When I was in middle school, I dreamed of a real career day. I imagined how I would get pulled into a room, provided with a long test, and, at the end of it, I would be given a specific job. “You are supposed to be a ____,” the kind woman would tell me. Just like in The Giver, I would be destined for this job, of which I was of course totally and completely meant for.
I never got this perfect day of destiny (maybe because I went to Catholic school? I can only assume this has something to do with it, given the number of sitcoms that showed other kids being told what to do when they grew up). Instead, I was stuck in the obscure gray understanding that I wanted to be a writer. I wanted to write. And once I started trying to pull that apart, I was pointed at two camps: teaching or novelist. No one tells you there is an in-between, or that you can do something more than that, it’s as simple as you are Robin Williams’ character from Dead Poets Society or you’re Danielle Freaking Steel. What’s it going to be, kid?
I was transported back to this feeling of inadequacy when a friend on Facebook posted a link to this infographic (click to get to the original article):
This infographic takes a very simplified look at what is essentially, “What job should you have?” It starts with a number of questions that you follow through the flow chart, answering yes or no until you get to your type. For example:
On and on this goes, and as you find the list and description, if your answer is, “No, I do not want to be an accountant, who could want to become an accountant?” you finally get to the sad bottom where you are informed, “Hmm…it seems you don’t like to do anything that might actually earn you money.”
This is what is problematic with the picturesque term of the dream job, the “right” job title, the workplace meant just for you: it’s not realistic. It’s a dream. And when you get down to it and work through it, the world points its finger at you and says, “Well, it’s your own fault you’re not happy.” And sure, you are ultimately the ambassador of your own badassdom, but when you are raised to think that eventually someone will handle you your door plaque, it’s frustrating.
So what’s the answer to not constantly feeling like you are crippled by the occupation description?
Skills. Get your mind out of, “Where do I want to work?” or “What do I want my title to be?” and think instead, “What do I want to do?” and “Where is a place I can do that?”
I believe Austin Kleon wrote it best when he said during one of his office hours Q&As:
Nobody knows what jobs will/won’t exist so the best move, I think, is to forget job titles and focus on a skillset. Learning to write, for example, or learning to make films – or code websites – those are skills that you can plug into different jobs and/or industries. Focus on building skills.
I didn’t realize until I started doing it that working in an office setting would open up my writing skills considerably. I work with representatives who create materials that go out to clients. I’ve learned how to simplify my writing in a way that has operated upon my creative work. Sure, I can’t tell someone, “I sit at home every day in my underwear and write page upon page of PROSE.” But I write. I am, therefore, a writer.
Don’t look at what positions do what you think they do. Look for the people who are exhibiting the skills you yourself have cultivated. Ask them. Say, “I want to do that thing. How can I do that thing?” Build from there. You might find that getting to write will be at a community center, not at your keyboard. You might find that creating art will happen at an advertising agency, not behind your easel. But these skills will grow and move into new, awesome things for you. And everyone else too.
What do you want to do?