I know I’m not alone in my experience of coming to a crossroads at the end of a failed business venture. According to 2012 census data, Americans switch jobs on average every 4.6 years and most of us also change careers altogether multiple times in our lives. When I was trying to figure out what to do next – not just something to bring in a paycheck, but work that I would be deeply passionate about – I asked myself several questions.
1. What did you love doing when you were a kid?
Since I was five years old, there was nothing I loved more than writing and illustrating my own books. I would spend hours a day slowly writing out the words and carefully drawing the pictures to stories I either made up, or put my unique spin on – like this version of Cinderella. My dad even recorded me reading the books out loud into a tape recorder, ringing a bell when it was time to turn the page, so I could listen to my own audio books.
Making those books are some of the happiest memories of my childhood – but somehow I never realized, until recently, that I could do that as an adult. I thought of it as play time, and when I chose a career path, I chose marketing – something I knew would bring me steady work.
2. Are you an introvert or an extrovert?
It never occurred to me to ask this question, as I never even allowed myself to consider the option of being an introvert. I chose a field well-suited for extroverts – marketing is all about connecting with people and the work is highly social. But extrovert and introvert brains work differently – one is stimulated and energized from social activity and one is drained and overwhelmed by too much of it.
When I took a month to reevaluate my life in between gigs, and allowed myself to do whatever felt good for that one month, I realized I actually gravitate towards introvert activities – writing still high among them, and that being constantly social was stressing me out.
3. What is your resonant wave?
In The Joy Plan, I talk about resonant wave patterns, a brain behavior theory based on the research of scientist Dr. Albert Garoli and described in his book The Evolutionary Glitch. Garoli describes eight primary brain patterns, of which each person has a tendency to gravitate towards one that is dominant. These resonant wave patterns indicate our innate talents and skills and can be an indication of the work we will not only enjoy the most, but will be most effective at – based on how our brains work.
If you are engaged in activities too frequently that do not match your dominant brain pattern, the result can be anxiety, worry, stress, and a feeling that something is not quite right in your life. This is how it was for me. I was engaged mostly in activity of the Soothing Wave (taking care of others as a mom) and the Expanding Wave (bringing people together through publicity) when I actually resonate most with the Yielding Wave (research, writing, problem-solving).
4. What would you do even if you weren’t getting paid?
I wrote The Joy Plan because I couldn’t stop it from pouring out of me. And as fast as it was coming – often in the bathtub, in the middle of Pilates class, in dreams that woke me in the night, and while I was driving – I also sometimes wanted to slow it down and make it last longer, because it was so pleasurable. I didn’t give a thought in the beginning to who would read it, how or if I would publish it, or if it would make any money someday. I wrote it because it was fun. What if work was like that every day, with the added bonus of a pay day? People make a living from doing all sorts of things – from alpaca farming to zipper art – by turning their passions into profit. Could I really do that with writing?
I’ll always be grateful to The Joy Plan for helping me remember what I seem to have forgotten around my eighth birthday – that I am a writer. And I write not for the money or the job security, but for the joy of it. And if the theory behind The Joy Plan is correct, following that joy will lead to the money and job security and everything else I could ever want – not because I need those things to be happy writing, but because if I’m happy writing, those things will come to me naturally and easily.