An over-emphasis on job titles and fame keeps us from living the rich and enjoyable lives we’re meant to live. Is there a way out?
I’ve never been sure about the advice “You can be what you want.”
It’s fluffy and it feels nice, but it’s not really true, is it?
Say I really want to be a prima ballerina. Even if I found my current passion for lycra and tutus earlier in life, it’s a destiny that was probably never in my cards.
I just don’t have the genetics for it.
Ballerina’s need a rare combination of a lithe physique and powerful muscles. These dwarf-warrior legs of mine might have power, but no one’s going to pay to see me in tights.
Same story if I wanted to be an opera singer. Owls come hunting for frogs when I sing in the shower. Vocal range wasn’t a gift I was born with.
And so ‘you can be what you want’ just isn’t true.
And a generation of kids who’ve grown up on this sweet smap just don’t know what to do with themselves.
“I thought about becoming the Prime Minister, but then I thought, why settle?”
I think at the heart of this sentiment though is a core I can believe in. And that’s the idea that you should never let anyone limit you or tell you what you can’t do.
I’m a big believer in that.
But I don’t think ‘you can do what you want’ is exactly the antidote. I think a better mantra for Sesame Street might be, “you need to decide for yourself what you can’t do.”
Take a look at your own gifts and talents, and decide for yourself if you’re smart, fast, handsome… whatever. And then choose your own life path accordingly.
“I alone will decide my limits.”
(And finding out where your limits are is one of the great adventures of life.)
But the other place this falls off the rails I reckon is the emphasis on ‘be’. I don’t think actual job titles have that much to do with life satisfaction. Is your average plumber happier than your average accountant? Does a famous sportsperson live a more satisfying life than a small-business owner?
Who knows? It’s completely up to the individual and their particular job.
We know what kind of things make jobs more enjoyable – things like autonomy, a sense of meaning, challenge, drawing on your creative talents… etc.
You could find jobs with these qualities at NASA and the ATO.
So why do we get so hung up on job titles? We ask our children what they want to ‘be’ when they grow up. We push them to pick something from the small number of generic jobs they understand (fire-fighter, baker…), and we want them to start identifying with it.
A better way to go is to ask what ‘qualities’ they wan to develop as they get older. Do they want to be brave, caring, adventurous, happy, driven…?
These are exactly the questions we want to be asking our selves too. It’s not about what we “do”. Is about “how” we live.
Do we have autonomy in our lives? Do we have a sense of purpose? Do we feel challenged? Do we get to express ourselves creatively?
These are the things that matter – that make us happy. Focus on these qualities, and let the ‘do’ fall into place.
In a way, kids are already switched on to it. Ask them what they want to be, and these days they say “famous”.
We live in an age that idolises fame. Even though we’ve seen the train wreck that the lives of Britney Spears and McCauley Culkin have become, we’re still drawn to fame.
Seriously, can you imagine anything worse? Photographers popping up everywhere you go.
“Shock: Jon Giaan’s beach body. Looks like someone had a good Christmas.”
It looks like hell on earth, but now it’s the number one thing our kids aspire to.
You could argue that they don’t really understand what it’s like and what fame involves, and I think that’s right.
So what is so appealing about fame?
Well I think fame is really a cluster of qualities – qualities that you can connect back to some pretty fundamental human needs.
Obviously there’s elevated social status – which ties back to security and safety.
Then there’s recognition – which comes back to connection, acceptance and a sense of self-worth.
And then there’s probably the lifestyle appeal – flashy shiny things, fast cars and aeroplanes –the ability to live in some kind of materialist paradise.
Now there’s nothing wrong with wanting any of these things- they’re pretty basic needs. But I think we can agree that ‘fame’ is probably to worst possible route to achieving them.
And so again, I reckon bring the kids back to the way they want to live, and the kind of beings they want to be. Teach them to value connection and show them that the way to build it is by putting energy into the personal relationships.
Teach them to take pride in what they do, and that success is measured by how hard they worked, not whether random people thought it was any good or not.
And let them enjoy their sensual pleasures. Teach them that the life is for enjoying, and in an abundant world you can have the lifestyle and all the things you want to enjoy. Sign them up to my blog.
But most importantly, teach them to bring their desires back to these fundamental needs. Teach them not to get too caught up on what they’re going to ‘be’, or how others are going to think about them (which is what fame really boils down to.)
Teach them to get in touch with what they truly desire. If they can get clarity on this, then they will find freedom in the world.
Teach all the kids this way…
… including yourself.
So what are you going to teach yourself and how is that going to make this the best year of your life?