Brilliant spring greens lightly cover the recently bare twisted oaks. Buds of fuzzy pussywillows signal spring’s arrival. Blankets of deep-blue bluebonnets and orange “Indian paintbrushes” cover miles of roadways and farms, bringing rich, vibrant hues to the otherwise dusty sage colors here. A soft warm breeze moves through the treetops like ballerinas quietly tiptoeing the moves of Swan Lake. I’m like a prisoner freed from the shackles — spring has released me from the indoors and the heated air as I return to my special place, the old long porch looking out over the vast distant hills and tall grasses.
What Is Soul Work?
Being here, keyboard at my fingertips, is my soul work. I learned the term from artist Liz Haywood-Sullivan during a recent conversation about a company that had become soulless, abandoned its roots, and is facing its demise as a result. The company had failed to understand its role in the soul work of others, and instead chased the path of money without purpose.
The term, which I’d not heard before, perfectly described my life, my path, where I had come from, and where I’ve ended up. Perhaps it explains your path as well.
Liz pointed out that soul work is the thing we eventually get to that enriches our souls. We spend our young lives chasing dreams, building lives and families, earning necessary dollars, and then we often find ourselves trapped on a treadmill that sucks the joy from the marrow of our bones. Trapped by financial obligations, debts, family responsibilities, and jobs we once loved that no longer give us fulfillment.
The Signal in Our Heads
Then, at the magical and necessary moment, a little bell goes off in our heads, signaling that “there’s more to life than this,” at which time many begin to pursue the things that enrich their souls. It may be writing, crafting, sewing, gardening, painting, woodworking, photography, or any of dozens of other things.
It’s a rare bird who chases their soul work at a young age and sticks with it in spite of the chains of obligation. We call these people “artists.” And, at whatever point we decide our souls are ready, we too can become artists. It’s a special badge few ever get to wear, but many wish they could.
What is your soul work? Have you arrived there yet?
You would think watching the demise of a competitor would bring celebration, but as I pointed out to my team, it could have been us. We are all one bad decision away from ruin. And as someone who runs a business — which is part of my soul work — I can tell you that every day brings a challenge in which greed, easy money, heartless decisions, small lies, and ethical lapses can, for a moment, be seductive. Yet once one crosses the line, the line has been crossed forever. That line will move from a mild lapse of judgment toward a series of soulless decisions, and that leads to self-destruction. Small lies become big lies, small ethical lapses become criminal offenses, and heartless decisions destroy lives.
Never Cross the Line
Knowing where to draw the line at all times, and being strong enough to resist crossing it, is the mark of someone who keeps their soul intact. Like those cartoons with the devil on one shoulder and the angel on the other, the calls of each draw you in, and if you’re not on guard at all times, a seemingly harmless decision can be like removing a small support pillar, and can eventually bring the entire building down.
One Decision Too Many
Too often companies start out doing well-meaning things, maintaining ethics and purpose and brilliant vision, but then, because of a need for speed, or a need to get bigger, will make that one line-crossing decision that removes that first pillar. Most companies don’t intend to be evil, but some become that when they cross the line, just as humans can cross over with a small, seemingly minor decision that ultimately destroys their reputation.
It’s Only a Tool
I used to think that making money was a purpose, but I’ve since changed my mind and believe that money is merely a tool for a greater purpose. And when that greater purpose is lost, the money stockpiled is like a carpenter buying up a cache of tools and never building anything. It serves no purpose.
When companies lack true purpose (that goes beyond the mindless “We care about you” hype they try to sell their customers), their soul disappears. Those who are truly passionate about purpose, truly being of service, and having big, meaningful goals that are world-changing or life-changing for others — those companies demonstrate their true soul.
The Artist’s Tool
In a couple of weeks I’ll be providing three mornings of art marketing training for the attendees of my plein air artists’ convention in San Francisco. I have to continually remind myself, and the attendees, that they are soul workers, and that the drive to sell artwork is about providing them the tools to live their dreams so they can continue their soul work without compromise. For some it’s just adding an extra thousand dollars a month to help with retirement or school, while others require more. It’s not about getting rich, it’s about living rich … a rich, fulfilling life, not a life of accumulation with no purpose attached. If, however, the goal is to accumulate in order to build a new major museum (one of my goals), or to underwrite homeless housing (something we do), or even to stockpile some money to send your grandbabies to college or help them get a start in life, then by all means, that accumulation serves a purpose. But by watching friends, I’ve come to realize that accumulation for its own sake often leads to more chains and more responsibilities.
Pick What You Love
Soul work does not have to wait until you’ve worked a career and are ready to move on. Doing what you love is soul work; that’s why I encourage my kids to pick careers that they love. Their dad gets to be around art and artists all day long, which is truly a blessing. I get to write, make art, and create ideas that help others. We all need to find our soul work.
What about you? Have you found your soul work?
Are you doing what you truly love, or are you shackled to something you once loved, or never loved?
If a meteor hit the earth tomorrow, would you be OK with that? Or should you start building a plan to do what you love now? It’s never too late. Escape won’t be easy, but you can make a plan. (I once made a product for seniors about how to start an art business and succeed quickly.)
Building a Blueprint
Responsibility should never be thrown to the wind for soul work, because your soul won’t feel good about your decision to stop being responsible for the needs of your family. (We call that being a deadbeat.) Yet you can build a three- or five-year plan to transition out of anything into something else. Maybe it won’t be as financially fruitful, yet if you’re driving to a job dreading even one more day, it’s time to find your soul work. You may think you have plenty of time, and maybe you do. But then again, maybe not.
What was the first thing you thought of when I talked about your soul work?
Are you doing it now? If not, make a plan, and follow it religiously until you get there.
You won’t regret it.
PS: The first quarter of the year always passes in the blink of the eye. It’s hard to believe today is the last day of March already. It’s almost like it’s Christmas, New Year’s, Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, and boom, it’s summer. All year I look forward to my big painters’ event, which is in April this year, and we’ll all be there in just about three weeks. Hard to believe. But exciting! Soon it will really be summer, and I’ll be entertaining painters in the Adirondacks. It seems like time is speeding up. Make good use of your time. Do things to recharge, to rejuvenate, and find your soul work.