(This is taken from a commencement speech I gave at Hack Reactor Remote cohort 23’s graduation.)
Today I want to talk with you about how to find your authentic path in life. I believe we’re all born different. And each of us has our unique way to achieve prosperity and fulfillment. It’s a path unique to you. You can’t find it on Reddit, or Quora, or from your parents or from HR, despite all the wonderful things they teach you. You cannot find it anywhere but inside yourself.
But following your inner guidance is easier said than done. Because every day you’re bombarded with different voices and influences– from friends and families, from TVs and movies, from your own ego, and from the history you share with all humanity called collective consciousness. So we have two challenges here:
- How do you know what’s the voice of your own inner truth?
- How do you make yourself follow that, especially when that makes you stand out or when everyone else is telling you to do something different?
I want to answer these two questions with my own personal experience. Unlike most people I didn’t attend HR to get a job. I had a job, and a very good one from most people’s perspective. I was an economist at a large international agency. It was prestigious, well paid, with all sorts of perks and benefits. But deep down I knew it wasn’t the job for me. I was a round peg in a square hole. I thought someday I would leave the job and start my own company. But hey, it was only “someday”, probably in the distant future. I had no idea when or how or where.
And then last year around this time, I had a few awful weeks. Every morning I woke up feeling like a train wreck, except I didn’t know why. I simple felt a deep sense of despair that wasn’t justified by my circumstance. Then one Saturday I was sitting there having lunch. And this thought quietly came up that said, “You need to leave your job”. At first I kind of dismissed it because it was such an inconvenient thought. But it wouldn’t go away. And I got the very clear sense that I would continue feeling the despair every day until I did something. Because that was my own intuition’s way to prompt me to take action.
I left my job a couple months later. During the transition period I thought, “Well, looks like I’m going to start my own company.” I had no clue what I was going to start. But I did have the intuition that it would involve the internet and I would need programming skills. So I googled “how to learn web development”. Hack Reactor came up in the search. The same week I officially left my job, I started HR. And a few weeks after I finished HR, one thing lead to another and I got the idea to start an audio education company called Soundwise. We curate short-form audio courses in personal development and business to help busy adults learn practical skills on the go.
Lots of people said to me, “Wow that was really courageous. How did you know that was the right thing to do and the right time to do it?”
But the truth is I didn’t know, and it had little to do with courage. I didn’t consciously know if it was the right thing to do–I hadn’t done any meticulous calculation. All I did was I trusted and followed my own intuition. That made my decision making very simple (though not necessarily easy).
But how do you do that? It goes back to the two questions I raised earlier. 1) How do you know what’s your intuition and what’s not? 2) How do you make yourself follow it?
My answer is straightforward– practice. There is no other way to learn how to follow your inner guidance other than following your inner guidance. It’s like in any relationship, you build the trust over time. In your relationship with your intuition, you do the same.
You start by being totally honest with yourself and tuning in to how you really feel in any situations. You start by allowing your own truth to guide your actions. And you begin with baby steps. For example, next time you go to a restaurant, let yourself order something on the menu that you feel really excited about, but normally wouldn’t get because it’s not healthy (obviously the example doesn’t apply if junk food is all you eat).
When you start allowing yourself to follow your own inner guidance, and maybe take a bit of perceived risk in doing so, this is what will happen. You start to realize “Oh I did this thing that I normally wouldn’t feel comfortable doing, but I didn’t die a terrible death and it actually feels pretty good.” And next time, you listen to your own intuition and take an action that feels like an even bigger risk. Gradually, you learn to differentiate your own voice from all the other influences coming at you. And you learn to respect and trust your own inner guidance as your single source of truth.
I wouldn’t have left my job if I hadn’t taken the time to build the relationship with my own intuition. Even if I had heard the calling, it would have been way too scary to follow it. I only followed it because I had developed trust in my own inner guidance over time and I was pretty used to following it at that point.
Was it still scary? Yes. Did I have doubts? Everyday. But do I know, from the bottom of my heart, that I did the right thing? Absolutely yes.
Thoreau said “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” But you won’t end up being one of them, if you set the intention to follow your own inner truth and take the actions to actually do so. Yes, sometimes you will need to sacrifice your comfort zone and your sense of security, but what you will gain…is a life that’s actually worth living.