A week or so ago, I was on my way to a World Domination Summit (WDS) event facilitated by Jonathan Fields, who leads something called Good Life Project. The three-hour workshop was all about how to become “sparked,” or lit up in a way that leads you to what you’re meant to do in the world.
I mostly love Jonathan’s work and was so excited to finally see him in person. The workshop topic is one that I care a lot about, and I showed up ready to engage and bring the fruits of what I’d learned to you all via a blog post.
It was also my first WDS event, and I had high expectations about the kind of vibe I’d get from being part of a conference for people who want to live unconventional lives.
Before I proceed, there’s something you should know about me: I have a part of me that is a lot like Ron Swanson - the no-bullshit, grumpy character from Parks & Rec - and my “Ron” flares up in these sorts of scenarios.
The first red flag was the group of excited joggers in neon clothing outside the venue as I walked up. Anytime there are really fit, happy people exchanging high fives, Ron gets restless.
The second red flag was how gleefully I was greeted as I walked up to the workshop. Ron gets nervous when anyone is that eager to see me.
The nail in my expectation-coffin were the attendees wearing shirts that said “Create Every Day” and hugging for like five minutes because they were just so glad to see one another.
At this point, Ron Swanson is in full-blown judgment mode. I’m feeling uncomfortable, trying to roll my eyes without anyone seeing me, and sulking further into my chair while sipping my black coffee.
But I stayed, even though I was on red alert for anyone trying to hug me. Finally, Jonathan came on stage. He started his talk with this statement, which is one I agree with: “We don’t know what to do because we don’t know who we are.”
“Yes!,” I thought, “Here we go!”
But then he proceeded to walk us through something like a 19-step process for how to find out who you are. By the end, with all 19 steps on the screen in front of me, I felt completely overwhelmed by doubt (“I have NO idea who I am!”) and anxiety (“Oh my god, if I don’t figure this out right now, I’ll never do good work!”).
Add on top of these doubts the fact that everyone around me seemed so amped on LIFE, and I wanted to die.
Jonathan was just doing his thing, and I know a lot of people found it really helpful, but his workshop was like a big, giant mirror for me that reflected back an approach I feel tired of. Like, so fucking tired of.
I agree with the problem: many of us don’t know what to do because we don’t know who we are.
It’s the next step - the mechanical tweaking of ourselves, the constant striving to figure it out, the pressure to solve the problem of ourselves - that makes me cringe.
I know there’s a place for ideas like this, but they’ve started to take over and indicate to all of us that we need to dominate our lives into submission. We need to “Create Every Day,” even though the truth is that we have no control over anything.
These beliefs imply that we, and our lives, are a problem to be fixed.
Which isn’t true.
This idea - that we’re a walking, talking math problem that needs to be solved - is a product of our industrialized and utilitarian socialization. We were taught that everything must have a purpose and be knowable, which of course just isn’t the case.
In this approach, there’s no room for mystery, and human beings are very mysterious. The soul simply cannot be fully known - that’s what makes it transcendent and ethereal.
As John O’Donohue wrote in Anam Cara, “The light of modern consciousness is not gentle or reverent; it lacks graciousness in the presence of mystery; it wants to unriddle and control the unknown.”
Many of us already feel pressure to know exactly who we are and then be able to tell everyone else via bullet-point list on a resume or Powerpoint slide.
But what you can put on a Powerpoint slide isn’t the juice that’s going to motivate you to do your true, heartfelt work. Those are the traits that people could point to as the things that make you unique, but once we put words to them, they sort of become two-dimensional.
The real You, the essence of who you are, is something we have to allow, not force into being.
That approach is uncomfortable because it’s considered passive, but after years of workshops and books and programs aimed at figuring out who you are and what to do in the world, you might just be exasperated enough to try it.
If it’s true that we can’t ultimately put who we are into words or lists (because the soul is mysterious by its very nature) then all we can do is approximate who we are by amplifying the things in our world that feel like us.
Ironically, even though Jonathan’s workshop was really uncomfortable for me, it helped me see more clearly who I am - someone who’s a little bit grumpy and who doesn’t want to take a mechanical approach to her life. So I notice that, write about it, and allow the spirit of it to infuse my work with more harmony - more me.
Someone else could have been sitting there ecstatic that someone had finally broken down this big question into 19 parts and gone home ready to work on all of them in a way that felt like who they are.
The point isn’t that one approach is better, the point is simply to practice using our experiences as mirrors to help us see who we are inside and then allow that person to come out into the world - even if it’s scary or unpopular.
If you’re someone who feels drained by the “5 Steps to Life Bliss” approach, I want to say: Me too.
If you’re just flat out tired of trying to fix yourself, I want to say: You don’t need to be fixed.
When you’re not a problem that needs to be fixed, then the work of self-discovery and career development becomes about what you’re drawn to and what moves you, not “how am I not good enough?”
Can you see how those two approaches are very different? I bet you might even feel different in your body when you imagine each of them.
When I picture the popular way of doing personal development, I see an interrogation room with a bright light in the middle and lots of pushy questions from people around us playing a game of good cop/bad cop. Sometimes this interrogation room is covered in motivational slogans and pictures of tan, fit white people ascending mountaintops, which makes it tricky to see it for what it is: another attempt to force your soul out into the world.
But what if, instead, there was no point except to be here now, in the best, most “us” way possible?
How would taking this approach change your professional aspirations?
Who are you if you’re not a problem that needs to be solved?
What would you do next if all that’s required is to let yourself unwind into your soft, perfect self?