Don Paglia | Marriage and Family Counseling. Constellations Workshops


Tip #71:

“By the time I had turned thirty, I’d realized two important things. One, I had to fish. Two, I had to work for a living.”                            Mallory Burton

I know of three strategies for living a fulfilling and satisfying life. One way is to get a job you really love; one where you get to express your gifts, talents and your passions. The second is to get a job that provides money and/or resources to do the non-job thing(s) you really love to do so you can fully engage in these non-job things. The third is to do a combination of one and two.

Some people have that perfect job they love, that pays them well for doing it while expressing their giftedness. Such a job doesn’t feel like work. But most folks don’t have such a job. For them it becomes a matter of locating that part of one’s soul’s desire and finding ways to satisfy these desires. There is no excuse for not doing this. Lots of poorly employed or under-employed actors pay their bills as wait staff or do other temporary jobs while they take acting classes, get small parts in commercials or other productions, all in the hope these will lead toward a career in acting. They persist in their belief that at some point they’ll be discovered and will get their big break. Some do; some do not.  

Some of these folks eventually quit pursuing their initial dream. So instead they seek other related things which align with their soul’s desire. For instance some would-be-actors get a job they enjoy and immerse themselves into community or regional theatre. Some go teach high school drama, or pursue other artistic avenues.

The key is fulfilling one’s passion, and being creative about it. Some even discover they enjoy wait staffing. That’s cool. “Do what you love and love what you do” includes all of these possibilities and more. 

Part of this pursuit includes learning what it is we don’t like to do, as much as it is learning what we do like. When I was 18 years old I had a night shift job at a local factory on the assembly line inspecting electric motors as they came off the line. I did this while also attending a junior college for electrical engineering. It was a great job for two reason: it paid me so I could stay in school, and more importantly, it confirmed for me that I did not want to work in this type of job or career. It motivate me to get my college diploma in order to gain greater access for what I did want to eventually do.

The Jr. College and this job helped me realize I didn’t want to go into engineering. So I dropped out, entered the USAF and four years later came back to earn an undergraduate degree in psychology. This got me closer to what I realize to be my fascination and passion with human beings and human behavior.

The various steps of discovering what I did not enjoy were an essential and a beneficial part for my discovering what I did and do enjoy. My continued journey eventually drew me into graduate school for marriage and family therapy, something that even today brings me great joy and satisfaction.

A couple of things I learned on my particular journey:

  1. I love people

I got this first and foremost from my family. My church reinforced this, but even when it did not, it was my family that infused into me the belief that each and every individual person is sacred. My old friend and former colleague, Father Tom Lynch, loved to say “All families are messy and crazy. All families are also sacred and holy. And it is within the messy and the crazy that the sacred and holy emerges.” The God I believe in loves all of us, equally, fully, and unconditionally. This God wants only for us to be happy. Happiness arrives out of a life that we are fulfilling on our purpose. Our gifts and talents are aligned with our purpose.


  1. I love learning and consider myself a life-long learner.

One of my best teachers, mentors, and a long-time dear friend, Ed Lynch, PhD., still considers himself a student. I, too, think of myself in this way and consider myself a curious person. As a child I would take things like clocks and radios apart to see how they worked. Usually I could not put them back together or back together in working form. But I was learning a great deal and eventually I did get better at returning them to working order – most of the time.

I, like many, think of myself as a problem solver. I readily love to read and watch mysteries. Sherlock Homes is one of my favorite sleuths, as are many other contemporary detectives. All of us are often sleuths whenever we pursue figuring out a solution to a given problem we may wrestle with. When I work with couples I am a sleuth by trying to get insight into the root cause of their presenting problem. I see their presenting problem as both a problem and as a symptom. I look for ways to go beyond mere symptoms for a systemic and, therefore, long-term solution.

I continue to have a curious mind and this includes keeping my mind open. I am open to new ideas, and realizing that I may be wrong, or I have insufficient information to form a viable or workable solution. When a couple comes and says they see no alternative but to divorce, I will tell them they may not yet have enough information to make a good decision, as we work on their issue(s).

I constantly study and investigate different and disparate topics and subjects. Sometimes a piece of information about something seemingly unrelated to what I am attempting to problem-solve will come from another and unconnected body of information. It’s not really from left field, rather it is applicable and refreshing to see the connection.    

Connecting sometimes seemingly disparate things can inspire us to newer insights and create breakthroughs. Metaphor and analogy, as well as storytelling, can all help unravel a problem that we may be too close to and that appears we’re stuck on or not progressing beyond. 

My formal education may long be over but I continue still to study and learn more. I read, take courses, and hopefully keep improving my understanding and skill set. I see myself doing so until I die. I hold the belief that we are either: (a) growing and evolving, or (b) we are shut-down, closed and basically dying. This has little to do with chronological age. There are young people that are figuratively dead. And there are old people who are extremely vibrant and alive because of their inquisitive mind.

The quote at the start of this piece states how the author “had to” fish and “had to” work. It’s those things we feel compelled about doing – the things we “have to do” – that are what usually drive us to further pinnacles of our very purpose.

The late Robert Kennedy said: Some men see things as they are and ask, “Why?” I dream things that never were and ask, “Why not?”

What makes your spirit dance?

What is it that makes your spirit come alive? Dance is such a great metaphor for life. Think of being at a typical wedding reception. You’ll see some of the guests just sitting and watching others going about dancing. Sometimes one of the people sitting wants to dance but their partner does not. Sometimes the one that wants to dance goes and finds a person to dance with and leaves their partner who won’t dance. Then there are those who go out on the dance floor and do their one-step-all-step regardless of whether it’s a fast or slow dance. They do the basic dance they may have learned long ago but have never kept up and advanced their dancing any further.

And then there are those few couples who have kept up, and who now know all of the newest dances. Maybe they’ve taken classes to keep learning more. They’ve practiced; and whatever they have done has resulted in their mastery as exquisite dancing partners. These people glide across the dance floor with ease and grace. They are such a joy to observe as they seem so in tune with each other. They literally make their spirits dance.

RFK also said: “We will find neither national purpose nor personal satisfaction in a mere continuation of economic progress, in an endless amassing of worldly goods. We cannot measure national spirit by the Dow Jones Average, nor national achievement by the Gross National Product.”

Contemplative living slows us down to awaken to the True Self that we are but that gets buried and hidden in the False or Separate Self. Our separate self is good and necessary to get us started on our journey. However, in order to grow we must move beyond to discover our True Self. This requires us to surrender our Separate Self that is ego based and fear driven. The reality of our separate self is culturally conditioned, and gives rise to needless anxiety, unnecessary suffering, cross-cultural competition and violence.

The True Self is connected to something inexhaustible and not able to be hurt. It is here where we realize our true nature and within it our objective union with God. It requires us to surrender and trust we are one with our maker.

Final thought: When we become more contemplative we pay attention to our breathing. Psychology is two words: 1. Psyche – meaning soul or breath, and 2. Ology – the study of. Therefore psychology at its most basic meaning is the study of breathing. When our spirit is alive and we are engaging in our god given desires, we are breathing fully. We take in full breathes.

So make sure you are filling your lungs, and you are doing those things that compel you to breathe fully in, and full out. Again. And again…

Inhale. Exhale. Repeat. Again. It is so great to be alive.