You’re not listening. Nobody does. We’re all too busy clicking and tapping and raging. Follows and likes and hearts and more meaningless holes in our life-force bucket.

It’s usually right in front of you, the answer to that problem that’s been keeping you up at night. Humans are, by their very nature, self-absorbed, which means you’d think we’d make the connection sooner. But we don’t.

About ten years ago, the problem staring down at me from the ceiling at 3 a.m. was what to do with my life. I wasn’t suicidal, and I wasn’t a sixteen-year-old kid. I was already “doing” life, but not the way I knew I should have been. Married, two kids, a successful career, and nationally recognized for being at the top of the industry. And yet, what was I going to do with my life? Was it a midlife crisis in my late-thirties? Maybe. But I’ll bet you’ve asked yourself the same question multiple times in your life, as had I.

This was the time when Facebook had really begun to catch on. I’d scroll my wall—which is what we called it way back in the dark ages of 2009—and see the well-manicured pictures and posts of people who seemed to know what they were doing with their lives. It felt like I was walking a virtual neighborhood where everyone else’s lawn had been cut in perfect, lush green rows, and mine was full of dandelions and fossilized dog turds. I don’t really care what my lawn looks like, but I had become embarrassed that I wasn’t [cue cheesy music] living my life to the fullest.

How could they all know the secret to life and yet, I didn’t? I was good at my job. I mean, really good. I’m not bragging, just telling the truth. And that hurt like hell because I didn’t necessarily like it. Being good at something and being passionate about it is not the same thing.

I remember seeing Brené Brown delivering a keynote address at a technology conference in Columbus, Ohio, and her talk on vulnerability—which would go on to be one of the most popular TED talks of all time—made me cry. I wasn’t opening my heart and being vulnerable with myself, and therefore, I’d closed myself off to the universe. I’m not trying to make this sound mystical. It was the effect Brown’s words had on me.

I decided that day that I was going to “open up” and really get in touch with what I wanted from life. I love my family and yet, what kind of role model would I be for my children if I settled, if I squandered away my time and talents doing something that didn’t light me up?

How? Yes, saying you’ll “be more vulnerable” will impress your therapist, but how is that done?

I can’t remember where I heard it, but I had listened to a podcast, and the guest on the show said we were most aligned with our higher purpose from about age 12-20. That’s the time in our life when we don’t have a past, and the future seems endless—when we do things purely for the joy of doing them.

When I took a good, hard, honest look at myself as a teenager, I could see patterns. I loved role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons with a heavy emphasis on creative storytelling. I enjoyed music of all kinds because of the emotional impact it had on me. And by the time I started college in 1990, I had developed a passion for persuasive writing. The thing that connected all of those? Storytelling.

I went through a few old boxes and found some musty, yellowed newspaper clippings with my name in the byline. From 1991-1994, I wrote op-ed pieces for The Pitt News, the University of Pittsburgh’s student newspaper. Most of my articles consisted of persuasive writing, my opinions supported with facts and experience. Sound familiar? It should because I can connect the dots between my articles in The Pitt News and the blog posts on The Author Life, the same type of creative output separated by 25 years.

Invite vulnerability. Listen to what your past experience is trying to tell you. Think about what you were really into as a teenager. Who did you hang out with? What did you do? How often did you do it? If you can’t remember, ask a parent, sibling, or a friend to help. You’d be surprised how fast those memories return when you’re sitting across from an old friend, and you’re both laughing about those crazy days.

If you keep asking yourself what you should be doing with your life, take the time to listen to your past. The answers are in there, you just gotta dig ’em out.

Each week in this blog series, I’ll discuss what it means to live the author life, delving into topics about mindset, craft, audience, finance, publishing, self-improvement, spirituality, technology, and more.

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