Listening When Your Life Speaks

listening when your life speaks

“Your life speaks. You have to learn to listen.” – Iyanla VanZant

Just 15 years ago, if you had asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would have told you that I would be a professional musician.

This news would shock just about anyone that I know, today–but fifteen years ago, there was nothing in my life that indicated anything otherwise.

My entire life was music. I had gone to a performing arts high school where regular math, science and English classes were supplemented with courses in your major, and I was a music major. I played five instruments and participated in 5 different groups. Each year, I prepared solos or ensembles to take to district and state competitions.

After hours of practice time at school, it was not uncommon to come home and put in an additional 1-2 hours each night, plus a weekly private lesson. To afford a professional model instrument, I worked two jobs, 20-25 hours a week. For college, I had been accepted to a music school in Chicago, and fully intended to major in music and then go on to be a professional musician with freelance gigs, or a conductor, or to teach music.

There’s just this one catch: it didn’t happen.

I ended up not attending the music college that I had worked so hard to get in to. Instead, I attended a smaller college outside of Chicago that had no music program to speak of, telling myself that music would still be in my life because they had a small orchestra.

The orchestra was sub-par, and I dropped out after my first semester.

Yet: I don’t regret a thing.

What Are You Getting?

People can get really hung up on this question of “What am I supposed to do with my life?”

When coaching clients approach me with that question, I ask them to consider one that’s far more interesting: “What do you think you would ‘get’ out of knowing what you want to do with your life?”

Time and again, the answer comes back to “safety,” and when we dig around a bit with “safety,” we find that at the root of that is “control.”

Or–at least–the illusion of control, because control is always an illusion. Aside from our intention and where we place our attention, we really can’t control life.

If we acknowledge the root issue of trying to control something that is impossible to control, the entire house of cards starts to fall apart.

Whether we know our life path, or whether we don’t, we don’t have any control, either way.

I can say that if I had chosen to go to music school, I would have become a professional musician, but the truth is that there’s no way that I could know that. I could just as easily have ended up a programmer, a sommelier, or what I ended up as–a writer, which was what I said I wanted to be as early as the age of 2 or 3, and which is what I have ended up becoming.

Your Life Speaks

People talk of having a true calling that’s part of an innate nature, something you’re born with, and I can see how that feels true for them.

What I question is the Story that so many tell themselves about needing to know what their life purpose is, as if it’s transcribed somewhere in the world and the job is to try to find it.

I have an alternative view: your life purpose/path/vision is what you say it is. You define your life purpose in every moment, with every action, with every word, with every thought, with every belief.

If there is some purpose out there, awaiting you, and you want to find it, then inhabit your life, fully. If you commit to your life like crazy, the things that are intolerable to your spirit will rise up and make themselves known. Listen to your life when it speaks to you.

When that happens, the question put before you is: Will you practice the courage that it takes to actually take action?

Taking Action

When you start taking action and making choices, the world starts to move with you.

The illusion is that you have to know what you want to do, before you start making choices.

I ask you: had I stuck with being a musician, convinced that I “knew” my path and thus “must” follow it, how would I ever have created space in my life to become a writer?

What I see in hindsight, that beautiful 20/20 vision, are the benefits that came from being “all in” with whatever presented itself in my life. I was “all in” as a musician, until I was “all in” as a double-major in English and Sociology, and then I was “all in” as a writer when I got my Masters degree, and then I was “all in” as a professor of English, and then I was “all in” when I pursued my counseling training.

Perhaps right now you’re a mother of three; or a frustrated engineering student who isn’t sure she wants to continue; or a 48-year-old man who thought his career was set until the economy tanked and he was laid off.

The only time we get jostled by “not being on our life’s path” is when we insist that the reality before us is not part of our life’s path.

Music taught me discipline, majoring in Sociology got me curious about people, writing freed my personal story and continues to keep me fascinated by the stories people tell about their lives, and being a professor of English gave me organization and delegation skills that inform every single aspect of running my business.

Whatever paths you’ve walked have all contributed to being where you are here, right now, in this moment.

Consider the gifts that could lie ahead for you if you dropped the idea of a pre-determined path, entirely.

You don’t know where it will all lead–and this is the most beautiful part of being alive.

Photo by martinak15

19 thoughts on “Listening When Your Life Speaks”

    1. After I read the post, it is this exact line that was the thrilling conclusion to a wonderful post! Love it!

      And before I read this post – this is what I was discussing with my 14-year old stressed out son. “Your life speaks. You have to learn to listen.” – Thank you for such a fabulous read, Kate!

      Love, Vidya

  1. Great post. The idea that we get given some crystal clear precise defintion of what we are and then just do it doesn’t work for a lot of us. For most it’s a life’s work of gradually understanding who we are, what we care about and value and making step by step changes to whatever seems best at the time. If we can see as far as the next corner then that might be all we need.

  2. It’s kind of a question of what drives you, isn’t it? And a very personal thing, as you say. Certainly you can push through the roadblocks and “stay the course” but is that what you really want?

    We often think about how life is a zig-zag, making adjustments along the way and even changing our goals. Certain “failures” can cause us to re-think our plans. Life’s surprises can give us new opportunities. We can follow them or ignore them, our choice. And if we think we didn’t really have a choice at some point … we can still choose how we react to those.

    I like to think of dual objectives or “purposes” if we want to call them that. An inner purpose that I think we all share which supports the advancement of life itself and then our “outer purpose” which is, as you’re suggesting, completely up to us.

    This belief is so liberating. Our outer purpose can be anything we want and we’re not beholden to anyone.

    1. Yes, life’s a zigzag. And because of this, the course has lots of bends. Sometimes I can see ahead of me the bend and I become cautious as I approach it, but most times, I hit the bend without knowing and crash!

  3. Oh, my gosh. This was DELICIOUS! And exactly my experience, too.

    I started out on the path to professional musicianship. Only problem — boring!! I love to play, I love to train. But I don’t love all that EXCLUSIVELY. And that’s what it takes to be a orchestral flautist.

    Like you, I am currently a writer. My community is women at midlife. And, for today, I find that the IDEAL place to be, because it is NEW every day. And my women are AMAZING!!

    But, I’ve been in sales, grad school (humanities), hotels (amazing customer service skills and attention to detail), nonprofit (heart-based business).

    All of it has led me to here and enriched what I can bring to my clients.

    Thank you for your beautiful truthful wisdom.


  4. I have never read an article that has opened my eyes like this one has to that ‘Life-Purpose’ which I have read many of!

    What a wonderfully new way of looking at things. I can say that after reading this that I feel very different and more confident about where to go not only next but what has been on my mind doing – and now, the desire to go after that further.

    So inspirational and saved for future reference!

    Thank you very much Kate for providing a very valuable new perspective!

  5. This is extremely insightful Kate.

    I have been on the verge of accepting this and you just gave me the nudge I needed. I’ve been on a path my entire life and it crashed and burned a few months back. Now I’ve thrown my hands up in the air and have stopped trying to control my life.

    What happened? I starting blogging like mad. At 38 cents a day – I am content and happy.

    I think living with the flow of life is what really helps you reach your destiny.


  6. What about ‘everything happens for a reason’?

    Many people believe this… do I? Not really… however as you rightly mention every experience and every obstacle, challenge, path or direction provides learning and gives you opportunities that you potentially may not have known about.

    Glad to see you continued with the writing :)


  7. Kate this is a great post. I love it. I’m going to print this out so that I can read it everyday because it’s so out of the norm of what I typically read about “living on purpose” or “finding your purpose.”

    Most articles about purpose talk about how important it is to “find it.” But I really like the idea of being “all in” with where my life has taken me at this moment.

    That’s a much more relaxed approach to living life on purpose if you ask me.

    Thank you for being “all in” as a writing, you do it very well.

  8. Hey, I too wanted to be a musician originally, well I suppose I am as I have recently started teaching guitar, although a rock star was the goal!

    You know what though, I now realise that the life of a recording artist wasn’t for me. I would not be happy living in a tour bus for 10 months of the year and having no fixed address. Not to mention the pay is pretty bad for my genre of music.

    I still don’t know exactly what I want to do, but I do know that I want to have freedom. As long as I follow that path then I will find my true calling. You’re right though, it is okay to face the future with uncertainty. It makes things that little bit more exciting!

  9. Great text,
    or as Steve Jobs was saying in one of his speeches: you never can connect the dots forward. you only can connect them looking backwards. as you were saying it’s all a matter of being “all-in” for something, because everything happens for something good

  10. This really spoke to me. I’ve been obsessing about this recently. This reminded me to go back to my personal motto: “Life is and adventure. Learn, live and love it.” That’s our real ‘purpose’.

    You have so many lines that make great quotes. My favorite is “The only time we get jostled by “not being on our life’s path” is when we insist that the reality before us is not part of our life’s path.”

    Thank You.

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