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How to Know What to Look For
We have a huge vegetable garden. While the Farmer was planting huge crops of corn and hay, I was planting twenty types of vegetables. I have not bought vegetables from the store since May, when the first lettuce was ripe.
This is a picture of me digging through our forty tomato plants.
When I was putting them in the ground, I never dreamed that forty would really grow. In the northern suburbs of Chicago, where I grew up, the vegetables we planted never came up. So I sort of planned for that. But instead, I have an incredible supply of tomatoes.
When I can find them. Because I didn't stake the tomatoes. So every couple of days, I go out and hunt for them, in what has become a thick brush of tomato stems.
I thought what I wanted was a constant supply of vegetables, so I didn't pay much attention to the tricks of the trade that my Amish neighbors exhibited when it comes to planting neat, perfect rows of vegetables. Now I'm thinking that what I wanted was neatness and order. I don't need enough tomatoes to feed ten families. I need nice rows to wander through and vegetables that I can see before I pick.
I wish this weren't true, but so much of knowing what we want comes from setting our lives up in a way where we don't get it. Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert wrote a whole book based on the premise that we have no idea what makes us happy. He says that the emotional survival of the human race required us to guess terribly about what we'd like to be doing.
I am trying to get better at seeing what I need. One thing I notice is that people make the same mistakes over and over when they are identifying what they need.
1. Look at patterns.
It's easier for other people to see what you need than for you to see it.
When I am coaching people, they always pay for an hour-long session, but it rarely takes more than fifteen minutes for me to know what they should be doing. This is because none of us is particularly unique in our career issues, but each of us thinks we are especially unique. So I see patterns while the person who is on the other end of the phone sees differences.
2. Looking for a job should not be difficult.
If you can't find the job you want it's probably because you're looking for the wrong job. It's important to know what you're looking for. Recruiters can tell in ten seconds if you are a good fit for what you're looking for, in a similar way that a girl from Match.com can tell in ten seconds if the blind date standing across from her is a good fit for what he said he's looking for.
It's so easy for someone else to tell if it's a good fit. But it's hard for us to judge for ourselves. A good rule of thumb, though, is that if you have been looking for a job for more than six months, you are not looking for the right job for you. Probably, you are in denial about where you are, who you are or what is going on around you. You need a coach, just for an hour, or maybe just fifteen minutes, to show you that you're looking for the wrong job, and what the right job is.
3. Don't look for a career, look for a life.
It's normal to not know what career you'd want. Because there is no way to guess what career you'd be happy in without doing it. Gilbert says that only 5% of people guess right on the first try because it's so impossible to know. The way to increase your odds of guessing right is to look at someone's life. Choose a life you want and then pick the career that person used to get that life.
This means that if you want to be a surgeon and be home with your kids for dinner, you need to first find a surgeon that has that life. (And you won't, of course.) It means that if you want to get rich from the Internet you need to recognize that the life people lead as they get rich from the Internet is a life where work is 24/7.
Here's an audio clip of Steven Roy interviewing me on this topic. (If you ever wondered if I am nicer on the phone than I am on the blog, this will assure you: I'm not.)
4. Don't look for connection, look for vulnerability.
This is a fascinating TED talk by Brene Brown. She studies how people feel connected, and she found that the world divides into people who feel connected and people who don't. And the difference is shame. People who do not think they are worthy of connections do not have connections.
Brown says that in order to remedy this problem, you shouldn't look for people to connect with but rather, you should look for shame. Because somewhere, inside yourself, there is a sense of shame, that you are not worth loving or being loved. And with shame comes an inability to be vulnerable.
I loved watching this video because it made the world so much more simple to me: People who cannot connect cannot be vulnerable. That makes sense to me. And vulnerability in myself is easier to look for than looking for someone else to connect with. I can control my own vulnerability.
5. Don’t bother with structural barriers, the real barriers are emotional.
I really believe that deep down, we know what we should be doing next. We know what we should be looking for. I think it goes back to when we were kids, and we could figure out what felt good and what didn't. And then we spent our childhoods trying to feel good about what other people wanted us to feel good about.
The real challenge after growing up that way is being able to look at ourselves honestly again. It is maybe the most difficult thing we must do.
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