What’s Your Real Job?


When I was 4, my father started to travel to another city on business. He came home once a month, stayed for one night, and left the next morning. It wasn’t a problem for me.

I was content and happy, spending hours every day in the big concrete yard next to my house. Finding materials for my cooking game: sand for rice, leaves for spices. My red plastic pot fitted in the palm of my hand.

One night, when my mother were doing the laundry in our front yard, I saw she cried, holding a t-shirt in her hands. It was the first time I ever saw an adult cried.

I wanted to call dad home. But we didn’t have a phone back then. At that moment, something deep inside me made a choice:

I would make my mother happy.

I did everything she asked, everything I thought would make her smile. At night, I gave her a face massage, pressing my tiny fingers on the skin of her forehead, the corners of her eyes, her temples. I caressed her cheeks. She was happy. And I was happy.

One day, home alone, I used the gas stove and the rice cooker to make her lunch. I cooked rice, steamed pork, and vegetable soup. When my mother got home, she yelled: “You could’ve burned yourself!” She wasn’t happy. And I wasn’t happy.

“It must be my fault.” So I tried some more.

I tried to have good grades at schools, tried to get into a good university, tried to succeed in my work. But no matter how hard I tried, mother was never happy. I felt like a loser. Angry. Hurt.

“No matter what I do, it’ll never be enough for her.”

I resented her. So much that I ran away.

I thought living abroad would bring me peace. But even when I lived in The Netherlands or walked the streets of Kenya and Australia or rode the tuk-tuk in India, I still carried inside me the job to make my mother happy.

Then I thought finding my life’s purpose would bring me peace. But even when I wrote down my purpose in inspiring words on a piece of paper, and hung it on the wall of my studio, I still carried inside me the job to make my mother happy.

I wasn’t at all aware of that. It baffled me to watch myself stifled. Every time I walked into my office to work on the book that I believed in, I fell into a void, hit a wall, got stuck and muted in a corner, lonely.

From the corner of my right eyes, I heard: “No matter what you do, it’ll never be enough.”

Hopeless, I played video games all days and nights, skipping dinner, breakfast, and lunch.   

I thought I had gone crazy or been possessed by dark energy. I was about to Google “gamer anonymous” when I talked to my coach about my agony. After about an hour of coaching - which means she asking questions and me answering with whatever came up - the memory of that night flashed back.

Finally, I could see clearly how as a 4-year-old child, I had decided: “My job is to make my mother happy.” And the inadequacy I felt in that job bled into all areas of my life. I couldn’t work on my purpose - my real job - because I wasn’t available.

My coach gently asked: “What is your real job, Milena?”

I took a deep breath, placed my feet flat on the ground. I felt into the stillness in my chest. And from that stillness, I heard a calm, steady voice - my own voice:

“My job is to be present with my life. To receive possibilities. To be a channel for beauty and magic. To be in awe by how wonder-full it is to be me, having this human experience.”  

There, to the old job, I said: “I quit.”

There, I set my mother free to be exactly how she was  - unhappy, worried, anxious, afraid, controlling - for as long as she needed.

There, I set myself free to love her. Because what she really needed wasn’t my fixing but my acceptance.

There, I set myself free to love myself. Because accepting one’s life purpose - one’s real job in life - is the highest form of self-love.



Dear readers,

Which “job” did you take on when you were little?

Is it to make your father proud? To keep the family together? To make a friend happy?

I’ve coached a person who took on the job to protect their brother. But no matter what they do, their brother never felt safe. The inadequacy and frustration they felt bled into their career, make them insecure, turned them into a workaholic. The tricky thing is: because this process was entirely unconscious, they didn’t know why they kept feeling that way.

Do you see how destructive it is to hang onto a job that is never yours in the first place?

We need to understand that the only one we can save is the one we see in the mirror.

When we try to save someone - even if it’s someone we love - we abandon our own house and go decorate someone else’s apartment. We feel empty because we’re not at home where we belong.

It’s time to quit. It’s not your job anyway.


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