After spending most of my youth in schools and colleges amassing knowledge to become “someone”, I look back on my own career and that of my colleagues and friends in healthcare and elsewhere to draw some insights to address this question – Are career goals indispensable to a happy and successful life? And this is what transpired from my reflections.
The first third of our lives is dedicated almost entirely to acquiring skills for survival. The next third is spent putting our skills to use. During the final third, we pass on our skills to the next generation and begin the process of slowing down.
By choosing a career path, we fit ourselves into the molds that society. We assume that this path guarantees happiness. The fact is that this road won’t alone grant us bliss, but it does offer us time to contemplate what happiness is and what it is not. Mastering the necessary survival skills provides us the means to climb the hierarchy of human needs. A starving stomach can’t think about anything other than fetching the food.
Once our survival needs are met, we are able to focus on seeking a higher level of satisfaction independent of possessions. Following the logic that acquiring advanced skills will lead to happiness, one would assume that those with advanced degrees live a life of complete satisfaction. But in reality, it is quite contrary. Even the most successful individuals still yearn for something more – not merely what makes them survive comfortably. It’s not a career that you need. What you need is a life plan.
What does this life mean to you? (Do you really know?)
Write down what you want out of life and use the means you obtain from playing your societal role to achieve your goals. Is your goal to make a lot of money? Go for it. But, don’t stop there. Ask yourself, by making a lot of money, what is it that I want to do? Now, it is the answer to this question that will fulfill your purpose. In this context, Sean Covey observed, “A career asks, What’s in it for me? A mission asks, How can I make a difference?” A goal must always accompany a purpose.
There is a secret to how you do this. Take the “me” out of the equation and create a life-plan. The “me” is already taken care of by who (or what) created you at the first place. If we are able to do this, our life-plan will fall in place automatically. A good understanding of this important. Because we know people, our own family members or friends or acquaintances, who switch career paths, sometimes in their adulthood or later. After spending their all their time and resources on a career path that they may later find not fulfilling, they may switch lanes and land in another profession altogether. They are simply trying to find a meaning in what they do, not simply trying to survive.
How do you set a purpose apart from your goal?
Use the very skill that has allowed humans to outpace the rest of existence – self-reflection. Imagine what you will do once you achieve your goal. You may face struggles like landing the right job at the right place and time, but if your purpose is strongly grounded, these transitional hiccups won’t bring you down. When your objective is to better the lives of others, the universe somehow ensures that you’re taken care of. Nature has a vested interest in your well being, knowing you serve a greater purpose than simply surviving. This recognition isn’t the result of idealizing a quixotic utopia where everyone acts altruistically, but a conviction bolstered by facts.
After our fundamental needs are met, we are instantly motivated to satisfy higher needs such as love, friendship, self-esteem, confidence, respect for (and by) others. We keep moving up this natural ranking order until we reach a state of self-actualization that is typified by curiosity, exploration, and ultimately self-realization. Once we understand this natural hierarchy driving human behavior, our life plan becomes clearer. Our career becomes a tool to make a positive difference in all that we do. Unfortunately, for some of us, we are already past the prime of our lives by the time we realize this.
Nature has a vested interest in your well being, knowing you serve a greater purpose than simply surviving.
The key to choosing a career goal is to treat it as a means to an end. A lustrous career may make our lives comfortable, but not necessarily fulfilling. Ultimately, it’s not a career alone that makes us happy, but the greater purpose behind it that makes all the difference.
A lustrous career may make our lives comfortable, but not necessarily fulfilling.