How to Find Yourself in Your Career
Two sides of the same coin
Have you ever sat back slightly further in your chair, or stopped yourself for a second before pouring your morning coffee, and thought about why it is that your life is centred as it is? You have X job and are earning X per year. You go on holiday every now and then, you (somewhat) get along with your boss and you always nearly win the local pub quiz. Your yearly job report describes satisfactorily above-average performance. But you don’t necessarily identify with any one of these individual components of your life, and your job is, at least most of the time, something you need to do rather than something you enjoy. Many activities infuse you with the satisfaction that your job does not, and you accept the contemporary culture of careers, wistfully imagining what it would be like for things to be otherwise.
Let me paint a slightly different picture. You enjoy the taste of your morning coffee and the internal conversation accompanying it. The task at hand in the near future contains something you know you are good at in a way that no one else at your job shares. Your job is not just a title and salary, it’s a physical and mental space where you can apply your talent. It is just one job in a series, connected by one constant: you. The reason for you getting along with your boss is one constant: you, your values and your attitude towards life. Not only is it valuable to him or to the company, it is of such a value that those close to you lean forward in their chairs when they ask you about it.
What’s the difference between these two scenarios? Apart from there being no mention of holidays or pub quizzes in one, they could both describe perspectives belonging to the same individual. Yet the former focused on the external attributes of one’s career, whereas the latter focus on its (positive) internal significance. It is important to emphasise the relationship between a career’s internal significance and one’s happiness, as well as to highlight the vast extent to which one can understand one’s career in the terms of these two paradigms.
Understanding why you do what you do is crucial to find yourself
The cliché of being a cog in a machine can be disturbingly poignant. Reducing the function of an individual to a specific professional role can prevent individuals from feeling fulfilled. The first step in finding yourself in your career is therefore understanding the scope of your professional function. In an ideal case, this function is positively exhaustive of your own goals to the extent of leaving you undesiring of anything but a cup of tea and some gentle gardening when you get home. But this is not usually the case. The problem is not that this ideal is rarely manifest, but rather that it is difficult to understand what one is feeling when it is not. One can be left vaguely dissatisfied when one’s personal values do not coincide with one’s everyday activity, or indeed depressed at the total lack of correlation between the two. It is these feelings that make you pause over your coffee.
Next time you do so, try this to find yourself. Think of what it is in your life that you identify with. Whether this be an activity, an environment, a concept, a desire, or a feeling. Then ask yourself where this thing is in your life right now. Is it something you deal with every day? Is it the thing stringing together your series of jobs, firing the furnace of your career? Or is it something you rarely glimpse, to the point where you spend a longer time pausing over your coffee in vague existentialism than drinking it? If you are unhappy with your job or career, it is likely that you are either not in contact with or have lost sight of the thing with which you identify. Realizing this fact is the first step towards having a fulfilling job; it is the first step to find yourself in such a way as to build a career which is accompanied by holistic contentedness.