Our need to self-actualize and express individuality through our work is a normal aspect of human development that is often thwarted by our need to fit in and follow. Understand why you do what you do and how you can use both your own psychological flaws and those of others to your advantage at work, in relationships, and in life.
The worst thing is to be turning one of those milestone birthdays—and we used to think that started at 40, but I see it in younger clients now in their 30s—and to feel like you might never realize your potential. You never did what you felt like you could have done.
I want you, reader, to look at it as life and death because you can spiritually die from engaging most of your working hours investing your mental energy in something that you don't love.
STOP FOLLOWING OTHER PEOPLE
The problem that most people have is they follow what other people are doing. They follow the career path that leads to the most money, the most attention, the most glory, or something that seems like the most exciting or sexiest thing. They're not actually looking at what their Craft is. Your Craft is your individual inclinations, your identity, your particular obsessions with certain kinds of problems or subjects, what you love, etc.
In the career world, if you follow what everyone else is doing, if you go after what seems like the most the sexiest, most attractive position, it's going to be crowded. There’s going to be a lot of other people vying for the same thing and competing for resources.
It’s best to find what you love and combine it with something that already exists out there and to adapt it to your spirit. Avoid going where everyone else is going.
FIND OUT WHO YOU ARE
Finding your Craft is probably the most important quest of your life. It’s the most important decision that you'll ever make. Not only will it determine your career your success, how much money you make, it will also determine how happy you are, how fulfilled you feel in life.
I have numerous anecdotes from interview subjects, clients, and friends from 40-70 all hovering around the same sentiment, and that is: the worst thing is to be turning some milestone year and to feel like you never realized your potential. You never did what you felt like you could have done. That's the worst feeling.
You don't want to have that feeling particularly if you're younger in your 20s and you have more options or even in your 30s. It’s a question of knowing yourself.
HOW DO YOU FIND YOURSELF?
Your tendency will be when you're a child, say five or six, to kind of know that you like this you like sports, you like physical activity, or you like music, or you like words, or you like working with your hands. You have a feel for it. It's natural. As you get older you start to listen to other people, and you lose a sense of who you are. You listen to your parents who tell you “you need to become a doctor” or “writing doesn’t pay, have a backup plan.” Your friends are all scrambling to make a lot of money and you lose this connection to who you are, what your strengths are, and what you love to do.
The work is getting back in connection with who you are. Find what you love. Go back to that child. Root out all the voices of your parents and your friends. Find those things that when you read them made your eyes light up at what you wanted to explore.
It’s a process. It's not going to happen overnight. It depends on how old you are. It depends on where you are in life. It's never too late to make an adjustment or to find who you are. I didn’t write Look to Craftsmen (pending publication) or any of my other manuscripts until I was 42 and up until that moment, I was kind of a lost soul. I was achieving well at work but intellectually un-engaged. I was kind of unhappy and underneath the surface, knew I should be doing other kinds of work.
You can take time. As long as you're trying, exploring and learning it'll probably come. But if you're only following what other people are doing, or moving in a particular direction because you think you should be, you're in trouble. You might succeed for a while. At 28, you might get that doctor’s degree and make money like your mom and dad want you. But by the time you're 34 you're tuning it out. You’re drinking, or running your credit card debt up, or experimenting with drugs, or getting into porn—these are not outlying behaviors. These are the behaviors of disconnection to situations that don’t align with our inner sense of identity. While you might not be engaging in things that are this destructive, give some thought to how you manage boredom, or how you value being busy with any kind of idle time.
You fall into various addictions. Your work, your life, is not engaging you. You might have succeeded for a while but you're going pay a price. I'm telling you that finding the work you were meant to do is the single most important decision that you can have. Connect to it and make it practical.
You’re not going to want to become a poet, ballerina, or a rock musician just because you love music. This isn’t about you up and starting a band at age 65. That might not be practical. But if you love music, what is the most practical path for you to connect to it?
Maybe it is starting a rock band, who knows, I don't want to discourage that. I knew I wanted to write. That gave me the latitude to explore this vast area and then find my niche.
You know that you love working with your hands—explore something with your hands. You know you love computers—explore the whole area and you'll find your niche. But you've got to know what that first overall ecosphere is that you want to explore.
I want you to look at it as life and death because you can you can spiritually die from engaging most of your working hours and mental energy in something that you don’t love.
HOW STEVE JOBS FOUND HIS CRAFT?
People don't realize Steve Jobs was actually not much of a computer person. He was quite mediocre in his computer skills. It was Wozniak who was the hacker. He wasn't terrible but that wasn't his strength. His strength was design.
Steve Job’s story is particularly interesting because when he's five or six years old he and his stepfather pass an electronics store with all the gizmos in the window. There’s tubes and everything in the window. He got so excited by technology, but in particular the design of technology.
As children we connect to subjects and activities in a very visceral way. Something strikes us deeply and we either immediately connect with it or spend our whole lives trying to find it again. For Steve, it wasn't technology, it was the design element that stimulated him. That's what his genius was—bringing together a pretty good knowledge of technology with a great knowledge of fonts, calligraphy, and modern design to create his greatest breakthrough. Most people don't realize that in addition to his early contributions with Apple, it was the iPod that started many of the changes that we now have today. He's a perfect example of what I’m trying to describe here.
Christine Haskell, Ph.D. is a leadership consultant and adjunct faculty at Washington State University. She helps busy leaders take responsibility for their learning and development. She writes on the topic of “The Future of Work Will Require Craftsmanship.” sharing lessons from master craftsmen and women on personal and professional mastery, is due out late 2019. Sign up for her (semi-regular) newsletter here.