(Note from Now Write! editor Laurie Lamson: I met Tama at a creativity conference hosted by our mutual publisher, Tarcher/Penguin. She gave such a heartfelt, inspiring talk, I requested a guest post. Enjoy!)
There’s Only One Note You Came to Sing
by Career transition expert and author Tama Kieves
(excerpt from Tama’s book available from Tarcher/Penguin: Inspired & Unstoppable: Wildly Succeeding in Your Life’s Work!)
I listen to creative minds, visionaries, and entrepreneurs all day long in my coaching practice and I am moved by the spirit that moves them. Like you, they bounce off walls with ambition, hunger, and frustration. They secretly dream big, because they are big. Still they whisper their most meaningful desires, swallowing hard, as though they are confessing, say, a small hygiene problem or a third head. “I don’t even know if I’ll ever have what I want,” they say.
But I do. I know they are relentlessly drawn to where they belong.
We don’t choose our wildest dreams. They choose us. They point us toward our natural environment. When we’re not using our deepest gifts, we can feel like trout thrashing about on a dock desperate to find water. It’s that necessary to live our calling.
“You’re just so restless,” my mother, a torch-bearing worshipper of security, used to say to me. I thought wanting to “be all you can be” in life was a good thing, not a personality disorder to cover up with a TV Guide, or a tri-level house in Long Island. But, like many inspired souls, I’ve often felt lonely in my consistent desire for true expression. I’d envy those who could kick back in “normal” lives, enjoy a few burgers at a backyard barbecue and some nice, conventional success.
They’d fix a garage door, buy a house at the lake, or take a cruise to Alaska, and that would be enough. They didn’t wrestle with some unnamable gravitational pull, a colony of inner voices, or the secret claustrophobia of their own trapped potential. They didn’t need to change the world, chant some mantra, become a brand, or win a Pulitzer or a Grammy. In other words, they could just turn on the news. They didn’t need to be the news.
But a therapist of mine once said she believed my “restlessness” was an essential prerequisite for progress and abundance.
Therapists always say these things, serving up hot cocoa for the soul and wiping our chins, which is why we pay them half our gross income. She explained how restlessness wouldn’t let me fall asleep to the presence of my gifts, and the difference I could make in the world. She saw longing as a wonderful capacity to “stay attuned to what my Inspired Self wanted to become.”
Just so you know, this is why I’ve never fit in at barbecues. I just can’t talk to a financial analyst or a plumber in a Hawaiian shirt and get the words “attune” and “pass the dogs” into the same sentence. “You want more,” said my wise counselor, “because you are more. There’s more in this lifetime for you to become.”
BigGER Fish to fry
And that’s what I’ll tell you. You have more to give us. You have a built-in, divine assignment to employ all your gifts and to realize your exponential capacity. Your inspired self has bigger fish to fry and it doesn’t perceive any of the limitations that you do. That’s why it graciously kicks you in the ribs at night and tells you to stop dreaming small.
Your desire is the full moon that stirs and pulls the tide. It’s compelling because it’s more real than anything else. You dream of the life that calls you because everything under the sun is hardwired to know where it belongs. You don’t need reasons or evidence when your bones trill with longing. Birds and fish just migrate. Everything living seeks to unfurl its own true nature…
I remember talking to my friend Angela one night. I felt suspicious of my own desire to take my creativity to the next level. I wondered if I’d just watched one too many Oprah shows. Or maybe I wanted bigger success because I was still hunting for approval or love, admittance into some elusive club, an addict on a spree. Hey, I’d been to therapy.
“I wish I could say I wanted to help the world, like Mother Teresa and Nelson Mandela, and that’s why I was doing this,” I said to Angela. I did want to help, but that didn’t seem to be the fuel in my engine.
“Well, why are you doing this?” she said, with a voice full of love and confidence, encouraging me to sound out possible truths. I cringed as I pinpointed a slippery feeling in the back of my consciousness, something crouching and uncomfortable.
“I want to win,” I said to her, and it felt so ugly and unenlightened, competitive and calculating. Goodbye, Dalai Lama, enter the beast with beady eyes. “I want to win,” I said again. Having confessed it, I decided to explore that naked desire more.
“It’s not that I want tons of money,” I said, though of course I’d welcome a padded bank account.
“What is it?” she said gently.
“It’s not that I want fame, though I wouldn’t mind it,” I admitted.
“Then what is it?” she repeated.
Finally, I felt an encrusted door swing open inside me. I said, “I want to win because I think I have a home run in me.” Everything within me relaxed. “It’s just the note I came to sing,” I said. Then my words and tears just flowed. “I want to be big. I want to be known. It’s the level of expression that I feel like my talent was made for. It’s my note,” I said, looking into her soft brown eyes. “It’s the only note that will feel real to me.”
Then she repeated back to me, “It’s just the note you came to sing.”
we don’t get to choose our calling
Suddenly my desire didn’t seem so evil or garish anymore, suddenly it wasn’t narcissistic, slimy, or base. It was just the truth. It felt as natural as the inclination to write with my right hand, and love red maple leaves and coffee ice cream, or hate sauerkraut, humidity, and anyone, anywhere, who could wear Lycra and look decent. It felt neutral and ordinary and even involuntary.
I realized then that we don’t get to choose our calling. We get to choose whether or not we will listen to each nudge or flare, whether or not we will believe, and whether or not we will dedicate ourselves to this territory of homecoming within us; but we don’t get to choose which doorway has our name on it, which one swings open for us, into the wild country of heightened capacities, love, and awe.
Suddenly this need for boundless expression and a sweeping life was no longer about my ego. It was about my integrity. It was about staying true to the evolving, amazing life force within. It was simple. I needed to breathe fire so that I could breathe.
I urge you to stay true to your integrity. I urge you to listen to what only you know inside. You dream big because you’re called. Say yes to the ride. You belong in the life of your dreams. And you don’t belong anywhere else.
About Tama Kieves
Tama Kieves is an honors graduate of Harvard Law School who left her law practice to write and help others discover and soar in the work they’re meant to do. She is the bestselling author of This Time I Dance! Creating the Work You Love and her new book Inspired & Unstoppable: Wildly Succeeding in Your Life’s Work!, which hit #1 on Amazon.com for career books. Featured in USA Today and on Oprah radio, she is a sought-after speaker and career/success/book coach, who has helped thousands world-wide to discover, launch, and thrive in the life, calling and businesses of their dreams. Join her daily on Facebook & visit TamaKieves.com and download her “Inspired Power Tool Kit“ for free coaching support for the amazing life that you are meant to live.