Fashion a Passion-Driven Life
Realize Your Purpose and Feed Your Soul
In the midst of uncertainties, many are asking, “Why am I here?”
Three years ago, Cindy Readnower felt as if work was swallowing her life. As a single mom with two sons to support and two franchise restaurants to run in Sarasota, Florida, she routinely would get up at 4 a.m. and go to bed after midnight. She didn’t see enough of her boys. “I never had a free moment to just shut down and think about what I really wanted,” she recalls.
Then the economy collapsed, forcing her to shutter her businesses, file for bankruptcy and consult with a career counselor to plan her next steps. Today, at 57, she’s working as a life coach and business consultant and as she sees it, living the life she is meant to live.
“When you hit hard times and say, ‘My worst fears have come true; what am I going to do now?’ It makes you realize you will only find true success when you follow your passion,” she says.
Readnower represents what some see as the silver lining in these challenging economic times. At a time of high unemployment, when some can’t find a job and others are working grueling hours to compensate for laid-off coworkers, many Americans are stepping off the corporate hamster wheel and sincerely asking themselves: “What is my purpose here, and how can I realize it?”
Purpose Over Profits
According to a recent study by the nonprofit Encore.org, which helps older Americans pursue more meaningful careers, as many as 9 million people ages 44 to 70 have already transitioned into encore careers that combine purpose, passion and a paycheck. Another 31 million would like to.
~ Mother Teresa
Meanwhile, surveys show that new college grads are increasingly gravitating toward nonprofit and public sector jobs that feed their souls more than their bank accounts. Off-the-clock volunteerism is soaring. Due to working and earning less, people are also consuming less, cooking, sewing and gardening more, rediscovering forgotten passions and relationships and finding new ones in the process.
“When the economy tanked, it prompted a real moment of spiritual awakening for all of us,” observes Sue Frederick, of Boulder, Colorado, a nationally renowned career counselor who also applies her intuitive skills in helping clients like Readnower find their muse. “We are no longer able to hide out behind jobs and benefits that might not have been a good fit for us to begin with. People are remembering their soul’s mission and waking up to the true work they are intended to do.”
At the leading edge of the purposedriven career movement is the millennial generation, now in their 20s through early 30s. Having come of age amidst the Enron Corporation scandal, 9/11, Iraq and Afghanistan wars and the 2008 economic collapse, they’re graduating from college with a more holistic perspective on what constitutes a good career.
“The decade in which we have matured has been turbulent in almost every dimension,” says John Coleman, 31, a recent graduate of Harvard Business School and co-author of Passion and Purpose: Stories from the Best and Brightest Young Business Leaders. “This generation is looking at a world that has so many problems and saying, ‘The old opportunities are not there anymore, so we have to create new ones.’ Many are actively seeking more meaning and purpose at work.”
One 2010 survey of 500 MBA students found that when considering a long list of options for what they looked for in a career, they ranked “intellectual challenge” and “opportunity to impact the world” as their first and third priorities, bracketing “compensation” which ranked second.
Another analysis by The New York Times found that in 2009, 11 percent more college graduates worked for nonprofits than in the previous year. Accordingly, Coleman’s book is packed with encouraging examples, from a Harvard MBA student and a U.S. Marine that co-founded a nonprofit addressing poverty in Kenya’s largest slum to a biomedical engineering grad that launched a webbased car-sharing service.
This altruistic, purpose-driven career track seems a stark departure from that of the baby boomers, collectively referred to as the “me” generation for its materialistic ethos. Yet those that specialize in helping people find more meaningful lives say this group currently counts among their best and most focused customers.
“We are at a time in the world when it is more socially acceptable to follow your passions,” says Janet Attwood, whose Passion Test workshops—established in 2004—are welcoming more people than ever. “In my day, my dad was so freaked out I’d end up homeless that he sent me to business school so I would learn how to type. Back then, parents never asked: ‘What turns you on?’”
That’s a shame, remarks Frederick, because first hints at our purpose often bubble up in our youth. “I believe all of us know at some point what our gift is, but we often bury it and say, ‘I have to fit in and get a job with benefits and a good paycheck.’” There is an alternative.
Work and Consume Less, Live More
Attwood stresses that living in line with one’s passion isn’t just about work, noting, “It’s about your relationships and friends, your spirituality and health, what you consume and where you choose to live…”
She asks clients to write down five life-defining passions (see sidebar) and use them as a guidepost. “Whenever you are faced with a choice, a decision or an opportunity, choose in favor of your passion,” she counsels. Attwood has observed firsthand how success often follows, because, “When you choose in favor of the things that have the greatest, deepest meaning for you, the universe supports you more than if you are just tepid and neutral about something.”
~ George Bernard Shaw
For some, that has meant working fewer hours for less pay, in order to allow more time for clarifying meditation, family dinners, volunteering at a local shelter, taking a long-yearned-for dance class or planning the next career shift. It has also led to willing trade-offs in buying less and doing more for oneself.
According to the 2010 MetLife Study of the American Dream, 77 percent of Americans now say that achieving their big dream comprises improving the quality of their lives by strengthening personal relationships. As for millennials, 39 percent say they already have what they need. Also, those that feel growing pressure to buy more and better material possessions has dropped from 66 percent in 2006 to well below half today.
“Plenty of people have already started down this path. They’re growing vegetables, raising chickens and keeping bees. They’re building their own homes, often with the help of friends and neighbors,” writes Boston University Sociology Professor Juliet Schor, Ph.D.
In her groundbreaking book, Plenitude: The New Economics of True Wealth, she argues that contrary to many economists’ assumptions, a shorter work week and smaller economy is better for society as a whole. More, such a lifestyle, “allows people to build stronger social connections, maintain their physical and mental health and engage in activities that are more creative and meaningful.”
Any Example Proves the Rule
Ever since childhood days of helping her mother make clothing for the family, Juliette Bastian has had a passion for fashion design. Her love of dancing dates back to watching American Bandstand. But when it came to choosing a career, “There was always this trigger that went off in my head that said, ‘You need to make money,’” she explains.
By her mid-40s, this San Dimas, California, resident boasted a six-figure salary and a successful, but not terribly fulfilling career doing accounting and strategic business planning. To indulge her creative side, she created colorful spreadsheets, but it wasn’t enough. “At one point, I acknowledged, ‘I am not happy walking into work anymore,’” recalls Bastian, now 52. “I felt like a hamster on a wheel.”
Seven years ago, she walked out, and with Attwood’s help, set out to find her true callings. “People always think you have to pick just one, but you have passions that run across every aspect of your life,” she says. “I now realize I am a dancer, fashion designer, family person and spiritual woman.”
Bastian begins each week by making a color-coded “strategic plan of action,” making sure to include elements of each of her five passions: financial freedom, exceptional relationships, optimal health, successful business ventures and an alliance with God. That means she’s back in school studying fashion design, and now makes time for dancing, church, family and a part-time career-coaching business.
She says that it has been financially rough at times. But the “sacrifices”—like fewer hair appointments, fancy clothes, meals out and expensive holiday gifts for friends—have been well worth it. “I now have the flexibility, freedom and joy of knowing I am living who Juliette truly is,” she says with a smile. “I know I’ll be taken care of as long as I honor what truly matters to me.”
Lisa Marshall is a freelance writer near Boulder, CO. Connect at Lisa@LisaAnnMarshall.com.