A Career and Pursuits in Life

Life is not easy and it comes with all its variabilities. There are those that become successful and are beacons for other people to follow and then there are those who remain an employee and sometimes feel they are unable to find their true passion. It seems that they live a life that has always just craved for more without ever being satisfied. This conundrum of finding out what their passion is, is usually not even a concern for other people. There are several parts to this and I’ll start with initial advantageous positions or luck as some would call it.

David by Michelangelo, being protected from repair

There are regional factors that push a person to pursue a particular career. There are advantages and disadvantages based on genes, locale and gender among other things. As much as organizations would like to portray that they do not discriminate, human beings were not created equal and some are predisposed to find success in fields where they find themselves. An artist who is gifted to understand the abstract and convey emotions in images might not have the endurance of a long distance runner and how he or she produces VO2 max. There are differences and the opportunities to pursue a career are almost infinite for all practical purposes. However despite natural dispositions when you attempt do pursue something with everything you have got and even fail there is some success in that. You might not be the best in terms of outcomes but you have suddenly become the best version of yourself.

The endeavor usually is to find the efficient frontier where your skills with the role that adds most value to an organization or society at large. What further complicates this matter is that no one is born with skills but they need to be developed. One can be predisposed to be good at something but that does not mean that he or she will be skilled at that job. Developing a skill takes time and consumes resources, of which in my personal opinion time is the most expensive. The level of skill required to learn depends upon the value of the job role in society. When we first understood the properties of gold and the scarcity of gold in nature mining became important. A miner would be one of the most lucrative jobs and even an unskilled miner would be a highly compensated one. Today a miner would be one of the lowest paying jobs but a civil, mechanical or chemical engineer specializing in rare earth metals mining research would be one of the most highly paid jobs, perhaps even one of the most coveted research fields. As the field develops the skill required to make the same money changes because the value addition of that level of skill changes. The people who got in early and perhaps endured to pursue the field even when it didn’t seem attractive have gained something from doing that.

To complicate things further as a species we have lost touch with reality. To begin with the relatively normal mind which exhibits what is called neuroplasticity. We meld situations and emotions together to construct frameworks. No, that’s not neuroplasticity but we also do that. Neuroplasticity means that the mind can change over time, in response to pressures, which can be both physical and psychological, and develop a constantly evolving method to interpret and memorize things. This can be a good thing as well as a bad thing. When people want to encourage themselves they construct an image of a desirable future in their head. If they would like to do that they use the emotions I wrote about above and create imaginary, motivating voices or forces inside their head to push them to strive. When people feel metaphorically crushed under pressure, they have done the opposite. The neuroplasticity of the brain means it also succumbs to pressure and degrades in its performance in a detrimental way.

This does not even begin to tell the story about why human beings are the way we are or behave in life but it sheds some light on the complexity. What has all this got to do with career choices? To me it seems like given all these factors trying to find the perfect career is like finding a needle in a hay stack with a magnetized needle which needs to be magnetized, but with a changing polarity every thirty minutes and the hay stack changes every 25 minutes. Confused? It doesn’t even compare in complexity to real life. One can carefully use their surroundings to create a “perfect” life. Heck, sometimes it almost feels like Tim Ferriss even counts the number of tea leaves he puts in his tea… when using tea bags. Or you can just live life as it comes and fine tune everything that life throws at you. Seldom people forget that Tim Ferriss or almost anyone who seems to get everything right probably only looks at the positive and has opportunities that came by their way for no real action on their part.

An artists impression of the brain in action by Andrus Ciprian

Didn’t get the perfect job? Do your best at what you’ve got and attempt to understand the people around you. Didn’t fare well at the interview? Learn what you can do better the next time. All this might sound like positivity and let’s all hold hands and sing kumbaya but it’s not. There is a realization you need to have before you get into that job. There are aspects of the job you will hate from your gut. Even if you don’t do anything and decide to sleep on the couch and cook eggs and eat breakfast and sleep days and nights or watch tv and play games and just idle around. Even if you do that there will be aspects of it that you will hate. I’m not saying that you will begin to hate aspects of it. I’m saying you will hate aspects of it from day 2. Almost everything in life from your mother’s love to choosing a coffin has perspectives. A job role in a career is somewhere in between those two extremes. Yes, admittedly there can be more of nice and less of bad in a particular role but remember that thing I told you about neuroplasticity? You an choose what you define as nice and pursue that. Even hard and difficult things.

Our definitions of nice and bad don’t really mean anything in the grand scheme of things. So, what does all this mean? One just had to pick up things and roll with them. If you fall short of what you need to do, yes there are choices that you do other things, yes there are other things that you will like and there are other choices that might have the promise of a better future but if you fall short of what you need to do that is on you. Whether the person is a janitor in the high school or a managing partner at McKinsey. Your job is only how good you make it and you are the only person who will judge your standards. When we were told to choose a career when we were younger we were lied to about how we should look at life. We should not choose what to work at but we should choose how to work. Diligence matters whatever the career, whatever the role, wherever one is located.

I have seen this more than a few times in my life now. People desperate to understand what they want to do and what they would like to pursue. The objective should not be to find a career that is enjoyable or intellectually fulfilling instead it should be an intellectual pursuit to find excellence in whatever one begins to pursue. Leonardo d. Vinci was only a scribbler who was curious about the monster in the cave and Michelangelo wanted to understand how a hammer worked. Pursue excellence do not pursue excellent careers.

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