“Deep down in every human heart
is a hidden longing, impulse, and ambition
to do something fine and enduring.”
– Grenville Kleiser
For those of you who know me or have read my Facebook posts you will know that my early life was difficult: my father was alcoholic and went bankrupt. My mother had post-traumatic stress from the Second World War, and didn’t have much mothering instinct when her twins were born, and my twin brother became a heroin addict and eventually died of it.
From an early age I knew I needed to save my own life, and one of the most powerful things I ever did was to find my Life-Calling and to pursue it relentlessly.
In my early 20’s I had a very good job at Moët & Chandon (London) Ltd with great career potential and abundant opportunities to booze and spend time in fine restaurants, but I asked myself “Do I want to spend my life selling champagne?” The answer was “no” and I knew I had to find my own way.
It hasn’t always been easy. I Left Moët and floundered around for a number of years, and although I had an idea about what I wanted, I didn’t have any systematic help in working it out. In 1979 I founded, with my friend Malcolm Stern and others, an alternative organisation called Nucleus Network that brought together different alternative spiritual, environmental, health, and psychological disciplines, but we didn’t know how to get it funded.
I then trained in NLP (Neuro-linguistic Programming) and ran one of the training schools that brought it to the UK, but eventually realised that for me, NLP stands for “Naturally Loving Person” rather than something associated with “programming”.
However, the NLP communication methodology is brilliant. In the mid eighties I took it into business management training and was part of a movement that has transformed business training over the last 30 years. Bored with management training in the nineties, I became a psychotherapist and executive coach. Executive coaching for global organisations in Europe, America and Asia has been a major focus ever since.
All along I kept returning to the questions “What is my life for?”; “What is the difference I make in the world?”; “What is my gift and how do I give it to the world?”
From the mid-1980’s, I started introducing exercises on Life-Calling on my courses, as it seemed to me that there had to be a faster and better way of getting on track with giving your gift to the world than simply floundering around with in-course correction.
Actually, I later discovered that “floundering around” is a tried and tested method for making a radical change in one’s career. Being willing to experiment and not know the answer is key to innovation. However, from a career point of view, you may get results more quickly if you combine experimentation with some expert facilitation around what makes your heart sing, and the difference you make in the world.
So how has having a Life-Calling been so transformational for me?
My Life-Calling is “helping people blossom, starting with myself”. It’s obvious, if you look at my childhood and teenage years.
My mother was a Second World War front-line ambulance driver and won medals for rescuing soldiers under fire. She was hospitalised after the war with post-traumatic stress syndrome, and when my twin Stephen and I were born, she didn’t have maternal instinct and returned to work within a week. My brother and I were desperate for love as children, I was socially awkward at school, and it was only in my adult life that I felt fulfilled in giving and receiving love.
So when I hold a client with presence and with an open heart, looking and listening for who they really are, this isn’t just a technique, it is what I yearned for in my early life. People grow and develop naturally and easily when they feel seen and understood. In my adult life I found this for myself, through wonderful mentors and teachers, and now I offer it to other people.
At 18, when my twin was becoming an addict and my father’s business was going bust, I knew that I had to find a path in life that worked for me, and I did. I studied Taoist and Chan Buddhist philosophy, the Chinese and Japanese martial arts and ended up going to psychotherapy, eventually training as a psychotherapist myself. I wasn’t just doing this to help others, but to help myself.
I asked one psychotherapist Harvey Karmen about what I could do for my brother and he said “You know, Julian, you are so enmeshed in your family’s psychological history that the one person you cannot help is your brother”. I then made a poetic vow, that if I couldn’t help my brother I would help other people in the hope that others would help him. Many people did help Stephen, but not, in the end, enough to save his life. He died at 42 from an overdose.
My strengths – what I am great at – also came out of my childhood experiences: I am empathetic, I connect with new people easily, because the nannies and au pair girls were always changing and I needed carers; I learnt to be positive and have hope for the future; I learnt to be strategic and plan a better life. In the loneliness of my childhood I wondered about the nature of life itself, and this developed my spirituality.
My Life-Calling has enabled me to put the difficulties of my past to good use as inspiration and fuel for my work today.
My Life-Calling also makes me clear about the things I really love doing. The lack of intimacy in my childhood means that I love it when someone reveals their deepest heart to me.
A business coaching client was suggested to me because he was a key-player in the business AND his wife had nearly died that year of incurable multi-organ failure. Their bedroom looked like an intensive care hospital room. He was thinking about retiring to make the most of their last few years together and could I help him think it through? To cut a long story short, as we dug deeper, what we discovered was that he needed to take care of himself as well as his beloved wife. He needed a place in his life where he could make good things happen. He stayed in the business but got very clear about work-home balance. He received an important promotion. And every time he saw me he told me about the latest, dreadful medical emergencies at home. I was the only man he was talking to about the difficulty of watching his loved one declining, and I was the only man he cried with. Yet as a result of giving space for this heart-breaking aspect of his life, he was also able to give space to an aspect of his work that he truly loved and felt passionate about: his company ended up investing one hundred million pounds to update old factories so as to change to a lower carbon footprint.
The power and passion generated by understanding your Life-Calling also helps you deal with difficulties. Research into “resilience” (how one bounces back from difficulty), suggests that people with a sense of purpose deal with difficulty better.
And how can a Life-Calling be helpful in fulfilling your dreams?
Life-Calling is what is most important to you, what you are most passionate about and the focus of what you do.
It is the focus of my personal life – growing and deepening my relationship with my girlfriend, with her kids, with my friends and with my 3 year old godson. I love to spend time with people who want to express their potential in life and are willing to talk about their inner life, and talk about my inner life too. I learnt early on that relationships have to be a two-way street, so although I have offered my heart and my presence to my friends to help them flourish, they have only become real friends if the gift of loving presence is reciprocated. My close friends see me and love me and believe in me.
Life-Calling also gives you focus in the busy-ness of life. I know a photographer whose Life-Calling is about “being seen, and helping others be seen“. He has a family and financial responsibility. He can get commercial photographic work but it doesn’t interest him; closer to his Life-Calling is work helping people to be seen through photos and their story, and he has some commissions for this work. Knowing his Life-Calling has given him the impetus to focus on work that is his passion. Secretly though, in his heart of heart, he knows he wants his own work to be “seen”, and will enter portraits to top photographic prize exhibitions.
When you are clear about your Life-Calling and how you can use it in your work, you will be much more focused. And as it is your passion you will be more persistent, more resilient to difficulty, likely to learn better, and are thus more likely to be successful than if you do something you don’t love.
The most beautiful thing in the world for me is to fulfil my Life-Calling by helping someone else fulfil theirs. It is great watching my clients grow and develop: two people have recently given TEDx talks; I have a number of long-term clients who have gone through a number of promotions and are now at the top of famous global organisations. A music business promoter only needed someone to believe in him for him to flourish; an actress who wanted more work and got it; a senior manager who didn’t like to think on his feet at large meetings, but built a reputation for reliability by saying “you know me – give me a couple of days to give you an answer, and you will be able to trust the answer you get”. A man frightened of the responsibility of getting married has now leaped in and done the deed.
Each of us has a Life-Calling. Research shows that if you know your Life-Calling you will be more happy and more successful.
Listen, and find out – is something more calling you in your life? What is your passion? What are your secret dreams? What makes your heart sing? What are you angry about? How can you make sure that this never happens to other people?
My iconic 4-day Personal Transformation Intensive (Life Talent Programme Level 1), as well as occasional shorter workshops) will clarify your Life-Calling. You can read more here about how to find your Life-Calling now and the research-based benefits of doing so.