Updated: Feb 10, 2020
'It's never too late to be what you might have been.' -George Eliot
I'm no stranger to feeling confused and stuck, and since you're human, I'm sure you can relate to this unpleasant experience as well. At the core of this confusion is often what we choose to do with our days, and more specifically, the job or career that consumes so much of our precious time. For various reasons, our identity (how we see ourselves) is majorly tied into how we spend each day (or what we do for work). As you know, it's usually the first question someone asks upon a meeting you.
If you're anything like me, sitting around all day doing nothing usually doesn't feel very good at the end of the day (of course sometimes this is an act of self care and exactly what's needed). On the other hand, getting out during the day to take care of some business can feel satisfying and provide that nice sense of accomplishment. Lastly, doing something meaningful and personal offers a sense of fulfillment and purpose that is ultimately what nourishes our spirit. I think this is what we seek when it comes to how we spend our days and earn our money: we want to feel alive, nourished and make a mark on this world. This is what the existentialists describe as making meaning and finding purpose.
In the midst of feeling unfulfilled in our profession, we might think about making some serious life changes. However, with big change comes the unknown, and that's usually scarier than the discomfort that we already know. This is often what keeps us stuck in unfulfilling jobs and relationships. Being human means we naturally crave meaning and purpose. Let's talk about how you can start watering the job/career seeds that feed your soul.
As a therapist in Vietnam, many clients I see are struggling with questions surrounding identity (who am I?) and values (what is most important to me?) These clients feel stuck in a particular career or relationship and wonder if it's too late to quit the job or end the relationship. It's not just the feeling stuck part that sucks, it's the 'what would I do if I did quit my job, or if I did break up with my partner?' In other words: I feel like shit now, but the unknown is even more scary, so it is probably safest to learn how to be ok with my current (unfulfilling) situation. However, as we all know, fooling oneself only lasts for so long, and eventually one must look in the mirror (or seek some type of help, which is often why someone looks for a psychotherapist or psychologist). We need help figuring out this existential dilemma: finding meaning and purpose so that we can feel that we are meeting the expectation of fulfilling our own potential. I mean is there any worse feeling than knowing that each day we spend hours of time and energy in a job we don't give a shit about? Or looking back on all of the years spent making someone else's dream a reality?
Check out this poignant video, in which Joe Rogan and Gary Vee share some thoughtful insights on the human condition, and how we struggle when it comes to our career choices. Are you making choices that are meaningful to you? Is your job in or out of spirit with who you really are (the things you most care about and value). Or, as most of us have done, maybe you're making choices based on meeting other people's expectations.
In this video, I really appreciate the commentary on planting seeds and watering those seeds. Whether it's 5 minutes a day or an hour a week, taking small consistent steps to cultivate the path you want to be on is what matters most. It's not about achieving the goal, but the process and journey that matters most.
There is something to be said for what the Buddha called Right Livelihood. This means working in a field that simply does no harm. In those days, it meant avoiding work in weapons, human trafficking, meat, drugs, etc. These days, it could mean those things, as well as not working for a company that contributes to harm or suffering. It's about being ethical, and not just in terms of the purpose of the work or company, but also in your attitude and energy that you bring to the work. Right livelihood, or Wise Livelihood, means our work can be a vehicle towards personal growth, relationships, or systematic change. Work doesn't need to be seen as something to try and do less of, but rather an expression of our compassion and values, in hopes of contributing something to the world during this brief moment of being alive. It's important to note, as Krishnan Venkatesh points out that 'many of us crave careers about which we can be wholeheartedly enthusiastic, but it can be a good thing to be in two minds about our jobs and to not identify with them too strongly.'
Howard Thurman said "Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” There's some good motivation here, and in large part I love this quote. However, you may also want to consider how and where your unique talent can meet the world's need. Della Duncan talks about this nicely and encourages us to reflect not only on finding what fires you up, but how that fire and energy can benefit someone else, or something else. Maybe it's an endangered river, or animal. Or working on equal rights, racial justice, or finding good homes for abandoned kittens. Perhaps helping in some way to tackle the water scarcity issue that is rapidly creeping up on us. Or building something with your hands. Maybe it's helping others learn from your biggest mistakes.There is some sort of situation or problem that exists in this world that needs exactly what you have to offer!
If this article was useful to you (or even if you hated it), I would love to hear from you. As a psychotherapist in Vietnam, and someone who also struggles with being human, I enjoy connecting with people in my community and the world. Thanks for reading!