"If it's not practicing law, then what is my work?"
When I was wrestling with this question more than a decade ago, I shared my struggle with a wise woman mentor and social entrepreneur, Nina Simons, who co-founded Cultivating Women’s Leadership training.
Nina’s guidance was: "Pay exquisite attention when you come alive."
But my lawyer brain was confused. Exquisite attention? Coming alive? What does that mean? How do I do that?
Up until then, my formula for success was being a fast learner: quickly figuring out what to do and how to do it so that I could accomplish, achieve, and acquire as fast as possible. When it came to the question, “What is my work?”, that formula failed me. I was lost.
Having focused on What (results) and How (process) in my work as a corporate lawyer for over 20 years, my blind spot was: Who (source) or "the inner space from which we operate," in the words of Otto Scharmer, Senior Lecturer in the MIT Sloan School of Management and Co-founder of the Presencing Institute.
“There has to be a better way to make a living!” kept creeping into my mind when I tired of the same-old-same-old ways of going after what I thought would make me happy and successful. Looking back, I got stuck and frustrated every time I went there because I skipped the foundational inner work of seeing and sensing into the question:
“Who are you?”
I kept fruitlessly hammering at the question: “What is your work?” because I was professionally trained to focus on What (problems) and How (solutions).
I put all my attention and energy into human-doing and neglected human-being.
Deep inside I knew that I had to shift somehow, but I kept looking away from the pain of not living who I am because of the fear of failure, uncertainty, and unknown.
“If not this, then what?”
The most convenient and frequent excuse I had was: Time.
I “didn’t have time” to get to know myself in that inner space. I’d grown used to work where everything around me felt like a frantic scramble in a complex maze. My urge to keep up with it all kept me in the safety of the familiar, faster-more-and-better lane, occupied with my to-do list and getting stuff done.
So my excuse for not searching inside myself was: “I have too much to do, and not enough time.” Busy-ness is often a respectable defense in our culture, and I bought into it. I felt important being busy. After all, I got stuff done and was handsomely rewarded.
What I ignored in that inner space gradually and inevitably caught up with me. My unconscious thoughts and unacknowledged emotions drove me to exhaustion and burnout. My body gave out. It was high time to face the unknown inside myself.
However, I didn’t have the tools for this inner work. It wasn’t something I learned in school. Without a compass and flashlight to navigate, it took me many years to explore that inner space and sense into the question, “Who are you?” and grow my inner capacity for doing “the work” in response to the question: “What is your work?”
After years of immersing myself in learning about the inner space, I finally have the tools I wish I had when I was struggling every day to live out my highest potential in work and life.
And the exploration never ends. Being and doing don't stay still, but are a dynamic duo breathing energy into our lives, work, and relationships.
I still get lost and run into roadblocks more than I'd like, but now I have the tools to work with when I'm lost or blocked on my path. Knowing that I can get back even when it appears hidden gives me confidence to trust life and its cycle of birth, growth, death and rebirth.
The ability to say “I can work with this no matter what," gives me a sense of safety and security from within. No one can take it away from me. And it grows stronger with each challenge.
Now I know what Nina meant and what it feels like to come alive in my body, heart, and mind. I feel it when I teach, mentor, and facilitate the foundational skills I've learned and the inner exploration tools I’ve developed, to help others find their paths.
By exploring the inner space where we can understand and work with our emotions and thoughts, we can integrate our physical, emotional, and mental dimensions to show up as a whole person and contribute our individual parts to the whole of life. That feeling is priceless.
Why not invite possibilities for your highest potential to unfold from the source of your being?
What creativity, insight, innovation, and inspiration might be waiting for your attention, awareness, and presence to come alive?
If not now, then when?