You Can’t Do Anything You Want
“A lot of career advice begins right back at age six,” writes author Chris Guillebeau in his newest book, Born for This: How to Find the Work You Were Meant to Do. But in case you’re expecting some fluffy self-help propaganda that over-inflates your ego in an attempt to win your purchase of the book, Guillebeau hits you with a helpful dose of reality early and often:
“‘You can do anything you want,’ adults usually promise, without any explanation or assurance of how ‘anything’ is possible. Nice as it might sound to our young ears, this advice is absurd,” says Guillebeau.
Please don’t get the wrong impression. Guillebeau isn’t a bully or a browbeater. I actually find him surprisingly soft-spoken for someone who has built an enormous online following, written four bestselling books and created one of the hottest-ticket annual conferences in the World Domination Summit. He just refuses to buy into the implicit (and often explicit) promise of the many “success cult” leaders who sell books, courses and videos offering you a slice of their success if you’ll only follow their footsteps (across a pile of burning coals).
And why doesn’t following successful people necessarily make you successful? For at least two reasons:
1) You’re not them.
2) They’re not you.
How, then, does Guillebeau fill 300 pages with advice on finding your dream job, if not by telling you how he did it and imploring you to do the same? Well, he does offer a lot of his personal story and a vast array of examples illustrating how a diverse collection of disconnected people have done it. But these stories are descriptive, not prescriptive. They are meant to expand your horizons for the ultimate purpose of more effectively limiting your options.
But even more helpfully, Born for This gives us a model for finding the most satisfying work, the Joy-Money-Flow Model.
To “win the career lottery,” Guillebeau contends three components are necessary:
Joy – You’ve got to like what you do. We spend the majority of our adult waking hours doing this thing we call work. How great would it be if we actually enjoyed most of the pursuits that comprise this monumental effort? Unfortunately, this is where a lot of the fluffy career advice ends. Too many who’ve exclusively sought joy in their work ultimately lose the career lottery because they can’t make ends meet. Hence, part two of the model:
Money – Born for This is hardly a get-rich-quick guide, but Guillebeau acknowledges another important reality: “You have to make a living. If you have a family, you need to provide for them. In the career lottery, that ideal scenario we’re looking for, the work you do provides all the money you need to live comfortably.” He assures us that money isn’t everything, but it’s hard to find joy in your work and life if you’re constantly stressed out about paying the bills on time. This brings us to the third and final element required to win the career lottery, and the primary topic of this post:
Flow – To win the career lottery, you’ve got to find “flow.” What’s flow? It’s “the art of maximizing skill and getting lost in something you’re really good at.”
A key—perhaps even the key—to finding the work you were “born for” is that you’ve got to be naturally good at it. And yes, that’s in addition to enjoying the work and getting paid reasonably for it. We’ve all heard the stories about the Olympic athlete who was scoffed at for his or her lack of talent, but who, through sheer determination, willed himself or herself to the gold medal. But the probability of something like that applies more to the actual lottery—not the career lottery.
The reality is that (with the Masters weekend upon us) if you took as many practice strokes with a golf club as last year’s winner, Jordan Spieth, you might get bumped up to the B-team at the country club, but you’re not joining the PGA Tour. We all occasionally need a dose of the Most Interesting Man in the World’s career advice: “Find out what it is in life that you don’t do well, and then don’t do that thing.”
You’re not likely to find the slogan “ You can’t do anything you want” on the wall at the gym or a motivational poster, but there is a freedom in this variety of limitation that can absolutely propel you into the career of your dreams. Perhaps someone has insisted that your success is contingent on your adherence to a particular formula (or line of work) and you’ve been struggling to get any traction. Maybe the best thing you could do is quit. Like me, maybe you just need to sell your golf clubs.
An adage attributed to Wayne Gretzky has been used for everything from sports to insurance sales: “You miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take.” But in his closing argument in Born for This, Guillebeau suggests an alternative solution: “If you miss 100 percent of the shots, get off the ice.”
“‘Winners never quit, and quitters never win’ is a lie,” he suggests. “To win, sometimes you need to find a new game to play.”
This commentary originally appeared April 9 on Forbes.com
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