When people turn to me for individual counseling and coaching, most often it’s because they want my help to identify and embrace their life’s passion, at work and in love. We live in a world filled with clichés about “living your dream,” yet for many of us that's a hard thing to discover, let alone fulfill.
Sometimes, the thing that makes the difference is finding someone who inspires us — someone who’s had their eureka moment and gone on to live their calling. A person like that can give us the motivation we need to find and follow our own deep, still voice within.
Jane Goodall, the world’s foremost expert on chimpanzees, is one woman who points the way. Lately, I've noticed reference to her everywhere. And it's no wonder — Jane embodies many of the qualities essential to living an authentic life from the inside out. Here are five of the ones I find most inspirational.
From a young age, Jane was inquisitive about the natural world. As a little girl, she once spent five hours sitting in a hen house. Her parents couldn’t find her and were so worried they called the police, when all the while she was watching a chicken lay an egg.
What did you love to do as a child, so much so that time stood still? Before you grew self-conscious, anxious to please, and conform, what was your deepest pleasure?
Like many kids, Jane received a stuffed animal for her birthday. Fatefully, hers was a chimpanzee, which she named “Jubilee.” Jane was fascinated by this stuffed toy, which led her to imagine what life might be like in the wild. As she grew up, Jane kept Jubilee close at hand as the inspiration for many a daydream adventure. Even today, Jubilee lives on Jane’s dresser.
Is there a toy or another object, such as a photograph, from your own childhood that might hold a clue as to what grabs your attention and interests you now?
When Jane graduated from high school she couldn’t afford to go to college. Instead, she took a series of jobs as a waitress, a secretary, and a filmmaker’ assistant. She did what she needed to support herself but never stopped feeding her abiding love of nature and animals. When she was twenty-three and visited a friend in Africa, the moment of vocation came. There, she was hired by a famous anthropologist to observe chimpanzees in Tanzania, and her life’s work began.
Even if you work in a job that does not fulfill you at the moment, do you see ways to keep your own aspirations strong and steady? Do you seize an opportunity when it comes your way?
In 2010, someone asked Jane if she believed in God. She answered, “I don’t have any idea of who or what God is. But I do believe in some great spiritual power. I feel it particularly when I’m out in nature. It’s just something that’s bigger and stronger than what I am or what anybody is. I feel it. And it’s enough for me.”
When we’re ironclad in our beliefs, there’s no room for the possible in our minds. We are never too old to find and follow a dream, but we have to allow room for the possibility of that, rather than close the door on options we may think are out of reach.
Often, the clues to our passions are found where we feel most alive and connected to the universe, as Jane did when she was out in nature.
Has your vision of what you should be doing with your life become rigid? How can you be more open to your life’s potential? Like Jane Goodall, would spending some time in nature help you see yourself in a new way?
Jane gave each animal she studied a name, not a number. She was criticized by some, who argued that giving them a number would keep her detached. She didn’t want to be detached. It was her keen sensitivity to the individuality of these animals which led to a more profound understanding of their behavior. The chimp she named “Flo” became so well known and beloved by the world that her obituary ran in the London Times after she died. Jane’s passionate attachment also enabled her to dedicate her life tirelessly to her subjects and to help others see them in a new way.
Many of the virtues and strengths that psychologists, philosophers, and religious thinkers agree are central to human potential are ones Jane has embodied since she was a child. Clues to the journey we’re born to take are scattered throughout our lives, just as they were in hers.