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How to Attract the Work You Love

By Craig Nathanson

First, decide what you want! Yes, it's that easy and that hard. What do you love to do? Decorate a house, take pictures, teach children or work with the elderly?

Once we figure out what we love to do, many of us make the fatal mistake; we ask someone else for approval. You will never get final approval from someone else. Even if you get the approval from someone else, their approval will be conditional. Permission to do the work you love must come from you. Let's go down the list.

  • Your spouse will be the first to say No because he or she will feel intimated by your change of heart and life.
  • Your kids probably won't approve or understand much.
  • Your boss? Well, you know the answer here.
  • Your parents? Of course not. After all, you are a product of their belief system and you must not do something they would not do. I must add that if your parents are no longer living, obviously you won't be able to get the approval you are seeking.
  • Your close friends might approve, but only if they have worked out their own vocational happiness. If not, they will worry how the changes in your life will affect their relationship with you.
  • Strangers might give you permission, especially those you share deep conversations with on an airplane, but then you will never have to see them again.

Are there exceptions? Maybe, if you are lucky, you will have someone supportive in your life. Sadly, all too often, I have seen people's dreams rejected by the very people they thought they could count on for support.

Society doesn't help. The standard notion is that we work at jobs that lead to careers so we can retire, and then, if we're lucky, do what we enjoy. This idea is outdated and illogical.

Skip the retirement part
A recent guest on my show, Monica Lee, picked up a paintbrush for the first time at age 40. Not long after that she was transferring her thoughts and feelings to canvas and selling her paintings worldwide. With maturity she realized that it was of little importance how others perceived her work. Instead, what really mattered was how much she enjoyed putting color and form on canvas.

When Monica opened her own gallery, the uncertainty of making ends meet each month led her to sleep in the back of the gallery in a makeshift bed. She showered under a garden hose and laundered her clothes by hand while she rented out her home to others to supplement her income as an artist.

Years later, the challenge of cancer came and went, and her work helped carry her through the difficult times. Today, at nearly 60, her art work, under the name MoVan, sells all over the world and Monica says she has never been happier.

What if you quit or got fired today? How long could you go before making any money? One month, six months, a year? Are you willing to cash in other resources now to extend your time? If so, now how much more time will you have? After forty, we need more time rather than more money. Once you start making an income, this time doing what you love, how much do you really need to make? Make it less than you are making in your corporate job.

To pursue the work they love, many people decide they must make what they made before. This is a flawed strategy. When your vocational passion takes you in the direction of working for yourself or others, it usually means starting out making 25-30% less than what you made before.

Have you turned your back yet? Not yet? Good, let's summarize what we have done thus far... You figured out what you want to do, you've given yourself approval and you've identified how long you could go without making an income.

Next Take action!
Visit, read about, and meet other people who make an income doing what you want to do. They have already jumped over the hurdles you will encounter soon, and they can provide valuable insight you will need for your journey.

Get ready to be lonely
Pursuing what you love to do vs. accepting just a job will be very lonely. In fact, this will be the loneliest road you will ever be on. It's a lonely road because there are very few people on it. You meet a few rebels, a few middle-age run-aways and, from time to time, a younger person who learned early not to waste his life with empty, meaningless jobs like his parents did before him.

Better to join the rat race?
Ever wonder why the terms we have for work have so many negative meanings? These certainly don't help to motivate us to swim against the tide and do something different...

Rat race (something we have to do, like rats on a wheel),
Career or fast track (can't slow down to enjoy it)
Re-tire (slow down + get ready to tire)

What happens in mid-life?
A crisis will hit sometime after age 35 or so. Our crises come in different shapes and sizes and it is normal to have one, or even more than one. You might get divorced, have to deal with a sudden death in the family, a layoff, or a serious illness. In many cases, none of these occur but suddenly you're confronted with a deep sadness, and you wonder, "Is this all there is?" You feel empty inside.

What you must do?
Many people at this stage, especially those over forty, simply turn back before reaching their dreams. The risks and tradeoffs we have to make to pursue our dreams just seem too impractical at this stage in our lives. So many people at this stage simply take a job and postpone the next phase of their life for ten years, or more, or even forever!

You can be different!
You can attract the work you love by figuring out what you want, giving yourself permission to pursue it, and making a plan to pursue it. This will be the greatest gift you ever give yourself and, once you do, you will never look back.

Craig Nathanson is a coaching expert who works with people over forty. Craig's book, 'Don't Just Retire and Die,' is designed to help people break free and move toward the work they love. Visit Craig's website at Dr Craig Nathanson where you can take a class, get more ideas through Craig books and CDs, get some private coaching over the phone or read stories of mid-life change and renewal. Craig lives in San Anselmo, California.
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