Your True Calling in Life May Surprise You
What do you want to be when you grow up? Our personal and professional aspirations start early in life. And although we often discount the early impressions made by our parents, teachers, and friends, could a well-meaning relative have unknowingly sabotaged your success and happiness without your realizing it?
Episode 40 - Your True Calling in Life May Surprise You
What are you going to be when you grow up?
Remember being asked that question? The first time I was asked, I was probably around the age of six or seven. And I think the question came from a visiting out of town relative, an aunt, or an uncle who had taken the time to sit down and spend a few minutes getting reacquainted with the children of the family.
After asking me how I liked school, and which subject was my favorite, they usually asked which profession I planned to pursue. I’m sure that, to the other adults in the room, asking a six or seven-year-old about their plans for the future might have seemed silly, but I remember putting a lot of thought into it, because with so many people asking me about it, I decided it must be pretty important.
Hey, welcome back. This is Roger Reid with another episode of Success Point 360.
At that early age, our answers about who we wanted to be, and what kind of work we wanted to do were fairly predictable – the boys typically chose occupations like fireman, pilot, cowboy, or doctor, and the girls often wanted to be models, secretaries, nurses, or teachers. Because let’s admit it, fifty years ago, professions were still considered gender-specific. Of course, today, we don’t have such an extreme cultural delineation between job function and gender, but I think it’s interesting that when we compare the professional aspirations of youngsters from fifty or sixty years ago, the girls’ typically answered with a career goal that was a lot more realistic to attain.
Here’s the point. Our personal and professional aspirations start early in life. At age six or seven, we’re very impressionable. When we saw someone on tv or in a movie and that character appeared to be having fun, making a lot of money, or receiving admiration and praise for their actions, we often decided that we wanted to do the same thing, not because the activity seemed interesting, but because of the way it made us feel when we imagined ourselves doing the same thing. Of course, it only lasted until we saw someone else doing something even more impressive, and then, we’d change our minds.
Unfortunately, the occupations represented by those on-screen heroes and heroines were little more than fantasized depictions of the real thing. It was like looking at a one-minute highlight reel that’s supposed to encompass a thirty-year career – there was just enough time to point out the successes, the achievements, and the sense of having accomplished something important, but the disappointments, the frustration, boredom, and the day to day slog of doing what has to be done to keep up with the paperwork, or keep the boss happy, well, those were missing, because nobody wants to hear about those, right?
But even though those early experiences didn’t come with a clear distinction between reality and fantasy, but it was one of our first introductions to the concept of work, of having a job, of doing something for money. And most important, we learned we had a choice, that someday in the future, we would have the opportunity to decide on the kind of work we wanted to do.
The other big influence on our expectations for career success and being happy with the way we spend our time – especially when we’re younger – comes from our parents. And sometimes, that can be a good thing. Other times, it can be disastrous.
If your father or mother was a doctor or lawyer, there’s a good chance that you considered following in their footsteps. Not because you believed it was the best choice of a career for you, but because you knew it would make them proud, because you wanted their approval.
And parental influence can be a very strong factor in shaping our values, which can make a huge difference in the career choices we ultimately make.
I’ll give you an example of two extremes residing under the same roof.
When I was asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I had an immediate answer – I want to run a grocery store. Because my father owned and managed a small grocery store located two blocks away from the downtown area of Yuma Arizona. It was the typical little store for the time period. Located in an older residential area, customers came from across the street and down the block. They walked to the store because it was close and convenient. And I watched those customers, and how they interacted with my dad. On Friday afternoons and on Saturday, when I spent the day there, I swept the floors and restocked the shelves, and by the time I was twelve, I was using the cash register to total up the orders, give customers their change.
What did my father think about my desire to be a grocer? He did everything he could to dissuade me. He knew about the long, miserable summer afternoons when it was too hot for people to come out of their homes, when the store was empty, except for my dad, who would stand behind the counter for hours, waiting for someone to walk in and buy something.
He knew the truth, and he wanted to make sure I didn’t have the same experience. And from that standpoint, I’ve always appreciated him for being honest, for showing me the negative side when I was too young to see it for myself.
And my mother? Ah, that was a different matter. She was determined that I would become a gospel preacher. And this wasn’t just a whim or a preference because she thought it would be nice to have a preacher in the family. Oh no. This woman was a religious zealot, and in my early teens, I learned that she had made a promise to god, that if he would give her a son, she would raise him to become a preacher. And this was no ordinary promise, this was a do-or-die situation. She was so animate that she was going to control my life and destiny, that on several occasions, I overheard her telling friends that she would make me into a preacher or break me in the process.
And, break me she did. And when I continued to resist, she became even more determined. And so did I. And so it was no wonder, that in my late teens, I grew long hair, played in a rock band, and was in her words, one of the most rebellious children she’d ever seen. Part of that was true. Hell, I could have been the poster boy for the rebellious youth of the seventies.
How did it all work out?
On my seventeenth birthday, she told me straight out that I was a total disappointment to her, and because I had refused to follow her direction, she wished I’d never been born.
Now, I’m taking this unusual dip into the personal side of my life for a specific reason.
Those early influences go a lot deeper than we realize, and even as we get older, many of us still carry around those early impressions. We may not admit it, in fact, we may not even be consciously aware of it, but many of the expectations we have about our work is still based on those early experiences. And it can affect us in ways that are easy to recognize but hard to describe.
It’s that feeling of never being quite being satisfied. Something’s missing in our job or career, but we can’t seem to put our finger on it. We just know that our situation should be different, better. And somewhere out, there’s has to be a better option, with just the right mix of money, job satisfaction, and personal recognition. And so we tell ourselves to keep looking, to keep our options open, because eventually, we’ll find the kind of work that makes us feel like we’ve arrived, that we’re truly in charge of our professional destiny.
So here’s the big question: Even though most of us realize that our childish career aspirations were unrealistic, impractical, or even naïve fantasies, are we still holding on to some imagined or romanticized version of what work and a successful career are supposed to be?
As adults, we all go through periods in which we wish we were doing something else.
It might hit us after a particularly difficult day at work, or during one of life’s milestones. Decade birthdays are a good example, with our 40th and 50th birthdays bringing especially critical scrutiny to what we’ve done with our lives.
And regardless of when or how it happens, the question is always the same: Am I spending my life in a way that is rewarding and satisfying to me? Or is there something better?
It’s a hard question. And it’s made even worse because our answer can change with time, It can change as we get older. Your goals and aspirations at twenty-five are seldom the same at fifty. Maybe you always felt that being a great spouse and parent was the perfect life choice. Or maybe you choose to find success in business, the arts, or politics. And now, you’ve discovered that life’s satisfaction – for you – is only found in the solitude of nature.
And I know the feeling. You’re looking for that sense of peace, that sense of accomplishment that confirms you made the right choice.
So what do you do when you’ve decided it’s time for a change?
First, determine if you really need a change, or if your life just needs a tune-up.
There’s an easy exercise that can help. It starts by setting aside a half-hour every day that you’re going to use to review your situation . . . and do it every day for a week.
Your review consists of making two lists. On the first list, write down everything that happened in the last 24 hours that made you depressed, anxious, or disappointed. On the second list, list the activities and interactions that gave you a boost in mindset and attitude.
Your goal is to determine the positive things already present in your life (the things you want more of). That comes from your first list. On the second list, identify the people, places, and things that are creating toxicity in your environment and need to be reduced or eliminated.
Sometimes it’s just a matter of removing the negative influences while retaining the positive. Occasionally, they’re interrelated—you can’t have one without the other. But that could be an illusion or an assumption created from our natural tendency to accept the status quo—rather than taking on the challenge of making desirable change.
And I hear the question that’s coming from a lot of you . . . What if I don’t know what I want to do?
I’ll give you an answer in two parts.
First, identify the activities you most enjoy. And don’t even think about the word, “passion.” The word passion is overused. So is the word “bliss.”
What you’re looking for is that thing you enjoy so much you would do it even without compensation. A good example is writing. Most writers never receive enough money to be able to do it full-time. But they continue writing because they receive a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction from the process.
Have you ever felt that way about something you’ve done in the past? For example, if you’ve always had an interest in auto mechanics, but turning a wrench isn’t something you want to do, how about teaching it?
Doing something enjoyable doesn’t mean you can’t monetize it. You may have wanted to pursue a career as an entertainer, but were discouraged by well-meaning parents, teachers, or friends. Yes, their concern over the extremely challenging odds of success may have been well-founded. But that doesn’t mean you can’t work in the same industry in a support capacity. Instead of trying to find success as a singer, how about working as a booking agent, talent manager, recording engineer, or vocal coach? You’ll be “inside the business,” exposed to all the movers and shakers in the industry. And if you’re given an opportunity to show off your talent, you’ll already be ahead of the game due to the relationships you’ve built.
The second part of the process is to look around for someone who you perceive as happy, successful, and living a rewarding, enjoyable life.
What are they doing? How do they spend their time? How did they arrive at their current position? What are their future plans?
Most people will readily share their story because it’s their favorite subject. Ask plenty of questions and always ask for recommendations on how to pursue a similar career or personal path.
Understand that you can change your career direction at any time. Mid-twentieth century values preached one career, one company. Today, that kind of misguided loyalty and dedication can leave you bored at best, and unemployed at worst. Constantly look for new opportunities, especially in the fields you enjoy.
And if you’ve come to the conclusion it’s time to strike out on your own, there’s nothing wrong with going after success on your own terms. If you want to start your own company, then learn all you can from others who’ve been successful in the same industry or niche market, and then go for it. If you want to be a free-lancer, offering your talent and services to the open market, learn everything you can about building your personal brand and get started.
Just make sure your expectations are realistic, both in terms of money and job satisfaction. And that means taking a hard look at the others who are attempting to do the same thing. Learn what mistakes they made along the way, and avoid them. Learn what worked, and incorporate those ideas and activities into your business.
And while you’re going through this process, I suggest you give yourself a break. More specifically, give your brain a break.
It’s amazing what our subconscious can do when given the opportunity. Constant worry and depression act like an “off” switch, disrupting our subconscious ability to analyze, evaluate, and create solutions and alternatives. Our mind works to our best advantage when we feed it with the relevant data and then leave it alone to process, sort it out, and reorganize our thoughts to arrive at possible options.
Although it may seem counterintuitive, the subconscious works best when no one is watching. That means we need to take a break from constantly thinking about the problem. Every day, take some time to disconnect from all the worrisome, negative influences in your life. Even an hour can work wonders. Take a walk, exercise, visit with a friend or do something outside — anything that stops you from thinking about what you’re trying to change. Remember, you become what you think about, so make it a priority to get your mind off the things you want to leave behind.
We can’t end our discussion about making a personal or professional transition without talking about how it’s going to affect others in your life. And that includes not only your family members, but any others that depend upon you for financial or emotional support.
The best rule to follow is to solicit your family’s support slowly and in small doses.
Sitting your loved ones down and telling them you’re fed up with your life and are on the brink of crisis will scare the bee-gees out of the most stable family.
Instead of putting everyone on edge, try revealing your desire for change off-handedly. Casually mention an article you read that illustrates or explains a subject that you want to transition to. Weave in your new direction a thread at a time, as if it’s evolving by natural happenstance. Ask for their opinions, but avoid arguing over timing or priorities.
The last piece of advice I can offer you is to start today. Do some research, ask a question or two. And if you decide to make changes in the way you make a living, or in the way you live your life, make a list of the things you need to have in place before you move from the old to the new. Even if that first step is just a small one, it starts a process that builds over time. And it helps to turn those current feelings of disappointment and frustration into a sense of accomplishment, because instead of just thinking about it, you’re taking actions that will eventually move you toward a new and better direction.
I’ll close this episode with this: I know that personal and professional transitions can be challenging, and yet, it can also be one of the most exciting periods of your life. The time is going to pass anyway, why not make the most out of it?
Hey, that’s it for this episode. As usual, if you have a question or comment, you can leave me a voice message on the website, www.successpoint360.com – just click on the voicemail link in the main header. You can also shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks for listening, and I’ll see you next time.
© 2021, Roger A. Reid
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