It’s amazing by how many people seem to live their lives without making conscious life choices. From the outside it looks like they don’t seem to reflect about their lives and make changes to it. They just go with the flow but without consciously thinking about what they truly want. They let their surroundings to take care of things without their involvement. What particularly puzzles me is that people often follow life paths they did not decide on themselves but by someone else, be that the parents or the society in general.
There are a few types of people with this behavior. It is the people who get into a profession solely because their family is in it. It is the people whose main interests are travelling and eating tasty food (often described by a trendy description “foodie stricken by wanderlust”). It is the people who have a thousand Facebook “friends” but still feel lonely inside. It is the people who constantly complain. It is also the people who want to change one thing in their life but for some reason never get to it. With this mindset, what makes you different from others, what makes you unique?
One particular example that stands out is a couple that has to have a big wedding while also being on a budget. Even if money is of no concern, what is the purpose of having a large wedding? To show that you love all of the guests? To have a blast? To get a lot of gifts? It’s a big price to pay for this since an average cost of a wedding in Canada is $31k. That is a down payment for a house. Or a great trip around the world for a year. Plus, there is the stress of organizing the wedding and the wedding day with a packed agenda.
Another example is the people that “have” to follow a certain career path. It could be children following their parents’ footsteps just because the parents are in that profession or parents pressuring their children to get into certain profession. Or because the profession pays a lot. Similarly, it is law grads getting into big law firms since it is the most “appropriate” thing to do. How much of that career decision is their own?
I wonder why this happens. Is it because parents don’t teach their children how to be independent and take charge of their lives? Is it because very few people are curious enough to explore outside their everyday life? Does shortened attention span contribute to this?
The main problem with this type of behavior is that the person is not truly in charge of his life. He goes with the flow and doesn’t really reflect on where it takes him. What are his true goals? How is he supposed to achieve meaning in what he does?
If you do things in the same way as everybody else, where is your own personality? What makes you different?
Why not to be different from the rest of the people? Why not try to achieve something your peers never thought or were afraid of achieving? If all your family consists of doctors, why not become a media producer if you like it? If you work in a large law firm but miserable, why not find something that drives you?
It is consciously choosing your own path that’s important. Choosing something that matters to you. Choosing something the excites you. Something that you truly want. That is what makes your life and work meaningful and enjoyable.
I realize that it is hard to make bold decisions. It makes you very uncomfortable. This is especially true if you’re used to the everyday routine and your life is steady and predictable. Hard decisions are also likely to upset people around you. Doing things differently or doing different things is also likely to alienate your friends who will not be able to understand you. It is also hard to make decisions that put your previous behavior under questioning like reassessing career choices.
It was hard for me. After many years of law school and practice I came to the conclusion that law does not excite me. I was getting tired of the uninspiring and linear nature of the legal profession and how little change I saw from my work. The only way to progress in that career is through frequently unappreciated grunt work for the first 5 years. When I started researching what I could do instead and taking steps towards it, a lot of people around me were very puzzled. I had fights with my parents. Many friendships were forgotten. Only senior lawyers that I revealed my plans to said that they were envious of what I was doing.
Having moved away from law, I found an idea that drives me. I see the potential in it and can’t get it out of my head. While I don’t know the feeling of liking your job, I now know the feeling of being passionate about something. You finally have a sense of purpose and that feeling is empowering.
However, many people are reluctant to find something that drives them. Often times they have preconceived notions of what they are supposed to do. Deviating from that is very hard. Even if the person is good at something else. Like my friend at work.
I met her at work on a new project. She is a lawyer. But she also has a talent for cooking. To illustrate her cooking skill I will say that at one point she organized a dinner for 12 people, including planning, carefully selecting the guests and cooking the whole dinner. She can also taste how different her cooking is if she didn’t feel inspired to cook. When I asked her how can I join the future event, I got the reply saying that she hasn’t done a dinner for quite some time and isn’t planning to do another one in the nearest future.
I get it. It’s a lot of work. It’s hard, uncomfortable and doesn’t bring immediate gratification. Often times you have no idea what you’re doing. However, it will pay off in the long run. The level of our success is often proportional to the level of discomfort we go through. My guess is that my friend’s life would be much more memorable if she continues to deliver great culinary experiences to real people as opposed to serving faceless corporations. You don’t have to jump all in when starting. You can start small, test the waters and then slowly grow it.
Alternatively, if you have a brave heart, you can go all in straight from the beginning. Like Matt and Jessica Johnson did. They quit their jobs, sold everything, bought a boat and been sailing around the world for several years.
So whichever way you choose, close this window now and go do something exciting!