As I See It: Listen Up And Ignore Me
June 8, 2015 Victor Rozek
There’s an old chestnut that says you should hire the young while they still know it all. And what a bargain! Insecurity and confusion masked by arrogance and bravado, all at entry level prices. Who could resist? It’s the curse of the human condition that each generation must learn all things afresh. Unfortunately, ignorance coupled with limited experience offer a ready foundation for making poor career choices–decisions that can color a lifetime.
And once mistakes codify into lifestyles, they become very hard to correct. By middle age, bad career choices manifest in resentment and regret. I know of no one over the age of 40 who doesn’t occasionally lament: “If I knew then what I know now. . .”
So I got to thinking about some of the things I wish I’d known then–when I first started working. Things that might have been useful if only someone told me; things that could have saved wasted time and eased frustration. Then again, perhaps they did tell me and I didn’t listen. I mean, why bother when you already know everything.
So here are some things I learned the hard way, which is to say mostly by not listening. If you’re young, feel free to ignore me. Why should you be any different?
Your first and most important task is to:
Figure out what you want to do with your life and remember you don’t have unlimited time to do it. It’s an overwhelming thing we ask of the young upon graduation–to identify the single thing they want to do for the rest of their lives. If you already know, good for you. But for the rest there are simply too many choices and too much pressure to start earning a living. Not to mention if you’re 28 it may be time to move out of your parent’s house and start doing your own laundry.
Don’t obsess about identifying the thing. People change careers with the frequency that Bushes and Clintons run for the presidency, which is to say every four to eight years. So, reframe the question as: What is the first thing I’d like to experience? If you genuinely don’t know, try something, anything, and you’ll soon discover if it suits you. If not, try something else.
The trick is not to waste time on things that don’t really interest and excite you. A lack of direction can eat up some of the best years of your life. Remember, the corollary to finding yourself is:
Time always asks for more time. People who are stuck often suffer from the “I’ll do it when. . .” syndrome. I’ll do it when I graduate; when I get a job; when I save enough money; when I buy a house; when I get married; when the kids leave; when I pay off the mortgage; when I retire. . . and so it goes until opportunity, like the last subway train, pulls out of the station. “I’ll do it when. . .” has a companion and they travel hand in hand: “I’ll be happy when. . .” It’s a journey without a destination.
If you don’t like your job, your job doesn’t care. People waste years lamenting about their jobs. The work is repetitive; they’re treated unfairly; they’re overworked, underpaid, and underappreciated; there’s no room for advancement.
Jobs are just things that need doing, but you don’t need to be the one doing them. Much of the developed world’s misery comes from people who work for decades at jobs that suck their life energy dry. They start out with the vigor of a racehorse and end up plowing the same field over and over again. There’s no point in being a racehorse if your gate is welded shut.
The trap for most people becomes supporting a lifestyle, which is like running the race with a piano strapped to your back. Until you find work truly worthy of your one precious and fleeting life, it’s best to live modestly. If you can’t walk away, the only decisions left are how to stay stuck more comfortably.
Live life with passion and purpose. Values are beliefs about what is important, and it is what we value that gives rise to our purpose, which in turn fuels our passion. Purpose provides the reason for getting up in the morning; passion provides the focus and engagement required throughout the day. Passion without purpose is zealotry; purpose without passion is workaholism. Life without either is robotic and soulless.
Identify your values and live them. Living out of integrity with your values is like declaring war on yourself. It creates a state of internal discord, and persistent background anxiety. In the workplace, that discord manifests in burnout and health issues. If there is a single choice guaranteed to promote happiness and inner peace, it is a commitment to live in integrity with your values. (It should be noted that values may change with time and context, and should be periodically revisited.)
Set your intention. Whether consciously or not, we all live by intention. And if you want to know your true current intention, just look at the results you’ve created. An ancient Vedic text known as the Upanishads says, “You are what your deepest desire is. As your desire is, so is your intention. As your intention is, so is your will. As your will is, so is your deed. As your deed is, so is your destiny.” Bringing consciousness to intention allows it to become the launching pad for dreams. And if you’re like me, it also offers a great opportunity to practice self-forgiveness when we stray from the path.
Ask for help when you need it. Believe it or not, people want to help you, especially when you’re starting out. They are simply waiting to be asked. Unless you’re directly competing with someone for a job, most people genuinely want you to succeed. It’s a compliment to be asked for your assistance or expertise, and it feels good to provide it. And although it may be counterintuitive, the people who are the busiest are also likely to be the most helpful.
There’s no shame in admitting we are not masters of every task, or are sometimes overwhelmed by work volume and deadlines. Having said that, receiving help is not the same as being adopted. It does have limits and, whenever possible, it should be reciprocated or at least acknowledged with gratitude.
Well, there you have it. It’s not easy thinking long thoughts in a short attention span world. Periods of uninterrupted thought have become rare enough to be disquieting. The next distraction is always within reach; and our brains have been rewired to reach for it. But constant distraction is a thief, and it robs us of the only thing we cannot replicate: time. If there is an admonition I totally ignored in my youth, it would be to get comfortable with silence.
Ultimately, that’s where the best answers lie.