Written by: Jeff Altman, Executive Contributor
Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.
“Being afraid limits what people try. Because of that, if you don’t try, you’re never going to succeed at something. Try and fail but don’t be afraid to try. —Vinod Khosla
As I sat listening, Scott told me about the things he was evaluating and considering. He told me about four disparate options he was weighing and said, “I have to make a choice.”
“What have you done to evaluate these options?”
“Not a lot,” he said frankly.
“Who told you that you have to make a decision now?”
He ignored my question, telling me that he needed to make a decision.
“I don’t think you have enough information to make the decision you want to make. What don’t you know about these choices, and how can you find out more?”
I continued. “By the way, why haven’t you done anything yet?”
“I have, but I’m afraid of making the wrong choice.”
Often, the systems we live in have trained us to operate within specific rules limiting our ability to fail and succeed.
For example, many students believe that by the time they complete high school, they need to choose their major field of study for college/university.
What should they do if they don’t know what their major should be? Should they commit to a university and spend $40,000 on their first year of tuition, room, and board with the hope that they’ll figure it out by their sophomore year? Should they pause upon completing high school before committing to the next step to evaluate their options?
Many young lawyers in the United States don’t figure out that they don’t like being lawyers until they start practicing law. This is particularly upsetting because they have committed to repaying loans over $200,000 to complete college and law school.
Even more painful than the need to repay the loans is the feeling of shame that most will talk about privately and have to have a conversation with their parents about leaving the law.
“You’d make a great lawyer.”
“You’re only starting.”
“You haven’t given it a fair chance!”
I’m using the example of lawyers in the United States. It could just as easily be the example of becoming a software developer in India, a government job in Saudi Arabia, or social services or healthcare position in the United States.
Why does this happen?
The most common reason I have found is that they hopped onto a conveyor belt that carried them through the school system into a career that they believed would be perfect for them, only to discover that it wasn’t.
For example, I grew up in New York and attended public schools, including a public university in New York. Early on, I learned a lesson from school that would serve me well for a few years in the workplace.”
Do what we tell you to do when we tell you to do it
Regurgitate the answers to our questions when we ask a question
The “or else” was I wouldn’t get into a good college.
Once in college, I was rarely given the opportunity to think for myself. College and its grading system taught me a few lessons:
Do what we tell you to do when we tell you to do it.
Regurgitate the answers to our questions when we ask a question
or else. The “or else” was I wouldn’t get a good job.
As you can tell, I learned obedience and conformity and might have been a good factory worker circa the 1970s because that was what school prepared me for-- thinking like an industrial worker. It did not teach me how to learn about a potential career.
It also did not teach me how to take a risk, let alone how to evaluate risks.
Now, many years later, I’ve taken the lessons I learned from the workplace, mixed in quality lessons from working with men around the United States, helping them live purposeful lives, and then blended intuition and higher-level questioning. Now, I support both men and women being the people they want in their careers and lives.
I’ve noticed that many people are miserable both in their work and in their lives. They’ve accepted mediocrity and lack passion. Every day is the same.
They have become part of a “transformation.” That’s corporate-speak for homogenized, pasteurized, systematized, and otherwise being made machinelike.
They wonder why every day looks the same and failed to recognize that the reason is that every day is pretty much the same. They are part of the zero-defect manufacturing culture and been converted into intelligent gear in a machine.
If that sounds vaguely like you, I want to remind you that a lifetime is not a long time. We like to think of ourselves as being immortal, but life is a way of showing us how foolish we are to act as though that were true.
How do you want to live between now and the inevitable conclusion of your life?
Just because you don’t know how to do it differently doesn’t mean that you have to become resigned. That can’t be different.
It can be.
You just don’t know how yet.
Start experimenting with different alternatives and, perhaps, hire a coach to help you. It may seem as though you can talk with your wife, husband, partner, close friend, or others about it. And you can. However, most people know how not to listen to those people. That’s because there is nothing on the line when you talk to one of them.
You see, like hiring a consultant at work, hiring a coach to help you is one additional benefit— you’re paying for it and, thus, are compelled to act upon what you work on with them.
If you are happy doing what you are doing, you should continue to do it. In doing so, put in the effort to continue to improve so that you develop greater mastery, particularly during this time where knowledge turns over every few years.
However, if your life has already demonstrated ennui, boredom, dullness, and periodically asking yourself the question, “Is this all there is,” it’s time to change the equation to something else.
Jeff Altman, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine
Jeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter is a career and leadership coach who helps people with their career including a job search, hiring more effectively, managing and leading, resolving workplace related issues while being the person they want to be in life. He has written 9 books and guides to job search and hiring including "The Ultimate Job Interview Framework" and "The Right Answers to Tough Interview Questions." He is the host of No BS Job Search Advice Radio, the #1 podcast in Apple Podcasts for job search with more than 2100 episodes, as well as JobSearchTV.com on YouTube, Amazon, Roku, Apple TV, and 90+ smart sets. Jeff works with clients worldwide and is a popular speaker.