Over decades of working with people, individually and in groups, we have met the wealthy as well as the downtrodden, the victorious and the defeated. But one thing we have found is true for everyone: that deep down in each and every person alive, there is a unique flavor of consciousness — never exactly the same as anybody else. Like a fingerprint, it is something completely unique to the individual person. If discovered and activated, that unique flavor is your unique gift to the world.
Most people don’t know what their unique gift is. Like a fish in water, it’s so familiar to them they can’t see it. A good way to discover your unique gift is by asking your close friends, or people who have known you for a while. We suggest that you ask 12 people, “What are the qualities that you see in me, the gifts that flow through me, more than anybody else you know?” You will find that there are certain qualities that everybody will write on their list.
To be clear, what you do for a living is not the same as your unique gift. For example, you may be an accountant (perhaps a very good one!) but accounting would not be your unique gift. If your unique gifts happen to include precision, focus and order, then accounting could be a good channel for your gifts to flow. We are both writers. That is not the gift, it is a channel for articulateness, clarity and maybe humor to be given to others. The unique gift and the means of expressing the gift are two different things.
You may, or you may not, be doing a job right now that is an expression of your gift. But we have found that what you do with your day is not nearly as big of a deal as people think it is. It’s not terribly important that you have exactly the right job. As long as your job doesn’t block your gifts from flowing, it’s not problem.
As you awaken to your true nature as empty and limitless, your gifts will flow through you more easily. However, one thing people may find confusing is that the more deeply you relax out of a limited identity and into the spaciousness, the more you may feel like you don’t have a unique gift at all. You’ll experience yourself as an emptiness and presence, a kind of readiness and availability that has no content. Ironically, the more spacious you are and the less you think you have anything to give, the more powerfully other people will actually feel the gift.
For example, when Yehudi Menuhin, one of the world’s best violinists, played the violin, there was no Yehudi Menuhin left. There was just the violin playing. He became a witness to the beautiful violin music just as much as the audience. The same is true for dancers, for writers, and even for business people: when they’re giving their gift, they experience that the gift is coming through them and not from them.
Our research has taught us that the most reliable marker for fulfillment in life is the degree to which you are in touch with and living your gifts in an actualized way. The traditional things that people think give them fulfillment, like money, security, and possessions, don’t create lasting satisfaction. Actually, we’ve discovered that most of the people who have accumulated a lot of stuff don’t recommend that others follow a similar path in life, but people who have really discovered their gift, and who are using their life to give their gift, recommend it more highly than anything.
Studies show that the happiest people on earth want to use their unique gift in the service of other people, and that they want to find ways to use their gift even if their job does not require it.
Remember, the gift is flowing through you, but it is not for you. You are not the recipient of the gift. If you imagine your gift wrapped up in shiny paper with a ribbon, it doesn’t have your name on the tag. It has other people’s names. The gift coming through you is meant for other people.
So consequently, the idea of ‘following your bliss’ is actually not really the best advice, because what feels good to you might not necessarily be your true gift. Your gift is really about where you have the greatest impact. It may not necessarily make you feel great, but you’re going to feel well-used.
A great example of this would be our good friend, Connie Kishbaugh. She’s somebody whose life was indisputably lined up with her gift. For more than 30 years Connie was the senior research nurse at UC Davis Medical Center. She spent 12-hour shifts dealing with people who were dying. She’s caring, loving, present, and very patient, and she helped people to really accept what was going on with themselves. It was very draining for her, and very tiring, and she burned herself out many times, but she was giving her true gift. Connie wasn’t exactly following her bliss, she was following what, in India, they call dharma. She was doing what she was born to do, her duty, her way to serve the most people.
Discovering your gift, and giving your gift, is a great beginning, but it’s not an end in itself. Many people discover their gift and learn how to give their gift, but it won’t necessarily impact the rest of the world unless you also know how to respond intelligently to an opportunity and how to refine your gift. These are both topics that we’re going to discuss later on in the series.
An incredible example of someone who has made an impact with their gift is Oprah Winfrey. One of the times that I was on the Oprah Show, Oprah mentioned to me off camera that she really liked my stories about my dog that I told in my book, and she asked how my dog was doing. I said, “Well, he’s having seizures now. He’s not doing so well.” She said “Oh, I’m sorry to hear that. I’m a big dog lover, so I’ll be sure to pray for him.” Then she asked me, “What’s the dog’s name?” “His name is Roma,” I said, and she responded “I’ll pray for him.” Then we did the show.
Two and a half years later, I went on her show again and came up to me and said, “Hi Jonathan. Good to see you again! By the way, how is Roma?” The thought that one of the world’s most influential and most loved people, Oprah Winfrey, would remember this brief conversation we’d had two and a half years ago struck me as impossible. I looked at her in shock and asked, “Who’s Roma?” She said, “Roma is your dog. You know, he was having seizures, so I prayed for him. How is he doing?” Still surprised, I said, “He’s doing better.” I asked her, “How did you remember that?!” She said “Well, it’s an interesting story. When I was about 16, I was at the end of my rope. I had been raped a couple of times and had a still born child, I’d been through hell and back. I asked myself, ‘What do I have to contribute? I’m poor, I’m black, and I have this hard life.’ And I thought, ‘Well, I really have a gift for feeling people and communicating.’ So I really focused on pursuing that gift, and I believe that when you pursue your gift, when you let it out, good things happen.” Then she looked out at the 500 people in the audience and she said, “And it seems like it worked pretty well, don’t you think?”
Your gift will not only lift you up, but it will lift other people up. When you focus on it, good things tend to happen.
Join us for this weeks free teleseminar in the series How to Thrive in the New Economy, this Thursday at 6pm.