Creating Your Career Using The Lens of Native American Prophecy

If my career path were to be mapped out, it might look like some of my (cough) “artwork” from elementary school art projects. 

There would be jagged lines, coloring would be way outside the lines, and someone trying to make sense of it could look like my mom or dad trying to understand what in the world I had drawn in art class. 

But however it looks on the outside, I still get to own it as my own.

What does the path which led you to the work you look like?

A career path can rarely be mapped out in a clear, straight line.  The career arc for most people I’ve interviewed is filled with serendipitous twists and turns, moments of darkness that required cultivating reservoirs of inner strength, and “failures” that opened the door to something new, which may otherwise never have been discovered.

My winding career path has led me to help others connect the dots between their professional experience, unique skill sets, and the sometimes nebulous, yet undeniable pulls to do a particular type of work in the world.

Today I’d like to share a remarkable story – a Native American prophecy – that inspired me to understand my own personal journey intertwined with and reflected in my career.

My intention in sharing this is to offer you the chance to do the same.  How you choose to use your talents, experience, and interests, is something sacred and pure.

The Seventh Fire Prophecy of the Anishnaabe people (modern day Great Lakes region) poses a question: What is it that seems to speak to you from somewhere deep inside which you want to share with others?  I interpret this through the lens of career as a personal inquiry – what is your gift, in the form of the work you do, which makes you feel good to be able to give?

The Seventh Fire Prophecy

For indigenous peoples around the world, fire is sacred.  A carefully crafted fire is the setting where songs have been sung and stories have been told for millennia, stretching back across the history of our species. 

For members of the Anishnaabe tribe, (also known today as the Three Fires Confederacy) fire has another meaning.  For the Anishnaabe, “fires” represent the eras in the history of their people.  More specifically, each of the seven “fires” historically represent the places they have lived, and the events and teachings that accompany them.  

Robin Wall Kimmerer tells us in Braiding Sweetgrass that in the time of the First Fire, a prophet arrived to share a message with the people that would foretell the future.  The prophet said that many years later, during the Seventh Fire, a new people would emerge, carrying with them a sacred purpose, but it would not be easy:

“The people of the Seventh Fire do not yet walk forward; rather, they are told to turn around and retrace the steps of the ones who brought us here.  Their sacred purpose is to walk back along the red road of our ancestors’ path and to gather up all the fragments that lay scattered along the trail.

Fragments of land, tatters of language, bits of songs, stories, sacred teachings – all that was dropped along the way.  Our elders say that we live in the time of the Seventh Fire.  We are the ones the ancestors spoke of, the ones who will bend to the task of putting things back together to rekindle the flames of the sacred fire.”

The Seventh Fire Prophecy moves me – it inspires me to contemplate what I can pick up along the proverbial path of my ancestors, and then carry back to the group (society) to help make what is separate whole again.  It also reinforces what I believe: each of us has the opportunity to discover our own fragment, and pick this up as we return to the group to share in rekindling of the fire of our people. 

Connecting the Seventh Fire Prophecy to the work you do

The Seventh Fire Prophecy of the Anishnaabe may be a story, but its message is both meaningful and practical.  For those of us who believe that a rewarding career is an achievable goal, this story offers an important question to consider as we reflect on the work we choose to do.

The prophecy says that to choose this path is not easy.  This makes sense – to discover, design, create, and breathe life into a rewarding, rich, and fulfilling career, it takes work.  But that’s the point of the prophecy!  

Through the lens of work and career, I hear this story as a golden opportunity to pause and really examine, what can I do?  What do I really WANT to do?  What stands out to me, personally, that I might be able to give? Not everyone is willing to ask these questions, and certainly no one has to. But the reward on the other side of this inquiry can be immense.

To observe what arises in response to these questions, and then to translate that into the work you do ignites a personal sense of satisfaction that needs no outside affirmation.

My question for you, inspired by the Seventh Fire Prophecy, is this:

If you imagine walking back along the path of those who came before you, what might you pick up and put in your bundle to bring back and share?

The piece that I have personally chosen from walking the path of my ancestors is to have creative conversations through the Nature Effect Connections Process.  This process can help you craft and refine a compelling and engaging story in response to the ubiquitous question, “So.. what do you do?”  The interactions in my program let you explore:

  • what you love to do
  • what you’re good at
  • who you are (personality, tendencies, interests)
  • what you’re trained in
  • what your professional path has taught you
  • what you can give, and what you want to give

In addition to exploring the above in creative conversation, here’s a quick glance and what I offer with The Nature Effect Connections Process:

  • Listening for your own personal zone of genius, your unique story, and your greatness.
  • Guiding you, like a sherpa, to help you avoid the pitfalls of your own limiting beliefs (which I have worked through myself, consciously, for the past decade).  This is done in a judgment-free, safe space to explore those beliefs, not “fix” them, or “fix” you.
  • Helping you make the connections between what you care about, what you’re good at, what you have experience with, and the complete package you have to offer the potential partners and organizations who need you.

Just as the Seventh Fire Prophecy says, we need each other, and my contribution is to help you discover and ignite YOUR spark, and then help you keep your fire burning as you explore working with it.

Note: to explore the path of those who came before you certainly doesn’t negate inventing a brand new process, or nurturing an idea that you haven’t seen anywhere before. 

Rather, this perspective offered by the Seventh Fire Prophecy may encourage you to look for inspiration from your ancestors or personal role models who have done or are doing something, or better said – being someone who inspires you.

You may already be walking this path, picking up what calls to you as you go, conscious of it or not.  Perhaps you have already discovered the discarded teaching, skill, or bit of wisdom, and are sharing that with your families, communities, and clients.   

You may not yet have discovered your own personal piece to contribute, or haven’t yet explored the spark that you’ve felt flickering from somewhere deep inside.

Wherever you may be, may you remember that you are not alone.  I live for these meaningful conversations, and my door is open for you.

I close with some words of reflection from Braiding Sweetgrass on the opportunity of being the people of the Seventh Fire. Remember, this is you and I:

“What does it mean to be the people of the Seventh Fire, to walk back along the ancestral road and pick up what was left behind? How do we recognize what we should reclaim and what is dangerous refuse? What is truly medicine for the living earth and what is a drug of deception?

None of us can recognize every piece, let alone carry it all.  We need each other, to take a song, a word, a story, a tool, a ceremony and put it in our bundles.  Not for ourselves, but for the ones yet to be born, for all our relations.  Collectively, we assemble from the wisdom of the past a vision for the future, a worldview shaped by mutual flourishing.”*

* The story of the Seventh Fire Prophecy, including both quotes from this post, can be found in the chapter of Braiding Sweetgrass entitled: Shkitagen: People of the Seventh Fire (p.360)