Attention conservation notice: Skip this if you are totally satisfied with your job or are positive you know just how to figure out your chosen career path. Otherwise, read on.
Author Po Bronson spent two years following the lives of 70 people who “dared to be honest with themselves” about adressing the question What should I do with my life?
His answers are worth reading. Check out the nine-page Fast Company article (recommended) or the one-page version. (Or see if reading the one-pager convinces you that the 9-pager is worth a read.) Both are based on his NYT bestseller, What Should I Do With My Life?
So what if your destiny doesn’t stalk you like a lion? Can you think your way to the answer? That’s what Lori Gottlieb thought. She considered her years as a rising television executive in Hollywood to be a big mistake. She became successful but felt like a fraud. So she quit and gave herself three years to analyze which profession would engage her brain the most. She literally attacked the question. She dug out her diaries from childhood. She took classes in photography and figure drawing. She interviewed others who had left Hollywood. She broke down every job by skill set and laid that over a grid of her innate talents. She filled out every exercise in What Color Is Your Parachute?
Eventually, she arrived at the following logic: Her big brain loved puzzles. Who solves puzzles? Doctors solve health puzzles. Therefore, become a doctor. She enrolled in premed classes at Pepperdine. Her med-school applications were so persuasive that every school wanted her. And then — can you see where this is headed? — Lori dropped out of Stanford Medical School after only two and a half months. Why? She realized that she didn’t like hanging around sick people all day.
What am I good at? is the wrong starting point. People who attempt to deduce an answer usually end up mistaking intensity for passion. To the heart, they are vastly different. Intensity comes across as a pale busyness , while passion is meaningful and fulfilling. A simple test: Is your choice something that will stimulate you for a year or something that you can be passionate about for 10 years?
This test is tougher than it seems on paper. In the past decade, the work world has become a battleground for the struggle between the boring and the stimulating. The emphasis on intensity has seeped into our value system. We still cling to the idea that work should not only be challenging and meaningful — but also invigorating and entertaining. But really, work should be like life: sometimes fun, sometimes moving, often frustrating, and defined by meaningful events. Those who have found their place don’t talk about how exciting and challenging and stimulating their work is. Their language invokes a different troika: meaningful, significant, fulfilling.