Searching For Your Calling

Quest Or Curse?

by Nina Ham

Judging by the extraordinarily positive reader response to Po Bronson's What Should I Do With My Life?, people are aching for a sympathetic outlook on their stories of career dissatisfaction. They tend to be their own harshest critics, often riddled with self-doubt and embarrassment about not getting this "career thing" right. Maintaining a constructive attitude is challenging. In spite of contrary statistics - such as, the average American changes jobs eight times over the course of his/her lifetime - we still tend to harbor the expectation that we "should" decide by our late 20's/early 30's what we want to do and follow that thread for the remainder of our working lives. As T. puts it, "My search for work I'm passionate about is regarded by my friends like a child's drawing that's put up on the refrigerator. . . isn't that cute!"

If you're in a career transition, what's the finger-pointing you're doing at yourself? Does any of these sound familiar?

If this were taking place in a courtroom instead of inside your head, your attorney would undoubtedly argue for extenuating circumstances. Ask yourself the following:

What did you learn in your formal education about making a good career choice?

When were you encouraged to match your abilities, values, and personality to career options, and shown how?

Would you ever consider marrying someone you hadn't dated first?

Are you ever told that what you're qualified to do something that earns a decent wage is not sufficient reason to keep doing it?

Do you know where you can get reinforcement for continuing to search for work you're passionate about?

Did you have models for matching changes in work with changes in life stage?

Did you know that having an identity crisis or upheaval every 10 years is considered normal and healthy, and identity is largely shaped by love and work?

Case rests. Support systems for people in career transition are lagging woefully behind the sea changes that are occurring in the way we do work. But you are ultimately responsible for your attitude. Every day, the single most important decision you make is your outlook toward your search. Here are some suggestions for maintaining positive momentum:

Don't be afraid to make a temporary job move, to buy time and diminish the financial pressure. You can use it to check out some components of your eventual choice.

Consider the territory between your ears - worry, self-criticism, confusion - a bad neighborhood. Don't hang out there alone. Talk with someone, a friend or a professional, who is more objective about you and your abilities than you are.

Don't shortchange your intuition. Trying to figure this out may not be the best way. Let some insights/hunches/visions come to you.

You're learning career development skills here. This will probably not be your final change.

Check out the Po Bronson's chatroom: Your sense of being alone in your angst will dissolve.

And finally, here's a perspective I'd like to offer. Engaging courageously and wholeheartedly with the question "What should I do?" is the single most pro-active step you can take. After interviewing 900 people, Po concluded that the biggest obstacle to answering the question is guilt about taking it seriously. Work, when it's right, is how we forge our place in the world; the process of finding it clarifies and hones who we are and who we want to be. Asking the hard questions (What do I want? What impact do I want to have? Who do I want to become?) and giving time to the inner and outer research, is surely one of the most important life investments you can make.

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About the Author

Nina Ham, certified coach and licensed psychotherapist, is principal of Success from the Inside Out, providing individual coaching and teleseminars to build the skills, attitudes and habits for sustainable success in your career or business. Mail to:, subscribe in subject line, for free monthly e-zine, or visit

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