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There are Better Questions When it Comes to Career & Life Purpose

The number one reason you've been struggling to find the career path of your dreams is because your asking faulty questions.

Like Carl Sagan says:

"There are naive questions, tedious questions, ill-phrased questions, questions put after inadequate self-criticism. But every question is a cry to understand the world. There is no such thing as a dumb question."[1]

These questions we have been asked and ask ourselves are a start, but there's plenty of room for improvement so you can answer them without all the assumptions, interpretations and implications of the loaded and confusing questions they have come to be.

Faulty Question No. 1

The first question regarding career that most of us learn as children begins as:

What do you want to be when you grow up?

This question asks you to envision identifying with a future career, not person. It says "what" rather than "who." But, you are not a career.

Even if the question asked Who do you want to be when you grow up? It says, you should dream of being someone else. But, you are you, you are a unique person who has interests and talents. Why not ask about all of that?

So, What do you want to be when you grow up? is a faulty question.

Faulty Questions No. 2 - 3

When it comes time to choose a major, we ask:

What do you want to major in?

We figure out the major by starting backwards, asking:

What career do you want to pursue?

Neither of these questions highlight the importance of being aware of your own interests, curiosity, and talents.

For example, I may not know what my interests and talents are. But let's say my parents have taught me that "engineer" is a prestigious and respected profession. If I care about prestige and winning over my parents with my title, then I may pursue engineering. But maybe I do so in spite of my natural talents as a musician, or artist, or entrepreneur.

The career overrides who I am and what I'm naturally good at. I may struggle, finally graduate after years of tutoring lessons, get a job, hate it, quit or get fired, and now I'm forced to question myself, which could go badly. (Happens all the time). But it could go well if I reflect on my motivations for choosing the career in the first place and making a shift.

The above questions are faulty.

To know the career you want to pursue, you should first have an idea of your natural talents, interests, and skills.

How do you identify those if they're not totally apparent at first?

Unfortunately, in college, going to a career counselor is an option (not mandated) where we might be able to sort this out. The counselor has you take assessments that describe your personality traits which are then matched up to potential career paths.

I've taken these and studied the assessments. They are limited to professions that already exist, a list that can be quite outdated, and they don't take into account one's interests. Personally, I'm a retired fan.

What does: What do you want to major in? really mean anyway?

Are you asking me what kind of work I want to do? Or what I want to learn more about? What my interests are? Or do I choose the career first and then the major? Am I basing my whole life on my current interests or do I get to just learn about them and decide later? Must these interests result in a career? What if I don't know what I'm interested in?

Some people don't start with the end in mind. So asking What do you want to major in/What career are you pursuing? can stress those people out. The career wasn't chosen before the major.

The reason those kind of people go to college is to learn more about a topic purely because it's interesting.

Then there are those who don't know what seems interesting. Ever hear of the "undecided" major? What are my interests? I should take some classes to find out. It's too early to commit to a major/career!

The questions are faulty, misguided, and uninformed. If they were good questions, realizing our passions and careers wouldn't be so damn difficult.

Faulty Question that Misinterprets Faulty Questions No. 1-3

When we ask these faulty questions we imply another faulty question:

What do you want to do to make money?

This is a problem when we're trying to find a career path, which should be growing our existing talents.

Combining career with money is problematic because most of us grow up with money issues, regardless of how much money we have or don't have.

We learn incorrect beliefs such as:

money is hard to get

you have to work hard to make money

not everyone can be rich

money is evil

or from another angle

money is handed to you

there will always be someone there to give you money

someone else always controls the money

Money is a socially created concept and it's also emotionally loaded. Without money we are destitute and homeless. With money we can be physically comfortable if we buy the right things. Knowing there is money is, therefore, emotionally comfortable as well.

We learn those emotions as children. Those emotions set the tone for our relationship with money at an early age.

Let's say we assume that career and money go hand in hand. And let's say our relationship with money is not positive. If that's the case, the pressure to "choose" the right career is high. Pressure can be stressful. Stress is not conducive to making informed decisions.

And while you can make money pursuing a career, a career is not defined by the money that is made. You can be a broke lawyer. You can be a doctor with overbearing bad debt.

These questions are faulty. They have been twisted and misinterpreted.

A Common Side Effect of a Career is Money

First of all, the definition of career according to Merriam-Webster Dictionary doesn't even mention money.

Career, as defined by Merriam-Webster [2]:

: a field for or pursuit of consecutive progressive achievement especially in public, professional, or business life <Washington's career as a soldier>

: a profession for which one trains and which is undertaken as a permanent calling <a career in medicine> <a career diplomat>

With the term "professional" and "business", it's easily assumed that money is in the equation. But that's an assumption. And even if a career makes money, money is not the full function of a career. It's a byproduct.

For example, the second definition mentions a "permanent calling." Is that about money? No. A calling is when you have a purpose. Your desire to accomplish something defines your purpose.

Here's the definition of a calling [3]:

: a strong desire to spend your life doing a certain kind of work (such as religious work)

: the work that a person does or should be doing

So a career is an activity by which you can evolve as you live your life with purpose, doing the work that is your calling. A lot of times, money is a side effect of a career.

The Disconnect Between a Career and a Job

A job, on the other hand, is clearly defined by the exchange of work for money.

: the work that a person does regularly in order to earn money [4]

When do you hear someone asking a child:

What job do you want to have when you grow up?

We don't ask that, because we all want to have a career and a calling, and we want the same for children. So we ask them to dream and envision.

And then most of us get jobs anyway. Some jobs fulfill our callings. Other jobs do not. Sometimes we can recreate a job to fulfill a certain purpose. But when they don't fulfill our callings we can get stuck. And we start asking the same old questions again.

Well, here are some better questions for you.

The Better Questions to Ask

Recognizing that the question should be in question, we can start asking better questions.

When it comes to you career and life purpose, the better the question, the easier it is to answer it. The easier it is to answer, the more natural the answer feels. The more natural the answer feels, the more likely the answer is the right one.

The right answer is not misguided by self-doubt, low self-confidence, heavy influence from people we take advice from, or people who tell us we're good or bad at something.

The right answer comes from deep within you.

And you can trust that space.

Just because you know your interests and talents doesn't mean you know the careers that fulfill your interests and talents. Sometimes the career doesn't exist (yet). Sometimes it's a matter of trial and error. And other times a line of work is not seen (by society) as a legitimate career so we rule it out before entertaining it.

There ARE professionals who know the better questions.

You know who they are? Entrepreneurs who are aware of human motivation.

They get it, because you cannot lack motivation if you are in business for yourself. Without motivation, every business owner will fail. Entrepreneurs are usually taking risks, creating new services and products and if they don't know why they're doing it, there is no driving factor toward success.

On the flip side, you can definitely get by in a job or even a so-called career, without having or knowing your motivation. You can go along and never know why you are in a certain field because you were never asked nor did you take the time to ask. Sometimes the only answer to why is: I need the money. Money in itself is not an end nor a sustainable motivation. There's a reason you need the money.

Here's an improvement to all of the above faulty questions:

What are you interested in learning more about and why?

Gary Keller, co-founder of Keller Williams Realty, writes in his book "The Millionaire Real Estate Agent," about "The Big Why," that essentially gets you to consider your ultimate motivation for being in a certain career, field, or business.

I'll go into that technique in a later blog post and will link back to it here in the near future.

The basic technique is you make a statement like: "I want to sell real estate" and you follow it up with "why?" You keep asking why, until you get to the root, the answer that is at the core of your motivation and basically can't be followed up with a why. It's The Big Why.

Reframe the Old Questions to Clear Up Confusion and Ambiguity

Let's reframe the old questions and shift the focus a little more.

Are you unclear as to what your interests are?

Instead of asking What are you going to be let's ask Who are you?

Ask these questions:

Who are you?

What makes you special and unique?

What are you naturally gifted at?

What do you love to learn about?

What do you love doing in your spare time?

What activities do you enjoy the most and lost track of time when you're doing them?

What comes natural to you, so natural that it feels like you're not really putting any effort in?

Take a moment and answer these questions I just listed off. Please write the answers down or type them out in an e-mail and send it to yourself.

Instead of asking What do you want to major in? Let's ask:

What are you interested in learning more about? Why?

What kind of problems do you want to help people solve? Why?

More specifically, who do you want to help, what problems do you want to help them solve, and why?

Whether you are living out your life purpose or not, ask yourself these questions right now and write the down or send yourself an e-mail with the answers. Share your answers in the comments.

It's easier said in hindsight but what if we were asked these questions as children? Maybe these questions would've framed things differently for us when making adult decisions about our careers.

Instead of wondering who/what you want to be, the re-framed question will help you discover, comprehend, and know who you already are. You will recognize that you as you are pretty awesome, perfect and special, you are more than the thing you do for the money you make.

You can be yourself and play on your unique talents and experiences while learning about topics that interest you and applying them into the world as you solve problems related to your interests.

In other words, be yourself and apply your talents to help people solve some problems that capture your interest.

The Right Questions Take off Unnecessary Pressure

The answers to "who are you" and "what problems do you want to help solve" are not requiring us to think so far into the future and imagine that we are someone or something else.

These professions are bound by limitations and preconceived notions of what we already know to exist, limiting the pool of careers. We are not limited.

There are thousands of ways to approach any one problem.

Lastly, just because you're in a chosen career that is "supposed to make money" doesn't mean you'll make the money you expected to make. The money is a whole thing of its own, dependent on business skills, economy, motivation, your relationship with money. It's not tied to career. Remember, it can be a side effect.

There's a wonderful talk that Jaime Casap, the Chief Education Evangelist at Google, gives on this topic. He advocates making a cultural shift, so that we stop asking the question of What do you want to be when you grow up to What problems do you want to help solve?

You can see and hear him talk about the topic by clicking HERE. Listen to the whole thing but perk your ears up at 11:00 minutes for this specific topic.

You can read more on his BLOG where he talks about his speech at the White House in July 2015, or on the BusinessInnovationFactory site.

Don't Fit Yourself Into a Career, Fit the Career Around You

You are unique and so is your reason for being here on planet Earth. Your experiences, your thoughts, your beliefs, your interests and talents, all of them are unique and they combine in an even more unique way. This makes you one of a kind, literally, meaning one in the humankind.

Stop trying to fit yourself into some preconceived career that's based on a university list of majors.

Let the culture shift that Casap advocates start with YOU. Ask yourself the better questions and discover your purpose. Offer your service to the world. It's time.

Take Action: Do you know your life purpose? What is your career path? Are they related? How did you discover these paths?

If you're at a loss and don't know what you're doing with your life (to put it bluntly) or know you could do better, let me know in the comments or send me an e-mail and share your story. I would love to hear from you.



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