In my last post, I talked about how introverts often spend so much of their lives conforming to extroverted norms, that by the time they choose a career, it feels perfectly normal to ignore their own preferences. So here are five tips on how to find work you love:
1. Pay attention to what you envy. Jealousy is an ugly emotion, but it tells the truth. You only envy those who have what you desire. Back when I was a Wall Street lawyer, some of my former law school classmates got together one evening, and compared notes on alumni career tracks. They spoke with admiration and, yes, jealousy, of a classmate who argued regularly before the Supreme Court. At first I felt critical of their envy. More power to that classmate! I thought, congratulating myself on my magnanimity. Then I realized that my largesse came cheap, because deep down I didn’t aspire to the accolades of lawyering. When I asked myself whom I did envy, the answer came back instantly. My college classmates who’d grown up to be writers, or psychologists.
2. Ask yourself what you loved to do when you were a child. How did you answer the question of what you wanted to be when you grew up? The specific answer you gave may have been off the mark, but the underlying impulse was not. If you wanted to be a fireman, what did a fireman mean to you? A good man who rescued people in distress? A daredevil? Or the simple pleasure of operating a truck? If you wanted to be a dancer, was it because you got to wear a costume, or because you craved applause, or was it the pure joy of twirling around at lightning speed? You may have known more about who you were then than you do now.
3. Pay attention to the work you gravitate to. When I was a lawyer, I never once volunteered to take on an extra corporate legal assignment, but I spent a lot of time doing pro bono work for a women’s leadership organization. I also sat on several law firm committees dedicated to mentoring and training young lawyers in the firm. Now I am not the committee type (I’m an introvert!), but the goals of those committees lit me up, so that’s what I did. Today I’m doing a version of this kind of work with my writing and consulting, and I wake up every day excited to get started.
4. What makes you cry? This one comes courtesy of Steve Pavlina, over at Personal Development for Smart People. He advises that you sit down with a blank sheet of paper, ask yourself what your life purpose is, and keep writing down answers until you come to the one that makes you cry.
I experienced a variation of this many years ago. I was having dinner with my good friend Katie Orenstein. I mentioned that I’d always wanted to be a writer but could never find the time to actually write anything. We were having a casual conversation, but I saw the depth of my emotions reflected back in Katie’s face. And I burst into tears.
Now here I am, with my first book coming out next year.
(Check out Katie’s inspiring Op-Ed project here; she may change your life too.)
5. You may think I’m conflating work with life purpose here. I am. In an ideal world they will be one and the same. For many people, however, it’s not an ideal world. In that case, try to earn your income from work that doesn’t take too much time and energy. Then spend the rest of your time doing what you truly love.
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The bit about looking at what you loved/wanted to be as a child and why is brilliant. For a while I wanted to be an archaeologist, demonstrating my love of history and study and discovery, and then I wanted to be a heart surgeon, demonstrating my love of detail, of finding out how things work, of coming up with solutions. As a student and a writer and a future missionary/teacher, I combine all of those.
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I recently read Working Identity by Herminia Ibarra and found it to be extremely helpful in terms of finding working you love. Ibarra interviews a number of individuals that have found their niche and discusses common aspects of their journey. http://figuringoutfulfillment.wordpress.com/2010/10/22/working-out-our-identity/
Discovered this information very valuable.thanks for sharing
How very interesting. The thing I loved the most when I was a child was reading-not writing, but reading good writing. It took me a little while to find my way, but what I do for a living now is technical editing. So, I get to read stuff all day long, and if it is not “good”, I get to participate in fixing it. Go figure.
That makes absolute sense to me, Poppy!
Very well written, and for an article on the subject went into specifics!
[...] 7. It also helps, almost more than I can say, to speak on topics you care about. The sheer excitement you feel for your subject can get your Go system – er – going. If your work compels you to speak on topics that leave you cold, consider a different line of work. (See my post on how to find work you love, here.) [...]
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