Is Your Career What You Want to Do or What You Think You “Should” Be Doing?

If someone were to ask me what is the most important question you could ask about your career this would be it: Is it what you want to be doing or what you feel you “should” be doing? The answer to this question is extremely telling and often determines the level of success, enjoyment, and fulfillment you can attain in your professional life. Think about it. Compare it to your personal life. If you have an event to go to that you truly want to attend you are excited, have a positive frame of mind, and get the most out of it. If you have some obligation you need to attend because you “should” or your family will disown you if you don’t, are you nearly as enthusiastic? In the end do you enjoy the experience or simply endure it?

I could certainly take a spiritual angle and assert that your experience is what you make it and that even in situations that stretch you that you could adopt a chop wood, carry water mindset:

What that means is that the tasks are the same, but who you are being as you do the tasks is totally different. While I am certainly not claiming enlightenment, I can say that I am so much better at being clear, open, and present with a task than I ever was before. Even tasks that are exhausting and not quite my cup of tea. Instead I did my best to approach it with the bigger picture in mind – serving families in need of decent housing and with the mindset that anything you do can be a meditation if you choose to allow it to be. And, when you do that a whole new world opens up to you.

I totally believe this mindset is crucial to living fully. Engaging in experiences that stretch you are enriching. However from a day in and day out perspective would you rather spend your time doing something that works for you or suffering like a martyr attemping to fulfill someone else’s expectations of you?

How do you know what that something you most want to be doing is? You discover it by looking inside yourself. Penelope Trunk writes in “Why you already know what you should be doing next”

Do you want to know what you should do right now? Do you want to know what your best bet is for your next career? Look at what you were doing when you were a kid. Nothing changes when you grow up except that you get clouded vision from thinking about what you SHOULD do — to be rich, or successful, or to please your parents or peers… the possibilities for should are endless.

Our childhood really does hold clues. It is not just a New Age inner child thing. The essence of who we are and what makes us tick is formed early. That doesn’t mean we don’t evolve or change, just the opposite. However, I know if I look back on what interested me as a child and how I liked to be in the world, I see a much purer reflection of what my soul most yearns for even now. I may have better taste in wine, but I still love to explore, learn, be outside in nature, and laugh hysterically. I hated being confined by rules of the classroom then and I still thrive outside the corporate cube now as a business owner. Why? Because I discovered early on as I was being coached that I have a core need to be unrestricted, otherwise I rebel. Hmmmm, corporate cubes cause brain damage and are restricting… and I thrive outside of them…maybe there is a connection, eh?

The idea of “Shoulds” and expectations seem to be even more crushing to the generation younger than I. The Office Newb tells it like it is from the Twenty-Something perspective in “Success Is Relative (Especially When Relatives Determine Your Success)”:

What made these well-educated, high-achieving women desperate enough to risk their reputations for 15-minutes of fame?

Could it be a constant pressure to succeed from parents, professors, bosses and popular media?

A query into the Merriam-Webster dictionary shows the definition of success to be: The attainment of wealth, favor, or eminence.

What troubles me about this definition is that it defines success through a third-party point of view. Gaining favor? Having superiority? These are all things subject to other people’s perceptions rather than a personal measure of fulfillment and meaning. This drive to succeed, to achieve based on someone else’s definition of success is wreaking havoc on our generation, a generation raised to believe that achievement is everything.

From a young age, most Millennials have been told they need to be “well-rounded.” College admission boards wants students who can “do-it-all,” so children are being pushed at younger and younger ages into soccer teams, ballet lessons, foreign-language classes and more with rarely a thought as to whether a child really enjoys the activity or not.

Constant pressure to live up to someone else’s expectations is a recipe for misery and dis-ease. The link between stress and health is strong and all over the news all the time. Grab Some Health News states in “Stress and Heart Disease – Evidence Mounts”:

Previous studies have supported the link between stress and the development of disease. The role of inflammation is well defined as it related to diabetes, heart disease, the formation of atherosclerosis, and perhaps depression. Stress releases hormones in the body that promote the release of cortisol. Prolonged exposure to cortisol disrupts immunity, leads to sleep loss, heart disease, and increases the risk of obesity. It also leads to digestive problems.

Studies find that Americans are more dissatisfied than ever with their levels of happiness, in spite of increases in income.

Sacrificing what you really want simply for a paycheck just doesn’t cut it. You can’t fool your soul and you can’t fool your body. The world is teeming with people earning a good to excellent income but who are miserable beyond words.

Sometimes we do what we want to do but put excess pressure on ourselves because we want to live up to our own expectations. Consider the case of being a business owner and a parent. As a working mother, Kathy Murdock asks “Do Parents in Business Face More Stress to Succeed?”

They listen. As business owners we need to keep this in mind and use it as we operate our companies.

I believe that having two daughters has placed a bit more stress on my shoulders to succeed. I want to do so not just for myself, but for my family as well. in addition, I want them to see me working hard to accomplish my goals. I’d also like them to see that when you do work hard, your business can grow, and I hope in the future this is exactly what I am able to prove to them. Plus, as a mother to two daughters, I’d love for them to understand that they can do whatever they want in life, too. I can tell them this over and over, but what better way to get the point across than to show them?

Yes indeed children listen to what we say and most importantly to what we leave unsaid. That is why we need to take the time to go within and see what our heart is telling us about what we really want, because we aren’t fooling anyone if we’re throwing out what we really want in order to fulfill a self-imposed “should”. Hint — if you’re over the age of 18, all “shoulds” are self-imposed.

You can tap into what you really want and need to do next and create the life you most desire. I am living proof it can be done and I work with women all the time to help them do the same. All you need to be is willing…and ready to take that all important first step.

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