The Life Cafe

Success. Ready to Wear or Made to Measure?


How can a shift in your career destroy it

Often times in discussions with my clients the topic of life purpose comes up. And if someone is just starting on his professional path, we pretty much end up juggling thoughts around their career plans. Not only is this a very narrow view of purpose in life. It is mostly distorted. The scary idea of a slight deviation from the set career path seems to hang over the whole course of your future. And you will strive to keep going. Like you said you would. Like you thought you should. Whereto though?  And how much planning do you need to succeed?

Success schooling or how the mainstream crops us

Society has turned us into a herd of sheep. And we comfortably agreed, to be honest. Moreover, we are following the crowd, clueless on where it is headed. We also are completely unaware that we hold our own path and destination.

We are taught about success from the moment we are born. This ‘know how’ seems to be the absolute minimum for all humans. The origin of the know how is pretty vague though and mostly theoretic. Just think of it. Where did you learn what success is? How did you learn what to pursue? Being taught beforehand, and not having the opportunity to learn ourselves, deprives us of a personal perspective. And we are promised that it’s for the better. That it’s for our own good.

We are fed assumptions on how success can be earned, but we never question or test those. We stick to the path we were taught to stick. It is so deep-seated in our automated way of life that even a slight thought of straying from the path is a scary thought.

Yet, all of a sudden we realise we do not know the point of it all. And this is when it begins to hurt. This is where things lose their shine and are left without meaning. Realising we blindly pursued a false ambition leaves us grasping for air.

The becoming

The upbringing we go through as we grow up, the education system we are put into; the peers we are surrounded by with; the same outlook of the same schools. All this makes us box standard. This is how, in fact, our view on success and ‘making it’ is formulated.

The purpose of education is to preach conformity and softly take care of detours. Or, better to say, to prevent any detours. Our careers turn into synonyms of us as beings. And we slowly succumb to acknowledging ourselves by what we do or, better, what we are programmed to do.

Individual anatomy is left to brew somewhere in between your dreams, arts and workday mornings, when the system is expecting you to turn up. And you do. The best the rebel in you can do is catch the next train and run half hour late. This is what you consider ‘taking control’.

Doomed to fail or change the way?

I once spoke to one of my clients who would not quit his job even though it made him miserable. He wouldn’t do it even despite the fact that he already had other offers on the table. And the reason was him seeing it as a shift that would change his life. He thought that not sticking to the initial plan set out from university, would mean failing.

It was not the first time I had heard this. People build their CVs as a reflection of who they are and even treat themselves as certificates, meant to evidence worth and value. A flawless CV will bring success, they think.

But hang on a minute.  What is success and what is a flawless CV even?

When I graduated I was exactly the same. By the time I took on my first job I had my professional path carved out perfectly in my mind. Fortunately enough, this delusion changed swiftly. When I was leaving my first job in investment banking, I knew I will never have two jobs of the same kind.

I did not want to get dragged into “pursuing a career in something”. I was not made to fit in. I would rather pick what fits me.

Sit still and listen… or go out and learn

I did not build a CV, I focused on acquiring skills. Hence I changed jobs and took on a variety of tasks and responsibilities. From investment banking to government affairs; from research to consulting; from government reforms to public policy. I went from corporate to freelance; from politics to entrepreneurship. From finance to healthcare; to politics; to media; to tech. And while doing all that, I pursued my passion for psychotherapy.

A whole mesh of stuff isn’t it?

All of these seemingly unrelated things allowed me to gather skills that make me better at what I do today. Had I followed the path I was told to, I would have hardly been myself. I would have realised someone else’s version of success. I would surely have “succeed” in them all, but I would also fail myself above all.

If you wake up and realise you don’t feel like turning up – let’s say even for weeks in a row – have a think. Or better, have a feel. Maybe this “ready-to-wear” success does not fit you after all.

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