Welcome to Sing With Your Feet, the podcast in which we search for the meaning of life in the treasures that we have been hiding in our own backyard.
The podcast in which we are willing to imagine that our weird quirks might be more than just an inconvenience, but could actually be one of those treasures that could help us bring meaning and purpose to our life.
The podcast in which we examine what it is that we love to do for clues as to what we should be doing with our lives.
My name is Lily Fields, and I am going to be your Fairy Godmother for the next thirty minutes or so. It actually says “Fairy Godmother” on my business cards, right above where it says, “Future Podcasting Royalty.”
That’s right, if I am your Fairy Godmother, then you can presume that you are the Cinderella in this story, but not Cinderella in the rags to riches, puts on a magical dress and goes off to have lots of babies with a handsome prince kind of way. I mean, Cinderella working her tail off for an unsatisfying life that doesn’t at all resemble what she was born for, whose attempts to live her dreams get thwarted left and right.
If you are Cinderella and I am your Fairy Godmother, well, we would be fools to think we wouldn’t have an antagonist! That’s right, we have a Wicked Stepsister in our podcast, too. Your wicked stepsister, LiElla Kelly, is a Death Doula, meaning, she helps people walk through end-of-life issues. She’s not as much an antagonist in our story, as she is someone unafraid to get us thinking about tough questions that most people would back away from.
If “Fairy Godmother” and “Future Podcasting Royalty,” or “Wicked Stepsister” and “Death Doula” don’t sound like conventional career paths, well, you might be right.
That said, LiElla and I have both discovered something about life: it is so much more fulfilling when we are doing what we love to do. We have both been willing to invest in our weird quirks and passions and make them our life’s work.
And today, that is what we are going to be talking about. Quirks, passions, flow and the meaning of life.
Our conversation today is part of a larger series on the Ideal Life Categories—the different circles of the Venn Diagrams of our lives—we began last week by talking about our bodies and our health, and next week we’ll be talking about how we plan and schedule our time. There are nineteen of these themes.
For each theme, we are asking four questions: What is working? What isn’t working? What do I need to think about? What can small practical thing can I do today to get closer to my Ideal Life?
In the podcast, LiElla and I are going to try to highlight some of the more practical or the less obvious parts of these different Categories. You see, the themes themselves aren’t groundbreaking. While not all of them may speak to you, most of them should seem pretty obviously universalizable. We want to get you thinking about the kind of life you want–the kind of life you can have, by being curious about what is working and isn’t working so that you can start making progress towards your Ideal Life.
Now, now, now, Lily Fields. I’ve been with you up until now. I’ve done all my homework, looking for those treasures I’ve buried in my backyard. But I just don’t see how I can turn those into a career. Or anything at all for that matter.
I understand what you are saying. But first, let’s define what we mean by work: work is anything you have to do to make ends meet. This definition, as broad as it seems, then, takes into consideration your career, yes, but also what you have to do to make your home life function smoothly, too.
For some of us, when we became parents, we left the professional world, the office jobs or the hospitals or the restaurants where we worked. We exchanged often meaningful careers and became short-order chefs for endlessly unsatisfied toddler patrons, laundresses who have yet to finish one pile of clothes before the next one is already overflowing, who, although we could once effortlessly plan a complicated weeklong conference with twenty separate guest speakers, can’t even keep track of what time two kids have to be at school with staggered start times.
The world does not honor this last kind of work the way it does other traditional careers, and this is tragic. I’ll be the first to admit that this kind of work can feel like kind of an endless dark, dank tunnel.
What I believe about work at its very best, is that any kind of work, paid or unpaid, career or domestic; when we take that work seriously and invest ourselves fully in it, consenting with every fiber of our being to it, we are making the world a better place.
I like how that sounds, Lily, but there are parts of me that just can’t be satisfied in this daily drudgery I’m living. I feel like I have had to cut off so much of what I love just to make ends meet.
What you are saying makes perfect sense. I said it once a long time ago…no one else in the history of the world has the same mix of quirkiness, geekiness, vice, virtue or talent that you have. You are unique. I want to suggest today, and LiElla is going to talk more about this after a bit, that those little quirks, those things that geek you out, those little-appreciated character traits that you have are maybe exactly the things you need to start taking more seriously in order to find more satisfaction in your worklife.
That’s all well and good, Lily, but I just don’t have the time to take these things more seriously.
I hear that. I hear that from a lot of people. I believe that it’s true, up until a point. What I know to be true is that, even when I have a free minute, it feels like I should constantly be doing something.
In future episodes, we are going to be looking at how mise en place, planning ahead and creating habits and routines can actually help us create more free space in our minds, so that we can appreciate and put to good use the time we actually have.
Today, though, we are going to be talking about a psychological concept called “Flow”, and how our experience of it can serve as a window into what is our life purpose.
Point One: Work and the meaning of life
For centuries, it was believed that humanity was doomed–and that is why we have to work. This belief went back to the biblical story of Adam and Eve, and how, because they ate of that forbidden fruit, they were cursed to work the earth by the sweat of their brow.
Aristotle believed that some people were meant to work and some were meant to think. He himself was an aristocrat, and what did he spend his time doing? Philosophizing, discussing ideas and pursuing truth. This dichotomy became deeply entrenched in society…the wealthy then were those who were destined to “rule” and “think” and the “working class” was meant to live a life of hard labor.
In the Middle Ages, this belief began to shift, and work came to be valued. Kant later turned the Adam and Even thing on its head, and said, “Well, since they worked, so should we.”
Hegel valued work. Marx valued work–to such an extent that he began to see the terrible working conditions of the industrial revolution as modern slavery. He then fought to see that working conditions were improved so that people could reach their full potential.
Maslow, and his hierarchy of needs places “Self-Actualization” near the top of the pyramid, right before “transcendance.”
The fact that while, for thousands of years work was considered a curse, and now has come to be considered a means by which people can realize their purpose in life is proof that, whichever end of the spectrum you land on, the topic is one that deserves to be examined.
That is why it is one of the Ideal Life Categories that I contemplate for a few minutes in the morning, asking those four simple questions:
- What is working?
- What isn’t working?
- What do I need to think about?
- What do I need to do?
Incidentally, it’s funny to me that the four questions I use to interrogate my Ideal Life themes actually employ the word “work”. Also, incidentally, they cover the two ends of the aristotelian viewpoint on the topic of work, that is, thinking and doing.
Take a few minutes and write down your answers to those first two questions. What is working and what isn’t working in your experience of your professional or domestic work life.
Then, come back and listen to the rest of the episode.
Point Two: Your quirks have a purpose
“Find a job you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.”
Have you ever heard that said before? I wanted to find out who said it, but apparently it was either Confucius or Mark Twain. So. Have your pick.
I was extremely fortunate that the director of the Career Services Center at the university I attended, Paul Klein was the man’s name, put a book into my hands that set me down a path different from the one most of my other classmates took.
It was by far not the most direct path to a fulfilling career, nor was it a path to a lucrative career. But it was a path in which I learned that who I was would be the most valuable asset I could bring to any organization.
The book was called, “What Color is Your Parachute?”. It is a job seekers guide, and even then, when I was still in college and not yet looking for a career, spoke to my heart. It suggested that if we want to love our careers, we needed to find a way to put to work everything that we love to do.
I read this when I was twenty, and I decided that I would never allow myself to be satisfied with a job that didn’t allow me to be me…with all my enthusiasm, all my quirks, all my optimism.
So, even though I had been offered a position in development for a well-known symphony orchestra in my last month of college, I decided not to take that job. Instead, I went to work at Walt Disney World, where optimistic, enthusiastic people like me were the norm. No, I didn’t make much money working for the Mouse. But I learned how to make magic, tell great stories and provide top-notch client service, things that twenty years later, I am still doing.
A few years later, I fell backwards into an amazing job with an amazing boss, who for some reason I will never understand, trusted me to do something I was secretly pretty sure I didn’t know how to do. But he gave me the space and the time and resources to figure it out, investing in me and our relationship along the way. And you know what? It worked. Somehow, whatever fairy dust I had learned at my first job was a strange little incongruent quirk that he recognized as being what was needed to make this project happen.
I will never forget how…in that job, how I loved what I was doing so much that I often felt like I was slacking off…simply because what I was doing brought me so much joy every single day. I was afraid someone would walk by my desk and see me and think, “she’s not working…she’s having too much fun…”
Just a side note: If you have to work with other people, and you have a choice in the matter? Make sure they are people with whom you can laugh and who you really love to be around. Being able to honestly say that you are a fan of your colleagues or your boss is a highly underrated workplace consideration. And in an Ideal World, this should go both ways.
Whatever that intemperate mix of enthusiasm, attention to detail, passion for numbers and desire to please that I had to bring to the table? Well, i’s like what Elphaba says when she’s singing the Wizard and I “This gift or this curse that I have inside, maybe at last I’ll know why…”
When you find work you love, and the right workplace, that’s when you can stop seeing your quirks as a curse, and start seeing them as a gift.
I know that LiElla has a few things to say about this, too, so I want to invite her to tell us about her superpowers, too. LiElla, the floor is yours
I have a superpower and I’ve been cultivating it for years, for as long as I can remember. But before we talk about my powers, I need to share some of my origin story.
We need to go all the way back to 1984 when I met Johnny Lawrence. Do you know Johnny Lawrence? You probably met him around the same time that I did. Johnny Lawrence bullied Daniel LaRusso in The Karate Kid. There is a scene in that movie that carved its’ way so clearly into my 6-year-old memory. Johnny and his Kobra Kai buddies go to a party dressed as skeletons, later in the evening, they beat up Daniel (still dressed as skeletons) and then Mr. Miyagi comes to save the day. Do you remember this? What I remember so clearly are the skeleton costumes. I found them so intriguing. As I got older, my love of skeletons and bodies in general continued. In school, I was really good at anatomy because it was something I was interested in. I simply love bodies. They are fascinating. Living, dead, thriving, dying…the body is an amazing thing. I became a massage therapist and I have been a practicing therapist for 22 years. I’ve had a lot of hands-on experience with the human body. Bodies, whether living or dead, don’t intimidate me, rather I’m super curious about what’s going on with them. Is curiosity about the body and its’ many processes my superpower? No. We’re still not there.
In origin stories, the person with a superpower usually goes through a period of time where they make some missteps. I’ll tell you about one of mine…and it’s pretty egregious. In a previous episode I told you about the death of my grandfather and how my mom and I were able to see him when we went to the funeral home. There wasn’t going to be a formal viewing so the funeral home and had done some basic things to prepare him so that we could say our goodbyes. Before I go any further, I want to assure you that my mom is not going to be invited to listen to this episode. I plan to shield her from this memory of her daughter’s bad behavior. Continuing…my grandpa had been laid out in a little room. He was wearing his plaid shirt that he’d been fond of in the last couple of years of his life. A floral comforter made him look cozy. They had really set as nice a scene as possible. So, my mom and I go in to visit grandpa. We stood there quietly. I don’t know what my mom was thinking as we stood there but I do know what I was thinking, and this makes me feel a little bad. My brain was in two different places. On the one hand, I was seeing my grandpa there, knowing it was the last time that I would be with him and I was so so sad. My heart was breaking not just for me, but for my mom, my uncle and my grandma who were falling apart around me…and for my sister who, though she was clearly grandpa’s favorite, due to pregnancy she hadn’t been able to fly and was left at home while the rest of us had the privilege of saying goodbye in person. That was where half of my brain was, the other half however, was deep into my curiosity about bodies. I was taking mental notes of all sorts of things that I will not detail here. Mental notes. The mental notes are ok. It’s when you start to verbalize, that things take a turn. So…my mom said, “It looks like he has a little sleep in his eye, like he’s just sleeping.” So you know what I said? I said, “No, I think that’s a little string of superglue. They probably superglued his eyes shut. They do that sometimes.” Ya, that is seriously what I said to my mom. She replied, “I didn’t need to know that.” Of course, she didn’t need my little fact. That was bad form…very bad form.
That incident though, did help to shape my future and eventually it did help me to find my superpower. So, what is my superpower? My superpower is what death doulas call “holding space.” “Holding space” means being physically, mentally, and emotionally present for someone. It means putting your focus on someone to support them as they feel their feelings.” It requires a comfort within yourself so that you can focus on someone else. Clearly, I have the comfort with bodies and the comfort with death aspects handled. After I inflicted my comfort on my mom, I learned that what I had was a power and yes…I’m really going to say this, with great power comes great responsibility. That’s the holding space part, that the controlling my power part. Being fully available for other people, not inserting my own stuff into the mix. It means just listening or the part that is really hard for a lot of people, just sitting in silence and being there allowing someone to experience their pain. It turns out, all that doesn’t come natural for a lot of people. In our culture especially, people get very awkward when death enters among us. I don’t. That is my superpower. I’m comfortable with death, I can be present for someone’s pain and I can sit in silence. I have found an occupation that allows me to use my special skills and consequently, I absolutely love what I do.
What are your special skills? What are you passionate about? What is your superpower? Find an outlet for your superpower, whether it’s a career or a hobby. When you find your passion and you find an outlet for that passion, that superpower, you will love what you do too.
Yes! The Death Doula superpower! I love it. Thank you LiElla for showing us how something as unique as that can be what makes you great at your job.
Point Three: Flow and your destiny
All right, now let’s put aside talk about careers and career change for a moment.
I want to talk about Flow. Flow is a concept articulated by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, (Mee High Cheek Sent Me High) which he studied creativity, peak performance and optimal experience.
I’m going to link to his Ted Talk on the subject in the show notes, because the concept itself is absolutely fascinating and so exciting, with a million implications for bring more magic and fairy dust into our lives, but for our purposes today, I want you to think about the last time you lost track of time.
Whether you were reading a really good book, or brainstorming with colleagues, or working on a creative project, playing Chess with your kid…when was the last time you looked at your watch and said, “That’s just not possible! Where did the time go?”
I would be willing to bet that if we were to survey my listeners, about three-quarters of you would say “I literally can’t remember the last time that happened.”
When we are actively ignoring the parts of us that make us who we are…when we are ignoring our magic and have decided to bury what makes us unique in the backyard, we are a million miles from anything that could bring us into that state of “Flow”, in which we lose track of time and are efficient, productive and most of all, happy.
The work of dusting off our treasures, of reinvesting, even in small ways, in the activities that once brought us joy, will help create more of these moments of Flow.
When I was at the heart of my post-partum depression, and my husband happened to make an off-hand comment about a book I had written years before, I undertook to start working on that book again. No, the book has still not been published yet. But what working on that book did was help me re-discover Flow. By entering into the state of Flow regularly, we become dissatisfied with things that occupy our time and that don’t serve to use our gifts and our talents and our treasures.
It was in those moments of Flow that I was able to recover some of my thirst for life and start dreaming of a life in which the overwhelm of being a wife and mother didn’t eat away at who I was.
I’ve said it before: it doesn’t mean that I will ever be a best-selling author. But I have found that for me, writing is a secret to living a more joyful life.
Reinvesting in your talents and passions can bring you to a whole new chapter in your life. You just need to be willing to try.
The Cocoon, AKA: I hate my job
Wait, you know what? What I am about to say is important enough that I am going to drop the artifice. No poorly executed accent will do justice to the real suffering that many of you are facing in regards to this area of your life.
Because, here is the reality: we have families and responsibilities. We have incompressible financial obligations and work is a “necessary evil.”
There is a reality that I know for a fact many of you are facing, and it can be summed up in four words: I hate my job.
You were listening to us talk about how meaningful work is what we are destined for, and that every piece of who we are was intended for a purpose that would make this world a better place…and you were thinking, “That’s all lovely, but you just don’t understand my situation. It’s just not that easy to pick up and start over…”
I don’t understand your situation, you’re right. Just like I don’t understand the complexity of your responsibilities or the depth of your sense of duty.
If you were having these thoughts, then I desperately wish I could wave my magic wand three times and change your circumstances for you.
But that would not help in the long run–just like the Philosopher Prince talked about in Episode 14–if, out of compassion for what we perceive to be a struggle for the butterfly to escape its cocoon, we are ultimately robbing it of the strength it will need to fly. It is in the struggle that it develops the capacity to fly.
What will help you in the long run is being willing to actively accept that this is where you are starting from. Your circumstances are what they are. Your cocoon is what it is. You have the job you have today. You have the boss you have today. You have all those dishes waiting for you in the sink at home and all that laundry to put away.
The one thing you can do is to, in the depths of your heart, consent to these circumstances. Be willing to do the little, tiny, every day chipping away at this cocoon so that when you have done the hard work of discovering your purpose and developing the courage you need to make real change, that you will also have the strength in your wings to fly when the opportunity arises.
I believe in you. I believe that you were destined to fly, to soar…to make this world a better place simply because of who you are and because you are willing to put your talents and passions to work.
Your situation may look dark today, but consider how dark things must seem for the caterpillar in his cocoon. Be willing to sit in the dark for a few minutes, to get to the place where you can accept your current circumstances. Be willing to sit quietly in your cocoon while your transformation takes place. As you do the hard work of examining your heart, you will be transformed. When the time comes, be willing to struggle against the cocoon, every day, strengthening your wings in the resistance you find there.
It can happen for you. The first step is give your enthusiastic consent to where you are now.
So. On that note, I want you to take some time and answer those four questions. As it relates to your work life: What is working? What isn’t working? What do I need to thinking about? What tiny thing can I do today to get me closer to my Ideal Work Life?
For a few housekeeping details: Information about the Death Café on April 30 can be found in the show notes. This is going to be a fascinating opportunity to ask LiElla questions.
Episode16: Take This Job and Love It
Talking Points: Work and the meaning of life; the wisdom of Elphaba–or, how your weird quirks can be your passport to a more meaningful career; but Lily, I HATE MY JOB!
Links and Housekeeping:
LiElla will be hosting a virtual Death Café via Zoom on April 30 at 11:00AM MT. As soon as the details become available, we’ll post them to our social media.
You can also find LiElla on her website, https://leavingwellmt.com/ or on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/leaving.well.death.doula/ or Facebook https://www.facebook.com/search/top?q=leaving%20well%20end-of-life%20planning
What Color Is Your Parachute: https://www.parachutebook.com
The Wizard and I: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uZyQwjVRT5c
Ted Talk by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi about Flow: https://www.ted.com/talks/mihaly_csikszentmihalyi_flow_the_secret_to_happiness?language=en
A great big thank you to Seven Productions, https://7prod.fr/, here in Mulhouse France for the use of the song La Joie for the Intro and Outtro to the show. Also, thanks to Matt Kugler who sang it and Claude Ekwe who wrote it.