Do you have something tugging at you? And you’re not sure whether it’s a passing whim or something you need to pay attention to?
Maybe you’re thinking of trying out for community theater. Or taking a course that will lead to a new career. You might be working in another field right now and doing something on the side that feeds your passion.
It can be tricky to know whether a tug is real. How do you know if it’s a true calling, wishful thinking or something your ego has dreamed up?
That’s what author Gregg Lavoy set out to discover in his book, “Finding and Following an Authentic Life.” He routinely asked the people he interviewed how they knew it was a true calling.
And they came up with six consistent answers:
- It keeps coming back, no matter how much you ignore it. Our passions and callings may be “still small voices,” although the true ones have staying power.
- A true calling comes at you from multiple directions — body symptoms, synchronicities, dreams (both day and night), gifts, talents, and the people and books that come across your radar.
- There’s a feeling of rightness about it. You may not be able to explain it, but you can’t deny it either. It just feels right.
- It continues to jazz you. It doesn’t just get you excited for a few weeks or months. And you don’t mind doing the mundane tasks involved in bringing these passions to fruition. Just ask any athlete who routinely puts in countless hours of practice, or any performer who spends 90 percent of his or her time rehearsing and 10 percent performing.
- It scares you. And scary equals aliveness.
- The truth or falseness of a passion or calling is ultimately in the results. You’ve got to be willing to try it out, to experiment or at least go down the path a little ways.
Testing the waters
Think about taking a small step in the direction of your calling. See what feedback life gives you, advises Lavoy. Does your energy expand or contract? Take another step and see if it makes you feel more alive.
“Another step — what do your dreams at night tell you?” asks Lavoy. “Another step — what does your body tell you? Another step — what do your friends tell you?”
You might be working in one field — and feeling the tug to do something entirely different. If it’s a true calling, you’ll likely feel compelled to develop a plan to follow it. Of course, you’ll need to weigh the risks and benefits and resist the urge to jump in prematurely.
For inspiration, here are a few examples of entrepreneurs cited in Inc. magazine who founded their companies while they were working for someone else.
They may not have household names, but I’ll bet you recognize the products that resulted when they followed their intuition and passions:
Jim Koch — Jim was working at Boston Consulting when he took the Austrian beer recipe that had been in his family for generations and used it to launch Samuel Adams (Boston Beer Company). With Budweiser, Coors and Miller now owned by foreign companies, Boston Beer Company is now the largest American brewery.
Jennifer Hyman and Jennifer Fleiss — Business school classmates Hyman and Fleiss turned their passion for fashion into “Rent the Runway,” which now has five brick-and-mortar stores and offers more than 50,000 designer dresses for rent.
Kevin Plank — As a football player at the University of Maryland, Plank saw the need for shirts that wick away sweat. He began to design them and convinced his former teammates who went on to play professionally to try his product and share it with their teammates. The company that resulted, Under Armour, has earned $2.3 billion in revenue.
Get the facts. If you’re familiar with your subject, you’re much more likely to intuitively reach an appropriate decision, says author Eugene Raudsepp while citing his research on hunches.
Watch out for self-deception. If a hunch turns out to be wildly wrong, chances are it emerged from wishful thinking, fear or revenge, not intuition. Be willing to confront your fears and to accept things as they are. This allows intuition to function more freely.
That’s why it’s helpful to take a step or two in the direction of your hunch and see what happens. Try keeping a journal, advises Raudsepp, to record your insights. Over time, this can help to distinguish intuitive hunches from wishful thinking.
Be patient and don’t force solutions. As you likely know, the intuitive hunch often comes in a flash when you’ve put the problem aside. “Sleeping on it” gives ideas time to incubate.
If your intuition is trying to get your attention, that tug will probably keep pulling on you. And this could be one example to pay attention to those “voices in your head.”