Before you spend money on branding, rebranding or building a website, or adding a new product... Find out if this is your Dharma, a Mirror or a Shadow Career.
Trying to find your purpose and feel even more lost? Feel like you’re losing your passion? You’re stuck in a Shadow Career or a Mirror instead of your Dharma. A Shadow Career or business is something we do that doesn’t fulfill us or align with our best self. Something that others, society, and your fears have led you to believe you should do. A Mirror is a partial alignment with your talents or passion but something is still missing. You might be 100% on fire for this but find your passion fizzling out after a few months or years. The business might also seem to be going nowhere fast. Dharma is your purpose. Something that lights you up and feels like it’s what you were put on this planet to do. It serves others and gives you enough pleasure among the work that you keep going and dreaming. Which one are you in right now? If you are starting or dreaming of a new business venture which one is it? If you can find out now if it’s a Shadow Career it will save you thousands of dollars and years of your life. Maybe even save the rest of your life.
“I’M TRYING TO FIND MY PURPOSE.”
I loved art since I was a child. I was thrilled to be able to choose my electives in high school. My freshman year I had all art electives. It was the best!
After my freshman year of high school arts became just a hobby. I didn’t see a clear path to make a living from art. I believed that 99% of artists were “starving artists” and that I didn't have enough talent in the arts to make it. I was really good. But not in that 1%.
I was also surrounded by academic friends in honors getting straight A’s. With the school preaching about college credits I decided to be like my friends. Art was no longer a focus or passion and it became a side hobby.
In my early and mid twenties I pursued art as a hobby. Photography and metal jewelry and paintings that were sold at art shows and in stores while I worked my full time office job. I spent years feeling like I was only a little good at lots of things but didn’t have that “one thing” that I was great at.
I loved making art, yet felt a bit disconnected from it still. I had other talents and beliefs that seemed to be left out. I am minimalistic and a very deep thinker with a strategic mind that craved never ending learning. Making pretty things that hung in the house or on your body didn’t fully embody my potential and all my talents.
Had a shadow career (my desk job) and a Mirror of my calling, the art side hustle.
I felt torn in two and constantly researched other jobs and fields and didn’t feel like there was a fit for me. Creating art and jewelry, making my own logo and labels and setting up and designing booths at events, and networking was part of the necessary path for the art side hustle. I didn’t see it at the time but that was a secret clue to my Dharma. I wasn’t yet the person to realize or take on my full Dharma but I was mirroring it, flirting with it, growing into it. Later these exact things became my business and aligned all my talents into a purpose where I was fulfilled and fulfilled the needs of others.
THE SHADOW CAREER
A shadow career is a venture or job that disguises itself as being fulfilling but is really what others, society, and your fears have led you to believe you should do.
“Sometimes when we are terrified of embracing our true calling, we’ll pursue a shadow calling instead. That shadow career is a metaphor for our real career. Its shape is similar, its contours feel tantalizing the same. But a shadow career entails no real risk. If we fail at a shadow career, the consequences are meaningless to us. Are you pursuing a shadow career?” - Steven Pressfied | Turning Pro
A key indicator that you are shadowing is that you have to force yourself to stay passionate or accept fully that you cannot be passionate about our work. Deep down you are chasing security over passion and calling. We may then fulfill your need with extracurricular projects and hobbies at home.
I started a shadow career when I was torn away from the arts and creative fields (because they wouldn’t make me enough money) The words “starving artist” were deeply ingrained as truth to me. The fear of being unsuccessful and different from everyone else caused me to leave my passion behind except in personal time at home.
The second shadow was more sneaky by mis-directing me in the first year and half of being a full time entrepreneur. Taking me away from my actual work and adding unrelated and unproductive to-dos on my plate. I thought I had to do these things to be successful and in looking for financial security started adding in a lot of extra pursuits. Leading to great pain, loss, confusion, feelings of failure and sometimes only making $300 in a month.
My fear of not having a stable income lead me to spending time on many different marketing avenues all at once. Which then took me away from building a proper portfolio and clientele list work. No leads came from months of marketing work when I never needed them in the first place. Go figure.
When working with clients now I go deep into their personal strengths and personalities to better help them stay on the path that will both give success in their business and keep them feeling happy and motivated after we build their brand and website and strategy. They can check back in easily and stay on the path when all these other “advice and shoulds” come at them. Even from very intelligent successful people. We are called to our craft but our craft requires that we learn and do things we don’t yet know how to do. So we read, watch YouTube, take courses, go to seminars and watch webinars… and then we find the 20 or 100 things we need to start doing to make our business successful.
Sometimes completely taking us away from our original calling and business entirely! It happened to me and wish I had the process I do with my clients now.
For a peek behind the curtain – portfolios, hiring platforms and referrals are the only things that brought me actual income in my first 3 years. These are also incredibly scalable. I could have accomplished what I have in half the time if I had not gotten lost in the madness and followed the unaligned-for-me advice of all online marketers, youtubers and podcasters.
We all have examples of this story in our lives. Being in misalignment based on what others think we should do, or what worked for them.
My Dharma was still there though… my ability to make things creative and beautiful helped in biology where my only task in a group project was to paint the poster. I only had to draw in by biology class that week and spent all weekend painting a coral reef with cuttlefish and mollusks. It was glorious. We got extra credit on the project.
I also got extra credit on my paper about altitude at tree line. The cover was a watercolor mountain painting with a gorgeous sunset. The only thing the painting did was mark tree line which was way over the top. But again. Extra credit to help my grade. Who knew?
My art dharma followed me although I was neglecting it. It helped me in other areas to cope with the misalignment and to also stand apart uniquely from the other students in the class. I was called to make things pretty. I liked making pretty things.
It lead to mirror ventures.
A mirror is a craft, venture or career that is not yet your full Dharma. This is a stepping stone or a mirror image of your dharma. A mirror prepares us to be connected to our Dharma and calling.
We might be excited and fully committed to a career or venture at some point. We wake with excitement for it and put our whole heart into it. As time goes on we might start to feel like something is missing. We feel a disconnect from it and start fulfilling our desires or some aspect of our talent somewhere else.
That’s ok. The lessons learned here in this mirror venture are exactly what we needed to learn to be ready for our dharma. We must not cling to these mirrors and refuse to be flexible or continue evolving.
I only need one hand to count all the times someone straight out told me I should look into Graphic Design. In High School I was prompted with this career path twice that I can remember. By a teacher and a fellow student I both respected. There were two things that kept me from seeing it as an option for me.
When I was in High School websites were only created with code, there was no such thing as smart phones and MySpace (the first facebook) had just launched. It wasn’t until high school that we got our first home computer. I had no idea of any of the technology being created at that time and didn’t want to go into debt to go to school to learn it.
All the way up until 1 year before I started my own business the universe would drop hints. Each time they came up as a big sign with a question on it. Each time I completely shut it down and rolled it off because of my perception of what it was, and my perception of my strengths and weaknesses. I needed some more experiences for me to see it as possible or for me.
I needed my dharma dots much closer together to connect them. Thank you dharma for your patience and giving me more help to figure this out!
“Each of us has a dharma, a purpose in life. When we are in dharma, we enjoy and love our work.”- Deepak Chopra | Creating Affluence
Dharma is our purpose and calling. The search for purpose is a very common human experience. We all have wondered what we’re good at or supposed to do.
** BUSINESS TIP**
Googling words related to your product or services can test if your venture is solid or trending up or down. Google gets our questions before we ask our friends or coworkers. Looking up Google trends can give you data that would take years of surveys to produce and at a greater scale than any company's budget could provide.
Let’s see what’s going on with the word purpose. For the sake of this article let’s compare it to something we all believe that we need to be successful. Motivation. Motivation helps us be consistent with marketing, lose weight and watch less Netflix. We need motivation! On a day to day basis motivation would seem more important than purpose.
Nothing happens well or for long without motivation.
Here is the average line of the quantity of times the word motivation was searched from 2004 through 2020. It’s consistent and decently high.
Here is the average of the number of times the word purpose was searched in google month to month in the same time frame. 2004 to 2020.
Even though purpose is a big concept and is not a daily need, purpose was always searched for at least 3 times more than the word motivation.
And it’s growing. Our need to find purpose in our lives is becoming even more important. In the past 3 years it has been included in 5 times the number of searches than motivation has.
WHY YOU MIGHT NOT SEE YOU PURPOSE YET
We want to find our purpose. Where is that sweet spot between our natural talents, our passion and the needs that we can fulfill in the world?
You may not feel like you have found your dharma yet. You might be searching the world for the right job or field. It might also be right under your nose and you have blinders on to it.
One reason why I wouldn't consider that graphic design was part of my calling was that I was scared of computer programs and how hard it would be to learn them. I did AutoCAD architecture class in high school. The program was hard to learn because it was not aligned with my strengths. (Math is certainly a weakness of mine) It became one of my most painful classes. Especially since we only created one thing of our own at the end of the class everything else was just copying through a book. That and my struggle with typing class and not owning a computer until I was in high school just made me feel like computers were hard. That art on a computer would be the hardest thing.
Saw these programs as intimidating until I “accidentally” started using design programs in my jobs and photoshop when I pursued photography as a hobby. That fear and limiting belief disappeared. Through slow osmosis of using more and more complex programs I get paid to use these programs. Had to do it! But it took 10 years instead of a few months because I let life lead me instead of being intentional and pursuing it.
Maybe we feel like we have more than one dharma. That's very possible. We are multifaceted beings. You are never one thing. You can have multiple dharmas and they could change based on your life or what the world is going through. You have purpose in being a great parent. You can also be a successful entrepreneur.
It’s also possible that what we think is a dharma is a mirror. And that’s ok. The goal is to always do what we feel called to do. Life will evolve and more will be revealed. If we are not intentional or unplugging into television or social media all the time we may never do a mirror or find our dharma.
There may be a fear or limited belief creating a ceiling we cannot see.
A MIRROR IS AN EXPERIENCE YOU NEED FIRST
My perfectionism, fear of judgement and my fear of compliments on my art was a ceiling for me. It made even my mirror venture very uncomfortable. The fear and perfectionism kept me from considering a field where direct judgement happens every single day.
I liked selling my art online and in stores because I could hide away and not have to hear the criticism or the compliments like when I was at a show selling in person. You would think the criticism would be the hardest but I was the most uncomfortable with compliments. I didn’t know how to take them in my art or my personal life. I needed to learn to be flexible and open with my creations, understand that everyone has their own opinion but it doesn’t reflect on what I created, just their perception of it.
I compared my work to others so strongly that a compliment would make me uncomfortable because I didn’t value what I did as much as I valued other’s work. I let that make me feel inferior and unworthy.
Overtime I got more comfortable with compliments and started valuing my work objectively. I found humor and compassion towards the so-called negative comments. To not let them hurt me but help me grow in my work and to just be an observer of someone else's story or truth without wrapping mine up in it.
This skill is what makes me excellent at what I do. I am more flexible, I listen better and can deliver a variety of work for my clients. Putting their outcome, desires and experience above my own.
Without this mirror of selling art and jewelry I would be too terrified to try the field of graphic, branding and website design. Even if I managed to try it the stress alone of navigating personalities and opinions would have me quitting in a week. I also wouldn’t connect or serve my clients like I can now and would struggle to grow a client base or experience and could have gotten poor reviews. Without this skill my business would not have made it. Or made it as fast as it did. Within 5 months of starting to freelance I was able to quit my office job. A normally not realistic expectation to have.
I believe that many times our path to our calling arrives right in front of us and we walk around it muttering “What do I do? What is this arrow for? Ug it’s in my way to finding my purpose! I have to get around it!”
THE LAST SIGN I IGNORED
One of the last signs I saw was a total confrontation. Yet I still ignored it for another year! When I was 27 my whole life except my day job was getting a do over. A breakup, selling the house and the car and moving into my parents while I house shopped for a new home. I took the freedom. It was time to escape to the mountains and Snowboard.
I was slow at picking it back up after taking years of a break after just learning. So my cousin had recommended I take a one-on-one 2 hour refresher with an instructor.
On the chair lift between runs I got talking with my instructor and he asked what I did for work, and told me that he did graphic design as a freelancer on the side. I said that was cool and he asked “Why don’t you do it?” I said that I couldn’t do anything like that. His face was covered with a ski mask but he still looked confused. “But you already do that…” he said. Many of the things I was already doing were graphic design. That I was already creating for others and doing the feedback loop that I was so afraid of. I brushed it off. He didn’t see my work, and heard the critiques that I got on it, so I didn’t fully believe him. No. I didn't fully believe in myself.
I had and still have some limiting beliefs around my capabilities. I let my fear that I wasn't classically trained at a college derail me. In the rest of that year after that chair lift ride with a stranger my personal development and self-learning took hold. I had played with the idea of doing bookkeeping on the side. (only addressing a natural talent but not a passion for me. I knew it but was not aligned but I was desperate to build something of my own. I started bookkeeping for a local landscaping business after work until a FB ad popped up in my feed. “Become a designer and live anywhere in the world. Anyone can do it"! The ad hooked me. That's when it clicked for me. As that ad content played I connected the dots. I used all my experience as a security blanket and finally saw how possible it was for me. “Hey... I already know these programs and I am an artist. If anyone can do it then I could actually do it too.
That course taught the mere basic idea of how to be a designer online. How to find a job and how to show concepts to a client for $330. But in that little course I realized how I needed my strategic brain for website design and marketing as well and removed the mirror. I found the sweet spot connecting all the Dharma Dots and aligning both my strategic brain and artist brain to a need the world has.
You might be thinking that you didn't have all these signs that I did. And when we are desperately searching for something we might trick ourselves into connecting the wrong dots. Thinking “This was my video, this is it! This is my thing!”
Don’t force the discovery or you will create a shadow not a mirror or your dharma.
DON’T FORCE IT OR YOU WILL GET SIDE TRACKED
There is so much online now that we can “discover” our “thing” every day. I have been excited about dozens of things before this one and been derailed and “found my new thing” a few times after. When I start working with clients I don’t question them on what it is that they are doing or creating. That’s their path to walk. But I take it upon myself to help leave them with clarity in moving forward in all endeavors. I have worked with all 3 types. Dharma ventures, mirror ventures, and shadow ventures. Although it’s not always obvious it’s not my place to label it anyway. It is my job to find the alignments and set them up for success where they were ever they go in the future.
One example I have seen was of a successful Instagramer. (all client stories are completely anonymous.) Sharing images was his way of sharing his experiences and he was getting a lot of followers online. I did notice though that many captions of images were left entirely blank. Even when or where the photos were taken was not written. During the discovery call it was clear to me that he had been through great personal growth. He had some very moving ideas about how to raise humanity up, so I took him on. On the next call it was quickly clear to me how disconnected he was from what he was trying to build with his venture. He had been told that he should blog about his experiences. Yet writing was something he wasn’t connecting with at all. And when I probed deeper into his story and origins and experience there was a deep disconnect in who is was and what he was trying to build. A belief that people aren’t interested or ready for the “deeper” stuff.
I thought that this was a shadow venture at first. But in my process we mined the great possibility of merchandise (he was really passionate about that) and that his ultimate goal was to create and lead events. In order to do that he believed he needed a blog first. It is a good stepping stone from where he was and where he wanted to go. So instead of it being a shadow venture it was turned into a mirror venture.
What my job is as a brand consultant is to help strip away all the things that are a completely false shadow and give you a flashlight to chase away the shadows that will come for you down the road.
Things like marketing strategies or products that you think you need to create to “be successful”. Even if you hate them and have no strengths in them. These are the things that will cause pain, disconnection and more struggle in your business development. Doing something that is not within your strengths or is not what makes you - you creates a false persona and online appearance. One that scares away customers and that makes the entrepreneur miserable. Decreasing the change to succeed, lose motivation and become distant and lost from your original purpose and goal. Even feeling like you lost yourself.
YOUR DHARMA IS CHASING YOU
It's odd how our Dharma may show up in our work or extracurricular activities. I realized that as a young adult on my own there was only one job (a deli) that I didn’t use some bit of my dharma. All businesses need graphic design in some form or another, online or offline. And even average bosses know that they need to recognize the strengths in their team and put them to use in the company. In all other jobs I at some point was able to create for them artistically.
From my first job as a newly launched young adult, I was managing the front office of a car repair shop. I was pretty good at payroll, invoices organization, cleaning, customer service. I liked parts of all of them because I loved being in the flow and thinking strategically. Yet I loved the beginning most when the owner asked me to make the ads and coupons for the mailers. To design the reward punch cards and to draw a dragster car that he wanted to be painted on the side of the building. (Sadly not ever completed because he then disappeared from being involved in the business and left us to fend for ourselves in the day to day tasks.)
For the next 13 years my jobs were customer service and office management related. But I was able to use my Dharma in them to create order, forms, flyers, packets, product posters etc. Then when working in the management office of an outdoor shopping center I was doing email blasts, creating more ads and flyers for the stores, planning and running events and more. Responsibilities that were not before given to my position and were usually done by the marketing director. They were mirrors in the more mundane accounting, leasing and customer service tasks.
IF YOU READ ANYTHING AT ALL READ THIS:
We have a lot of pressure to “find our purpose” don’t we? Some people find it early in life, others late in life but neither is bad. We shouldn’t be envious of where someone else is because we can't tell from the outside if their living their Dharma, a Mirror or a Shadow Career. Many of the most successful people (not just monetarily successful but impact, joy and happiness successful) find or succeed in their calling later in life. Stop the hustle and pressure cooking yourself! If you are generally happy, healthy, have one true friend, and are passionately pursuing whatever you feel is authentically calling you… You might be more successful than a CEO.
Business and people evolve. As long as you are consciously working within your calling you are fulfilled and on your path. Don’t be in a rush. Just like speeding to get to your destination can cause you to get a ticket or in an accident, speeding to your “success” can waste more time and create more pain on the way.
When we rush it, or start forcing it we might not grow by mirroring what we need to mirror. Or go too far down a shadow path that is only running parallel to our Dharma path. The parallel path that never leads back to our purpose? That is a shadow. A shadow business or life.
Read this post to learn the way of thinking that can save you from the wrong paths, marketing strategies not meant for you and save you from shadow ventures.
I'm Monica Fawn. An artist turned brand consultant and website designer. I work with individuals and small teams like you who want the power of psychology and trust evoking custom design in their brand.
I believe that the most overlooked problem with branding and websites is actually your biggest opportunity. I help you creatively and authentically express yourself while marketing your business and sell or book your pants off!
"PERFECTION WILL NEVER REPLACE AUTHENTICITY" - Monica Fawn Orto