Sure, i found tons of rich guys who were now giving a lot away to charity or who had bought an island. I found plenty of people who had found something meaningful and original to do after making their money. But thats not what Im talking about. Im talking about the garden-variety fantasy: Put your calling in a lockbox, go out and make a ton of money, and then come back to the lockbox to pick up your calling where you left. It turns out that having the financial independence to walk away rarely triggers people to do just that. The reality is, making money is such hard work that it changes you.
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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 funny thing is that most people have good instincts about where they belong but make poor choices and waste productive years on the wrong work. Why we do this cuts to the heart of the question, What should I do with my life? These wrong turns hinge on a small number of basic assumptions that have ruled our working lives, career choices, and ambitions for shopping the better part of two decades. I found hardly any consistencies in how the people i interviewed discovered what they love to do — the human soul resists taxonomy — except when it came to four misconceptions (about money, smarts, place, and attitude) that have calcified into hobbling fears. These are stumbling blocks that we need to uproot before we can find our way to where we really belong. Money doesnt Fund Dreams, shouldnt I make money first — to fund my dream? The notion that theres an order to your working life is an almost classic assumption: pay your dues, and then tend to your dream. I expected to find numerous examples of the truth of this path. But I didnt find any.
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 werent in their skill sets at age. Most of us dont get epiphanies. We only get a whisper — a faint urge. Its up to you to do the work of discovery, to connect it to an answer. Of course, theres never a single right answer. At some point, it feels right enough that you choose, and the energy formerly spent casting about is now devoted to making your choice fruitful. This lesson in late, hard-fought discovery is good news. What it means is that todays confused can be tomorrows dedicated.
They never watched the clock, never dreaded Mondays, never worried about the years passing. They didnt 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 for individual. And this is where the second big insight came in: your calling isnt something you inherently know, some kind of destiny. Almost all of the people i interviewed found their calling after great difficulty. They had made mistakes before getting it right.
The first assumption to get busted was the notion that certain jobs are inherently cool and that others are uncool. That was a big shift for. Throughout the 1990s, my basic philosophy was this: WorkBoring, but, workSpeedRiskcool. Speed and risk transformed the experience into something so stimulating, so exciting, so intense, that we began to believe that those qualities defined good work. Now, betrayed by the reality of economic uncertainty and global instability, were casting about for what really matters when it comes to work. On my journey, i met people in bureaucratic organizations and bland industries who were absolutely committed to their work. That commitment sustained them through slow stretches and setbacks.
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I met their families. I went inferno to ones wedding. I witnessed many critical turning points. These are ordinary people. People of all ages, classes, and professions — from a catfish farmer in Mississippi to a toxic-waste inspector in the oil fields of Texas, from a police officer in East Los Angeles to a long-haul trucker in Pennsylvania, from a financier in Hong Kong. These people dont have any resources or character traits that give them an edge in pursuing their dream. Some have succeeded; many have not.
Only two have what accountants call financial independence. Only two are so smart that they would succeed at assignment anything they chose (though having more choices makes answering The question that much harder). Only one, to me, is saintly. Theyre just people who faced up to it, armed with only their weaknesses, equipped with only their fears. What I learned from them was far more powerful than what I had expected or assumed.
Most of us are blessed with the ultimate privilege: we get to be true to our individual nature. Our economy is so vast that we dont have to grind it out forever at jobs we hate. For the most part, we get to choose. That choice isnt about a career search so much as an identity quest. Asking The question aspires to end the conflict between who you are and what you.
There is nothing more brave than filtering out the chatter that tells you to be someone youre not. There is nothing more genuine than breaking away from the chorus to learn the sound of your own voice. Asking The question is nothing short of an act of courage: It requires a level of commitment and clarity that is almost foreign to our working lives. During the past two years, i have listened to the life stories of more than 900 people who have dared to be honest with themselves. Of those, i chose 70 to spend considerable time with in order to learn how they did. Complete strangers opened their lives and their homes. I slept on their couches. We went running together. They cried in my arms.
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And they will be rewarded. With money, sure, you and responsibility, undoubtedly. But with something even better too: the kind of satisfaction that comes with knowing your place in the world. We are sitting on a huge potential boom in productivity — if we could just get the square pegs out of the round holes. Of course, addressing the question, What should I do with my life? Isnt just a productivity issue: Its a moral imperative. Its how we hold ourselves accountable to the opportunity were given.
There are far too many people who look like they have their act together but have yet to make an impact. You know who you are. It comes down to a simple gut check: you either love what you do or you dont. Those who are lit by that passion are the ant object of envy among their peers and the subject of intense curiosity. They are the source of good ideas. They make the extra effort. They demonstrate the commitment. They are the ones who, day by day, will rescue this drifting ship.
plates as human beings is the most urgent and pragmatic approach to sustainable success in our organizations. People dont succeed by migrating to a hot industry (one word: dotcom) or by adopting a particular career-guiding mantra (remember horizontal careers?). 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 that they never imagined). Companies dont 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. This is not a new idea. But it may be the most powerfully pressing one ever to be disrespected by the corporate world. There are far too many smart, educated, talented people operating at quarter speed, unsure of their place in the world, contributing far too little to the productive engine of modern civilization.
In spite of our best thinking and most searing experience, our ideas about growth and success are mired in a boom-bust mentality. Just paperwork as lbos gave way to ipos, the market is primed for the next engine of wealth creation. Just as we traded in the pinstripes and monster bonuses of the wall Street era for T-shirts and a piece of the action during the startup revolution, were waiting to latch on to the new trappings of success. (I understand the inclination. Ive surfed from one boom to the next for most of my working life — from my early days as a bond trader to my most recent career as a writer tracking the migration of my generation from Wall Street to silicon Valley.). Theres a way out. Instead of focusing on whats next, lets get back to whats first.
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By po bronson long read, its time to define the new era. Our faith has been shaken. Weve lost confidence in our leaders and in our institutions. Our beliefs have been tested. Weve discredited the notion that the Internet would change everything (and the stock market would buy us an exit strategy from the grind). Our expectations have been dashed. Weve abandoned the idea that work should professional be a 24-hour-a-day rush and that careers should be a wild adventure. Yet were still holding. Were seduced by the idea that picking up the pieces and simply tweaking the formula will get the party started again.