Who are you?
Years ago The Who asked that very simple question. (The Who, by the way, absent the musical genius of John Entwistle and the manic drumming of Keith Moon turns out to be a very average band but I digress.) The question is not without meaning,
Recently I was sharing coffee with a friend as we compared notes about our work. As a personal trainer I understood what she did pretty well, but she couldn’t understand my role as easily. I summed it up by saying people make mistakes when they don’t know who they are so I try to help them reexamine what counts. I bring light to problems.
Now as murky as that may sound, it does have value. Let’s examine.
Fresh out of school many of us have hopes, dreams, perhaps fears too, but the prospect of working for a living and making a change are so energizing we can keep things in perspective. We are on our own. A lucky few of us have passions and causes we’ve believed in for years so career tracks and paths are the least of our worries. We immerse ourselves in our callings. And this is good.
Perhaps most of us though – like me – have some set of interests and competencies and over time we hope to develop actual skills in the workplace. We seek employment and challenge realizing it’s not just jobs we’ll change as we progress but entire careers as well. We hope to make a difference but with the passage of time this hope can fade as some of us forget about differences and start thinking about nicer cars and flats and a better vacation. The need to make a difference becomes less a factor because we need to make a living.
I get it. I have bills too.
But here’s the point: if you don’t know who you are and what matters to you the need to make a difference can fall away next to the need to make a living and one day you’ll find yourself in a role you hate, yet feel like you cannot leave. I’ve had hundreds of these talks as I’ve worked with clients over the years detesting what they’re doing yet unable to see a different way, an alternative path. This is beyond sad.
And it doesn’t have to be that way.
I for example love to help people take control of their work lives and thus make a difference. And that’s very clear to me: I want you to accept your own responsibility and make your own change. I’m not your father or a cop – I’m going to give you ideas and suggestions and make sure you know context and let you make you own choices. Because I want to enable you. That’s who I am.
Knowing that lets me avoid conversation with potential employers who have a more directive or controlling environment: I won’t do well there. Rigid systems with little room for adaptation? I won’t be successful there. Tremendous command and control environments? Not for me: I know who I am.
So part of the art of success in life is doing work that is consistent with who you are, consistent with your values. And let’s be clear, you can make a boatload of money if you wish and still be consistent with your values: ask Sir Richard Branson. There is no cosmic rule that says working in roles consistent with your values induces poverty. Quite to the contrary, having the fit between internal needs and external roles can liberate independence, intellect and intensity – you will shine.
We know, especially in our earlier years, who we are and what matters. It is in fact an advantage of youth which I grant to them. Moving through life we can sometimes feel like a ship in concert with the oceans, yet accumulating barnacles and detritus along the way. Every now and then we have to stop, set up dry dock and scrape away that which does not help us. We do, as the old saying goes, periodically have to find ourselves.
So, the question stands: who are you?
You get the answer to that and your work life, as well as personal, becomes richer and multi-dimensional.
You are valuable. Do the right thing for you.