One of the first things we're asked as kids is, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" Most adults I know are still asking this question. I don't know if this is uniquely American but there definitely seems to be a lot of pressure to decide on a career path as soon as possible. Now that I'm in my late thirties, I can look back at my 18 year old self and laugh that I was expected to choose a major in college. I had no idea who I was and definitely wasn't equipped to be making decisions that would mold the rest of my life. Now that I'm a dad, I question whether or not I'll even encourage my kids to go to college right after school; taking a couple years to travel and explore makes a lot more sense to me.
As adults, we allow our careers to define us in ludicrous ways. "What do you do?" is often the next question we ask someone after learning their name and we're quick to make judgments about the person based on the answer. The more successful we consider someone, the more value they have, and the more respect they deserve. Some do their best to convince others they're successful by dressing a certain way or driving a certain car. I had a friend who leased an expensive BMW while sharing a studio apartment with a friend. He believed the car would create an illusion of wealth and help him get traction in his career. He never paid for dinner but he looked great pulling up to the valet.
Success was important to me because I thought it could save me. My low self-esteem was convinced that a big career would give me the right to be respected. I prioritized work over everything else and did jobs I hated, convinced they'd lead me to my career goals. I never reached my goals because I was too exhausted doing thing I didn't enjoy, which inevitably lead to burn out. When I'm tired and bored, I go into self-preservation mode which means I throw in the towel and isolate for periods of time.
When it finally clicked that my value has absolutely nothing to do with my career and no amount of money was going to save me, I was able to learn a new approach to work. I started writing down the qualities my "perfect job" would have and got clear on how it would feel to do work that felt inspiring and fun. I didn't know what my job would be but I was totally clear on how it would feel. All these inspired ideas started to come to the surface of my mind. I moved in the direction of inspiration and one step at a time an exciting and fulfilling career began to form. The right people appeared to support and guide me and I was having a blast creating something that felt good.
Your career will not save you because you don't need to be saved. You're perfect, whole, and complete right now - we all are, only most of us have forgotten this along the way. When I realized that I was worthy of love and had nothing to prove, it was astonishing how drastically my goal-making process changed. I did things that I wanted to do ... for no other reason except it sounded fun. I love my work today and always look forward to getting stuff done. My career doesn't look like I once thought it would but OMG it feels amazing and I'm having a blast.
I've stopped making assumptions about people because of their job. I've met CEO's that were absolutely miserable and nannies that are changing the freaking world. I understand that everyone has a special path and if we walk that path mindfully, we can all transform the planet through our peace of mind.
Create goals that feel fun, exciting, and interesting. When you do this, you find yourself doing things that are fun, exciting, and interesting (wild, right?). If your career pursuits are fueled by the desire to make something of yourself, then chances are you'll experience plenty of frustration and upset on the path. However, if you create an adventure from a place of self-awareness you'll experience joy with every new opportunity and bless us all with your light.
Jesse Brune-Horan is a spiritual teacher and happy living expert. He's the co-founder and spiritual director of Inspire Spiritual Community. Over the last decade he's given hundreds of teachings, workshops, and classes on spiritual living.