Your talent doesn’t have to be your passion. Neither does it have to lead you to your life’s purpose, just because you happen to be good at something
Having a talent – or even many talents – can come with pressure to do something significant with it. But when you don’t derive much joy from the activity, this can be a challenge – and feel like a burden.
Is That Ladder On The Right Wall?
Trying to navigate our way through professional life, it can be easy to assume that it’s simply a matter of doing whatever we are good at.
Life is certainly easier in some respects when we follow this strategy. Being good at something suggests that it comes easier to you than for others. Humans love things that feel effortless because they’re less tiring, and it can be very easy to be carried along on a career trajectory which requires little intention or honest self-reflection.
A student who is good at maths and physics, for example, might find themself drifting into a career as an engineer, without being interested in the field at all, just because they had the top scores to get into the best universities. Or someone who happens to be great at organisation can easily become pigeonholed as an administrative assistant, when actually they have much more to offer. Or someone with a flair for business might be accelerated quickly up the career ladder into a CEO position, but they actually secretly long for a simple life as an organic farmer.
Unfortunately, too many of us might reach the end of our lives and discover “that the ladder was leaning against the wrong wall,” as Joseph Campbell frequently says in his various works.
Bronnie Ware worked with people at the ends of their lives. She often talked to them about their regrets, and collated the ideas which arose in her book “The Five Regrets Of The Dying.” Common themes include having worked too hard, and not having enjoyed life more.
While such a serious topic might be challenging for some, we must recognise the importance of ensuring that the decisions we make now, we will not regret later. Given that a significant amount of our lives is spent working, surely it is worth carefully considering the way in which we spend that time and our energy?
The Trap of Other’s Envy
Being able to play a musical instrument as a child might attract the admiration of others, especially those who cannot afford it for themselves or their family.
That admiration, envy and attention they receive may lead them to believe this career path is their destiny, because life has apparently bestowed upon them a talent not available to others.
This is not an objective view of the situation of course, and given the same opportunity other children might also show similar musical talent.
Others may come to us for help with something because we are good at it – or at the very least, better than them. In their gratitude they may tell us we should do it professionally. Of course this is pleasing to the ego; we all like to feel capable at doing things.
However, to take up a career just for admiration is adopting someone else’s limited idea of you, shot through the lens of their own insecurities and longings. This is an inauthentic way to live, and a mistake to carry the burden of other people’s thwarted dreams.
It is important that we learn to recognise for ourselves what really lights us up. This requires an attitude of curiosity and exploration, and an environment that nurtures this.
Finding Your Element
“It’s not good enough to be good at something,” explains creativity and education expert Sir Ken Robinson, in a popular talk he held at the School of Life in 2013. “I know lots of people who are good at things they don’t enjoy.”
Sir Ken describes how aptitude and passion go hand in hand as the foundations of living in your element.
“One of the ways you know that you’re in your element is that your sense of time changes. If you’re doing things you don’t like, five minutes can feel like an hour. But if you’re doing things you love to do, one hour feels like five minutes,” he says.
Sir Ken makes the point that our education systems need reform to help nurture the development and interests of children, in order that they are better equipped to recognise their unique talents, and that will lead to rewarding careers. Part of the problem with conventional school education is that it is largely still based on the system set up to support the industrial revolution. Children are not taught important skills that enhance innovation, creativity or other valuable qualities relevant to today’s world.
“If you’re in your element – doing whatever it is you love to do – at the end of the day, you can be physically exhausted by it but spiritually uplifted,” says Sir Ken. “But if you’re doing things you don’t care for, at the end of the day you can feel physically fine but feel down and needing to lift yourself up again. In the end it’s about energy, that’s all life is. It’s about what stirs your energy, what fuels it and what takes it from you. If you’re in your element, you get energy from it.”
For many, finding their dream career is a luxury as the necessary options simply aren’t available to them. And there may be times, even for the lucky ones, when life’s temporary circumstances change our options.
But when the choices are available to us, why squander the opportunity to follow a path that leads to greater fulfilment?
Nobody is suggesting that it is simple or easy to switch from one career to the “right” one. Or that teenagers should be expected to know what it is they want to do when they finish school.
Sir Ken Robinson’s message about finding joy in work may not always equate with huge financial success, but it must surely lead to a life of greater meaning and happiness.
Finding Meaning In Work
The importance of feeling a sense of meaning is a message repeated by various psychologists and researchers over the years. Abraham Maslow developed the concept of the “Hierarchy of Needs”, in which he stated that once the basic needs for survival are met, humans naturally seek meaning and purpose in their lives. Similar ideas are mirrored by the psychiatrist and holocaust survivor, Viktor Frankl, in his book “Man’s Search For Meaning.”
It is important to spend time doing some honest soul searching about what really matters to us, and to be sure that we are not simply chasing superficial rewards of success or status.
Most of us grow up bombarded with messages from our families and society about how we ought to live our lives. Finding our own voice – and reconnecting with our own intuition – is a journey that can take a little time, and doesn’t need to be rushed.
One thing that is becoming increasingly clear is that, with the average age expectancy increasing, the productive years of our lives now reach well beyond traditional retirement milestones
People may experience several different careers, some completely different to the previous ones. We are not expected to know now what will make us happy in five – let alone twenty five – years from now. We continually evolve and grow.
It is also likely – and permissible – that our interests may change as we get older.
There is no rule that says we must dedicate our whole lives to one interest only. If you are a person who happens to have many interests, don’t let that trouble you; you are not alone. Entire new careers or jobs are also formed out of new combinations of skills and interests, meaning you could be in the first wave of innovation and evolution in the workplace.
Rather than changing careers entirely, a useful strategy could be to find a different working model that allows us to keep the job that pays the bills, yet gives us more time to do the activities we find rewarding.
However, for now, give yourself permission to acknowledge that something you are good at might not be what you want to do for the rest of your life. And that’s ok.