I heard the saddest thing the other day in a restaurant. At a nearby table a mom admonished her young daughter, “Stop playing pretend so much! Stop making things up. People won’t know when you’re pretending or when you’re being yourself.”

I wanted to turn around and ask that little girl about the fantastic world she was creating. And I wanted to tell her mom that she was interrupting a spectacular time in her daughter’s life. At the same time, it made me think about a few conversations I’ve had recently with potential clients who expressed the semi-joking hope that I could part the clouds, open the sky, break out the harps, and call forth a voice that would tell them what they were created to do in this lifetime. When this happens, I often start by asking them what they wanted to be when they were young and full of ideas, dreams and aspirations.

I’ve come to realize how important the retrieval of our childhood experiences and fantasies are to helping us make sense of our natural longings. Eighteen months ago I sat around a table with my career empowerment group for the first time as we shared our earliest childhood desires. The result? Today, a Jane Fonda want-to-be is a personal trainer with a growing practice that focuses on mind-mending and body-sculpting. The astronaut, who dissuaded herself from taking this path because of her self-perceived math deficiency, just pulled off the best PTA sponsored math night in her children’s school history. The nun who gave up ideas of wearing a habit, just returned from a spiritual pilgrimage of sorts to India. And the woman who yearned to be a photographer and trek to faraway lands recently launched a family-friendly travel business for those seeking altruistic and life-changing experiences. The point is not that these women knew all along what they’d be doing today, but that they've been able to build a bridge between their rational adult mind to their natural essence.

Childhood interests – yes, even pretend and fantasy – can often be so insightful. You see, we have a more direct route to the unconscious mind when we are young, and this part of our operating model outplays and out-powers the conscious mind at least 10 to 1. Think about it – when you were a kid you were swimming with natural interests, inclinations, and fascinations. And, like the girl in the restaurant, you explored, fantasized, and pretended your way through your early years. Because you hadn’t yet matured the grey matter that controls your logical thinking, you were living in a present full of possibilities. You were a superhero one day and a horse trainer the next. You listened to your intuition and followed your curiosity. And, if you listened carefully, this turned into early career callings.

We’ve all heard awe-inspiring stories of callings made plain in childhood, right? The concert pianist who tickled the ivories at the age of three and never questioned her musical destiny. Or the doctor who knew the Hippocratic Oath was in her future the first time her pediatrician put a stethoscope to her ears. Look, I’m not questioning or even begrudging these poignant moments. However, they do create tough expectations for many of us who didn’t receive such clear guidance or who’ve forsaken our childhood dreams for a less satisfying endeavor. What do we do when we decide we want more meaning from our careers, but we’re years beyond braces and pigtails?

Alas, all is not lost for those who can’t recall their aspirations from years gone by. Our lives have unfolded and now you have experiences, talents, and callings which will guide you as an adult. Because the reality is that most of us don’t enter this world with a vocation stamped on our entry visa.

I do, however, believe our souls are always calling us to do something if we can just listen. So I suggest we stop looking for a one-trick pony, the Holy Grail, or waiting for the clouds to part. Instead, ask yourself: What am I being called to do right now? Do you feel compelled to take an art or cooking class? Read that book someone gave you ten years ago? What about using your own experiences to help others in their quest for health? Does school sound interesting now that the kids are off to college? Should you start a camp for foster children? Take up meditation again? Tell your family you love them more? Play in the woods? You don’t know who you are until you try something...so what are you being called to do...right now?

And as you consider this question, why not ask a five-year-old to come out and play? Like the girl in the restaurant, you just might find your true self by playing a little make-believe.

Author's Bio: 

I am the founder of the Positive Change Network. The Positive Change Network's (PCN) mission is to fuel more fulfillment and success in the workplace through excellence.

We believe everyone is brimming with full potential - yet, many of us don't harness our natural talents, interests and priorities to energize the level of success we deserve. For this reason, we've devised simple, powerful and pragmatic techniques that we use in our coaching services and empowerment workshops that allow our clients tocreate a sustained success strategy for years to come.