There are Better Questions When it Comes to Career & Life Purpose

April 2, 2016



The number one reason you've been struggling to find the career path of your dreams is because your asking faulty questions.  


Like Carl Sagan says:


"There are naive questions, tedious questions, ill-phrased questions, questions put after inadequate self-criticism.  But every question is a cry to understand the world. There is no such thing as a dumb question."[1]


These questions we have been asked and ask ourselves are a start, but there's plenty of room for improvement so you can answer them without all the assumptions, interpretations and implications of the loaded and confusing questions they have come to be.



Faulty Question No. 1


The first question regarding career that most of us learn as children begins as:


What do you want to be when you grow up? 


This question asks you to envision identifying with a future career, not person.  It says "what" rather than "who."  But, you are not a career. 


Even if the question asked Who do you want to be when you grow up?   It says, you should dream of being someone else.  But, you are you, you are a unique person who has interests and talents.  Why not ask about all of that?


So, What do you want to be when you grow up? is a faulty question.



Faulty Questions No. 2 - 3


When it comes time to choose a major, we ask: 


What do you want to major in?


We figure out the major by starting backwards, asking:


What career do you want to pursue?


Neither of these questions highlight the importance of being aware of your own interests, curiosity, and talents. 


For example, I may not know what my interests and talents are.  But let's say my parents have taught me that "engineer" is a prestigious and respected profession.  If I care about prestige and winning over my parents with my title, then I may pursue engineering.  But maybe I do so in spite of my natural talents as a musician, or artist, or entrepreneur. 


The career overrides who I am and what I'm naturally good at.  I may struggle, finally graduate after years of tutoring lessons, get a job, hate it, quit or get fired, and now I'm forced to question myself, which could go badly.  (Happens all the time).  But it could go well if I reflect on my motivations for choosing the career in the first place and making a shift.


The above questions are faulty. 


To know the career you want to pursue, you should first have an idea of your natural talents, interests, and skills.


How do you identify those if they're not totally apparent at first? 


Unfortunately, in college, going to a career counselor is an option (not mandated) where we might be able to sort this out.  The counselor has you take assessments that describe your personality traits which are then matched up to potential career paths. 


I've taken these and studied the assessments.  They are limited to professions that already exist, a list that can be quite outdated, and they don't take into account one's interests.  Personally, I'm a retired fan.


What does: What do you want to major in? really mean anyway?


Are you asking me what kind of work I want to do?  Or what I want to learn more about?  What my interests are?  Or do I choose the career first and then the major?  Am I basing my whole life on my current interests or do I get to just learn about them and decide later?  Must these interests result in a career?  What if I don't know what I'm interested in?


Some people don't start with the end in mind.  So asking What do you want to major in/What career are you pursuing? can stress those people out.  The career wasn't chosen before the major. 


The reason those kind of people go to college is to learn more about a topic purely because it's interesting


Then there are those who don't know what seems interesting.  Ever hear of the "undecided" major?  What are my interests?  I should take some classes to find out.  It's too early to commit to a major/career! 


The questions are faulty, misguided, and uninformed.  If they were good questions, realizing our passions and careers wouldn't be so damn difficult.



Faulty Question that Misinterprets Faulty Questions No. 1-3


When we ask these faulty questions we imply another faulty question: 


What do you want to do to make money? 


This is a problem when we're trying to find a career path, which should be growing our existing talents. 


Combining career with money is problematic because most of us grow up with money issues, regardless of how much money we have or don't have. 


We learn incorrect beliefs such as:


money is hard to get

you have to work hard to make money

not everyone can be rich

money is evil


or from another angle


money is handed to you

there will always be someone there to give you money

someone else always controls the money


Money is a socially created concept and it's also emotionally loaded.  Without money we are destitute and homeless.  With money we can be physically comfortable if we buy the right things.  Knowing there is money is, therefore, emotionally comfortable as well.


We learn those emotions as children.  Those emotions set the tone for our relationship with money at an early age.


Let's say we assume that career and money go hand in hand.  And let's say our relationship with money is not positive.  If that's the case, the pressure to "choose" the right career is high.  Pressure can be stressful.  Stress is not conducive to making informed decisions.


And while you can make money pursuing a career, a career is not defined by the money that is made.  You can be a broke lawyer.  You can be a doctor with overbearing bad debt.


These questions are faulty.  They have been twisted and misinterpreted.



A Common Side Effect of a Career is Money


First of all, the definition of career according to Merriam-Webster Dictionary doesn't even mention money.


Career, as defined by Merriam-Webster [2]: 


: a field for or pursuit of consecutive progressive achievement especially in public, professional, or business life <Washington's career as a soldier>


: a profession for which one trains and which is undertaken as a permanent calling <a career in medicine> <a career diplomat>


With the term "professional" and "business", it's easily assumed that money is in the equation.  But that's an assumption.  And even if a career makes money, money is not the full function of a career.  It's a byproduct. 


For example, the second definition mentions a "permanent calling."  Is that about money?  No.  A calling is when you have a purpose.  Your desire to accomplish something defines your purpose.  


Here's the definition of a calling [3]:


: a strong desire to spend your life doing a certain kind of work (such as religious work)


: the work that a person does or should be doing



So a career is an activity by which you can evolve as you live your life with purpose, doing the work that is your calling.  A lot of times, money is a side effect of a career.



The Disconnect Between a Career and a Job


A job, on the other hand, is clearly defined by the exchange of work for money.


: the work that a person does regularly in order to earn money [4]