When I was quite young I had the usual answers to that oft asked question, “What are you going to be when you grow up.” Since my father was a physician, I often as not answered “Doctor” rather than “Fireman” or “Policeman”. My first stated career path was “mad scientist” as I planned with my best friend down the street how to create a laboratory complete with sparking Van de Graaff generators and bubbling Erlenmeyer flasks. However, beyond those images I had little idea of the job description for “mad scientist”. It just sounded like a lot of fun, and as a bonus it created surprise and discomfort in the inquiring adults.
As I got a bit older I started to discover what I was good at and what I enjoyed and I started dreaming of a career in professional sports. Alas, my genetic heritage was not that of athleticism and I accepted that reality at a fairly young age!
It was in my high school years that I discovered psychology through the then booming human potentials movement (this was the late 60s and early 70s), and found my true passion. I set my goal to obtain a doctorate in psychology and with relentless determination achieved it. Since then I have traveled many different paths on my career as a psychologist, but they have all been fueled by the passion I discovered way back in high school.
When I started out on this career path I was driven by a desire to understand both myself and others and to use that understanding to live and help others live a more satisfying and meaningful life. At the time, I had little concern for the economics of the profession or, for that matter, my own career. I was following what gave me significance and meaning, and I was not thinking about making a living.
The realities of life, however, have a way of shifting priorities and sometimes challenging one’s idealism. But even as I faced the real world trials of providing for a wife, three children, a mortgage, and a desire to attain financial security, my dreams and ideals never completely disappeared.
As an assessment psychologist helping people to discover and use their natural talents, I have created services and products that support and help people to “Discover what you do well, and do more of it.”
In writing about this approach over the years I have come across many quotes that support it and was surprised to discover that the most popular, “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”, was not uttered by some pop psychology guru in the early 1970s, but by Confucius about 2,500 years ago. Wow! The idea has been around for a long time.
What popularizers, both pro and con, miss about this quote is that it does not say that you will be financially successful, and therein lies the rub! As a speaker, my message is often challenged by my audience in various ways, but the essence of their critique boils down to “How do you make a living? What if what you love and are naturally good at isn’t marketable?”
It is a legitimate challenge in a culture in which the voices defining success in monetary terms, market and brand recognition, and saleable services and products are loud and ubiquitous. I have many friends and acquaintances that are driven by and have achieved these markers of success. I admire them and their single minded determination to achieve in this manner. At times I envy them and their sales and marketing skills, but in the end I cannot emulate them even though I have tried innumerable times.
I know that I am not alone in being driven more by meaning and satisfaction than by profit, but in the marketplace these drivers often fall in the face of economic realities or market pressures. So, when I come across an example of the former, I note and file it away.
I recently found a wonderful example in a documentary available on Netflix streaming, Jiro Dreams of Sushi. It is the story of Jiro Ono, an 85-year-old sushi master and owner of Sukiyabashi Jiro, a Michelin three-star restaurant, on his continuing quest to perfect the art of sushi. In describing his approach to his work Jiro states:
“Once you decide on your occupation… you must immerse yourself in your work. You have to fall in love with your work. Never complain about your job. You must dedicate your life to mastering your skill. That’s the secret of success… and is the key to being regarded honorably.”
So, Jiro dreams of sushi, and I dream of discovering how to help others find meaning and satisfaction by pursuing their natural skills and talents. I do not put myself in the same class with Jiro, but I have dedicated myself to mastering my skill. Perhaps someday I will be regarded honorably.
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