Way back when, probably just two or three generations ago, you had relatively little choice of what kind of work you would do in your life. Before the Second World War, in most parts of the world, if your father was a carpenter, it was clear what you would do. Yep, that is it. Carpentry. If your father was a doctor, or a lawyer, or a shepherd, or the King, the likelihood that you would follow in your father’s footsteps, or at least in a profession of a very similar social standing, was so high as to be more or less inevitable. And back before the Second World War, if you were a woman, you could forget about most careers completely. Most women, just a couple of generations ago, could hope of getting married to a nice man, bearing him three or four children, and looking after the home.
Today we live in an environment of hugely more choices than our ancestors ever had. If your father is a plumber, or a carpenter, or a lawyer today, and you complete your homework assignments properly at school, what are the limits on what you can do as a profession? Virtually none. We have evolved to the point that anybody – man or woman – can do just about anything they damn well please. That means everybody has the freedom to pursue their dreams; to make movies, or write a book, or explore the Antarctic, or found a revolutionary company. Which leads us to the interesting question: Given the amount of freedom we all have, why do the majority of people end up in boring jobs they do not like?
As a creativity coach. I have been able to investigate this question very thoroughly. My job is to support and help people who would like to make new choices, and do something more interesting and courageous with their life. I have come to find out, very accurately, from down in the trenches, what actually causes people to stay stuck in doing things they do not enjoy.
And now, for a one time offer of only $49.99, I will tell you what that is.
Just kidding. I will tell you anyway.
The kind of choices people make about their destiny are mostly made in teenage years. That is when we decide, consciously or unconsciously, about what kind of person we choose to become. During our teenage years we have the opportunity to experiment with many things and, based on the results, to expand or to limit our choices. For example, if you experiment sexually, by asking someone you are attracted to go out with you, and that person says no, there is a possibility that you may shut down and not ask anybody again. Therefore, there is more possibility of ending up in a marriage you do not like, or even being single for a long time. During your teenage years, if you have an aspiration towards creative writing, and your English teacher mocks you publicly in class, there is a good possibility that you may give up, and never write creatively again. I am sure you can think of countless examples of things you tentatively experimented with in your teens: maybe you experienced failure or ridicule, and then perhaps never tried those things again, or at least not for many years.
Doing what you really love, taking a risk as an artist, or an entrepreneur, or a musician, or countless other things, means putting much more on the line than “getting a job” that provides security and predictability. Simply put, if you put your heart on the line as an artist, musician or filmmaker and people criticize your work, it’s not just the result that is being criticized. It’s you. A piece of music, or a painting, or a novel, is actually an expression of who you are. To have it ridiculed or criticized is a form of death: that we sometimes fear even more than physical death.
On the other hand, getting a job pushing paper in a cubicle for a big company is much less risky, and more secure. You can pretty much eliminate the possibility of this kind of experience of identity death, by doing something you do not care about. Then, if the financial report is not up to snuff, or they do not like the prototype, you can shrug your shoulders and mutter to yourself, “Who gives a f*ck anyway?”
These are the issues that I deal with primarily as a coach. Most people I work with know, more or less what they really love, and what they would really love to do. In most cases, that is no huge mystery, and if it is, we have ways of working with it. Of course, we all have the stories about “Can I make a living doing this, and who would listen to me, and who would respect me?” but those are stories, and usually people give up long before they find out the answer to those questions. The big reason why people stay doing things they do not enjoy is because they choose security over risk. They try to avoid the terrible experience of putting themselves on the line, and getting shot out of the sky as they aim for the stars.
Avoiding that kind of death-like experience actually leads to a much worse death. It is the death of hope, the death of optimism and the death of creativity.
We only get to really find out if the choices that we made early in our life were wise, or were a cop out, when it is far too late.
So take the time right now to stop. Ask yourself if the security of avoiding risk, is really worth the risk of compromising your life.