When you were a kid, did you know what you wanted to be when you grew up?
I did. I wanted to be a stunt car driver. Given the way I like to drive, there are some who would argue I haven’t let go of that dream just yet.
Considering that I don’t have “stunt car driver” on my LinkedIn profile, you can assume I embarked on a different career path.
But was it a conscious choice? Did I mean to end up where I did? Do any of us?
I just finished reading Brigid Schulte’s book Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has The Time. It has some excellent data to support the notion that American’s are too busy, but that it’s a combination of personal choice, cultural pressure, and business practice that continues to promote our need to one-up each other with our insane schedules.
In the book Schulte examines the idea of ambivalence – being of two minds. She posits that ambivalence is often at the heart of our feelings of being overwhelmed, that we are really of two minds of what we want that we can’t fully commit to either. Like the time we think it would be really cool to be an SVP of marketing, but then we realize how much travel it would take to get there, and while we really like travel, we’re worried about what our friends might think, and what if we have a significant other who’s not okay with that, and really, isn’t just easier to take the other job and get the paycheck?
Sound a little too familiar?
Think about your own career. Think about the path you took to get where you are right now. Was it deliberate? Was it all “Forrest Gump-y”? Was it a little of both?
The folks who are happiest in their careers tend to be because they CHOSE to be where they are today. They have defined their own idea of success and have gone after it. And no, it might not be the dream they had when they were a little kid, or even the career they thought they wanted in college. Maybe they had a few jobs along the way that they sort of liked, as well as a few they couldn’t stand.
At some point, though, they came to a crossroads. They could continue down the path they once envisioned but no longer loved, or they could take matters into their own hands and define their own success, and go for it. As a result, they are in the right place at exactly the right time.
And while they might be very busy, they are seldom overwhelmed.
As both leaders and those being led, it’s important to recognize a crossroad.
As a leader, we can help our employees articulate what success means to them and then help identify whether their current state is equal to that success. If not, we can help them find the right path. Remember, our job as leaders is to help our employees reach their true potential – and sometimes that means moving on.
As an employee, we can help our leaders understand what it is we are trying to accomplish. We can accept the responsibility for our careers and recognize that life isn’t something that happens too us – it’s something in which we are an active participant. If there is friction between how we define success and how our leader defines success, it’s vital that we speak up. Our leaders can’t help us if we don’t admit we need that help.
Define your success
No, I didn’t end up being a stunt driver. Or an astronaut.Or a social studies teacher. Or a mad scientist….yet.
And that’s cool. I’m still figuring it out – like a lot of people. Like you, maybe.
No matter where you stand on the overwhelmed/ambivalent spectrum today, don’t panic.
There’s still time for you to define your success. There is still time to be an active participant in life.
There is still time to choose.
And if you aren’t sure what you want – what you really, really want – it’s okay.
You’ll figure it out.
Sometimes the wrong choices bring us to the right places.