Sunday, 31 January 2010

Myth 1: “Staying in my crap job is the ‘real’ world”

When I became a management consultant there was part of me that felt I’d made it. I’d walk into these shiny offices with my laptop and just for a moment, I felt like I was going somewhere.

That is, if I didn’t think too hard about what I was doing. When I did, I just told myself it was only five days til the weekend and 3 months to my next holiday.
But my choice appeared to be:

• Carry on, be well off but unhappy; or
• Leave my job and be worried about looking like a failure.

I was desperate to be a success, so like a rabbit frozen in headlights I remained in this strange limbo for about five years. And I can tell you, limbo is less fun than it sometimes looks.

I remember one day my boss asked me to head up some particularly meaningless new project and because I couldn’t say no outright, I decided to tell him about my doubts about my career. His reply stays with me to this day:

“I’d love to do something more interesting too, but I live in the real world.”

Mythbuster

We hear the ‘real world’ argument a lot. No doubt it makes the speaker feel better, but in fact it’s got nothing to do with the real world. It’s an argument designed to keep you out of the real world, safely trapped inside a story in your own head.
Ironically, career dilemmas like mine are defined by a reluctance to identify what a person actually wants in the real world. After all, there’s comfort in not knowing or trying, because then we can’t fail.

Looking back, I see that I wanted to be a great person, but I wasn’t prepared to exhibit any of the character traits of a great person. I wanted success, but I saw it as someone else’s job to spot my potential, or for the world to give me opportunities.

This is about as far from being ‘real world’ as possible. And it left me a passive recipient of whatever other people thought I’d be good at.

Unless you fancy a spot of limbo, the real question (which I was avoiding), is pretty simple: what is it that you actually want?

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