Why I Do What I Do

A common dilemma in life is facing the unsettling possibility that how you are spending your days does not reflect what is essential to your nature. Poet-philosopher David Whyte has made it his business to face down that fear and craft a life's work that is not only true to his nature, but also helps others be true to theirs.

"I had an intuitive idea as a child that I would be on a stage talking about what matters," says Whyte, who makes his living as a speaker and writer devoted to bringing soul back into work. But the road from that childhood intuition to his uniquely crafted profession was anything but straight and obvious.

As a young adult, Whyte's strong attraction to marine biology led him to the Galápagos Islands. "The scientific language was not precise enough to describe my experience," he says now. He returned to land to reinvent his life through poetry, weaving together his love of nature and language.

Today, Whyte speaks to corporate America about the necessity for the workplace to embrace the human need for creativity, freedom and belonging. "If I'd been planning my life, I wouldn't have seen this," he says. His advice to "go where the longing takes you, where belonging takes you" is verse straight out of his own experience.

Whyte believes that what we do, our vocation, should be a pilgrimage to identity. Unfortunately, he feels it's a journey from which we often get sidetracked. "If we have to narrow ourselves to work, then we end up doing it so long we become that narrow person," he says. "And as you go along, the work can shape you down to nothing." The consequence, he believes, is nothing less than a missed opportunity to do the work one was meant to do and become the person one was meant to be.

Whyte hopes he can influence others to seek a heartfelt participation in what they do. "When we are young, the horizon is wide open, and we feel a pull towards something," says Whyte, author of Crossing the Unknown Sea (Riverhead Books, 2001). "We don't know the details or how it will play out." He's learned that letting intuitions guide one down this path can have the best consequences and he predicts, "The whole world will open up in ways you'd never have imagined." For more, visit www.davidwhyte.com.

—Delicious Living editors