• Jan Rybeck

What If It's Not a What?

Updated: Dec 15, 2019

It was 11 pm when the call came in.

Our 16 yr old daughter was away in the Poconos, blissfully, we imagined, enjoying the mountains, friends, and carefree days of summer camp. This was the last thing we expected.

It was tearful from the start. Her voice quaking and flooded with emotion, she told us about a conversation with one of her camp counselors. He had been emphatically pushing her to find her passion, as in what mattered to her, what she cared about, what would shape her life. She felt confused and at a loss. How was she supposed to know what that was? How did others know? How could she possibly start her junior year of high school without declaring her passion?

I too was at a loss, and gosh, answering these types of questions is what people pay me for!

I told her as much, which she was quick to tell me was not at all helpful.

She then asked me how I knew what my passion was.

To which I had only one answer. “Well, honey”, I said, “I don’t think I really knew until I met you”.

Long silence.

She appropriately snarked back- “you mean I have to have a baby to find it?”

“No no no… “ I back tracked,’s just that at the moment you were born I felt for the first time the power of being part of something bigger. I felt both insignificant and incredibly powerful at the same time. There was a rush of desire to do whatever it took to make it work. I know it was not about babies as much as being of service to something that really mattered because I now know what that soul-deep passion feels like and have felt it with other things since then.” I added, “ I don’t think you need to know what that is right now, just be open to how experiences touch you and be on the lookout for how you might connect with those moments of being part of something bigger.”

I don’t know if I gave her the right guidance.

The truth is that this passion thing has been hard for me to nail down too. Even though I have been known to come across as quite engaged and passionate about what I do, I seldom know what it is that is my passion.

All I know is that there are some ways of being and engaging that bring out the best in me.

It not so much a what as it is a how.

What if it’s not just the thing that you want most but also the way you go after it that lights your soul on fire?

I have been in this question for most of my life.

I chose not to pursue a Ph.D because I sensed that there was no one thing that I cared so much about I would dedicate that much time and money to become an expert in it. That said, I did care a boat load about just about everything I encountered. In fact, it was the caring that seemed to bring me joy, fulfillment, and purpose, not the thing that I was caring about.

But you can’t get an advanced degree in caring, can you?

Is there even a profession called caring?

When I finally dug into a profession, it was one that interwove many disciplines, allowing me to become adept in how I applied various approaches to best fit a situation. I don’t think I ever really landed in one way of describing what I do. To this day, I balk when asked to brand myself or name my craft.

I help leaders and organizations be most effective. And I do it with great care for my clients and enthusiasm for their mission. How’s that?

There are so many whats that go into that one how.

Which brings me to the big question…

Can the answer to the question…’what does your soul yearn for?’ actually be a how?

As in how would you be if you were feeling fully met and alive?


How might you be engaging with the world if your soul were content?


How do you contribute in a way that makes you come alive?

Perhaps our daughter was not as distraught over her own difficulty in naming what her heart desired as she was by feeling pressured to answer the wrong question.

When the question becomes one of ‘how do you feel alive, impassioned, and engaged’, the journey shifts from finding THE work, or field of endeavor to every interaction as an opportunity to invest in ways that matter and tap your unique brilliance.

The question turns into an invitation.

And what a way to meet each moment… with a reminder that how we are is who we are.

Some things to consider:

• How are you being when you feel most alive and in touch with who you are?

• What is it that tells you something is working for you in the moment? How might you engage in that way in different situations?

• What are the beliefs and expectations that shape the way you engage with others and experience? How might those change if you imagine how you want to engage as opposed to what you are expected to be or do?


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