One of the biggest decisions of our lives is what to do for a vocation. As a child, when someone asks us what do we want to be when we grow up, our answers tend to be quite fanciful. Generally based on some movie, TV show or someone we met during career day. Some of us had our careers decided for us either directly or indirectly based on family history or expectations.
I recently heard a comedian joke that she was given three career options growing up, doctor, lawyer or failure. Quite often we give in to these expectations and choose a career based on potential salary without giving much, if any, thought to what would make us happy.
As I neared my graduation date from college I had three job offers. One job offered $19,000/year, the second offered $23,000 and the third offered $27,000/year. Can you guess which one I chose? If you picked job number three, you would be correct. My assumption is that, like me, you based your choice strictly on salary. What difference did it make what I did, I was earning an extra $75 per week, which seemed like a LOT of money at the time to a broke college student.
Well, as they say, experience is the best teacher and I quickly realized that I had made a poor decision based on my interests and skill set. I wish I could say I learned my lesson and made decisions based on other factors besides salary from then on, but that would not be the case.
As a matter of fact, I spent many decades moving from job to job because I was chasing the wrong target. Money. Don’t get me wrong, money has its place, it can provide security, and nice things. The risk is that those things can become a trap. To quote Dr. Wayne Dyer, “The things you own begin to own you”. When You Are What You Do, Who Are You When You Don’t? It is part of the human condition to describe ourselves and others in terms of what we do for a living. “I’m a doctor”, “I’m a teacher”, “I’m a musician”.
The problem with this pattern is that you tend to ascribe all the benefits and behaviors associated with this career to yourself. However, when you are no longer able or willing to perform the functions of that job, what do you tell people? How do you measure your worth in a society that is built around do-ing instead of be-ing? The point I am trying to make is that it is more important to be the best you can be instead of the person that
makes the most money. Focusing on fulfilling work ensures that who you are and what you do can be aligned.
What Is Your Why and When Will You Realize It? The recent movie, Dr. Strange provides a great example of this. In the movie, the title character is a gifted surgeon who is suddenly rendered unable to operate due to an injury sustained in a car accident. He quickly sinks into a deep depression because he can no longer function as a doctor (what he does).
During his search to regain his ability as a surgeon, he found a deeper calling which paid no salary, yet provided him with a sense of purpose and fulfillment (who he is). I realize that this is just a movie, but I see parallels in real life. Here are five things to think about when evaluating where you are in your career and if your current path is leading you to fulfillment or just outward signs of success which you can lose in a blink of an eye. Are you working for the reward or the awards – Accolades and recognition can feel amazing, but the pressure to achieve can soon outweigh the positive feelings that come from winning?
Becoming a top performer in your organization can become a trap if you become dependent or expectant of the reward. Take a moment and look at the awards on your wall. Do they still hold meaning for you, or are they just pieces of glass, wood, and metal that have little meaning to your life or the lives of others?
Are you living in the future? – No, I’m not talking about a time machine. Quite often when we are not being fulfilled in our work we spend our days thinking about how our lives will be when we no longer have to “grind”. If your work feels like a “grind” and you are not a coffee bean, then maybe you should reassess what you do every day.
If you are like most of us, you spend one-third of your life at work. You should be able to enjoy today, and not spend your days pining for a future that may never exist. Are you a member or a guest of your family? – Of course, technically you are a member. But do you find yourself quite often getting caught up on important events you missed while you were working? I realize this sounds cliché’, but the truth is true.
When you focus so much on achieving at work that you neglect your family everyone loses. You can always make more money. You cannot make more time. Do you generally feel excited or stressed when you walk in your building? When you are doing what you are really supposed to be doing, you can’t wait to get to work.
Even the difficult days bring you joy because you are working out of passion instead of obligation. When you are forced to perform tasks in exchange for colored paper, instead of doing what brings you joy, your entire life suffers. Would you do it for free – I realize that you need money to survive. But if money wasn’t an issue, would you continue doing what you are doing. If you won the lottery tomorrow, would you show up to work the next day? Why or why not.
Ultimately the answer to this question is the core answer to a fulfilling career. If you had Warren Buffett’s money, what kind of work would you do? Once you figure that out you can begin your journey to achieving that reality.
Maybe you won’t become a billionaire, but once you release yourself from the need for more and more, you can begin finding true happiness. If you have reached a high level in your career or even if you are still striving to obtain a key to the executive suite, take some time and really think about whether your work is bringing you any fulfillment.
Don’t worry so much about who you are going to disappoint. You may be surprised who supports you in your effort to enjoy what you do for half of your waking hours.
“When you focus so much on achieving at work that you neglect your family everyone loses. You can always make more money. You cannot make more time.”