I don’t know if it’s the changing of seasons, the shift from summer to school year, or maybe the crazy election, but in the past few weeks a striking number of women have come to me who are struggling with the same issue—so many, in fact, that I decided to postpone the blog post I was preparing to write in favor of addressing their challenge instead: in their late 20s to late 60s, with accomplished careers (including mothering) to their names or unfurling before them, all of these women (some are clients, some are friends and family) are feeling the unmistakable pull of evolving purpose. That’s not exactly the language they used, but it’s what’s going on (despite fears that they’re going nuts or that their lives will be upended), and it’s a call I know well. I’ve even given it a name: The Voice of More.
The Voice of More is that soft, whispery voice deep inside that flickers into consciousness—more…more…—when we’re driving, walking the dog, falling asleep, just waking up—that is, in those in-between moments when our minds aren’t habitually occupied with thoughts and plans and to-do lists. Sometimes the voice is assertive and persistent: Is this it? Is this all there is? Sometimes it’s slippery and subtle … There’s something missing… But in all instances, what I know to be true is that The Voice of More doesn’t stop.
Not until you’ve listened, and given her the expression she was born to fulfill.
Does this strike a chord? Is there a voice in you that whispers more? It might be a voice that you don't want to pay much attention to because The Voice of More can feel seriously inconvenient. But if it's the voice I know, it’s gonna persist. You might know its presence by chronic, inexplicable restlessness. Or chronic, inexplicable fatigue. Or by the way you rehearse again and again how good you've got it—the pay, the security, how good you are at what you do, your status, how you’ve got it down now and don’t have to reinvent the wheel every day—as if you're trying to convince yourself that where you're at right now is perfectly fine.
Maybe you feel a little bored—or a lot bored—but think you shouldn't be (who am I to be bored?! I’ve got such a good thing going!)—so you wonder if you're just being self indulgent, or if you’re having a midlife crisis. (Which, by the way, is a misnomer, something I prefer to call a midlife awakening, often one of the best things that can happen to us: a creative rumbling that fuels the next Big Chapter of our lives, a potent time of transition that is to be celebrated and harnessed, not denigrated or medicated).
Or maybe you wonder if you’re just addicted to change. Always in need of the new. Or if you’re running from something: Maybe I’m just not as smart and capable as I used to be, am looking for an easy way out. Perhaps there’s a challenge in front of you that at one time you’d have met with vigor, but now exhausts you in a weird vague way to even think about, let alone tackle. Or maybe you wonder if you’re just hormonal, and therefore not to be trusted (not!).
Does any of this sound familiar? It does to me. For a long time—about ten years—I was hungry to feel a different quality of engagement and reward in my life, because I sensed that something was missing. I cycled through these very thoughts, sometimes obsessively. I took a long time to figure it out, because what I was doing seemed so obviously purposeful, and because I was good at it and had worked my butt off to do it—and because the risks of leaving what I had seemed insane, with two kids headed to college and no financial assistance to cradle me: I was a tenured professor at a research institution where I taught college students how to fall in love with poetry, write well, and think critically and compassionately. I loved my work. I won awards for it. And yet.
And yet. Something else was calling.
Like you and me, the women I’ve talked to in the past few weeks care deeply about making a difference in the world: they are mothers, therapists, professors, physicians, ministers (yes, two ministers in the past two weeks have confided about this to me), writers, a midwife, a teacher, a university dean, an engineer, a life coach, and a computer analyst.
These are women who’ve worked hard to craft careers and lifestyles dedicated to educating and helping others, inspiring change, and facilitating transformation. It matters to them that they wake up in the morning galvanized by a sense of meaning and direction, and go to bed at night with that good feeling of having accomplished something significant.
Smart and savvy about self-reflection, these women—like you?—spend a lot of time questioning their own motives, looking at their thoughts and perspectives from multiple angles. And like I used to do (and sometimes still check myself on), they bargain and rationalize.
Because The Voice of More isn’t comfortable. It insists on rocking the boat. On nudging us out of our comfort zones into the unknown, just as we are exhaling, able to coast for a while.
The Voice of More can seem, in fact, downright threatening. It did to me. I had a comfy, sought-after job in a university with amazing colleagues and lots of great students. I taught what I wanted to teach, when I wanted to teach it. Yes, the state of higher education, especially in Illinois, is in a place of duress right now (to say the least), but relatively speaking, I had little to complain about. For me, it was never that I didn’t like—even love—what I was doing. And yet, in time I came to feel that I’d somehow exhausted what I could do there. I felt a deep strange subtle pull, way down in my gut, that there was something more, another layer of myself to actualize and express, something else I had to learn and become and offer to the world.
But like most of the women with whom I’ve spoken in the past few weeks, I had no idea what this was. Consequently, this little voice inside was very hard to trust.
In fact, it seemed downright foolish to do so. I was, with my then-husband, raising two small children, and my income was crucial to supporting our family. I had tenure. I had lots of freedom. I had a chronic autoimmune disease that could be life-threatening if not tended, and excellent health insurance. I had lots of incentive, in fact, not to trust The Voice of More. To do so seemed at times totally irresponsible, and—my worst fear—selfish.
So what did I do? This is what the women I’ve been talking to want to know:
How do I trust that feeling? How do I know it’s The Voice of More, and not just some fleeting unrest? What if this voice leads me astray, and I regret it? What if it hurts those I love? Maybe being a well-adjusted adult means not always listening to The Voice of More...
So I teach them how to recognize The Voice of More, and how to trust her. This is what I tell them:
The Voice of More is persistent.
(I argued with her; I infantilized her; I tried to bargain with her. But she always showed up. She was firm, but patient).
The Voice of More can be soft, but she doesn’t give up.
(I even tried to medicate her. That definitely didn’t work, though it did distract me for a while. Still, in the end, she won out.)
The Voice of More will, like a stream of water, flow: she will wend her way into expression in any way that she can. Which means that en route to your next Big Thing, the Voice of More may lead you down side roads that ultimately dead end, but that, in aggregate, bestow upon you exactly the skills you need to take the leap (however small or large) that’s looming.
(Who knew that my seemingly schizophrenic evolution from scholar to poet to editor to ecological theorist to teacher-in-the-schools to teacher-in-prisons to teacher-in-the-community would prepare me perfectly for life coaching? Who knew that my trajectory from marriage to motherhood to navigating a loving divorce would be exactly what prepared me to teach the women I work with today? Who knew that my deep unrest with institutional life would be just the thing to galvanize my long-standing entrepreneurial spirit and mentor other women in pursing their dreams?).
The Voice of More won’t lead you to danger or prolonged suffering or regret. You might feel afraid—which is good, as everything we truly desire is on the other side of fear—but if you listen, and heed her prompting, The Voice of More will always lead you “home” (wherever that my be, as the poet Elizabeth Bishop put it).
(In fact, it was only when I aggressively denied or downplayed or demonized The Voice of More that I became sick, inexplicably exhausted, and emotionally brittle).
The Voice of More will make you nervous, even anxious, maybe even scared to death, but it won’t churn your gut into that ominous sludgy feeling that says something’s not right.
(Again, it was only when I refused to entertain her at all that The Voice of More acted up, calling for attention in the only way she could: digestive distress, disease, depression, sexual shut-down, joylessness).
The Voice of More is scary, but not dangerous.
(And as my son says, scary can be thrilling).
The Voice of More never asks you to do something you really can’t do. It does, though, often urge you towards the thing you’re most afraid of doing. That is, it will point you towards something that is three-quarters awesome in your mind’s eye, and one quarter fucking terrifying. It will guide you lovingly and insistently and patiently right smack dab into the midst of those limiting beliefs you’ve carried around forever that keep you just one size smaller than you’re really meant to be.
(In my late 20s, I had to overcome my terrible fear of public speaking—a true-blue diagnosable phobia—to become a teacher. In my mid-40s I had to overcome my deep fears of not being good enough, of needing external approval and validation, and of being vulnerable and imperfect and not-as-good-as to be a coach and an entrepreneur. That took some work, let me tell you. And still does. Every day).
The Voice of More is the voice of Love.
(This one’s super important: she loves you. She does. The Voice of More is the voice of your full potential. She’s a few steps ahead of you, and is turning back to you, reaching out her hand for you to take hold of. Her eyes are kind and alive. She is smiling warmly. She can’t wait to show you what’s ahead. She’s got your back. Really.)
The Voice of More often speaks in non-verbal ways. She shows up in dreams—both those we experience when asleep, as well as daydreams. Peripheral visions. Images that appear to be nonsensical, without story or context—just free-floating apparitions. Her voice may sound at once familiar and strange; it is, after all, the voice of your deepest self (familiar) and your future expression (unknown). There’s something uncanny about it.
This last characteristic is so important that I’m going to step outside of the parentheses and linger here for just a bit, as it also provides a segue from the question above—How can I trust this feeling?—to the next big question we often contend with when reckoning with The Voice of More: Okay, so I trust it, it’s not going away, but what if I don’t know what’s next? How do I go about figuring it out?
For most women I’ve worked with, this can be a deeply unnerving space to live in: that limbo between where you’ve been and where you’re going. It’s at times super uncomfortable, especially if others are depending on you, and we’re often tempted in the face of that feeling to retreat to what we know.
But as I tell my clients (and myself), it’s not The Voice of More that’s making you anxious, but your thinking in response to her that is. What are you making The Voice of More mean? That you’re selfish and unreliable? That you’re irresponsible and inherently antsy? That you can have this, but not that—that in essence, you’re too much?
These are the thoughts that create your suffering. And that’s great news.
Because you can decide whether or not you want to keep practicing these thought--if they serve you, if you want to feed them and condition them, or if you want to softly let them go and create new thoughts, new neural pathways, new ways of responding to The Voice of More, to your dreams.
In my next blog, Part Two of this series on purpose, I’ll teach you to intervene in your own thinking so that you can connect productively and joyously with The Voice of More. I’ll also tell you the number one mistake we make when in this place of limbo, the mistake that kills countless dreams, and offer you a step-by-step process that will allow you to avoid that mistake while tapping your authentic passion instead. I’ll share more of my story—how I took the leap, how I got where I am today, and what happened to those fears that seemed so real and full of truth. I’ll share some of my struggles, and also my triumphs.
Until then, have faith. Trust that you can trust The Voice of More. If she’s lurking, let her into the light. When you do, listen. If you’re taking action, expect fear and doubt to come your way, and know that these are signs that you’re just where you need to be.
You’ve got this. You really do.
P.S. If you want to learn more about this process and gain clarity about your purpose, and the way this process impacts everything else in your life, I invite you to my daylong women’s retreat this Saturday, October 22nd, in Bloomington, IL. Just a few seats left! Learn more and claim your spot here: http://kirstinhotellingzona.com/retreats-courses