with lost or neglected dreams can initially be painful, but it can also be a poignant and energising experience, leading us in a new direction. The psychologist Carl Jung (1875-1961) wrote, ‘The greatest damage to the child is the unlived life of the parents.’

I don’t say this so as to guilt-trip you – just to encourage you to realise that your being happier and more fulfilled does not represent a selfish act on your part, but is a real blessing to you and the people around you.

Question: What did you dream of doing when you were a child that you’ve let go of? What talent of yours is underutilised and itching to be expressed?

8 – Behind a wake-up call or even a crisis.

A life’s calling we choose not to pursue can often ‘go underground’ in our psyche – but it never completely disappears. Our deeper Self is always speaking to us, and perhaps never more loudly than when we have stopped listening to it.

Our calling becomes an unlived life within us, forever trying to get our attention. At some stage that unlived life, talent and potential will surface and attempt to gain our attention in a number of ways: through our curiosity and what we are still drawn to; through our jealousy of others doing what we know in our heart we’d love to do too; through our shadow life.

At other times, a brush with death – our own or others – or a significant loss can wake us up to our deeper Self. Similarly, mid-life is often a time of questioning and of redefining ourselves – although we seem to be having mid-life crises even earlier and more regularly these days!

And if we miss all these warnings, a full-blown crisis might finally claim our attention. Crises often represent an attempt by our deeper Self to move us into a more authentic way of being and working. One purpose of a crisis may be to bestow an implicit permission on us: now things are so bad, it’s OK to change.

The pain of the crisis can justify our desire for change; making it appear more socially acceptable than if we were simply to declare, ‘I want to change my life!’

A crisis can literally open us up to new aspects of ourselves. You may well know people who have said to you, ‘My illness is one of the best things that ever happened to me. I appreciate life so much more now.’ Such difficult times can be the very ones that break us open into all that we can be; a heart-break can become a heart-opening.

Things don’t go wrong so we can become bitter and give up. They happen in order to break us down and open us up so that we can be reborn and re-build ourselves. Sometimes we need to lose a part of ourselves in order to grow anew and rediscover our potential.

Question: What part of your unlived life is trying to get your attention now? What looming crisis could you head off by taking positive action now?

9 – In a greater sense of yourself and a new sense of identity.

The work we were born to do is often found when we begin to think about ourselves more highly and recognise our significance in ways we may have previously overlooked.

Research shows that by the time we reach adulthood, most of us will have received nine times as many negative messages about ourselves as positive messages. So we may well have a few negative ideas about ourselves, our significance, our worth, abilities and talent!

Yet we each have the capacity to shine in our own unique way, and that includes you – although you may feel that you have lost some of your sparkle! You may have had a thorough conditioning in ‘thinking small’, belittling yourself or always putting yourself below others. Consequently, perhaps you dismiss opportunities and possibilities as being ‘not for you’.

But even though I haven’t met you, I’d like to guess that you are more than you think you are, and probably more than your parents, teachers, partner, children and colleagues have told you that you are. I know that there is brilliance in you, even a genius – something that you are really good at – because there is in everybody. You are greater than the definitions of yourself that you have inherited.

Are you afraid of showing off? I suggest that your next step should be to show up more, not show off. Somehow we think it is bad or wrong to ‘blow our own trumpet’. Yet there is a calling within each one of us to be the whole of ourselves, to play bigger and stop diminishing ourselves. It is a reverse arrogance to have skills, talents, wisdom and experience that others could benefit from, and then to deny them.

So it is a disservice to the world to hide away what you have.

At present your sense of who you really are might only be embryonic, but it is still within you, and as you shed your layers of conditioning you will win through to this greater sense of yourself. Then, your work life can become an adventure in satisfying your curiosity about yourself and discovering all you can become.

So, instead of praying that you will find a brilliant job, career or business idea, pray that you will recognise – and be delivered – to your unique brilliance – your Self.

Your positive desire for the work you were born to do

Your desire to discover the work you were born to do is not a selfish act on your part, but a natural – even spiritual – impulse. Think of it this way: you were put on this earth to bring a little more joy and inspiration to it; to inject some more love into the world and make the planet a little better for your existence.
When you don’t do what you came here for, when you don’t become who you were meant to be, you rob yourself, you rob me and you rob everyone. We are all a little diminished.

You were created with your unique gifts so that you could help nudge humanity one millimetre further along its path home. Your work is your gift to the world and everyone in it. Please don’t rob us of your contribution.

Give us what you’ve got!

About the Author:

Through his books, and live talks, workshops, personal coaching and on-line learning programmes, Nick has inspired tens of thousands of people to discover the work they were born to do. Nick then helps them to live that either through employment or by being entrepreneurial through their own business. He also helps them develop the wisdom and courage to harness their inspiration, talent and their fears as forces for growth and creativity.