As a wee one you got asked: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” … a lot. And really, how annoying was that?!
A mermaid. A car designer. A firefighter. A dancer. A hockey player. An umpire. A unicorn.
Your family smirked. Thought you were cute. They took your dreams literally and quizzed you about how you were doing to do all that. Impressed. But in a faux way.
(Grown-ups never want to discuss ideas. They just want the final answer. That’s why it felt really boring to talk to them.)
What was “work” anyway? And why was it so different than “play”? How come grown- ups never looked happy when they went to work and returned home?
You didn’t want them to do that (go to work that is) and come home smaller and diminished from when you saw them just that morning. Let’s not even get started on how cranky they were. Who needed a nap? Not you.
Your best friend’s dad looked happy when he came home from work. What was wrong with your parents? You felt bad for wondering this.
You observed, but didn’t say much because if you did and when you did, it was called “being smart” or “talking back” and that’s “not good.”
Then you started high school.
You met with your high school guidance counselor. You had no clue what you wanted to do deep down. Or maybe you started there with absolute certainty and complete insecurity about your future. What you couldn’t digest then were all of your options – and there were many! All those brochures in the office.
That last year of high school was s-t-r-e-s-s-f-u-l.
You supposedly had to make a decision about what to do the following year and for the rest of your life. All of a sudden at the same time. Who decided this was the turning point of all life?!?
You couldn’t return to high school next year – that’s all you knew. Which wasn’t a bad thing necessarily. Actually that was the good part. You were so done with that place.
You picked something for the following year. Something that your family wanted a little or a lot, more than you did anyways, even if you couldn’t admit it at the time.
Your parents on the other hand never wanted to truly admit that they influenced such an important decision. They only raised you and were the most influential people in your life to date. All of a sudden they don’t want to be important? Yeah right.
They just wanted you to be happy. Not that’d you’d mention it, but you think it’s funny that they’d want that for you. Especially since they didn’t model it. Kind of a double standard thing isn’t it?
You think to yourself: “How confusing.”
But as you register that “confusion” you also register a truth. You secretly know that your idea of happy doesn’t really make them happy. Because it’s different than their idea of happy. Your “happy” challenges their “happy.” And they don’t want to know that. And you’re too scared to push it and find out just how different the definitions are.
You made decisions in this atmosphere. That was asking a lot. (Looking back you see this.)
You’ve figured out though that “happy” is code for: I don’t want to worry about you, so if you could make safe and secure choices, that would be nice dear.
Your parents offered support for you to do whatever you wanted by paying for a degree that they approved of for you. They wanted to make sure that you wouldn’t make mistakes or waste time settling into a secure life. Not like they did.
They suffered so you don’t have to.
They would support you as long as you quit dating so-and-so and kept your grades high.
You did both.
You wanted to be good and do good and so off you went to pursue post-secondary education.
You got through it.
Miraculously you got a job. Started the climb of social status based on the work you do. Valuing security above all else.
Parents = pleased.
Less than a decade later you took aptitude tests and personality assessments to either confirm you were on the right path or that it was the time to re-route the path before it became too late. You’re still not sure. Did the Human Resources department offer those? You don’t quite remember.
The results were a bit different from the ones you vaguely remember from high school. It told you to become a teacher/accountant/janitor/doctor/dancer and that was pretty useless since your family wouldn’t approve of most of the things on the list. And the test acted like they were all equal choices.
They weren’t. At least not in your household.
You do some transferable skills assessment with a vocation company. The people here are going to help determine the career that you want to commit to now.
This is definitely a different level of help from what you received in high school. And you appreciate that you couldn’t have made comprehensive decisions without having some work experience so that you could know yourself as your own person.
You choose something that you can better relate to based on what you’ve done before. Get a little more education. This time something you want.
At least you think this is what you want.
Something’s not quite right still. You’re not happy. But now you actually want to be happy for you. Not for your parents. But you’re living “the life” and your parents seem to not be worried about you. Shouldn’t everything be fine?
It is fine. You tell yourself. Relax.
But you’re starting to worry about yourself. Nevermind what anyone else thinks.
You go on vacation and come back to work wanting another vacation. You watch your friendships in slow motion – everyone all around you isn’t happy either. Everyone drinks a little too much. Laughs a little too loud to be sincere. But it’s impossible to think that no one is happy. There’s no reason not to be. No one is starving, everyone has nice clothes, you gather around nice wine and food.
It’s a nice life, but … but … but what?
You’re certainly a success in everyone else’s eyes. Just not your own.
You feel bad. Especially about work. But you’re at a loss as to why.
You look at your peers again. Everyone else seems so settled in their career. They say they’re happy, so you feel like you should say it too.
They say they have passion.
They kind of all look like workaholics.
That’s not passion. You’re not stupid. You remember your best friend’s dad. From childhood.
Whatever he went to work and did, he looked happy. You want that. You know something different exists and you want that.
You ponder returning to the personality testing for answers (but you can’t remember your letters or don’t really know what they mean), you look at your transferable skill set (again) and revise the list this time. You focus a little more on what you like that you’re good at versus what you’re good at that you don’t actually like that much.
Maybe this time you’ll do a values exercise. You realize that your values and you are not as negotiable as they used to be.
Another few years go by.
You’ve experienced moments of happy, but something is still not right. It doesn’t seem to stay. And it costs money to keep you happy.
Vacations. Nicer clothes. Shoes. A new smart phone.
You know that you need more insight than what you’ve had in the past.
By now you’ve tried all the jobs you wanted and the common denominator is you.
You’re living in a pattern of career dissatisfaction that you want to end. You can’t ignore that deep ache for “more” any longer.
You want work that actually considers the fact that you have a soul.
You wouldn’t have really known what anyone was actually talking about when you heard words like contribution, service, meaning and purpose once upon a time.
But you’re in a place where those words sound really nice now.
In fact, they sound so nice that your eyes sting a little with tears.
You’re so sad and you don’t know why. You want to work and you want to enjoy it but you can’t.
It’s frustrating because you’re not old yet. Retirement isn’t an option and you can’t “plan” to win the lottery. Can you?!
Work was once just a way to money, to afford a life that would make you happy. But it’s where you spend a lot of time and it’s a long time to the grave still.
You don’t talk to your parents so much anymore now.
If you told them how you were feeling they’d worry. Make suggestions that have no relevance or meaning. You did that last Christmas and the one before, so you know how it goes.
And now you’re secretly yearning for your career fairy tale to come true. Because you have been looking for it more and more and seeing it here and there … your dental hygienist … the bus driver … the pharmacist. Something about them is different than how other people work.
They actually seem to give and get joy from their work.
You stop. Stay still.
You read things.
You start to transform.
You get help.
You keep transforming.
With help. With compassion. With accountability. It hurts. But it feels worthwhile to be free.
From the inside out.
You change your approach to work.
You are doing old work that feels new, but in a way that you hadn’t considered before.
It feels amazing. You feel alive. You have more money because you’re not spending what you used to trying to be “happy” (even though your salary is still the same). Everything and everybody in your life feels real.
Your health is better. You feel like yourself. You know what happiness is. And isn’t.
Your parents have no clue what you do. You’re not “a job title” they understand.
So I ask this: What do you need to free yourself from to feel more blissful in how you approach work from now on? Reflect. Journal. Discuss. Go.
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