Quite a few years ago, I noticed a discomfort in myself when I asked a new acquaintance, “What do you do?” This was the typical dance people did with one another when meeting someone new at social gatherings.
I pondered my feelings about it. What was it about this question that bothered me? A few answers surfaced. I felt intrusive asking the question. Some people are unemployed. Some are working in positions or fields they don’t like, or at jobs that don’t reflect who they are inside. Often, conversations that came about as a result of sharing this question felt mechanical to me. The comments were on the surface.
It seemed to me there was something fundamentally out of whack with the question. It reinforced the notion that we are defined by our jobs.
I asked myself what I might like to hear from someone who was interested in who I am. The question that emerged was, “What feeds your soul?” Now we’re getting somewhere, I thought.
Conversations spurred by this topic felt fresh, enlivening, deeper. Eyes sparkled. Voices became animated. My experience was that we were making connections from our hearts rather than from our heads.
These are some examples I have been privileged to witness in these discussions. A daily early morning bike ride along country roads. A look of discovery in a three-year-old daughter’s eyes. A phrase in a poem that quickened the heart. Holding the hand of a loved one who was about to depart. Highlights of travels, including a story a local told his new American friend in a pub in Dublin many years ago. A moment of pure stillness and awe during a walk in the woods.
For some, their paid work is part of what feed their souls.
Occasionally, the initial response I receive can be a puzzled look or asking me what I mean. “When have you felt most connected to your true essence? to your heart? What are you passionate about in your life?”
Maybe you would have a different way of phrasing this question. You might let possibilities simmer. You can experiment with different versions in the lab of your life.
By the way, we don’t have to wait to be in front of someone new to ask this question. We can share our inquiries with longtime friends, with family members. Perhaps more importantly, we can ask ourselves – and listen patiently to what emerges from our own hearts.
I’d love to hear what experiences you encounter. Also, I’m curious. What feeds YOUR soul?