Sunday, February 26, 2012

What do I do with my life?

On the eve of the first semester of my fifth and final year of university the question 'What do I do with my life?' looms again, ever present, more pertinent than ever. The leisurely four years I've had in higher education acted as a smart guise to mask the fact that I didn't know the answer, while announcing to the world that I most assuredly did.

The truth is like most young people in university I'm kind of just plodding along in a degree I fell into out of a mix of convenience and lack of direction. Now that it's almost over, the jig is up - it's time to get serious. Get a job, Grace. Grow up, Grace. Live in the Real World, Grace.

When I was younger my General Practitioner mother wanted me to be a doctor, my dad would have preferred lawyer and I just had this vague and all-encompassing idea that I would be awesome, different and 'change the world' (yes, I am one of those).

Knowing what I did then, how did I end up in a degree where everybody else was interested, alert, there and I couldn't match their enthusiasm nor their work ethic? I knew from the beginning it wasn't really what I wanted, to do Public Relations for corporations or brand management or handling the reputation of governments or politicians. But I had already chosen wrong, so I might as well give a good go of it. I tried interning to figure it out, discerning wether it was just the academic side that was dry. Surely, I thought, if I was amongst it all it would be different. For me, it wasn't. Even less could I imagine myself calling up journalists, sitting in on creative meetings to promote the latest Xbox or putting together media kits. Doing something you're not even luke warm about makes you want pretty quickly to figure out exactly what you do want. Interning - that's how I figured out what I don't want to do with my life.

The shorter and surely easier list to consult is that of the things I do want to do. Work with people, not for them. Work with organisations based largely in helping the developing third world. Advocacy and awareness in first world countries. Not saving people, but helping them to help themselves. AID, but not in the white-knights-in-shining-armour that is spoken about in this article, but working with and for local people, for local solutions to their problems. Working with
an organisation I respect, understand and value. Travel. Learn other languages. Live in a country that shocks and challenges me. Those three words that make everybody around me cringe, change the world.

So this year I'm reading up, doing my homework, shadowing people who have my dream job, trying to understand the industry I want to work in and how to get there. I've become completely obsessed with articles, blog posts, campaigns by people in the industry about the industry. About its problems, common pitfalls, things novices like me should know before they even think about joining. I've become realistic, I'm going to have to work hard and long for little or no money to get somewhere that will never pay me what my friends jobs' would, or a corporate job would. Accepting that truth, I'm totally OK with that. One of the biggest hurdles to overcome and factors in keeping me paralysed post-highschool was that I kept looking at everybody else and I just... didn't want to get left behind. What I didn't realise was that we weren't competing for the same things anymore. Grades, high distinctions and awards were one thing when comparing yourself to others but career paths and what you're going to be doing for a good chunk of your life are not. I didn't even want what they had, I just thought that I should.

Po Bronson wrote an interesting article entitled 'What do I do with my life?' which in turn, inspired this post. He debunks the myths propagated around 'dream jobs' and the 'love what you do' vs. 'do what you love' debate.
1. You don't need to make money first, then do what you love later. You'll just make a lot of money and then make more money and then make more money (which is fine, if that's what you love) but you won't all of a sudden stop making money then decide to do what you love.
2. When you stop doing what everybody thinks you should be doing, or what you think everybody thinks you should be doing - then you can do what you actually want.
3. Doing what you love doesn't mean not working hard, not being bored sometimes, not being frustrated or fatigued or over it. It just means that the work is worth it, because you wouldn't choose to be doing anything else.

"There are far too many smart, educated, talented people operating at quarter speed, unsure of their place in the world, contributing far too little to the productive engine of modern civilization. There are far too many people who look like they have their act together but have yet to make an impact. You know who you are. It comes down to a simple gut check: You either love what you do or you don't. Period.
"Those who are lit by that passion are the object of envy among their peers and the subject of intense curiosity. They are the source of good ideas. They make the extra effort. They demonstrate the commitment. They are the ones who, day by day, will rescue this drifting ship. And they will be rewarded. With money, sure, and responsibility, undoubtedly. But with something even better too: the kind of satisfaction that comes with knowing your place in the world. We are sitting on a huge potential boom in productivity -- if we could just get the square pegs out of the round holes.
"Most of us are blessed with the ultimate privilege: We get to be true to our individual nature. Our economy is so vast that we don't have to grind it out forever at jobs we hate. For the most part, we get to choose. That choice isn't about a career search so much as an identity quest. Asking The Question aspires to end the conflict between who you are and what you do. There is nothing more brave than filtering out the chatter that tells you to be someone you're not. There is nothing more genuine than breaking away from the chorus to learn the sound of your own voice. Asking The Question is nothing short of an act of courage: It requires a level of commitment and clarity that is almost foreign to our working lives."

Finally, Bronson asks...

"What is freedom for if not the chance to define for yourself who you are?"

1 comment:

  1. i am a strong proponent of living what you love. it took me a while to realize that, it took me to leave home to realize and appreciate that i have only one life to live. i can make the best out of it now or wait, i chose to live now. i also believe that freedom is being comfortable in your skin.