90,000 hours is the average amount of time a person will spend at work over a lifetime.
If I’m going to spend that amount of time at work, and devote up to six years to training for that profession, I’d better get it right, right?
The question of what career path to take is a big one to face for many of us. Youth can agonize over this for years, and some people even search for it their whole lives. It is a topic I have often pondered, which, as you may guess, means that I am one of those who have not yet found their true calling in a job.
The reason for the confusion, I now believe, is that the issue of career is all mixed up and intertwined with our identity and purpose in life.
My identity as a person is seen to be connected with my profession. I am a doctor; I am a lawyer; I am a teacher. Notice the verb “to be,” as in, “I am a doctor,” as opposed to “I work as a doctor” or “I practice medicine.” I express my profession as something that I am, not something that I do.
No doubt certain jobs are often seen more as signs of identity than others. This may be due to their prestige or because the profession genuinely defines who a person is. For example, high-prestige careers such as law and medicine, often define a person. This identification is made either by a person themselves or by others.
But some professions do seem to mirror a person’s identity (e.g. an artist). I’d say that most artists, maybe not all, practice art because it is an expression of who they feel they are. (Whether they can make a living out of it is another thing.)
The other issue with career is the notion of purpose.
When we are searching for a career, we are not just choosing a way to earn money, we are deciding on what we are going to devote ourselves to, possibly for most of our lives. We are trying to figure out our purpose in life.
Some people feel like their job is their mission. For instance, a social worker gets money to help people in distress. Hence their mission in life, to serve others, is rewarded monetarily in a job.
However, more subtle missions exist—the gardener brings beauty to the city, the plumber protects our sanitation. Any job can be seen as a mission in life. And I’d say, many professions are of benefit to the world. And some professions are of detriment to the world but can be seen by the individual involved in them to be of benefit.
But what about those of us who just can’t find our personal mission in a job?
What are we to do?
Well maybe it isn’t that necessary. Can’t we earn a living by whatever means and pursue our calling after work?
Spinoza, the 16th century philosopher, earned his living as a lens grinder, and in his spare time devoted himself to writing philosophy. And this has been the case for many of the world’s most influential people.
So perhaps we shouldn’t place so much emphasis on career.
Firstly, our identity as a person doesn’t need to be defined by what we do as a job, we are bigger than our career. Secondly, our purpose in life doesn’t have to align perfectly with what we do for a living, we can contribute to the world in other ways.
That being said, if it is possible, and we are fortunate, our jobs will reflect our identity and purpose in life. Those who see their identity as being creative will make a living as artists, musicians, or dancers. Those whose mission is to help people in emotional anguish will be counselors and psychologists. Those whose mission is to bring order and justice to the world will be lawyers and politicians.
But for the rest of us, and I’m talking to myself here, stop the first world whining and remember that most of the population of the world doesn’t have the luxury of bemoaning their plight in a profession that doesn’t perfectly capture who they are or what their purpose is in life.
I remember a documentary about some of the most resourceful people in India and how they make a living. One man made disposable tea cups using mud from the Ganges. He worked 14 hours a day and had one day off every two weeks. You should have seen his smile, and the joy and gratitude in his eyes.
So I’d say live with joy and gratitude and a zest for life. Express who you are in every aspect of your life. Live your true purpose and don’t limit this to the way you earn your money.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Apprentice Editor: Sarah Qureshi/Editor: Renée Picard
Photo: Mishesh Ramesh at Pixoto