What should I do with my life? Choosing a career that’s right for me
A fascinating book by Po Bronson outlines the real life stories of people who asked themselves this question and took the journey of trying to find out their purpose of life. Some journeys were hard, some easier. Some found the answers they were looking for, some were surprised, some continue searching. All of these people found the courage to seek their larger purpose or calling, in spite of the fears and uncertainty involved and it was this experience of seeking that led to their transformation.
If you’ve been wondering what work you were put on this earth to do and feel like you have no clue, here’s something to get you started thinking on choosing a career that’s in line with your purpose of life!
What is work to you: a job, career or calling?
Psychologist Wrzesniewsjki and her colleagues suggest that people experience their work in one of three ways: as a job, as a career or as a calling.
A job is mostly perceived as a chore, with the focus being on financial rewards rather than personal fulfillment. Such people mostly look forward to a Friday or taking a vacation.
People on a career path are primarily motivated by extrinsic factors such as money and advancement. Such people may look forward to the next advancement or promotion.
For people who experience their work as a calling, work is an end in itself. While money and advancement is important, they primarily work because they want to. They are motivated by intrinsic reasons and experience personal fulfillment.
How do you see your work – as a job, a career or a calling? This is relevant because the way we experience our work has consequences for our well-being.
Choosing a career that’s right for you
Finding the right work for ourselves can be confusing and challenging. Harvard professor Tal Ben-Shahar suggests that we can begin this process by asking ourselves three crucial questions:
- “What gives me meaning?”
- “What gives me pleasure?”
- “What are my strengths?”
The longer the lists we come up with, the more the chances of finding areas that overlap, which would shed light on the work that might make us happiest. Areas of overlap i.e. activities that meet all 3 criteria could give precious clues towards answering the difficult question of, “What should I do with my life?”.
He also suggests that in order to generate accurate answers to these questions, we would need to put in effort and spend time in reflecting and recalling moments from our lives, to ensure we consider our full range of experiences rather than just jotting down some of the ready made answers that could leap into our minds. My own personal experience of this process is that the effort of reflection and discussion on these areas over time can give rise to many insights and possibilities that we may completely have overlooked earlier.
This ‘Meaning Pleasure Strength’ process assumes that people can make choices about the work they do. But in situations where people have limited or no choice over the work they do, they can use the insights and information from this process to craft their work in ways that make them happier. An interesting trend seen across professions is that how we perceive the work we do, can matter more than the work itself.
How do you perceive the work you do?
Seeing the work we do as making a difference, helps us experience our work as meaningful. For instance, a Manager who sees his role as having to push people to get the job done is less likely to experience his job as meaningful as compared to a Manager who sees his work as an opportunity to create something together with his team or to help people grow. People who see meaning in their roles, such as seeing themselves as teachers, as team creators, relationship builders etc., feel that they are contributing significantly to their organization’s success and thus relate to their work more as a calling than a job.
Thus, when we’re choosing a career or finding our calling, a good starting point is examining what gives us enjoyment, meaning and what uses our strengths well. If we’re already working, we can examine changes that we can introduce to make our current work more enjoyable and meaningful as well as ensure that we make better use of our strengths. In addition, we can keep in mind the ways in which the work that we do makes a difference to others.
If you would like to explore what gives you meaning and pleasure and fits your strengths, you could choose to talk it over with a counsellor.
Ben-Shahar, T. (2007). Happier: Learn the secrets to daily joy and lasting fulfillment. New York, NY: McGraw Hill.
Bronson, P. (2005) What should I do with my life? The true story of people who answered the ultimate question. Ballantine Books.