Your Real Career

In The Joy Diet, Martha Beck poses an important question (and one you may not expect from a book with the word "joy" in the title) to help identify your "real career:"

How do you want to live, given that you'll be dead pretty soon?

Your guidance counselor may not have approached your career path in quite the same way. But the one thing we all have in common is that we one day we will die. And better to think about this now if it spurs you to consider what matters most to you.

Martha says that your real career boils down to two basic questions. Go ahead and write down your answers. It may help to recall your thoughts and actions following the events of 9/11. Your responses will clarify your values and purpose, helping you design a meaningful life.

  1. When your life is over, how do you want the world to be different - in large ways or small - because you have lived?
  2. What experiences must you have to feel you've lived a completely satisfying life?

There you have it - your real career - comprised only of the activities and experiences that allow you to accomplish and experience what you listed above. According to Martha Beck, if you can make these things happen, you will have a wildly successful career, even if you never earn money in the process. On the flip side, there's no amount of wealth, power, or fame that can make up for never realizing the goals of your true career.

So how do we apply this to our lives? First, understand that Martha's use of the word "career" extends beyond a job and refers to "the course of action your true self would take if you were to live to the limit of your potential." So if you're currently unemployed or retired or at home with kids, you still have a real career. Your real career may change course during your life, but as long as you're focused on activities that are part of your real career, you're infusing your life with purpose and meaning.

Second, it helps to think of most jobs and activities as games we play to support our real careers. More on this and how to choose your games in tomorrow's post...