Job, Career, Calling

Follow the breadcrumbs

Follow the breadcrumbs

Amy Wrezesniewski, professor at Yale School of Management, says that we approach our work in one of three ways: job, career or calling. A job is a way to make money whereas a career is one that provides advancement opportunity and a moderate level of satisfaction. A calling, on the other hand, provides a deep sense of meaning, motivation and satisfaction.

I never gave it a single thought until about three years ago when I had an Aha! moment about what I loved to do, what I was good at, and what provided deep meaning and satisfaction for me. After all, I had a great job that was rewarding, interesting and challenging, and I felt I was making a difference in the world. But despite those qualities, I was also planning on retiring as soon as I could. After all, though my job was satisfying, there were things I’d rather be doing. What those things were, I’m not quite sure.

My Aha! moment put me on a different trajectory, professionally and personally. Now, I can’t imagine ever retiring, and I think about my passion all the time. My passion led me back to school and coach training, and gets me up to volunteer my time or blog into the wee hours. I constantly feel energized, and am gratified when others are energized by our collaboration as well.   Recently, I saw a group of students get together to discuss volunteering to extend the work in this area, and I was just excited beyond belief!

My main advice to people who are searching for their calling is to relax, and to be open to whatever the calling might be.   After all, if it were obvious to you, you would’ve figured it out already.   It may not surprise you that your calling is probably obvious to those around you. They tell you by saying things like: you should do this for a living. Or: how did you do that?!?! My own expectations about the role I should play was my main barrier, but my receptivity and awareness of the calling breadcrumbs (things that I’m good at, do with ease and excellence, and that give me great satisfaction) were huge clues to where my calling lies.

Another should obstacle is the belief that the calling should be specific. I strongly sense my calling, but the final destination  is still pretty vague. I don’t really know where it’s leading me, but I’m just following my bliss into this unknown territory, as advised by Joseph Campbell, comparative mythologist extraordinaire. So far it has not led me wrong and is a better guide for me than my shoulds and musts.

What shoulds and musts are distracting you from what you should really be doing? Set those aside and follow those breadcrumbs to your passion. You may surprise yourself.

Complexity of life, Part II

I know we have a unique and authentic mission because I have been observing it almost every day.  I have been coaching members of the university community to help them find their personal mission.  That mission is clearly unique and central to that individual.  That person knows when the stated purpose resonates authentically, when it’s not quite right, or when it’s completely wrong.  When they touch upon their realization of their authentic personal mission, you can see the light inside them ignite, and they realize it is their personal truth.  Change one word, and the mission is wrong.  It just doesn’t feel right.  It doesn’t ring true.  And as far as I can tell, each person’s purpose is as unique as their fingerprint.

As much as we like to distance ourselves from our biology, it is a fact that we are biological organisms somewhere in the midst of a vertical and horizontal ecological tapestry.  Our individual purpose and pathway could be as unique as the nucleotide molecule that plays different roles in the course of its existence, only to be degraded or synthesized into a different molecule all together. The nucleotide that ends up adjacent to DNA synthesis enzymes is going to get woven into its purpose rapidly and efficiently.  The nucleotide that hunts for its purpose in the wrong place will float aimlessly and ineffectively until it happens upon the right enzyme.  Those loner molecules that never find their role are more likely to be picked off and metabolically repurposed into a new identity.

I spent much of my life thinking I was part of a protein when I am actually a piece of DNA.  Not literally, of course.  But by failing to recognize my purpose, I have spent a lot of time hunting to make a contribution in the wrong part of the cell, or doing the wrong thing in the right part of the cell.  But strangely, my authentic purpose has always been lurking beneath the surface, whispering to me my whole life.  Now that I have a much better understanding of my purpose, I am often startled when I reflect upon my past and see the theme resonating back through time.

My purpose has always been about authenticity.  In the fights with my parents, in my essay for graduate school, in my speech at an Asian American Heritage Day event, in my own personal mission statement, in my capstone project for my masters degree, and my realization of my calling (authentic purpose),  I have been drawn to this topic my whole life.  It has been only relatively recently has my own purpose dawned on me, and lit me up like a Christmas tree.  Now I know that I am here to help others find and live their authentic purpose.  And like the rest of you, I’m here to live mine.

What is your role on this planet?  Do you have a sense of what you’re here to do?  Have you identified it, or is it lurking just past your grasp?  Let me help.

The Complexity of Life, Part 1


Have you thought about the complexity of life lately?  Even the word ‘life’ is complex.  Do I mean your individual life, our collective life, the way our bodies operate to enable our existence?  Yes.

I’ve been thinking about this topic since talking to a student about the beauty of science.  Science, after all, is here to help us to understand the complexity of life and our universe.  If you bore down on the processes that enable life on earth, one goes from the macro – living organisms such as humans, plants, and animals – to the micro – tissues/organs, cells, molecules, and atoms.    Each micro component is comprised of complicated matrices of the components from the contributing subunits (cells are comprised of molecules which are comprised of atoms).  Even atoms consist of subatomic particles, and then we are once again into domains where the complexity of forces and interactions of those subatomic particles and forces are largely outside our comprehension.

In addition to the orchestra of interactions occurring at each level, each of those elements must also be dynamic in order for the unit to be static.  For example, for a cell to continue to function as a cell, it must take up nutrients, create waste, continue to synthesize new components and degrade others.  In other words, to remain constant, the cell must be dynamic.  In this manner, nature balances birth, growth, and stasis by a combination of birth, growth and stasis in a beautiful symphony of events.   The same dynamic seems to be at play at every level, from the sub-atomic on up through the organism level.

Now let’s consider the super-macro level (I’m making up terms here, can you tell?)  If we dial upwards from our proximity of human-on-earth, we humans further organize ourselves into complex systems.  We are part of a family unit which is part of the community, which is part of a nation and the human species which inhabits the earth which is part of the solar system which is part of the galaxy and then the universe (whew).  Like the micro level, the macro level contains its own balance of actions, interactions, birth, growth and stasis in a dynamic but complex equilibrium.  The role of the earth is to be part of the solar system and revolve around the sun.  The role of the nucleotide is to be a part of DNA or a catalyst for reactions.  Each has a unique and defined role within the matrix within which it resides.

We humans are no different.  We play a role in the ecosystem of the planet and on up through the macro levels and on down through the micro levels.  Whether the essence of our existence is defined by an unseen hand or biological accident is a question for the philosophers and religious leaders of our past, present and future, not for someone like me.   However, just like the enzyme catalyzes reactions and ligands bind receptors, I believe that each of us have a specific purpose we are meant to fulfill during our brief time on the planet.  Whether this is driven by the unseen hand or a biological accident is again not for me to say.


Next blog:  our unique role.

Making YOUR Dream a Reality

Martin Luther King had a dream, but somehow I doubt that early in the process he had any idea of the magnitude of his ability to change the country and even the world.  That’s the problem with our dreams: they are bounded by our ability to imagine them and they only come true if they come from an authentic desire.

There’s no question in my mind that MLK’s dream was an authentic passion that came from his sincere desire to improve the world based on his unique perspective, talents and vision.  For example, have you had dreams and desires that, no matter how hard you struggled to achieve, did not seem to materialize?  ‘I want to be a rich doctor’ is not an authentic desire.  It has to do with achieving a superficial level of status as opposed to an authentic desire to contribute something meaningful to the world.

Identifying your authentic desire is a powerful exercise, not only to give yourself something to work toward and focus on, but also in terms of changing your view of the world.  Once you identify your purpose, the opportunities and invitations that have been present your whole life but that have gone unnoticed suddenly become like an irresistible beacon to engage with your passion.  Those invitations are everywhere; simply being open to their presence and being willing to pursue their call can change your trajectory toward realization of your authentic desire.  The path to achieving your desire may be very convoluted, which means that planning it out in advance may be somewhat of a futile exercise and could even impair your ability to notice subtle invitations that are in line with your authentic desire but out of synch with your preconceptions or plans.

“Man plans and God laughs.” – Yiddish proverb

To follow your authentic path requires a willingness to be spontaneous and go with the flow.  Confucious, Daoism and Czikszentimhayli, a leader in positive psychology, speak to this importance of this spontaneity in the pursuit of one’s authentic goals.  Joseph Campbell, comparative mythologist extraordinaire describes this as being willing to “follow your bliss.”  In other words, let your passion take you where it will.  The outcome is likely to be greater than you can even imagine, so don’t restrict your potential by the limits of your imagination.

On this MLK Day, honor Dr. King’s dream by honoring and embracing your own.  Who knows? Maybe you’ll end up changing the world too.


“Gotta Be Me”

This old song title seems like a no-brainer: if I am not Me, who am I?  I have certainly tried during different points of my life to be someone I’m not,  probably like most people.    Trying to be someone else is like writing with your non-dominant hand: it feels weird, it doesn’t work well, and it’s hard to sustain for any length of time.

But does Being Me mean I can’t or shouldn’t try to evolve me?  Evolving me does not necessarily mean that I believe there’s something wrong with me.   For example, I’m not the same Susanna I was when I was 20 (Thank God!).  It doesn’t mean that I have been inauthentic at either point in my life.  It simply means that I’ve evolved, grown, changed, and hopefully matured.  There is absolutely no way that I could’ve predicted this growth trajectory, nor could I have planned it if I tried.  It unfolded organically in some ways, but also discreet decisions at key points have sent me in new directions.  In other words, depending on the point in time, that growth and maturation was either actively or passively determined.

Does actively determining direction of growth mean I’m being inauthentic?  For example, I am a shy person.  Always have been.  Always will be.   Some time ago, however, I decided that shy behavior was getting in my way.  I didn’t like how shyness made networking and meeting people so difficult.  So I decided to put that shyness away and ignore my feelings of self-doubt and discomfort interacting with people I do not know well.  Most people who know me now are surprised to hear that I am shy, so I feel I’ve done pretty well managing that aspect of me.  Does working through shyness mean I’m not Being Me?

I’ve recently completed a course in Life Coaching.  Our “final exam” was to coach one of our peers for 15 minutes.  I had been feeling out of focus and distracted the entire session leading up to this exercise, and felt like I just couldn’t do a good job.  I think I could’ve bowed out without repercussion except for losing a little face.  I also could’ve given a disclaimer going forward like, “well I’m going to do it but it’s gonna suck.”  But instead, I just dove in.   The session went fine.  Well, even.  What I learned about myself is that I can actually do just fine when I put aside my self-doubts or concerns about my less-than-optimal state of mind.  Authentic, or no?

A similar experience in my job as a new faculty member comes to mind.  I was fresh out of training when I was asked to chair a committee before I had even served on a committee.  I did not feel remotely ready, but I just dove in. I didn’t advertise either any made-up experience or my lack of experience.  I simply did my job.   Like the coaching exercise, the outcome was fine.  Good, even.  In other words, I can fake it until I make it.  Was I being inauthentic by not fessing up to feelings of inadequacy, lack of preparedness?   Should I have begged off since Who I Am (at that moment) is Not Ready?

And so it is with many different aspects of Me, and I would imagine with You as well.   Each example involves a decision to push through what I believe to be my limitations either globally (I’m a shy person) or temporally (I don’t feel up to this).  There have even been times when I have felt stuck and have turned to self-help books (OMG) to find a way to work through a problem.  The person at the other end of these shallow or deep self-assessments is still Susanna.  It’s just Susanna taking an intentional course in determining who or what will or will not influence my choices. (OK I’ll stop writing in third person now.)

I’ve discovered from strengths coaching that we often have talents that we’re unaware of.  We even have the capacity to compensate for our talent gaps, not by becoming someone we’re not, but by enhancing and evolving who we already are.  The latter involves being willing to explore who we are, even if it feels weird or unnatural at first.  When it doesn’t work out, we try another approach, and then another, until it does work and feels right.  The mature Me knows that to tell myself or others that I can’t do something is doing myself a disservice.  I may not want to do something, but if I do want to do it, or have to do it, I will find a way that works for me.  That’s about as authentic as I can be.

Breadcrumbs on the Trail of Authenticity

I don’t care how left brained and analytical you are, most people will agree that we each have different preferences and abilities for the endless buffet of choices in our fortunate lives.  When we can spend time on things or activities where we have interest and competence, we tend to be happier, more satisfied, more engaged and successful at that activity. Tasks are just easier when they’re pleasurable and you’re doing them for own your personal satisfaction.

How does that relate to authenticity?  To me, authenticity refers to harnessing your strengths, interests, values and natural inclinations to do what you do best and enjoy doing the most.   You might say that what you enjoy most is watching TV and eating Doritos.  You might even argue that the TV/Dorito routine is what you’re most talented at.  Ha ha.  Funny guy.  Don’t quit your day job.

The problem with that scenario is that you’re not exercising your strengths or following your natural inclinations or values.  Yes you might be interested in the show and tired and want to veg out.  But what do you like to do?   What makes you feel fulfilled and alive?  I don’t know about you but TV and junk food makes me feel quite the opposite, especially given what’s on TV these days.  I will literally feel sick, tired and achy if I overindulge in that routine for very long.  The same is even true for a lazy beach vacation.  Yes, I can lounge around and eat and nap for days at a time… until I can’t any more.  I need something more.

In the end, we’re creatures that yearn to grow.  Sometimes we don’t know how/what/when.  We used to know.  When we were really young, we rarely if ever complained about being bored or tired.  We were ruled by our curiosity and we did what made us feel happy and alive, not just sated.   That is our authentic self.

I recently wrote about rediscovering our authenticity by excavating our past.  The excavation exercise is designed to help you move away from your prescribed, play-by-the-rules adult self.   Both my child and adult-self love cooking and dancing:  I can dance and cook (not simultaneously) for hours for I am in control of the challenges of each activity.  But the answers don’t always lie there.  After all, they are not my calling.  If the excavation exercise is not enough, it may mean there are more layers to unravel.

We can find our adult versions of those moments of authenticity by identifying those incidents where we lose track of time, feel fully alive and engaged in our activity, and feel a sense of mastery and control.    Being able to do this part of the exercise successfully means allowing yourself to let go of your preconceptions about who you should be, what you should want, and how you should act.  Let’s suspend the “shoulds” for this exercise and just reflect on your peak experiences, your moments of joy, your flashes of brilliance.  I know you have them.   What enabled you to do that or feel that way?  What part of it was the most satisfying?  When do people tell you, “wow, how did you do that?” or “you should do this for a living.”  Excavate now your current life.

These are your breadcrumbs to your passion, your authenticity.  Follow that trail regardless of where it goes, at least in your head.  You don’t have to make any changes in your life right now, but give yourself the gift of starting  that exploration and seeing what you find.

Now tell me.  What did you discover about yourself?


All:  Don’t forget to send me questions or topics you’d like for me to discuss.  Go either to this blog, email me at or to the Talk to Susanna link on the left.  Thanks!  Look forward to hearing from you!