"What Should I Do With My Life Now?”: A Revisit to a Favorite Post

I originally published this post on April 2, 2009. I really like it and was reminded of it the other day. So I am republishing it so today’s readers can see it.

Author Po Bronson (see his bio here) has an article in the  April 2009 issue of Fast Company magazine that is the same as the title of this blog post. In this article he discusses one aspect of the the question “What do I do with my life now?” His original premise,form six years ago, was that people and companies were better off if people were doing something they really cared about. And if they did “They would work extra hard and innovate their way out of this black hole.” His discussion in this article is about six major fallacies that people project onto this dilemma. These are:
Myth 1: People are the architects of their own change. “Extremely few people quit because of career ennui. (definition) Rather , most are pushed into change. They’re laid off or can’t make ends meet or have at-home demands or find their new , postmerger boss to be an absolute ass.” Comment: My personal experience matches this. Although I voluntarily left several postions I did so not because of boredom, there was typically some other situation that was not to my liking. And of course the once I was let go in a downsizing. I would like to think that I have been the architect of my own change, but perhaps not. And most other people I know had job change happen TO them as opposed to making it happen.
Myth 2: All it takes is passion. “I call this the Modern Dream Machine Industry. Media companies have made a killing selling …. false claims that you can just dust off your fantasies and live your dream.” Comment: We would all like to believe you can go and do what you love to do and the money will follow. All you have to do it do it with passion. But if you have been around for any period of time you know that is not generally true. There does have to be a market, and passion must be accompanied by planning and sacrifice
Myth 3: Your dream job has no sucky parts. “I call this the Fallacy of Intrisic Fit. There’s this notion that you should love the mere act of what you do so much that just by virtue of it being Monday morning and you’re at work, neurotransmitters of joy will drip on your brain all day. That is not how real people do it. All jobs have things you hate about them. But real people feel fulfilled enough by the overall purpose that the crummy parts are worth it.” Comment: I know I have never had a job without some crummy parts. And I don’t think I have EVER talked to someone who loved EVERY aspect of their job.
Myth 4: You’ll love the job for the job. There is an old parable about the three bricklayers..All three men have a sense of purpose (money, family, building a cathedral). Not one said, ‘I just love laying bricks.’ Doing something for the sheer love of it is not what real people mean when they say their work provides a sense of purpose.” Comment: A common theme throughout history is ‘having a purpose’. Most everyone I know has at sometime asked “Why am I here?” Having a purpose, a reason, for doing what you are doing makes doing it easier to do.
Myth 5: There is “the one.” There is no one thing each of us is meant to do on this planet. … For each of us, there are dozens, even hundreds, of careers, any one of which could provide a sense of meaning and goodness. The biggest mistake is to be seduced by the myth that you’re looking for the right answer, as if there is only one. For most people a ‘calling’ is not something you just know the moment you see it. It’s something you grow into by having an impact on your organization and your community.” Comment: I would like to think that I could, and would, do many other things in life and be as good (or bad) at them as I am at what I do currently. I do get some satisfaction out of thinking about the impact I have had on people. Ones who got jobs, ones who learned more, ones who passed tests, ones who ended up better off having gotten some guidance from me. Human resources really turns out to be a much more powerful position than people give it credit for being.
Myth 6: You don’t know what you want. “Don’t tell me you don’t know what you want. Of course you know what you what you want: fulfillment, connection, responsibility… and some excitement. The real problem is figuring out how to get it. Which is hard. Of course it is hard. It’s supposed to be hard. If it weren’t hard you wouldn’t learn anything along the way…. If you don’t know how to make the best of a bad situation you will never get there. Comment: Excitment… I have thought that the best job in the world for me would be to be Indiana Jones, with one leg in the classroom and the other persuing ‘scientific’ adventure. Either that or be like Dirk Pitt from Clive Cussler’s novels. Guess I will just settle for the time being of dealing with excitement of negotiating I-75 in Atlanta at 7 a.m.
Bronson ends his article with this statement: “If you are not willing to be humble and repeatedly be a beginner in new areas and learn the details faster than the next guy, you are not capable of transformation. Only by embracing these realities will you be able to answer the question “What should I do with my life now?” So to all you job seekers, to all you bored HR people, to everyone read some Bronson and reflect and decide if you can TRANSFORM.

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