It’s been said that most people lead lives of quiet desperation. They suffer silently through jobs or marriages they loath, hoping that somehow everything will change some day. Worse still, some have no such hope.
The sad fact is that many people, if pressed about it, do not know how they ended up where they are, doing the things they are doing, interacting with the people they interact with. It all just “sort of happened”. They just went with the flow. This is also why it can be so hard to make a new start, or find that ever elusive “life purpose”. After all, how can you make a new start when you don’t really know how you arrived where you are right now? Thus, can you be sure that this “new start” is what you really want? Maybe it’s just another reaction to the way things are right now. And just reacting, without being connected to your heart’s desire, can lead to disaster.
Often, what we end up doing for a career is something we never really wanted to do, in our heart of hearts. But it’s too late to admit that to anyone now, least of all ourselves. We just sort of compromised, bit by bit, step by step, and after a while, here we are! The employment arena can be a slippery slope – offering a vast net of jobs that nobody, deep down really wants to do, but which pay reasonably well (perhaps even very well). Hence, people drift towards them. After all, it pays the mortgage, doesn’t it?
Let’s face it. If you ask a little kid what he wants to do when he grows up, it’s unlikely he’s going to name Accountant or Tax Inspector among his dream jobs. What has this got to do with passion? What do you really want to do with this beautiful journey you call your life? Schools, even the best of them, are woefully lacking in helping you answer this question. They can teach you all the intricacies of Geometry and Organic Chemistry. You may learn about the quantum structure of the atom. But when are you ever challenged to find out what your life dream really is? When are you coached into designing a life?
This is why so many of us are so poor at finding out what our life purpose is. We have had absolutely no practice at it. Our primary expertise is in compromising to the practical needs of the moment, over and over again, and, like a log of wood adrift on the ocean, drifting to where we are currently beached. Here are some perspectives on this from my own life…. I spent many years training in Physics to the highest levels. In fact, I ended up getting a Ph.D in Nuclear Physics! This is all the more remarkable, given the fact that I have little talent at Physics and none at Mathematics. In fact, my later studies became ever more difficult for me, as the limits of my talents were reached and often surpassed. The last few years of my Ph.D were spent dreaming of the day I could escape and never come back.
When I did leave, I took up a career that had nothing whatsoever to do with my former training, apart from a loosely quantitative similarity. I went into Investment Banking and said goodbye to Physics forever, despite studying it intensely for 8 years or more. How did I end up doing a subject to such a high level that I had little deep interest in, and almost no talent at? In my case, the answer has a lot to do with lack of planning, no clear idea of what I wanted to do at age 16. Moreover, I took a decision due to the immediate necessity to do so, without due consideration for the long-term repercussions.
At the time, my main talents were in English and the Arts. However, I still recall the words of my father: “You should do the Sciences because there’s always a job in it. You can always do English later”. Doubtless, this was well meant advice and the sort of thing most parents say to their children everywhere. Really though, it’s not very good advice. When parents give “realistic” advice like this, they are imposing their own limited mindset of life’s possibilities, based upon their personal school of hard knocks, upon their children. Yes, there may always be a job in it. But what they don’t tell you is that it’s a job you might never want to do in a million years.
So it was with me. I found myself looking at poorly paid, uninteresting science jobs in nuclear power stations and corporations. I mean really,.. who cares?! I had always been a dreamer. What had any of this to do with me? Eventually, the move to Investment Banking got me out of the Science arena. I had been caught up in a romantic notion of big money and fancy lifestyle. The reality of Banking was as different to my expectations as Science had been. The work was not as glamorous or exciting as it seemed on TV, and the intelligence level was not too high overall. Eleven years went by in this industry before I found myself escaping Banking, just as I had Physics.
I give you this career resume to point out a few important facts. Basically, all of it arose from never once sitting down and asking myself, “What do I really want to do with myself?”. Really, until this question is answered, it’s better not to take much action at all. After all, if you do, any such action might prove to be aborted later, but only after you have traveled down that path for years, wasting a vast amount of nervous energy. When the time came for me to make a decision, I had no answer to that question, and hence jumped into things.
Failure to check out what these opportunities really involved was another factor. In other words, before you take a leap into something that may involve much of your energy, find out what it is really like! You may not like what you see! This is the reason for so many failed relationships and careers. People leap first and ask questions later. They hold to a romanticized view of the situation; believing what they want to believe rather than what is actually there before them. Our brains have a habit of distorting what the senses register in order to conform with our expectations and desires. Are you about to do something because you are living in reaction? This is never a good way to commence a new venture. My decision to stay on another three years for a Ph.D had a lot to do with the unwillingness to face up to the dead-boring jobs my Physics training entitled me to. Instead, I made it worse by doing the same thing to a higher level! That’s how life decisions often get made, and not just for me.
Maybe you married your partner, purely on the rebound after a painful breakup with a previous partner. Maybe you couldn’t figure out what to do with yourself after college and, well, this job “just came up”. And you’ve been doing it, and hating it, for the last 20 years, without really knowing why. Even when you decide to clear the deck and start anew, you need to be thoughtful about it. Are you still proceeding from your old awareness without knowing it? For example, a lot of our aspirations are motivated around the need to make money, even though we don’t immediately recognize or admit it.
For example, you dream of being a writer or a painter. Are you willing to be an unknown writer or painter? In other words, are you prepared to do it for the love of the thing itself, and develop yourself in your chosen field to simply be the best you can possibly be? Or hidden away somewhere, is there the idea to use this to gain fame and recognition, and… yes… Money!
In other words, many of our “dreams” arise from a hidden sense of lack – lack of money, lack of love or whatever. Pursuing a new direction simply to cure one of these malaises may simply lead to more compromise, confusion and disappointment. It makes a lot of sense to simply allow time and space to elapse between the finishing of one phase of your life and the opening of another. Beware of doing things on the rebound, or because you feel under time pressure.
These are rarely, if ever, good decisions. In summary, Clarity is Power. Get really clear on what you want. Take the time to do so. Ponder and muse on it. Submit it also to your imagination instead of simply relying solely on the left brain (we are far too left-brain oriented in our life planning).
When you begin a new life direction, remain flexible and open to change. Keep options open and be willing to move in another direction if that is what seems right. In this spirit , you drastically increase the chances of choosing a meaningful direction for yourself and persisting in it with happiness and contentment.
Copyright Asoka Selvarajah 2017. All Rights Reserved.