WELL, we’ve been sharing a lot of inspiring personal stories about leaders and changemakers that have pivoted for purpose. In their careers and personal lives, many people are switching gears to follow a path that’s better aligned with their passion. But how does one follow their passion? We thought this was the perfect questions for WELL, spiritual guru, Mother Martha. Below you’ll find a quick read with her thoughts and advice on following your passion.
The student learns by daily increment
The Way is gained by daily loss
Loss upon loss until
At last comes rest.
By letting go it all gets done;
The world is won by those who let it go!
But when you try and try,
The world is then beyond the winning.
-a poem by Lao Tzu
As the insights above infer, the secret to following your passion lies in loosening your grip and following your true heart’s desires. There is a myriad of distractions, however, that can stray us from this pursuit. Whether it is the pressure of friends and family or self-imposed pressure brought about by doing what society endorses as “success.”
In my own life, I’ve often succumbed to such pressures. When I was a young adult, particularly my twenties, I thought that getting through life and being successful was about gritting my teeth and pushing ahead—no matter what. I had goals of becoming a lawyer and making partner in a law firm.
By my late twenties, I was a clerk for a federal judge at the U.S. Tax Court. The opinions I worked on were showing up as blurbs in the Wall Street Journal. I thought I was making my way to a successful life in the world. I had a busy schedule and plans.
But in my quieter moments (which purposely weren’t many), I had an uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach that this wasn’t who I really was. I generally had these uneasy feelings on the weekends. I would go out for a long run or bike ride thinking that would end the restlessness. But nothing seemed to do the trick, the restlessness remained. When I had these feelings, I kept going back to what had worked before— to try to exercise them away, drink them away, eat them away… But as I approached my 30th birthday, I began to realize that working harder and playing harder was just not going to cut it.
But life has a way of turning up the heat, forcing us to face our inner passions and calling. As I was approaching 30, my father was dying. The restlessness about my own life calling combined with what I knew was the impending death of my father was a huge burden on my psyche. The intensity of the situation brought back all the feelings of loss in my life—particularly the death of my mother when I was 13.
On my 30th birthday in February 1988, my friends and I all gathered for a party. As a way to distract myself from the pain of my situation I had way too much to drink—so much so that I was sick and then in bed with an awful hangover for two days. Suffering my poor decision, barely able to move, the realization kept hitting me- The life I was living was not my own. Two weeks later my father passed away. During the months of mourning his loss, I realized that I had to be honest with myself and not continue the charade that my life was aligned with my purpose. My heart was telling me to dedicate my life to spirituality and helping others. I also wanted to dedicate more time to raising a family together with my husband. I decided to leave my career in law to enter the seminary.
As I was to learn again and again, the opportunity to stop—even for a short while—can bring us back to ourselves, and then the universe shows us the way. In the years to come, illness was to interrupt my life. Much in the way my father’s passing allowed me time to reset my priorities, my battle with cancer afforded me the time get a different perspective on my life. Being sick afforded me the opportunity to pivot my outlook on life and give me the courage to make another drastic change a few years later- leave my position in an urban American Church and take a role as priest in the countryside of South Africa.
As my story illustrates, the key to hone our skills for following our passion is to build in time to reset. By practicing resetting mentally and getting perspective more often, we can stay more aligned on a consistent basis. While life will always throw us sideways at times, we can avoid crises and be more in tune with ourselves with regular reflection.
Here are a few activities I suggest that can help you experience the mental space needed to stay true to yourself and your purpose.
- Wake up 30 minutes early and light a candle. Just sit and watch the sunrise outside your window
- Take a walk and stop at a beautiful vista
- Reading to your children before bed and listen to them slowly breathe into sleep
- Taking a few minutes to practice yoga or simply breathe
In these moments, we know who we truly are before we are aware of who we are. Practicing mindfulness can help us move incrementally towards letting go of the masks that we wear and the goals that are not ours….and live our true life.
Such practices are much more productive than simply distracting ourselves with fast pace activity. It takes slow but deliberate practice to slow down your mind. But if little by little we see the way forward, one day, we just say YES, I am ready. And walk into our new life.
Sometimes, a loss in our life comes just at the right time and a regular practice of stopping helps us slowly learn to be honest with ourselves. The purpose of life becomes crystal clear and allows us to walk into the future that is always open for us. If we can be honest with ourselves, become aware, and let go we can then walk deeper into our real life.
Until next time,
About Mother Martha:
Rev. Martha Macgill is WELL,’s go-to guru for all things spiritual. Her insight is always genuine, raw and comes from a place of immense wisdom. Her path is a unique one. Originally from the United States, Martha started her career in law. She has degrees in law from prestigious institutions University of Virginia and New York University (NYU). Her life underwent a major shift early in her career and she found her true calling, the priesthood in the Episcopal Church. That career took her to different places, including a 3-year stint as leader of a small parish outside of Johannesburg, South Africa, to a diverse church in downtown Baltimore, Maryland USA. She now lives with her husband, dog and cat in Western Maryland and is head rector at the town’s landmark church, Emmanuel Episcopal Church. Her passion is to assist people in difficult times, influence positive change in the community and help young people develop and find their calling in life. We are excited to have her on board at WELL, to share her insights with our readers. We hope her nuggets of wisdom will help you stay grounded and cultivate your spiritual life whatever that looks like for you.
Written exclusively for WELL, Magazine Asia by Mother Martha