“They can be like a sun, words. They can do for the heart what light can for a field.”
—St. John of the Cross
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Do What Comes Naturally

© 2014 by Jennifer Read Hawthorne

My career as a professional speaker began when I was about seven years old. I’d gather all the children in the neighborhood and make them sit in rows in our driveway so that I could speak to them!

Later, in the eighth grade, I heard that the local 4-H Club had a speaking contest along with its annual livestock grading and sewing competitions. You had to prepare and deliver a four-minute speech on the 4-H pledge. I thought, How fun! How easy! So I joined—and won the contest the first time I entered. The following year I won the state competition on the first try. It seemed that speaking in front of groups of people came as naturally to me as breathing.

I did not realize at the time that I was living my passion. I missed it because, as Deva Premal, my friend and internationally known singer, says about recognizing our gifts, “. . . it’s usually right in front of our eyes—that’s why we miss it!" Deva grew up in Germany in a home filled with music. She was even trained to play classical violin and piano as a child, but never felt the joy in music until she discovered her own style and genre as an adult. As she points out, society teaches us to appreciate only the things we have achieved through effort and hard work, so it can be easy to ignore the value of what comes naturally to us. So easy, in fact, that for most people, childhood passions never get the chance to become part of their adulthood reality.

In my case, for example, although I majored in journalism with a minor in speech and broadcasting, I very quickly got off track. I got so far away from what I do naturally that I actually spent ten years in the field of accounting. There were aspects of it that I loved: an accounting system demands accountability, orderliness and balance, all of which I enjoy. But one day I woke up and thought, What am I doing? I was bored. I was uninspired.

I began to reflect on the things I had loved doing when I was younger. I remembered the contests. I remembered being the only student who took speech as an elective every semester for four years in high school. One step at a time, I made my way back into the world of communication, eventually forming my own speaking company. I’ve been speaking happily ever since.

But I’m one of the lucky ones. Eighty percent of Americans do not like what they do for a living. If you are one of them, you are probably spending almost a third of your life doing something that does not bring you joy or satisfaction. So many of us don’t seem to realize that we are each born with our own unique nature,drawn naturally to express ourselves in certain ways. Deva points out that the animals and plants give us such a great example of this: “I’ve never seen a bird trying to be more beautiful or trying to sing a song more challenging than the one it’s been blessed with.”

Another clue to self-discovery was revealed to me recently when I asked my twenty-something son if he was dating. He said no and added, “I’m looking for someone who inspires me!”

Ah, if all of life could be based on inspiration—our relationships, our work, exercising, eating right. Do you know what inspires you? Reading the signposts of inspiration is a wonderful way to discover the place where you belong in this world. It’s especially useful if you can’t remember what you were naturally drawn to as a child—let alone make any connection whatsoever between childhood loves and your present-day reality.

Signpost are simply your own reactions to the people, events, situations, music, books, television shows, movies—anything and everything that shows up in your life. They serve as an auto-feedback loop that practically shouts when enthusiasm, joy or inspiration are present.

Let’s say you’re a huge American Idol fan. Why? Do these young men and women inspire you because they’re so gutsy? Or do you love the feeling you have when someone succeeds? Would you like to feel that about yourself?

Let’s say you get five brochures a week on public seminars coming to your area—and you decide to register for one of them. Why? Is the topic something that’s interested you forever? This could be the first step on a new career path.

What makes you subscribe to an on-line newsletter? I only subscribe to two, and one of them is all about words—practically my favorite thing in life!

Whom do you admire at the place you work? Why do you love going to your kid’s soccer games? When you’re channel surfing, what catches your attention? Have you ever met someone and thought: I want to be like her? What is it about her that draws you in, and what about her could you start integrating into your own life?

Remember: few people spend their lives doing what they really love. Being one of them is a sign of great fortune—but not just a matter of chance. Be honest about your natural gifts and interests, and let inspiration lead you. Then no matter what you’re doing, you’ll love the life you live.

Adapted from Life Lessons for Loving the Way You Live.