Every week, I hear some form of this question from business owners, young adults, and mid-lifers. It comes from those just getting started and from those who have “been there, done that.” (In one recent day, I heard this question from a 17-year-old student and a 92-year-old grandmother!)
An important dimension of “Where Do I Go From Here With My Life?” is discovering the work that best “fits” me. How do I figure this out?
There’s no sure-fire formula. The increasing complexity of life, churning out a bewildering array of options, magnifies the challenge. Saturated with alternatives, it’s easy to freeze and decide nothing.
Because circumstances change over the years, most of us will question our path numerous times before we die. No matter at what point it occurs, determining a life/work direction should consider seven important markers:
What is so interesting and compelling to me that I cannot imagine myself ignoring it? What subject, experience, situation or kind of person absolutely intrigues me, to the point where I would love to study it/them intensely?
Fascination is not the same as passion or enthusiasm, although it includes a good dose of these energizers. The main thrust of a fascination mindset is riveted curiosity: “I want to know more about this!”
What am I naturally so good at that I don’t even think about it? What do others compliment me for that seems like “nothing special?” What skill or interest have I spent thousands of hours practicing, by choice or by circumstance?
The skills I am best at often turn out to be the talents I am least conscious of. That’s why it’s important to stop the train and reflect on the knowledge I’ve acquired and the skills I’ve repeatedly honed, with or without full awareness.
What best holds my attention and interest? What are the obstacles that stand in the way of my focus on one important pursuit? How adept am I at deleting extraneous opportunities, resisting the titillation of a thousand interruptions and ignoring the green grass on the other side of the fence?
One of the anxious patterns of modern life is the tendency to stuff too much into a single existence. The unconscious state of “always more and never enough” produces many disadvantages, including one’s inability to persevere in a single, worthy pursuit.
How can I take money seriously without making it everything? What frame of mind would assist me in striking a balance between greed and irresponsibility? Am I more biased towards “A penny saved is a penny earned” or towards, “Nothing ventured, nothing gained?”
It is difficult for any individual to become emotionally free while remaining financially dependent. It’s also true that many high achievers are driven by the accumulation of wealth, without any clear need or plan for their millions.
Financial delusions often glorify extravagant or impoverished lifestyles. An essential part of responsible life/work direction is figuring out how to earn, manage and stay clear about the realities of money.
Which family members do I most rely on for guidance and a calming presence? With which sibling, parent, aunt, uncle, or cousin do I have the most distant relationship? Would my own decisions be freer and more courageous if my family relationships were in better shape?
Cultivating an open connection with nuclear and extended family members helps leaders stay grounded and calm. Children are greatly advantaged when their parents maintain regular contact with siblings and extended kin.
I believe the power of the clan that enables an individual to know who they are translates into a more confident presence “out in the world.”
What criteria determine the selection of a mate? When evaluating a perspective partner, to what extent do I consider his or her relationship assets and liabilities clearly and objectively vs. being swept away by the intense feelings of romantic love?
Partner choice helps define the essential trajectory of one’s life. As one of the few “big deal” decisions in anyone’s existence, mate selection deserves a depth of thinking that few would debate, and even fewer deliver on.
Do you want to live and work near a university or ocean? In a small town or a city? An hour’s drive, or a 20-hour flight from the family homestead?
While the ease of mobility has made it possible to live almost anywhere, that same mobility has made it unlikely for many siblings to regularly connect face-to-face, or for children to share a “place identity” with their parents and grandparents. The costs and advantages of any one location offer a trade-off that begs for careful thought.
Selecting a desired geography probably narrows the universe of one’s work and mate possibilities. This might be welcome news to those who get overwhelmed by the thought of a worldwide job hunt or partner selection process.
The guidelines for life/work direction cited above are not intended to be addressed once in a lifetime. What I’m fascinated by today might fade by next year. Expertise can be developed with practice, or lost without it. Financial needs might grow or diminish.
The hope is that a responsible leader will bring more reflection than impulsiveness to the important question, “Where do I go from here with my life?"
5 Responses to “August 2013: “Where Do I Go From Here With My Life?””
August 01, 2013 at 1:44 pm, Rocco said:
John: Great thoughts. I hope my children read this at least 4 times. While I was reading the “Expertise” section, in particular your consistent advice on self reflection…. When I am in these type of directional discussions with people and we are visualizing a future, I find it interesting if the emphasis of thoughts are on the results of failing or is the emphasis on the results of success. It is interesting to think about teh positives and negatives of both. Just a thought
August 02, 2013 at 7:47 pm, andrea said:
Enjoyed the overview of decision areas. I will add the fact that most decisions are made in the middle of family pressure. From selecting a college to a career, not to mention marriage and were to live.
If deaths are occurring in the system then people’s decision making are often flawed. People leave jobs etc when the pressure is too great.
Therefore it might be useful to do a three generational diagram to take a reading on the history of decisions and to make yourself say how and where one might be vulnerable to compensating.
Bowen use to kind of joke that everyone was vulnerable to compensation in making a decision to marry. Consider if your mom would do well with your spouses dad? If so well you might have solved the oedipal complex.
Most people want to either identify or rebel against their parents lives.
Finding a worthy opponent and making rational decision in an irrational, emotional world is a big job.
August 03, 2013 at 4:15 pm, Dr Bill Dwyer said:
As usual, John has written clearly and succinctly about a topic which has great appeal to us all. Placing the emphasis on the Individual who is truly the one who is responsible for the choice is key. The earlier one adopts this premise, the more likely it will bear fruit. I am printing some copies to have available for my adolescent and young adult clients. I also see older adults who benefit from re-examining “Self” and will enjoy the wisdom in this treatise.
August 04, 2013 at 6:35 pm, Mark Smith said:
Great entry! It’s succinct and to the point. I posted it on my facebook page,http://www.facebook.com/MarkSmithCounselling as well as my twitter account, 1marksmith and LinkedIn.
I’ve like several things of yours that you’ve written, keep up the good work!
September 08, 2013 at 5:42 pm, Krista said:
John, I really appreciate your theme of objective analysis in the face of emotional decision-making where it is often missing. I’m reminded of your example discussed at our recent retreat: ‘ what if we put mate selection to the same rigor we use in selecting key employees for our businesses? Why not ask the tough questions early on, and maybe even use some strategic triggering to appraise how this important person performs in a minor crisis, when selflessness, challenge or nurturing may be called for? I’m left wondering why our most crucial decisions are so often driven by romantic notions of escape, denial or rebellion? Thanks for a thought-provoking blog entry, Germaine in my life and for many of those family and friends close to me!