Work, love and myths to let go of

Kahlil Gibran

Work is love made visible

Kahlil Gibran

The Prophet

In recent days, I have found myself on a bit of a rant.

Now where did I put my soap box?
Now where did I put my soap box?

The rant is not unfamiliar.  There are moments in conversations when I can almost feel the rough wooden edges of my soap box in my hands.  These are moments when I want to put it down in front of me, to step onto it and to speak on a subject about which I feel deeply.

It doesn’t take much to trigger the rant.  And once I’ve started, I find it hard to stop.

What is the rant?  Why has it been triggered in recent days?  You’ll understand it if you are at a cross-road in your career and feeling stuck.  You’ll understand it if your son or daughter is at cross-road in his or her career and feeling stuck.  Perhaps you feel the pain of it yourself.

Are you at a cross-road in your career and struggling to find direction?

Whether you’re at the very start of your career or some way in, there will be times when you feel at a loss to know what to do next.

If you’re moving from university to employment, you’ll know that this transition can feel like falling off a cliff.  All the way through your education you’ve been choosing from a menu.  What subjects shall I do for my GCSEs?  What university shall I go to?  You’ve made your choices and you’ve been successful.  It ought to be enough.

Suddenly, it’s time to find a job and there is no menu.  What’s more, in so far as you can identify actual jobs, it’s not clear how they relate to anything you’ve ever learnt at school or university.  You feel confused, anxious, uncertain …and more.

Maybe you’re some years into your career.  You found the job.  You set out to prove yourself …and you did.  You were successful.  You’re still successful.  But you’re not fulfilled.  You look at the path ahead and your heart sinks.  You know you want something different, but you don’t know what it is.

Perhaps you’re on the right path, and still you’re struggling to fulfill your potential.  You yearn to do more, to be more, to contribute more.  Somehow, you feel as though you’re wading through mud.  You yearn for more but all you feel is frustration.

Myths we learnt at school

Years ago I met a man who, very early in his life, had been homeless.  Growing up in the care of his retired grandfather he had heard, again and again, how awful work was and how good it was to be retired.  As a young man, it seemed logical to him to skip this part of life …until, that is, he experienced the reality of life on the streets.

Most people are not like this young man and still, we all grow up at the feet of people who teach us things about working life that are not always helpful.  It’s these things – I call them myths – that trigger the ranter in me, the soapbox addict.

Let me just test that it's strong enough to stand on
Let me just test that it’s strong enough to stand on

Perhaps the biggest myth of all is this:  if you study hard, if you do well at school, you will do well in your life and career.  This is the myth that troubles me most.

It troubles me, because I have seen people shine in the education system, gathering qualifications, A grades and other symbols of success and still, when they get there, struggling to succeed at work.  Perhaps they have the intellect but not the emotional intelligence they need.  They go from succeeding at every stage to being told, repeatedly, that they lack the people skills or “common sense”.  Perhaps their love of the A grade makes them fearful of failure and constantly anxious about making mistakes.  They fear trying something new, expending unnecessary energy in worrying and even more in covering up their fears.  Perhaps they are so wrapped up in thinking about what others want of them that they barely know what they want in their lives and careers.

Of course, there’s more.  The idea that success depends on doing well at school sends messages to generation after generation of children that, if intellectual performance is not their forte, or doing well in exams, they won’t be successful.  I could tell you how hard it is to find a good plumber in London but even this barely scratches the surface of the implications of this myth.  Think Alan Sugar.  Think Richard Branson.  Look at Theo Paphitis and Duncan Bannatyne from BBC’s Dragon’s Den.  Many highly successful entrepreneurs left school early.  Some struggled with dyslexia.  And still, they succeeded.  How many fell by the wayside because they believed the myths and didn’t even try?

Deeper truths

It’s interesting to me to note how some people seem to sail through the world with ease, carving a life that others envy by being, simply, themselves.

The Society For Recognition of Famous People, for example, highlights how Henry Ford resisted pressure from his father to take over the family farm.  Ultimately, Ford went on to found the Ford Motor Company.  In doing so, he transformed transportation and the American automobile industry.  But the journey was long that led him to his ultimate success.

I found an interesting detail, for example, in The Society For Recognition of Famous People’s description of Henry Ford:

 When Henry was in his teens, his father gifted him a pocket watch. At the young age of 15, he dissolved and reunited the timepieces of neighbors and friends many times and gained a status of a watch repairman.

It seems that the seeds of Ford’s ultimate success were already visible whilst he was still at school.

This posting is not about Henry Ford.  Instead, Henry Ford stands as an example of a broader principle:

We are most likely to make our greatest and most valuable contribution in the world by doing things we enjoy.  

Ford’s career exemplifies other broader principles:

Whilst some successful men and women start their career with a clear and enduring vision, many find their way by taking one step at a time.

At key moments of decision, we get to choose between those things we (or others) think we ought to do and those things we most enjoy.  It is the things we most enjoy that lead us to our greatest successes and our deepest fulfillment.

There are many failures on the road to success.

I feel so much better now I've spoken my mind
I feel so much better now I’ve spoken my mind

I use the word “principles” but I could talk of laws of nature.  The more we try to carve a career by doing what “ought” to work rather than observing what’s true in practice, the more we risk looking back in our old age – like the grandfather I mentioned above – on years of unhappiness at work.

So often, in their concern to guide and support us, our parents and teachers teach us what “ought” to work, or perhaps what worked in a bygone era, rather than what actually works.  Here.  Now.

Learning from those things we most love

If you are a regular reader, you’ll know that right now, I’m recruiting for a small coaching group to help you if you want to Kick start your next career move.  If you’re interested, I hope you’ll follow the link to learn more or contact me directly.  I’d love to talk with you about the group and how it might help you.

And even if this group is of no interest to you, I invite you to notice what things you do – at work or at play – that most gladden your heart.  These are things that can teach you about your own career path.

Only a few days ago I shared with a client a story about someone who, after a successful corporate career asked for some coaching.  Following his retirement, he had taken on a role with a charity that was working in area he felt passionate about.

His question was simple:

“Is it okay for me to be enjoying myself so much at work?”

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