Authentic Livelihood— What If You Always Knew What You Loved to Do?

Like many people watching the Olympic competitions in Rio de Janeiro this past week, I found the U.S. women's gymnastic team absolutely riveting. Simone Biles, in particular, with her stellar back flips, aerial somersaults, and serene poise caught my attention. Then I became interested in her back story, which showed that she'd been interested in gymnastics from when she was a young child.

Barbara Sher in her book, Wishcraft-- How to Get What You Really Want, zeroed in on this point, that what we really want to do emerges in different guises with great clarity from when we're quite young. As she says, "You were very busy when you were two . . . You knew perfectly well what you loved and what you wanted. And you went after it, without the slightest hesitation or doubt . . . Those 'rare' and 'special' qualities we think distinguish geniuses from the rest of us? You had them. I had them. Where did they go? . . . Ask any famous woman or man, and you will probably find that they remember having a very clear sense of what they were meant to do at a very early age."

Finally, Sher asks, "What talents or abilities might those early interests and dreams point to?"

Back to Simone Biles' childhood upbringing. Since her birth mother struggled with drug addiction, Simone had no opportunities when she was very young to let her natural curiosity and aliveness have full scope. When she was adopted by her maternal grandparents at age five, however, they immediately noticed that she was "happy, but hyperactive, leaping off furniture" and "doing back flips off the family's mailbox before she even took a gymnastics class."

Fortunately for her, Biles' adopted parents and her coach, Aimee Boorman, supported her in following her passion and channeling it into gymnastics, which she loved since being introduced to it at age six. According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, "Boorman identified something in Biles that she knew she needed to nurture. She went with a low-key approach that's rare in this sport. That meant letting Biles simply have fun in the gym in her early years, rather than pushing her towards Olympic greatness and risk losing her entirely."

Essentially, Boorman gave Biles back her early childhood of exploring and enjoying running, flipping, and twisting in the air. Gradually, Boorman introduced Biles to new ways of focusing her energy and abilities that allowed her to become the top athlete that she is now without burning out her joy in being who she is doing what loves.

We know we're not all champion athletes, Nobel prize winners, or Mahatma Gandhis. However, what Sher calls your "genius" and others call "authentic self" is there right from your beginning, "like the genes in a seed that say it's going to become a . . . palm tree, or a rose."

So if you're feeling stuck, and not sure what your career or life path is or wants to become, ask yourself:

What did I love to do when I was a child? What gave me joy?

For example, I loved to create things where I got to put together bits of fabric, paint, egg shells, and found objects. So my first job was not selling lemonade, delivering newspapers, or babysitting. It was teaching other kids on the block how to make papier maché puppets and other arts and crafts objects that I was learning from my own art teacher. Even then I enjoyed what I evolved later for myself--- being my own boss, working in my own environment, and helping people enjoy learning to create something new and interesting in their lives.

Then ask yourself:

What is it that gave me joy and delight as a child that I'd like to bring into how I work and live my life now?

Did I love running? Did I love to sing? Did I like drawing pictures? Did I enjoy collecting rocks and shiny objects when I went out walking? Did I like riding horses? Did I enjoy helping people find lost keys or cats? Did I like to read or tell stories to my younger brother? Did I relax by watching clouds scudding by in the sky?

And then ask:

What held me back from doing this?

Was it a lack of support when you got into school? Or an assumption that only certain skills can guarantee you sufficient income? Or....?

And then:

What are the essential qualities of what I loved doing as a child that I'd like to bring into my work and whole life now?

These could include-- being able to move freely, feeling creative, exploring new things and places, being with animals, spending time outdoors, building things, teaching, having time to be meditative, and so on. Imagine how these essential qualities of what you loved doing when you were young could be part of what and how you work and live now.

And finally:

What is it I need to learn in order to integrate these essential qualities into a new career or way of living that I love now?

This might be developing particular career skills. Or it might be getting coaching support for a career or life transition. Or it might be meditation practice or yoga for inner balance and centering.

Remember the advice of coach Aimee Boorman--- trainer of Simone Biles, who just won four Olympic gold medals--- to the five U.S. women gymnasts in this 2016 Olympics: "Success is being happy and healthy. Compete from a place of joy!"