It’s an idea that has been imprinted on you since you were a child.
“What do you want to be when you grow up?”
How often do you think you heard that question? More than once? More than once a year? More?
From the time you were able to form complex sentences, people have been asking you what you want to be.
As though you aren’t “being” sufficiently already.
As though you are supposed to transform into something new when you become an adult.
And they would ask you as though you must certainly have an answer. It was rare to find the adult who encouraged you to have no answer. Those adults typically weren’t the ones who were asking the question.
And the answer has an expected form. When a kid says, “I want to be a magical unicorn!” how often do you suppose a well-intentioned adult chuckles in response, “well that won’t pay the bills, now will it?” And if someone says “I want to save the earth!” again, the adult translates to, “Ah, you’d make a lovely environmental scientist.”
The unspoken expectation is that you will answer this question with a job.
Meanwhile, family, friends, Famous People on TV and the Internet, and eventually memes all advise you to “follow your passion.” I suspect this really set in somewhere around the 90s, when all of the money-hungry behavior of the 80s was turning out to be Not So Much Fun after all. As knowledge work became far more common, employees needed to be invested in the work differently to really thrive – they needed their souls on board in a way not previously seen in the workplace.
These two ideas are both doubling down on the same myths:
That projecting 5, 10, or 20+ years into the future makes any sense at all.
That you should know what the path to that future looks like.
That you know what your passion is, or that it will stay the same as you grow.
And the most harmful myth:
That what you are passionate about is the same thing as your job title.
This approach cheapens the experience of discovering what you’re passionate about. What drives you is now reduced down to a line of print on a business card.
And it’s why rattling off a list of skills and asking, “what career should I pursue?” doesn’t work.
What drives you is so much deeper.
You have to dig underneath the skills, and see what motivates you to use them. Perhaps you’re a fierce advocate of spreadsheets. Is that because you like to organize? Or is it because you like to create formulas to help draw conclusions from data? Maybe you like spreadsheets for their ability to sort. Shit, maybe it’s because you like spreadsheet art.
Someone who is soothed by the organizational structure of a spreadsheet, might be driven to high levels of anxiety at the idea of creating a complex formula to process some data. These two motivators are different. Simply saying “I like to work with spreadsheets” doesn’t dig down to why you like to work with them.
The same thing is true of work.
A web developer might find the repetition of copying and pasting known widgets soothing. Another web developer might find this task tedious.
A writer might find the editing process reassuring, whereas another might loathe the experience.
And in case that’s not enough, not all jobs of the same title are created equal. A Sales Representative at one company can have completely different job expectations at another company.
So. What does this all mean. What is the takeaway.
At my kiddo’s preschool, they used to talk about things that “fill your bucket” and things that “empty your bucket.” It was extremely weird … at first. Imagining that there’s a bucket over your head that is either full (and therefore you are happy) or that it’s empty (you are sad/frustrated/tired/out of spoons). But it is a simple idea that can be very useful to bring awareness to your experiences. What fills your bucket? What empties it out?
In order to find job satisfaction, stop asking yourself what job will make you happy. Start asking yourself what motivates you. Ask yourself why you feel drawn to one job over another. What characteristics of that job appeal to you? What about that job would make you happy to get up in the morning? How do you enjoy helping others? (I know that question feels like it’s out of left field. Humans are social creatures, and regardless of personality traits, most people find they feel happier and more fulfilled when their work is helping someone.)
As you start to uncover why you love work, your ability to find it in jobs will expand. You’ll find more of what you love in your own job, and learn what obligations to let go.
When you’re ready, find support. There’s lots of ways to get help. Start with a book. Talk to friends and family (the supportive ones, anyway). Hire professional support (someone you resonate with – maybe that’s me, maybe it’s someone else!) to help you find a career you love.
Don’t ask yourself what you want to be. Ask yourself why you want to be it.
That’s it for me today. If you would like help transitioning to work you love, reach out at my site, sonjathegrey.com, and let’s have a chat.