What is the right work?
I'm unemployed! Fears about what's next. The courage to be disliked.
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As of two days ago, I am officially unemployed! I quit just after my paternity leave and I have finally finished serving my notice. In a deviation from the norm, I don’t have my a new job lined up, and plan to use the next few months to think about my career path.
I acknowledge that being able to take time off like this without much stress over immediate survival is a huge privilege, and one I am constantly thankful for.
I had been wondering if the career path I am on now is right for me, or if there is something else out there I would be happier with. There are things I like about being lawyer, but I’ve also felt something is missing, which I am not sure what. I wanted the space to properly explore this.
At this point, overshadowing the excitement of change and infinite possibilities, is fear. I am afraid. I’ve never felt so uncertain. When I was in school, or starting out at work, it was like the main quest of an RPG, the way forward was pretty clear (looking back now, it was only an illusion of being clear).
Now, it feels like a sandbox. I’m not sure what I to do next. What do I want? Is actually good for me? Even if I find it, will it want me too? What if I am bad at it?
In managing these fears and uncertainties, I have been drawing on several ideas.
Embracing discomfort over hiding in possibility.
There is a temptation to avoid finding any answers. To find excuses from making bold moves and putting myself in a challenging position. This way, I don’t have to face the reality that I might make a wrong choice, or that I am not competent. I can hide in the realm of possibility and say: if only this or that, I would have been great.
As I search for my answers, I try to remind myself that discomfort which grows is always preferable over comfort which is stagnant. I imagine in the future, I would want to have looked back and saw that I chose to try and overcome discomfort, regardless of success, rather than hiding in the comfort of leaving it as a fantasy.
There is no optimal choice.
If I am being optimistic, we have around 30 good years to build a career. One also has to stay in each job for a few years at minimum. This means I have around 5-10 job changes before this game starts to end. 5-10 chances to make the right choice in the corporate game of CVs, networks, prior experience, and last drawn pay. That scares me. There are so many variables to consider. What if I make a wrong decision, and waste one of those precious few chances?
Worrying about optimal decisions is arrogance. It is me thinking that I have the ability to control all the variables in my future. I have to face the reality that I never really know how anything plays out. Life is a culmination of randomly intersecting choices and unknowns which I could not really plan. We like to think that successful or smart people had cleverly planned each step of the way, but maybe its more like that scene in Pirates of the Caribbean where they wonder if Jack Sparrow plans everything out, or makes it up as he goes along.
If I cannot make a “right” decision, then I cannot make a “wrong” one either. There is thus no reason to worry about making a sub-optimal choice. Any choice can end up good or bad in its own mysterious way.
The courage to be disliked.
With work being so integral to life, I sometimes wonder what happens to my place in society without it. Can I still stay connected to society in the same way? I wonder what happens if I lose the glamour of my job, earn less than my peers, or if I am bad at what I do. Will my relationships with friends, family, or even strangers, change?
I am finding inspiration to resolve this in an audiobook I picked up by chance recently: The Courage to be Disliked. One of its core messages is that “all problems are interpersonal problems”. Comparing with others, or worrying about what others think about me, is creating interpersonal problems for myself. Having external recognition is comfortable, it provides guidance that I am on the right track. But, external recognition is an impossible goal. One can never satisfy everyone, nor control what they think. If my primary motivation is the approval of others, I am destined to fail.
Instead, I am learning that what others think of me is their task. Trying to intervene in their task and control it, will only leave me unhappy. Instead, I should focus on my own task, to make myself better than my previous state.
What is the right work?
As I try to find what is right, I think it is essential to make sure it is not tainted by my fears. As I spend time exploring available opportunities, its also a time to center my mind, and learn to manage my fear. Keep watching this space to see if I manage to get to the answer.
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