What we do for a living is irrelevant

It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living. I want to know what you ache for and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart’s longing. – from The Invitation by Oriah Mountain Dreamer

This is just an excerpt from the book The Invitation and I first heard this quote during a weekend retreat. Had I known then what my life would be like today I would have told you that you were kidding. The entire quote can be found here: http://skdesigns.com/internet/articles/prose/oriah_mountain_dreamer/invitation/ but what I realized is this poem has 12 stanzas and I felt it would be a good thing to share my own thoughts on each stanza per month in the year. My hope is that you add your own personal reflections, thoughts, and stories to this as well.

This quote resonates within me on a deep level. So many of my identities scream out at this and it is challenging to rise above the noise to fully take it into myself. Let's break this down into more manageable pieces.

-It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living.

As a professional counselor who supports folks with career-related and mental health concerns in my practice, this first line is often a big part of my clinical work. The counselor in me says that it is irrelevant what you do. What matters is how you feel about the work you do and the time you invest into it. Unfortunately, this kind of thinking isn't what I run into out in the world.

Think about an event you recently attended and you didn’t know a lot of people in the room. When you introduce yourself or are introduced to others by a friend or colleague, what is the first question usually asked? “What do you do?” is a common response and often is the first information we get from others. This says a lot about how we get to know someone and the value we place on what the person does professionally.

Here’s where I like to pause and check in by asking, “What’s your first thought after you hear someone say ‘I’m a teacher’ or ‘I’m an attorney’ or ‘I’m a janitor at my community public school’?” Do you place a judgement/value on earning potential, the degree of difficulty in work-related tasks, work schedules, etc.? I won’t fault you if you do because we have been socialized to place a higher value on the occupations that have the greatest earning potential. It is so ingrained in us from a very young age.

The board game “Life” is a great example of how we are socialized to think that "good" jobs need to make a lot of money so you can afford things; the bigger house, better car, vacations. My 8 year-old son is upset every time he pulls the “Salesperson” job with a low starting salary and limited earning potential. Commence Socialization! It begins this early. He somehow understands that being in a retail job is not a good job because it is tied to less money. The game reinforces it. My wife and I remind him that money is one factor, but also ask if you were excited to get up and go to work every day, how would you feel then? We have to consciously fight the impulse, as well as popular culture, that money is everything and the only way to to be deemed "successful" is to have a high-paying job. It helps, but it isn't everything.

-I want to know what you ache for…

This reminds me often of the process of discernment. Discernment is an unfolding process of examining the deepest parts of self and the environment so that a decision can be made, regardless of the outcome. Discernment is hard work and can often take a very long time, especially if it doesn’t connect with the deepest parts of longing. As I understand it today, the first part of true discernment is asking yourself, “What do I ache for in my bones?” This ache is tied to our deepest desires, ones that are placed and formed by thoughts, feelings, emotions, and experiences. The Jesuit tradition, which is a part of my education and faith formation, states that our desires are placed in our hearts by God, and because God is good, so too are our desires! This is good news and a great place to start.

Quick question: Of the people you know well, how many of them have disclosed to you their deepest desires? If you are lucky and have this as a part of your relationship with them, you would know. For many of us, the answer is “not many”.

What I take from this is that our deepest desires are often the wishes we have for ourselves but somehow keep hidden, locked away from the outside world. Perhaps we feel they are so fragile that oxygen will corrode, damage, or even destroy them, so we keep them protected and, sometimes, even keep them from ourselves. Think back to the event in the previous paragraph, now picture yourself standing there and instead of asking someone whom you’ve never met before “What do you do for a living?” asking “What do you ache for most in this world?” And they answer you truthfully. It’s an entirely different conversation and you get to see something so fragile, so ingrained, so THEM.

-if you dare to meet the dreaming of your heart’s longing.

It’s risky to expose yourself and your desires to others. It is a basic human characteristic to understand ourselves by comparing to others. Where we get into trouble is when we place a judgement or a value on our beliefs and on the beliefs of others. I believe this to be why we hide so much of ourselves from each other. We are too afraid of being hurt or our desires being invalidated by someone who doesn’t understand, won’t understand, or is already hurt and is looking to not be alone in that hurt. I believe the author is identifying this as a dare; to be courageous enough to express the longing of the heart and being strong enough to keep it alive and out in the open.

I am a counselor today because my desire to help people by sitting with them in their pain, joy, sorrow, grief, uncertainty is one of the deepest desires of my heart. I was able to find a vocation and calling that allows me to answer the question “What do you do for a living?” and also, “What do you ache for in your bones?” at the same time. My great hope in my work is that I can help people see the choices they have available and, wherever possible, connect them with their heart’s longing and the courage to show it.

I’m interested in your thoughts and welcome any and all comments, as long as they are respectful towards others. I’ll check in again next month with the second stanza of the poem. Happy Counseling Awareness Month!

Be well and thrive,