Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Struggling along the wrong path, looking for the right path

In my work, I see many people trying to pursue a particular path. Many succeed at it, but many others fail. With those who fail, it is often clear to me that the path they are pursuing is not a good fit for them. It takes them longer to see it. They have in their mind that they have certain goals, and they persist at those goals despite all the difficulties. That's what our culture tells us -- if you work hard enough, you can be anything. But the problem is, we can't be anything. We are ourselves, and can't be someone else. Sure, we can develop capacities in areas that are not our natural strengths through hard work, but there is only so far that hard work will take us. It won't change our fundamental natures.

I see these people pursuing a path that is not right for them, and I see them blaming the environment. They say it's the fault of the system for making it so hard. And I can't suggest to them that maybe this path is not right for them, because if I do that, they will see me as part of the broken system, they will say that the problem is that I don't believe in them, they will say it is not a supportive environment.

Then finally, they decide to change paths. They cast blame on the old failed path for not welcoming them. But that's not what happened. What happened was they did not fit the path they were pursuing. And when they change paths, suddenly they are gliding into success and happiness.

I have been through the same thing. At the first place I worked after college there were a handful of us who were recent college graduates, working as administrative assistants at an organization that did worthy things. We were there because we liked the organization, and because we needed jobs. We never wanted to be administrative assistants. And so we complained and crusaded about how poorly administrative assistants were treated. But those who really were career administrative assistants, they didn't have such complaints. The problem was not that administrative assistants were treated poorly. The problem was that we did not want to be administrative assistants.

Later, I had an internship that I was unhappy with. I complained that they did not let me take much responsibility, they did not let me get involved in interesting tasks, but relegated me to menial ones. In retrospect, I realized the work they did was not a fit for me. If it had been, I would have been drawn by it, I would have become engaged.

Then I was looking for jobs, and no one would hire me. Later I realized, I was looking for jobs in a field that did not fit me. I ended up with a job that I didn't have to struggle for, a job that I glided into easily, that I loved.

But now, many years later, I am still in the job I once loved, but I no longer glide into it. It no longer fits me. Now, some things have changed, and I think the place I work is poorly managed. But is it really poorly managed, or is it just that what I am doing no longer fits me?

I have been experiencing a great deal of fatigue at the office. After recently taking a few vacation days and finding myself feeling much stronger while on vacation, I became suspicious that something about my physical office environment was contributing to the fatigue. Then yesterday, I found that when I was at a meeting in another building, I did not feel as much fatigue as I do when in my office. Today, I kept my office window open all day long, and found that I did feel better that way.

So maybe the problem I have been having with my job is not that it is poorly managed, and not that it is no longer the right fit for me, but that I have been physically affected, and that has made it difficult to get engaged in what I am doing.

I am still struggling to figure it all out. It seems like it should be so obvious to us when we are on the right path and when we are on the wrong path, and yet it's not. I feel like we are all so blind about our own situations sometimes. Sometimes, the perspectives of others can help us see what we are blind to. But that is hard too. Different people have different perspectives, and we don't know which ones are right. We believe the people who tell us what we want to hear, and disbelieve those who tell us something else.

It has been more than five years that I have felt not right in my job, and have been looking for a niche where I can earn a living. Yet all the things I look at, it seems they don't welcome me. The activities which I glide right into, which I can do for hours and hours during my free time, are things I could never earn a living at. I don't think there is any rule that says that for every person, there exists a way of earning a living that is a good fit. Maybe it is a futile search.

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