A Meaningful Career Choice: Understanding Strengths and Limitations

Most of us know someone who’s at a career crossroad, whether it’s the freshly minted graduate, the neighbor who’s struggling to reinvent himself after being “downsized,” or the former retiree whose post-recession nest egg seems to have shrunk from ostrich size to that of a hummingbird.

At any age, it can be challenging to discover our individual aptitudes and abilities, much less find a career to match them.  This process certainly has been difficult for me.  Every job entails an element of drudgery and frustration; the challenge is to make it as enjoyable and meaningful as possible.

Ghana photoIn my book Seeing More Colors:  A Guide to a Richer Life, one of the recurring themes is that we can create and shape our own realities.  Authentic power comes not from what we are doing, but how we are doing it.  Although some occupations might appear more significant than others, there are ways to make any type of work feel more meaningful.

An illustration:  Two bricklayers in fourteenth-century France were working on the side of the road.  When a traveler stopped to inquire what they were doing, one replied, “I am working with bricks.”  The other proudly stated, “I am building a cathedral!”

In addition, if we have an accurate understanding of our individual strengths and limitations, we are more likely to benefit from realistic expectations and the presence of mind to adjust when situations do not turn out as anticipated.  During my psychiatry rotation in medical school, my expectations were unrealistic.  I enjoyed interacting with patients and felt as if I truly was connecting with them.  Unfortunately, behavior patterns do not alter dramatically overnight.  Despite several therapy sessions with my patients, what I had thought were my brilliant insights did not always results in significant life changes for them.  I found myself frustrated by the lack of immediate, tangible results.  My expectations did not match reality.

Eventually, I realized that psychiatric treatment was typically a long process and that I did not have the patience to wait for the anticipated outcomes.  Consequently, I turned to orthopedic surgery, primarily because an immediate tangible result was the rule rather than the exception.  A wrist was broken and I could set it; a joint became worn out and I could replace it.  Furthermore, I could continue to utilize my interest in people and their behavior.  I became more aware of my false expectations and limitations, and was therefore able to make a better-informed career decision.

Each of us has a certain skill set.  Ghana photoAuthor Gary Zukav elaborates upon this idea in Soul Stories:  “Some people have hunches, others ideas, some hear music, others see pictures, some hear words.  You can find your way by paying attention to what is inside you.”

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