We’re all different – that goes without saying, and because we’re all so different I’ve often thought that any “path to success” that is communicated by someone is misleading because what works for one person doesn’t necessarily work for someone else.
What one person defines as “successful” often has little meaning for another person. For example, it is very possible that you could take someone who is highly content, and empowered, as a junior high teacher and insert him in the position of a CEO of a major corporation and the junior high teacher would be miserable, and immediately miss his old job empowering students.
Likewise, you could take an executive, who loves the thrill and rush that comes from making major decisions that affect thousands of people, negotiating big deals, and competing for market share, insert her in the position of a junior high teacher and she would be unhappy. She would miss the rush that came with her former position, and want to go back.
Perspective (and experience) is in the eye of the beholder. What is amazing for one person is miserable for another. What is miserable for one person is super empowering for another. It makes me think about a quote from one of my all time favourite books – Walden by Henry David Thoreau:
Why should we be in such desperate haste to succeed and in such desparate enterprises? If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.
Because of this – the fact that in order to be long term fulfilled we must march to the beat of our own unique drummer – the only real career advice that we should ever really want to follow is to make sure that we end up in the right position.
If we are empowered as a junior high teacher we need to make sure that we DON’T get that MBA – despite what anyone might say otherwise. Likewise if we are better suited to be an executive – we need to press on despite the daily stresses that we may feel along the way.
Long term fulfillment in our careers is about value alignment – it is about getting to actually experience the things that make us feel alive. It is not a generic path that involves making lots of money and having stuff that our neighbours envy.
Also – our ability to actually attain a level of mastery in our pursuits is going to hinge on whether or not we find an area to be intrinsically motivating. If we are intrinsically motivated by something then we are moved to take action, independent of the external rewards that we accumulate, or the setbacks we experience. We just keep at it because the “work is rewarding in and of itself”.
Many writers including Robert Greene in his book Mastery will concur – without a great sense of intrinsically motivating purpose in what we do we won’t stick with anything long enough. The highly referenced “10,000 hour quota” (a la Malcolm Gladwell) will never be reached if we aren’t deeply motivated from a wellspring of internal fire.
Sometimes what we think we won’t be good at, or like, actually ends up being incredibly intrinsically motivating and rewarding. That is why an open mind, and an willingness to experiment, and even fail, can be such an empowering mindset.
For example – when I was growing up I was shy and “uncomfortable in my skin”. I had skipped a grade in elementary school (grade 5) so I often felt ostracized by my peers, and I felt that I didn’t fit in. I found ways to blend it – for example sports became a refuge for me – but I never let the force of my personality free until much later in life. By experimenting as an adult I discovered that writing and public speaking were flow channels that brought a tremendous amount of intrinsic enjoyment to me – two things that I have now built a life around as an adult.
Had I not been willing to experiment, and fail, I would have never discovered this and I would be missing out on a very empowering aspect of my life.
It is a travesty that children are conditioned to avoid failure. Failure is a meta-skill in the learning process, and a willingness to experiment and fail is one of the only portals to truly find out what brings you intrinsic fulfillment, and what you can become great in.