With apologies to Joseph Campbell…
The other day I was having a conversation with someone that was having a hard time with boundaries; due to this, they often found themselves committing to doing things they really did not have any interest in. Further conversation led to a couple of salient points: 1) others often have projections on you and when they do it can come out as ‘you should do X’ and 2) if you are in a quandary about what your own goals or work is, it is easy to accept others ideas about what you ‘should be doing.’
This lack of clarity can, as Campbell would say, leave you climbing the wrong ladder–this happened to me when I was a young man. At age 29 I was the VP of IT at a small marketing startup and profoundly unhappy. At the time, it was everything that I supposedly wanted: big title, out-sized paycheck for my age, responsibility, etc. The part that was missing was my own sense of satisfaction and quite frankly, boredom. After about 10 years of working in IT the problems were starting to get repetitive…plus, in your 20s, who really knows themselves? There’s a reason Jung’s position was that analysis was for middle age. This leads me to how I ended up in IT in the first place…because I was ‘good’ at it.
How many of us have heard that advice: “do what you are good at?” There’s a fatal flaw in that line of thinking though: it does not go beneath the surface of why one is ‘good’ at something. In my case, I was ‘good’ at IT because I am, at heart, a pattern recognizer and problem solver. IT is a superficially good fit for that as there are a lot of patterns and problem solving…however, more so, I thrive on NEW problems to solve, not repetitively solving the same problems over and over: which is why I am in analytics today. Most people today still think I work in ‘tech’ and I have given up trying to explain to people that no, tech is a tool I use, not what I do, but I digress.
The whole point of the two preceding paragraphs was to highlight that just doing what you are good at or what other people think you should do is not a recipe for personal happiness or fulfillment. In my conversation with the person that opened this post, I pointed out that it is often more important to know what you are not rather than blindly doing what others say you should be doing. In short, finding your inner gold, your vocation, can be aided by first understanding what you are not. Thou art not that!