Is the word “career” hurting us?

Up the career ladder

It was a rainy day in Toronto and I was sitting at a cafe with my husband, looking out the window and people-watching. It was meditative, just to look at the world outside and forget about your own life and worries for a while. I mused out loud to myself that so many people looked rushed and stressed out. I wondered if these people felt what I too feel everyday – that I had to do more, be more and simply accomplish more things to feel like I’m succeeding in life. And it made me think about where it all began, this constant pressure that we create and put on ourselves to make sure we end up being “successful”.

Enter high school and “career fairs”. That time when we’re asked by adults and our teachers what “career” or “occupation” we’re interested in. We’re given a list of preset options for a successful life, and then asked which box we’d like to tick. Flash forward to university, and that question turns into what “career path” we’ll pursue upon graduation.

And here’s the problem: not only are we being hardwired at an early age to start viewing success as something that is two-dimensional, and centred around finding a “good career”, but the actual use of the word “career” in itself is hurting us and stressing us out. I don’t know why I hadn’t made that connection before, but it all made sense as soon as I thought about how that word made me feel.

I’d like you to try and close your eyes and then make a note of what imagery comes to mind when you think of the word, “career”. For me, it’s a mixture of the following images and thoughts: a career ladder, competition, taking exams, job interviews, promotions, networking, earning more qualifications and material success. How can all of that NOT make someone feel stressed out? Let alone a high school grad?

Here’s the one thing that the word, “career” doesn’t make us think about: purpose. Why you want to do something in the first place. For some people, they know early that they want to save lives and become a doctor, for example. But for the rest of us, since the idea of purpose isn’t introduced to us in the school system, it’s often something that we happen to stumble upon during a mid-life crisis or once we’re completely burnt out at work.

So what if we changed the conversation at an early stage? Instead of asking the question, “what career do you want to choose”, why don’t we ask, “how do you want to contribute to the world”? Already, the associations with the word “contribute” are lighter and more positive. More open, inclusive, altruistic, purpose-driven and meaningful. Let’s look at how the conversation might change.

Below are two imaginary conversations between my 18-year old self and a career counsellor at high school. The first uses the word “career” and the second uses “contribute”.

Counsellor: What careers interested you at the fair?
18-year old Alina: The people working at ad agencies and in marketing seemed fun. I’m interested in business and enjoy being creative, so it would probably be a good mix.

Counsellor: What will you study at university?
18-year old Alina: I guess I’ll need a business degree for a career in marketing. Plus, it’ll be a good foundation for most jobs in the future.

As you can see, the conversation is limiting from the outset. The word “career” forces someone to fit themselves into a box. What if it had been…

Counsellor: How do you want to contribute to the world? Is there a skill or talent you like sharing?
18-year old Alina: “Wow I’m not sure. I mean, I love making my friends laugh just through storytelling or being silly. Probably why drama and creative writing are my favourite subjects. It’s fun to see people’s reactions and see them smile. So…I guess at the end of the day I just want to make people happier.

Counsellor: How could you do that? Any ideas?
 18-year old Alina: “I’m not sure. There’s so many ways to do that. Acting? Writing? I guess anything that lets me directly influence someone’s happiness”.

See how the second conversation is more open-ended? It puts purpose first, and occupation second.

Maybe if I had had that second conversation at an earlier age, I wouldn’t have sat through four years of business school, riddled with anxiety wondering which career path was best to choose. I wouldn’t have felt “not like myself” at an ad agency where I felt like something was wrong with me because I couldn’t care less about what I was doing. Bottom line: I wasn’t living aligned to my purpose or making people happy, because I had never even thought about it.

I’d like you to try and have that conversation with yourself. How would you like to contribute your heart, soul and talents to the world? What do you like to share and give to people? It doesn’t have to be so idealistic or flowery either. You could contribute to the world through helping people make better financial decisions, helping people find a home, feeding people good food or raising good kids.

At the end of the day, I firmly believe that focusing on “contributing” instead of  “pursuing a career” is a faster way of connecting your life’s work to a purpose, instead of stumbling into purpose later on down the road. Focusing on “contributing” instead of our “career” also removes us from the rat-race mindset and makes us feel less anxious and stressed out. These days I’m focusing more on how I’m contributing to my purpose everyday, and it makes me feel more content. There’s less pressure to “succeed” in the traditional sense, just a desire to continuously learn, grow, contribute daily, and have fun while I’m at it.

 

 

About Alina

I'm a Holistic Nutritionist based in Toronto, Canada and my official title is Certified Nutritional Practitioner (CNP). I received my diploma in Applied Holistic Nutrition from the Institute of Holistic Nutrition. I'm a coach and an educator. Follow Alina on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram for all of the latest updates.
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