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Saturday, 24 December 2011

What should I do with my life?

Most people have good instincts about their calling in life, but they make poor choices and waste years


By TEH HOOI LING
SENIOR CORRESPONDENT

I HAD dinner with a reader some months back. During dinner, I lamented how the modern economy is compensating people in the finance industry. 'Because of that, all the bright brains are flocking to the financial sector. The other more productive sectors of the economy suffer as a result,' I said.

The reader countered. 'The market has a way of adjusting itself. Back in '80s, the shipbuilding, the marine sector was very lucrative. It attracted a lot of talent. Then there was a downturn, and wages plunged. In the '90s, the semiconductor industry was the place to be. In the early 2000s, it was the information technology sector. Now we have the banking sector which is drawing in the big bucks. But already we are seeing signs that the banking sector is set to shrink in the years ahead.'

That conversation lingered in my mind. And a few days ago, a friend posted a link on Facebook to an article titled 'What should I do with my life?'. The article wasn't new. It was published in 2007 but I found it still offers a lot of good insights and it's timely that we be reminded of them.

Written by Po Bronson, and adapted from his book 'What Should I Do with My Life? The True Story of People who Answered the Ultimate Question', the article said instead of focusing on what's next, let's get back to what's first.

'People don't succeed by migrating to a 'hot' industry ... They thrive by focusing on the question of who they really are - and connecting that to work that they truly love (and, in so doing, unleashing a productive and creative power they never imagined).

'Companies don't grow because they represent a particular sector or adopt the latest management approach. They win because they engage the hearts and minds of individuals who are dedicated to answering that life question,' he wrote.

Now that we've come to the end of what has generally been regarded as a terrible year, I thought it's a good time for us to pause and reflect on who we really are, and how one goes about finding that answer.

As part of the research for his book, Mr Bronson interviewed more than 900 people 'who have dared to be honest with themselves'. Below are what he gleaned from them.

Except for a select lucky few, for most of us, our calling is not something that we inherently know. Far from it. Almost all of the people he interviewed found their calling after great difficulty.

'They had made mistakes before getting it right. For instance, the catfish farmer used to be an investment banker, the truck driver had been an entertainment lawyer, a chef had been an academic, and the police officer was a Harvard MBA. Everyone discovered latent talents that weren't in their skill sets at age 25.'

Most of us don't get epiphanies. We only get a whisper, a faint urge. That's it. It's up to us to make the discovery.

'This lesson in late, hard-fought discovery is good news. What it means is that today's confused can be tomorrow's dedicated. The current difficult climate serves as a form of reckoning. The tougher the times, the more clarity you gain about the difference between what really matters and what you only pretend to care about.'

The thing is, most people have good instincts about where they belong. But they make poor choices and waste productive years on the wrong work because of a number of basic assumptions we have about the work we are supposed to have.

'These are stumbling blocks that we need to uproot before we can find our way to where we really belong,' said Mr Bronson.

Money and meaning

One common false assumption is that I would make my money first, and when I have enough money, I'd walk away and use my savings to fund my dreams.

It turns out that people hardly walk away even after they have achieved financial independence. 'Making money is such hard work that it changes you. It requires more sacrifices than anyone expects. You become so emotionally invested in that world - and psychologically adapted to it - that you don't really want to ditch it.'

Money is not the shortest route to freedom. 'The shortest route to the good life involves building the confidence that you can live happily within your means. It's scary to imagine living on less. But embracing your dreams is surprisingly liberating. Instilled with a sense of purpose, your spending habits naturally reorganise, because you discover that you need less.'

Createwealth8888's comments

Living more simply by loving the nature and the sea more. Learn to hear the sound of waves hitting the seashore, seeing the beauty of sea waves and admire the brillance of the setting Sun. You will soon realize that you don't really need to spend much to enjoy all these.

Bring your kids to beaches, parks and gardens and soon you will realize you are not spending on expensive toys.

Read? Live Simply? (3)


Next, 'What am I good at?' is the wrong starting point. People who attempt to deduce an answer usually end up mistaking intensity for passion. To the heart, they are vastly different. Intensity comes across as a pale busyness, while passion is meaningful and fulfilling, said Mr Bronson. A simple test: Is your choice something that will stimulate you for a year or something that you can be passionate about for 10 years?

But stimulating work is not an end in itself. In the past decade, the working world has become a battleground for the struggle between the boring and the stimulating, he noted. We think that work should not only be challenging and meaningful, but also invigorating and entertaining.

'But really, work should be like life: sometimes fun, sometimes moving, often frustrating, and defined by meaningful events.'

Those who have found their place don't talk about how exciting and challenging and stimulating their work is. Their language invokes a different troika: meaningful, significant, fulfilling. And they rarely ever talk about work without weaving in their personal history, he said.

Place defines you

Every industry has a culture. And every culture is driven by a value system. One of the most common mistakes is not recognising how these value systems will shape you, said Mr Bronson.

'People think that they can insulate themselves, that they're different. They're not. The relevant question in looking at a job is not 'What will I do?' but 'Who will I become?' '

Once you're rooted in a particular system, it's often agonisingly difficult to unravel yourself from its values, practices, and rewards.

Ultimately, the answers to who we are, what our callings are, are very individual. On his journey, Mr Bronson met people in bureaucratic organisations and bland industries who were absolutely committed to their work. That commitment sustained them through slow stretches and setbacks. They never watched the clock, never dreaded Mondays, never worried about the years passing by. They didn't wonder where they belonged in life. They were phenomenally productive and confident in their value.

In places unusual and unexpected, they had found their calling, and those callings were as idiosyncratic as each individual.

Asking 'What should I do with my life?' is the modern, secular version of the great timeless questions about our identity, said Mr Bronson. 'Asking The Question aspires to end the conflict between who you are and what you do. Answering The Question is the way to protect yourself from being lathed into someone you're not. What is freedom for if not the chance to define for yourself who you are?'

Mr Bronson said he spent two years in the company of people who have dared to confront where they belong. They didn't always find an ultimate answer, but taking the question seriously helped get them closer.

'We are all writing the story of our own life. It's not a story of conquest. It's a story of discovery. Through trial and error, we learn what gifts we have to offer the world and are pushed to greater recognition about what we really need. The Big Bold Leap turns out to be only the first step.'

2 comments:

  1. Hi CW,
    'They had made mistakes before getting it right. For instance, the catfish farmer used to be an investment banker, the truck driver had been an entertainment lawyer, a chef had been an academic, and the police officer was a Harvard MBA. Everyone discovered latent talents that weren't in their skill sets at age 25.'

    Unquote:-
    Life is full of possibilities. You only have to be brave enough to give yourself a chance to find out what are your possibilities("talents"?)

    Example an "It's The End" educated person who give himself a chance to learn about investing because he knows “钱 不 是 万 能 ,没 有 钱 是 万 万 不 能”
    But i say the most important thing in life still is, "Are you happy with what you are doing or who you are going to be. No? yes?"
    Nobody can help you to find the answer but yourself.

    ReplyDelete
  2. When my second colleague took more than 50% pay cut to do a mid career change to teaching. I realized that teaching is a vacation of calling for some teachers as there are some people after their teaching bond getting out while some people taking large pay cut to get in.

    ReplyDelete

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