StuckDeciding to go back and uncover those passions, hopes and dreams that we’ve buried is a huge decision. Following through on that decision is even more difficult. We find ourselves, often, stuck where we are with no clear way to move forward. It’s almost as though society conspires against us.

Understanding the undue influences that society places on us, it is easy to see that we are generally encouraged to maintain the status quo. If we’re looking to Emerge into all the things we were meant to be, we have to get to a point where we’re no longer stuck in the situation. We’ve “outsourced” control of our situation to society. We feel stuck in the situation we are in. This is not to say that we are unhappy with our current situation – many people are thrilled. But there are also some that feel like there is more that they can do, more they can offer. It’s those individuals that I’m talking to.

What do I mean by outsourcing our control? I mean that we’ve given the control of our destiny to others. We feel that our decisions and future are controlled by our boss, coworkers, spouse, lawyer, family, or anyone else – outside of ourselves. It’s easier that way, because when we don’t get what we want we can blame it on anyone or anything but ourselves. It’s also very easy to blame all the things we don’t have on our circumstances. Have you ever told yourself you couldn’t do something because of your mortgage payments? Couldn’t change something because your financial situation would be negatively impacted? What about our feelings of responsibility to others? Have you ever not taken action on something because you were afraid of letting someone else down?

We definitely have responsibility to others. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t consider others, but if the others we are thinking about are important to us then there is a better than average chance that we are important to them too. Can you really picture going to one of these people, say your spouse, and sharing your biggest hope or dream with them – and having them say that you shouldn’t pursue it? Instead, we make excuses and rationalize our way to not pursuing it:

“I’ll do it once the kids are in school.”

“I don’t know how – I need more research time.”

“When the house is paid off, then I’ll start that business.”

“If only I could start over…”

Each of us has a dream, passion or even a calling that we’ve put aside and buried. It’s the idea that gnaws at the edges of our consciousness and constantly asks us “what if”. It’s the idea that we wake up thinking about, the idea that we find on our mind while we’re relaxing over a cup of coffee, the idea that gets our hearts racing when we consider it. Imagine if you could get unstuck enough to pursue that calling. What would your life, and the life of those around you, be like if you did?

Your first step on this is, I think, the hardest. Find someone you trust, and tell them. From experience, if you’ve picked the right person you’ll have acceptance and – in my case – a fabulous cheering section.

Change the Measures

GuagesOur measurements of success are standardized tests, grades, degrees, salary, perks and material things. Visions or values not based on these things are generally tossed aside.

During school, the measures are grades. We were graded based on how well we remembered the material we were taught. I acknowledge that some teachers and classes focus on using this information as the premise for new arguments or to question other arguments, but by and large we are regurgitating information we’ve been given. We are taught to follow the rules, rather than to think and question them. We are prepared to take a place in society, rather than to change it.

After school, we are measured by other external factors. How we think about things and create arguments is no longer relevant – except to the extent that these things get us a higher salary, more stuff, or more prestige. As we continue to focus on the more external measures, we give up more and more of our internal self.

Most of us work longer hours rather than pursuing our passion – that passion could be family, giving or that great idea that we buried in our past. There are those that have figured this out, who have good jobs but don’t subscribe to the trappings – they have found a balance. And they’ve done this through thinking, questioning and changing the measure. They know that if they strip away many of the material things they have, they still have an intrinsic happiness about them.

What measures should we adopt? What measures will help us Emerge from the past into the people we really want to be? A few that I’ve considered include how many others I’ve helped, and how much love have I shared with others? Intangible, I know – and yet, to me, much more valuable than my salary, the size of my house, or the type of car I drive.

I do not, however, believe that we’re ready to have these be the only measures we use. Society isn’t there yet. People who identify themselves as part of the “Tiny House” movement, for example, are viewed as outside the norm. We’re just not yet ready to accept that less can be more. So for now we have to combine these intrinsic measures with the extrinsic ones we’ve built society on. The good news is that they aren’t exclusive – there are lots of extrinsically “valuable” people who are doing lots of great things in the world through their support of various charities and causes and I truly believe that they are doing this because they enjoy the “giving back”. We don’t have to spend years in a prison cell, experience oppression, or go off to live in the woods in order to find that intrinsic value. We just have to change the measures.

A Blank Slate

Copyright: flippo / 123RF Stock Photo

We come into this world as a blank slate. We look to the world to help us figure out what goes on that slate. We are extremely open to being molded by those around us. Conformity with social norms is important for us to function to a very large extent; I do not deny this. My concern is that at a young age we slowly begin to be taught that thinking differently makes us different – and being different is bad. Social rejection can be devastating, especially to a child. So it’s easier to follow.

“By third grade you start to feel like something’s horribly wrong with you. You know you’re all different, but you’re taught to fit in. So you try to talk, breathe, dress, act and think like the others. I will do anything if you will let me be one of you” – Cloud Cult, Becoming One of You

What are the key messages that parents, grandparents and extended family, teachers deliver to children in an effort to help shape them? What messages do children get from media? What messages do they get from friends?

How we interact with our kids is, I think, where we start to potentially cause problems. Study after study shows that we tend to praise children incorrectly – we praise them for who we perceive them to be, rather than for the actions they take. It’s the difference between “You’re very smart” and “You worked really hard on that and got an A”. The first implies that they didn’t work to get the grade, the second encourages working hard in the future. The former type of praise tends to lead children into one way of learning and behaving – specifically thinking that they can do what they can do, and nothing more. The latter type encourages them to think and work hard, realizing that anything is possible.

We are likely also affecting the way our kids think about what they would like to do when they get older – and not always in a good way. The LinkedIn study that I referred to recently shows the top childhood “dream jobs” for males and females. There is no overlap. So one is forced to conclude that either there really is something to gender roles, or we are continuing to nurture boys and girls differently. I tend to think it’s the latter.

These influences, intentional or not, have two results. First, society starts to mold us into what it expects us to be. Second, they cause us to create limiting beliefs about ourselves and the world around us. It’s one of the earliest ways that we bury our good.

Dream Job

Copyright: yarruta / 123RF Stock Photo

As kids, we just didn’t worry about the practicalities that we’ve grown to accept as part of everyday life. We didn’t worry about money, we didn’t worry about failure – we just knew what we wanted to do. We were driven by our passions.

The results of a survey done by LinkedIn from 2012 show that 30% of respondents currently have their childhood dream job or work in a career related to their childhood dream job. I was not able to find the breakdown of the 30%, but think it safe to assume that 30% of the 30% actually have their childhood dream job. So since the survey included “over 8,000” professionals I figure that 720 of them have their dream job (9%) and 1,680 (21%) are in a related career. Therefore, 91% of the respondents are NOT in their dream job.

The same survey states that the most common reason for not being in that job is that as respondents got older, they “became interested in a different career path.” The study does not say, but it seems likely to me that if the discussions were boiled down we would find four possible reasons. It could have been that:

  • passions changed as they learned more about the world,
  • an understanding of the work required to get the job was overwhelming,
  • an understanding of the skills required to get the job created what appeared to be an insurmountable gap, or
  • the type of work was not supported by those around the individual.

A related study conducted the Toluna Group for Discover Financial Services in 2013, makes me believe that most people who are not in their childhood dream job did not have a change in their passions. According to this study, the most important criteria when choosing a major for students is that they dreamed of a particular job since childhood, but parents put the emphasis squarely on having a job after graduation. Upon graduation, the graduates felt that the biggest benefit of college would be preparation for a job that pays well and parents hoped that their young graduates would have a degree that would allow them a wide range of job choices. Given that neither parents nor graduates were concerned with their dream job upon graduation, I feel comfortable in concluding that something other than their passions changed along the way. It’s particularly concerning to me that the graduates went from wanting to choose a major that aligns with their dream job to wanting to get a job that paid well.

I loved two things when I was a kid – I loved technology, and I loved books.

I started programming in grade school, spending more time in the computer lab in 4th grade than in my classroom. I may be one of the few kids who learned assembly language programming on a Commodore-64. I was getting paid for programs when I was in high school, and had a summer job as a programmer in college. I am, alas, no longer paid to program although I do still do some on the side – I am a technology and strategy consultant, so I think I fall into the “related field” category. I stopped programming because that was the career path that was before me, and I followed it.

I wrote a little bit in college, but nothing ever came from it. I haven’t written since then, but I am working on it now through my blog. My goal, as I’ve shared, is to end up with a book deal and opportunities to speak publicly about my passions.

So, are you in your childhood dream job, a related field, or something totally different? Why?