For Career Choices, It’s the “How,” not the “What,” That Matters Most.
-Jake Aull 11/08
A familiar aphorism goes, “Do what you love, and you’ll never work another day in your life...” Yet how many have tried this and not felt such positive results? I have a new suggestion, “Learn how you most love to work, and you can love to work for the rest of your life!”
What Are You?
For whatever reason, I was concerned at a young age about knowing exactly what to be when I grew up. Maybe this is common, but I can remember distinctly in grade school and junior high school the heaviness of these concerns. I thought about being a poet when I grew up, also explored architecture, attempting mechanical and house drawings, but nothing felt like the perfect fit. And then one Saturday morning my father took me to breakfast with a graphic designer…
These days, thanks to the computer and Photoshop, everybody knows what a graphic designer is. However, back in my early years in art college, professors regularly talked about the problems of explaining the profession. The common joke went something like this: A graphic designer visits his grandmother, who asks him, “Tell me again what you do?” He shows her a magazine and tells her he designed it. “Oh, did you take the photographs?” “No.” “Did you draw the cartoons inside?” “No.” “Then you drew the logo on the cover!” “No, I didn’t.” “You drew the letters on the cover?” “No, I didn’t do that either.” “Tell me again what you do?” My point in telling this story, is that in my youth, I had no idea of “what” graphic design was. But that Saturday morning, when a professional graphic designer showed me and explained to me his logos, I got it. And I fell in love. I had finally found the pinnacle “what” I wanted to do. I stuck with that dream for years worked all through high school to save for art school, graduated with a B.F.A. with honors, and jumped into the field with great zeal. That was 14 years ago.
Book after book about making career choices recommends for us to choose our occupation and even place of employment based on identifying exactly “what” it is we like to do most. I’m not certain, however, that this is the best policy for everyone. A principle reason demonstrates an often very large difference between the “what” we love most, versus “how” we work best. Granted - if the “what” is magnanimous enough, for some people it may not matter just how good they are at it, nor how much they enjoy the work-process approach itself. At the same time, many people claim their career happiness comes entirely from the results of their toil, and that if they were doing such activities for less-valued or unimportant results, they would hate it. Some jobs, such as clergy, may evolve into unanticipated responsibilities that are no less rewarding for the results.
Energy is a key word. One may love art, and love creating, but feel depleted by “studying” or critiquing it. There is a huge gap (and often a distain) between artists and critics, even though both love art. Likewise, an artist may love to produce, yet be an extrovert, and hate creating alone. For such cases, the “art factories” of 1960’s American Pop Artists comes to mind. The point is, for a single “what,” there can be many different “hows.” For how else can we explain the sizable amount of Americans who love their focus of study in college, only to embark upon a completely unrelated career? Different between the studious mind and the producer, is the type of energy…
Through school we are trained to identify the world abstractly, conceptually. Terminology, fields of study these are all abstractions of “the real thing.” It makes sense, because we can’t afford to travel to historic places of the world and dig up artifacts ourselves, therefore we study them in abstract. The banking industry is not constructed to teach us all the principles and mathematics of monetary units and approaches, consequently, we study them in abstract in school before we invest. Is it just possible that those who embrace a specific subject, love the “how” approach to the study, but not the energy of the specific practice?
Another source of this potential gap between a subject’s study and work practice, is modern learning approaches. Educational institutions today recognize different learning styles and intelligences for students. Many educators today practice kinesthetic, or hands-on, learning approaches, getting students more involved with the subject. There are also more collaborative and team-based learning approaches today, which can be better for extroverts. Traditional classroom-learning approaches are more limited, focused in books and teachers’ lectures. Again - is it possible that preferred work approaches are more important to identify than the learning subject itself?
How Do You Do?
We can’t truly know what a specialized job is like until we spend days operating in that environment, discerning the “how” energy. But how many of us have known people who never identified exactly “what” they wanted to do, just bumbled through life, and yet seemed to find a fun, rewarding, and eventful career path? Could their personal energy have guided them to a “practice” instead of a “subject?” And how many of us have known people who have left a career to make a job out of their hobby or passion, and found that doing so destroyed it?
An important answer concerns the other, “practical” side of a passion. In other words, when we have passionate hobbies, they usually don’t require the “real world” aspects of producing income. That is a huge difference. In my years as a graphic designer, I have known designers who were excellent, innovative, talented creatives. And I have known those of more business mind who had their own prosperous consulting businesses. But I have never known a designer who was equally both. Likewise, the truly talented creatives typically hate the business side, while the more business-prone see it as a self-rewarding practice. It all comes back, again, to the “how” not the what. You can’t independently, lucratively practice the energy of artistic creation if you don’t understand, embrace, and practice the practical side of work procurement. I have read several graphic design business books which tell freelance or consultant designers that only 50% of their work-time hours are spent doing creative work for clients. The other 50% of course is either the practical business side (billing and accounting, sales and promotion, legalities, etc.), or else sitting around twiddling thumbs and hoping for work.
But back to the driving question: how can we comprehend the preferred “how” over the “what?” Of course an obvious start can be distinguishing the process of our most-loved work or study. I honestly haven’t found much written about such approaches and values, but one book I like is Do what you are: Discover the perfect career for you through the secrets of personality type, by P.D. Tieger and B. Barron. This book helps you assess your best personal approaches, in part by investigating Myers-Briggs personality types and discussing common, satisfactory job roles for those types. Self-discernment is key here that and a realization of your self-motivation…
Who You're Really Working For
The motivation to work can be tricky. Most of us, if asked the question "Who do you work for," would identify our company or boss. Those who have owned a business know that each customer is the boss - and customers can be more demanding than anyone. The truth so easily overlooked, is that we really work for ourselves.
Work is, obviously, energy - its application and results. We work to put food on the table, but we also work to imitate how others spend their time. Some of us may express a desire for our work to be meaningful. But I think we all want our work - our exerted energy - to be reciprocal. We really want to feel inspired and motivated - to go home at day’s end, and back to work the next, excited.
In fact, we have more options regarding “work” than we think we do. We could actually "not work." We could become homeless, or expect family or government to support us enough for living. We usually cite "responsibility," or someone else's expectations of us, as reasons to work. But it is, ultimately, our choice. These are just the words we use to explain the choice. The real truth is, we work for ourselves. It's our choice, our income, our exertion of energy and time, and our results.
This statement is important because it can change the way we work - and our happiness with the results. We can claim discouragement, or lack of support from our employer, as a reason to reduce our output, “Why should I give them something they won't reward me for? Why should I give my company something they don't deserve?” But this just amplifies the problem. And the problem is really not the unappreciative employer. The problem is that the worker feels unenergetic and unrewarded. Of course it should be in the employer's best interest to fix this. But the difference is, we the employees can't easily expect, or cause, the employer to change. If one feels compelled and finds it a worthy goal to try to change employer minds, then very well, best of luck! However, for the rest of us, we truly can change our thinking, our goals, and understand our energy sources.
I've already said that we ultimately work for ourselves. The location and people are just the environment we choose for that work. In that sense, all others are working for us, to a degree, as well. Therefore, are we meeting our own goals for knowledge and output? Is there more we wish to learn? Are we using our company and those around us as our own test lab, a subject base for our work theories and growth desires? No matter how different our current employer may be than our ultimate work goals, there is something we can learn there. There is something which can be applied to advance us in another direction. Even if it is the fueled goal to never work for such a company again! Regardless, if all we do is focus on the problems and ingratitude of our current employer, then that's all we see. If we view those around as working in-part for us, then they can help us achieve our goal opportunities. If employers don't value you enough, view it as their loss! This philosophy is not justification to be a pushover. Rather, it is the encouragement to be better than our employer!
Starting the Journey
In Do what you love, the money will follow, Marsha Sinetar discusses how creatives can approach the challenging business and job-search aspects of doing what they love. She purports that creatives can think beyond the traditional rules of work procurement, and apply their creativity to practice innovative methods for success. She also discusses how people can find a type of spiritual practice and satisfaction through work. As an example, Zen Buddhism is practiced and applied in a number of different work disciplines. In another book, The path: creating your mission statement for work and for life, Laurie Beth Jones instructs readers to identify and harness their individual, higher values for personal motivation. Both of these books still cover the “whats” of our career. But they also can help us begin to examine our personal energies and motivations.
Identifying personal motivations is tricky business. There are many “tests” in books and on the Web with confusing (and downright ludicrous) attempts to do so. Myers-Briggs can be a good start to tackle some of the issues. And Abraham Maslow was a great pioneer in identifying personal motivations and values. His studies of “self-actualized people” were especially revealing, identifying how such people seemed to take a life-approach that was a lusty, energetic, never-ending thread between work, social, and home lives. Occupations were not mere abstract, distantly-observed terms for these practitioners. They were manifestations of their greatest, purest energies. Of course understanding motivations also means delving into the human unconscious. And such activity can also help us exponentially to realize our own individual “best selves” in values, energy, and practice. In fact the idea of harnessing our unconscious has been approached by many experts from many different angles. Another book that I like on the subject is Blink by business guru Malcolm Gladwell.
Gladwell discusses the crucial judgments and reactions we make based on immediate, split-second, subconscious observations. He makes the case that often, these judgments are more important and accurate than those made through our cultural, studied, and scientific methods. And when we so often try, after the event, to consciously categorize and label these observations, we lose their very essences and values. He also demonstrates how experts in various fields actually recognize and use these subconscious observations (after much reflection and practice) to reach their acknowledged levels of “genius”. Likewise, these experts find great reward in their multi-sensory-involvement, and personal, high-energy, work approaches. Interestingly, there are great commonalities between Gladwell’s experts and Maslow’s self-actualized people in such respects.
The study of subconscious motivations is considered to be very modern and rooted in the twentieth century. But in fact, much older sects of world religions have studied unconscious human motivations with great insight. One example is the Islamic mystic enneagram, a model for identifying ourselves in one of nine, principle, personality motivations. Proponents of this model say that these motivations are very difficult for us to identify because they are so vast (within ourselves), and exist at the very core of why and how we perceive and operate in our daily world. Likewise, enneagram promoters also discuss the need for us to discover the darker aspects to these motivations, and push ourselves to take on opposing, new (and challenging) positive motivations in their place. Such a journey could manifest itself by taking on different work functions that require and build the new motivations. The idea is that at first such approaches feel unnatural, and beyond our “comfort zones,” but eventually they become far more rewarding personally than anything previously known.
In all fairness, this paper may feel vague to the reader. Part of that is because the study and optimization of our personal motivations and energies are elusive, life-long pursuits. But I do feel strongly that such probing is beneficial, and I hope that I have complemented readers’ prior thoughts, or given some new ideas for consideration. I should hope that even if a reader disagrees with these ideas, the act of thinking on them can be fruitful. To be honest, this paper is my own attempt to exercise the very ideas I have preached. Like many people, I have some uncertainties about my work and motivations. I have been “officially” working at least part-time jobs since the day I was legal to do so. I believe that work can make us feel rewarded, productive, and purposeful, yet often it doesn’t deliver these. And attempting to procure new work (for both myself and others) can be trying and demoralizing. What I do know about myself and my energy is that I feel very rewarded by helping and communicating with other people. Studying and writing about strategies and philosophies I also find rewarding. This paper is my own attempt to focus on my positive energies and motivations regarding work. If it helps you as well, please let me know. I alone don’t have the answers to living in this crazy world. But I believe that collectively, we do have the truth and the means.
- Jake Aull, 11/08 www.zenofbrand.com