Guiding Mid-career Professionals to Jobs They Love

Myth Debunked: You Can’t Be Anything You Want When You Grow Up

Myth Debunked

“You can be whatever you want when you grow up.”

I can still hear my parents‘ voices echoing in my head from as far back as I can remember. Honestly, it’s this promise that drew me over 20 years ago to my career, first as a recruiter in HR, and then to career coaching – that promise that you can be anything you want to be, and that it could easily happen. You just need to set your mind to it.

But after several years as a coach, I began to notice that client after client would come to me with the same issue: They were unhappy and they were overwhelmed. They hadn’t easily found “perfection” in their careers. Most of the time, they’d found just the opposite. I found myself asking:

Why are so many mid-career professionals unhappy? How can they find greater meaning and fulfillment in their work?

That I found myself asking this question shook me to my core. My belief in this promise had led me to my life’s work. I held out my belief as truth to my clients. Was I now seeing that it was untrue? Was it a myth? And if so, what did that mean for me? What did it mean for my clients?

After much reflection, research, reading, and learning, I determined that YES, the idea that you can be anything is a MYTH. But I also recognized that this myth is not doomsday; rather, it is the key to finding the right work.

This revelation surprised me and it empowered me. Always, as I’d looked around at my occupational possibilities, I’d seen an overwhelming number of doors that I could walk through. All of them a nondescript white, any of them a viable option, and choosing among them was a scary prospect of imperfection and doubt. With such vague criteria, how does one choose?

But now, the idea of looking for the “right work” popped out at me like a spot of red in a sea of white. Instead of looking at every white door as an opportunity, I needed to identify only the red doors – the ones that fit me best.

Have you, too, found yourself in this conundrum? Have you been following the myth, only to learn that instead of searching for “anything you want to be” you must shift and find “that right thing” that fits you best? This dramatic change in perspective can be overwhelming. To help you make the shift, I offer you these three action steps:

Step 1: Get Past the Myth
The myth – the false dream – is empowering. All of the doors are unlocked for you! But the downside is that we become paralyzed by infinite choice. We remain dissatisfied and perfection lives out of reach.

Instead, recognize that you can’t and shouldn’t try and open ALL of the doors. Instead, just find YOUR doors. Which ones are ideally suited to you? Open only them.

Step 2: Narrow Your Options (to what you truly can be)
So how exactly do you narrow down your options? In a sea of white, how do you find your red doors? I recommend taking two steps:

First, review your strengths and weaknesses:

  • What do you like? What are you good at?
  • What don’t you like? What aren’t you good at? Capture all of these ideas into these so you end up with 4 categories.

Next, evaluate your values and what’s most important to you:

  • What is most important to you?
  • What kind of person do you want to be?

Put your strengths and weaknesses together with your values and you have the lens that allows you to see YOUR doors – the careers that will be most fulfilling and that you’ll be most successful at.

Step 3: Get Into Action
Seth Godin has a quote that I love: “The long way is the short cut.” This is essential to keep in mind when you are trying to make a change. Once we identify which doors belong to us, we need to take deliberate action steps to be able to open and enter them.
I recommend starting your action planning with two simple questions:

  • What do you want more of?
  • What do you want less of?

This will guide your action and help you access your doors even if you have been spending your time behind the wrong ones.

You CAN’T be anything when you grow up. It is a myth to believe so, but don’t let that discourage you. This is where the power and ease can be found. You CAN find the right work for yourself when you recognize this falsehood and, instead, look inward to create meaning for yourself. Narrow down your options to recognize your doors, take intentional action to open the door, and walk into happiness, fulfillment and meaning.

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