At a recent potluck event at my office, as a matter of group activity, we were each asked to reveal to the rest of the team what we would like to do for a career if money was not an issue. We were in a large conference room that presently housed about fifteen people, closely split between men and women and heavily lopsided in the leaders vs employees ratio on the employees side. The older members of the group quickly recognized the loaded question at an office setting- If you can do anything what would you do ? – a question which is often laid as a trap by HR people during job interviews to gauge if the interviewee really wanted the job he or she is being interviewed for, and, if that person needed the job, they better say that this job is their life’s goal and is willing to empty the pacific ocean and mate with a sperm whale, if that’s what it takes to get it. Now, that’s a winning answer.
Back in our warm conference room, which probably at some point doubled as a cold, intimidating enclosure for some poor soul’s interview, we were nervously nibbling at our homemade meatballs and chicken tikka as our leaders tried to convince us that ‘this is not a loaded question!’. I was standing farthest, diagonally, from the door and much to my relief, they decided to start from the guy standing next to the door. The first and second guys standing next to the door were Indians (from India) and, although I never worked with them before, I can say that they were smart because both said that their current job is their favorite and will continue to do that even if they had endless source of money. I thought this is going to a boring meeting since, it seemed, we were all going to be just reciting the same script that was safe for work, but I was instantly relieved when the rest of the group pounced on them for being diplomatic and playing the safe card and whether they had plans of becoming a Manager, Director, CEO, Mayor, Governor, Senator or President. After that barrage of mild insults, it was clear that no one was going to give that answer anymore. This was going to be fun.
I took us about 30 minutes to go around the room, and by this time the room had gotten warmer due to people breathing and the air had the mixed aroma of Biriyanis, Pastas, Indian curries and Pot roasts. The desserts and pop drinks tended not to have strong smells. By the time the last person finished her monologue about her ideal career the tally was thirteen people in non-software related jobs and zero people in software related jobs (after excluding the first two guys who took the safe route). The most common answer was Travel Guide, followed by Professional photography and Restaurant owner. At the lower end of the list were Winery owner, Writer, Casino owner, Ocean surfer, Attorney of law and Cocktail Bar owner who does standup comedy at night. The highest ranked person in the room, in terms of official position and salary, said she would be a professional runner to satisfy her fiercely competitive nature.
This was a bit of a surprise for me, although I suspected it deep down that people tend to not work in their preferred career for many reasons. On the Internets and TV and self-help books the prominent advise is to do what one loves and also not do what one does not love. To produce things of great quality and impact, one is always told, one must truly love and enjoy what they are doing and here we were, 15 professionals (I am sure those two guys were not being truthful) , many of them past their thirties, well into their career paths saying that they are not doing what they really want to do. As soon as money was taken out of the equation, people were giving so many diverse preferences for their lives and here I was, thinking that I was the one not doing my first preference for work. Turns out we were not doing our first preference for work. I sort of knew this in the abstract, but it was a little unsettling to see that all of us in that conference room had decided to spend our most youthful, healthy and productive years of our lives not doing what we really wanted to do, day after day, week after week, year after year, all in the pursuit of accumulating money and hoping that someday in the future we would get to do that thing we really wanted to do for all those past years.
Ok, I’ll admit that that last sentence sounded so depressing that I wanted to remove it, but then again that is how it is supposed to feel. Work is what we do every freaking day (including weekends, sometimes) of our adult lives and if we are consciously deciding to spend some three active decades of our lives on accumulating money which science has proven that, after certain level, has no bearing in our happiness, then there is no reason why our lives won’t suck horribly like dying in a bath tub with a thousand tiny leeches. There has to be a different way to do this.
In case you were wondering, back in the conference room when my turn came, I said that my choice was to move to Maui, Hawaii and start a snorkeling-kayaking business. The company would focus on exceptional and friendly service and would provide free snacks and sunscreen for all.
(Within the next two hours I had imprisoned myself in the Federal Penitentiary of Indecision with the following career choices in no particular order: Rice farmer, Product designer, Philosopher, UX designer, Novelist, Blogger, National forest ranger, Behavior researcher, Podcast maker, Carpenter, Buddhist monk and Film maker)
[Post: 306 of 365] [Days Missed: don't even ask]
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