Avoiding risk in your work life could be harmful to your health.

We’re so focused externally on what’s going to sell, what’s hot, what will move, and what somebody else wants that we don’t listen to ourselves. We lose touch with who we really are and what we can give, said career coach Tama Kieves. She spoke at a panel on finding meaningful work organized by Project Otter for the 2014 American Society of Journalists and Authors conference in New York on April 26.

Playing it safe, she said, is a mistake. “My main message if you get nothing else out of me is that I really do not think it’s safe to play it safe in this world,” she said.

Her message runs counter to common advice in our culture that says: Don’t do what you love. Don’t do what moves you. Don’t do what rocks your world. Stay safe. Be practical. Be reasonable.

Kieves is familiar with this approach. She loved creative writing. But when she announced to her mother that she wanted to be a writer, it was like telling her she wanted to sell crack. Her mother’s response: “You’re gonna write? You’re gonna starve, you’re gonna write.” Her mother suggested she get a job and do her writing on Sundays. So much for pursuing her calling.

Kieves for a time suppressed her inner voice. After graduating with honors from Harvard Law School, she was on partnership track at a Denver firm. She had achieved the American Dream. But despite doing what other people told her were all the right things, she felt empty inside. She found herself asking, “Is this all there is? There’s got to be something else. There’s got to be something more.”

As it turned out, the thing that was wrong with her was the thing that’s right for her. “If you can’t make it work doing something you don’t love,” she said, “that’s good news. Something else is inside you.”

But sometimes that something else is not at all clear. People get hung up on having too long a list of things they could do. What about this? What about that? Kieves says they should ask themselves: Right now what is calling to me? Right now in this moment, what has energy for me?

Following your energy can lead you places you never imagined. And what energizes you may shift with time.

When Kieves left her law job, she started writing poetry.  That led her to writing essays about career transitions. She was scared out of her mind. But it also brought up questions. How do you stay inspired and focused on what you really want when you’re scared? As she continued to ask these questions, it became clear she was writing a book. To be around other people in transition, she started a group. She was told she was good at leading the group. She started leading workshops. And that lead to holding retreats. Back when career coaching wasn’t even a career, people asked if she would help them find their dreams.

While Kieves never ended up becoming a poet, her books contain more language that sings than you’ll see in most other career-oriented books.

Kieves noted that while people may start off following their energy, most of them shut it down immediately. Well, that’s not going to go anywhere, they think. That couldn’t happen. They stop the creative idea. Those creative ideas that come to you are not coming to other people in the same way, Kieves said. “We have a competitive edge when we stay in touch with what we love,” she said. “That competitive edge is I will stay on fire with this.”

“You don’t get to choose what you love,” Kieves said she tells her clients. You don’t get to choose what moves you or what has energy for you. “You choose whether or not you’ll follow it.”

To learn more about related topics, see:
How to nurture creativity
Inspired success vs. linear success