Finding Work and Purpose in a Pandemic

Hanne Larsen
Aug 18 · 6 min read
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“You work that you may keep pace with the earth and the soul of the earth. When you work you are a flute through whose heart the whispering of the hours turns to music. Work is love made visible.” — Khalil Gibran

Two weeks after I graduated from a dance certification program, a lifelong dream, the country went into lockdown.

I had been training up to twenty-two hours a week while also trying to make ends meet through survival gigs, struggling to get proper sleep, have my health, and a life. I was supposed to find equilibrium — the proverbial pot of gold — after I graduated. Instead, I was furloughed and applying for Unemployment. By April, as I was calling Unemployment multiple times a day, trying to get through to a rep to check on the status of my application, it was slowly dawning on me that my entire industry was in a free fall, along with all the flexible gig jobs that most creatives starting out in their fields heavily depend on.

This is when I decided to seek guidance.

I attended the Vyten Hope Summit to learn about the job market in this new reality, and I gained a wealth of knowledge, insights, and LONG to-do list. I had a hopeful anchor. Yet, a question kept nagging at me: I didn’t want to just apply to anything. I needed to make sure it aligned with my purpose, but what was my purpose in this new landscape?

I decided to approach this personal search/exploration with a blank slate. Maybe I wouldn’t pursue any of the work I had done prior to this moment. I chose to let go of who I was, what I was doing and accept this new reality. I found support in Pema Chödrön’s advice as I faced the unknown: I reminded myself — and had to keep reminding … and, re-minding — that within it, the possibilities could be limitless.

I was lucky to receive a year-long Vyten Career Coaching Membership to continue building my job search knowledge on the practical end, and then, I also got lucky when my acupuncturist Jasmine Stine reached out with an online beginner Chinese Medicine course. I signed up and went on an angsty journey about purpose.

Perspectives on Purpose

What is purpose? The celebrated psychologist and concentration camp survivor Victor Frankl wrote, “Only when the emotions work in terms of values can the individual feel pure joy.”

Notice that it’s not just about career or money — although they can certainly be part of it.

Jasmine’s class shed light on the Eastern perspective of this: Destiny (Ming). While the word destiny might create a picture of fate, it isn’t so. It’s a contract that we are fulfilling in this life, a life in which we chose to be here. This act is what sets in motion the concept of purpose, and we choose to commit and recommit to our purpose over the course of our lives.

Reflection Tools to Align with Purpose

We all have our unique paths. While I intentionally chose to take time and space to reflect and put an active job search on hold, this work can be done while working another job. You can still do this in a way that fits into the circumstances of YOUR life.

If you feel strongly that your job must stem from your passion and have meaning, then taking this reflection and self-development time is vital. Here are useful practices that I learned:

Set the intention to align yourself and to listen to your intuition

This can be difficult. Acupuncturist Lonny Jarret describes intuition as “the capacity to know the world directly with the heart (pre-thought) bypassing the analytical facilities of the mind.” The heart and mind can certainly be at odds, especially during these shifting times. Northeastern University professor Antonio Ocampo-Guzman says we often live in the Land of Should, doing what we think is right or practical, which can block our impulses. Finding what lights you up is necessary.

Pursue your interests. Take classes that you are drawn to (it could be philosophy, a language, yoga). There are plenty out there that are free. Research fields and industries without putting pressure on yourself. Give yourself a time frame to be. Not do. Slowly begin to search for jobs that would interest you.

Take time to contemplate. Connect with nature: garden, go for walks, take a day trip outside the city.

Begin a daily meditation practice

I had always struggled to maintain motivation for my meditation practice, feeling that the reason “it’s good for me” was hard to maintain. I never considered it as a practice to liberate my mind until Jasmine’s course. As we age, we take on and learn patterns that might not serve us. It’s important to recognize the relationship we have with ourselves. By shifting our mind, we can connect with our essential self. We can approach the world with a deconditioned perspective and see different paths and opportunities.

Consider the differences between guided meditation apps and meditating on your own. I used Headspace for a few years, and I was very into tracking my progress and the smorgasbord of topics offered. I notice that when I meditate without being guided, though, it helps me to tap in more deeply. I can still track my experience with journaling, too.

Take time to reflect

In our first class with Jasmine, she assigned us 3 questions: Who am I? Why am I here? What is my purpose? Write it down, and put it away. Go as big as possible! (Whew, sure, no problem.)

She also had us approach these concepts from different perspectives: who would I be if I were to lose the use of my arms and legs (or something that’s vital to doing some kind of work/role you have done before or identify with deeply). Who would you be if you didn’t have your story? You still would have your essential being. Your truth. And these answers could change, maybe one day you see someone say something great about their purpose. You can take that on. There’s no limit here.

Come back to this exercise in a few weeks and make adjustments. It will likely change in the different phases of your life.

Find a way to give back and engage with community

What causes or social issues are you passionate about? Find a way to be involved. Racial justice advocate Deepa Iyer has incredible resources for this. While getting on track to a career is important, we need to remember that is not all there is to develop, and this also creates a sense of purpose and meaning. When we connect with others, serve others, we are less alone.

Let’s Connect

While I feel now that my life is less of a hot mess, I am more aligned with myself, and I’m actively job-searching, I’m allowing my path to be fluid. I hope that sharing my experience and offering these tools is useful. The time we are all experiencing is incredibly challenging, but the possibilities are endless. I will reiterate this phrase that’s been said many times: we are all in this together. Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments if you feel called to do so.

Bibliography

Chödrön, Pema. Book. Fail, Fail Again, Fail Better. Sounds True, 2015.

Frankl, Viktor E. Essay. In Man’s Search for Meaning, 40. Washington Square Press, 1986.

Jarrett, Lonny S. “Catalysing Emergence: Zheng Qi and the Authentic Self.” The European Journal of Oriental Medicine, January 15, 2016, 32–33.

Ocampo-Guzman, Antonio. “Voice & Movement.” Theatre. 2013, Boston, MA, Northeastern University.

Phamvan, Vincent. “Vyten Hope Summit,” 2020.

Stine, Jasmine. “Nothing To Oppose.” Lecture, 2020.

Vyten Council

Reaching your full potential

Hanne Larsen

Written by

I am director/choreographer, dancer, actor, and yoga teacher. I tell stories and help others tell their stories.

Vyten Council

Vyten Council is an invitation-only organization for professionals across geographies and industries supporting career development. Find out if you qualify. Questions? Email hello@vyten.com.

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