Many of us take a job early in life that
seems to offer everything we could want in a job: it puts
bread on the table, clothes on our back, a car in the garage,
and an interesting group of people to work with.
But an increasing number of us find, as we move toward mid-life,
that we grow restless, like a caged tiger pacing back and
forth within its cage. And eventually, we realize that our
work is the problem. We weigh it in the balance, and find
it wanting. It feeds our body, but not our soul.
Long forgotten questions resurface in our mind, such as "Why
am I here on earth? What was I put here to do? What is it
I want to accomplish with my life, before I die?" We
want to feel passionate about our work, so we search for clues.
And, strangely enough, we often find the best clues
back in our childhood.
Something about that period – our childhood –
that made us see things more clearly than we knew, for we
were innocents, and our business was to play. It is
in our childhood play that the clues most often are found.
It was also our business as a child to daydream. And the
phrase we often hear, today – "Find the job of
your dreams" – harkens back to our childhood
dreams, when dreaming was what we did best.
The Story of Anne
All of this is perfectly summarized in the true
story of Anne. She is a woman who tried to make her living,
for many years, as, first, a musician, and then, as owner of
her own small business. But neither satisfied her. After twenty
years of this, someone told her she needed to go after her passion
– and said it in a way that she could hear. She went to
a career counselor, who had her write seven achievements of
which she was proud, and then search for the skills they all
used. "The common theme," she discovered, "was
that I live for data. I like to gather it, analyze it, look
at it, reproduce it, organize it and dream about it."
insight as to "What kind of data?" the counselor
examined with her each of her seven achievements. But let
her tell her own story, "The one which jumped out at
the career counselor was the fact that I had taught myself
genetics in my childhood. He encouraged me to talk about what
I'd done in genetics, particularly in sixth grade. After listening,
he pointed out that most sixth graders do not invent races
of people and then think about how all the racial characteristics
would be inherited, or spend hours drawing out the predicted
results of every kind of cross imaginable between my race
and all the others."
So that was it. Her favorite skills were with data, and her
favorite data was genetics. "I finally came to understand
that I was a geneticist, whether or not I made my living that
way." And this passion had manifested itself in her childhood,
as early as sixth grade.
She knew she had to do something about that childhood dream,
even though the idea was daunting for two reasons. One was
that she was 39. The other was that she is legally blind.
Anne found the strength by pressing into
service the delighted child that she once was.
"The thought of working in the lab to transfer
50 50-microliter aliquots of liquid from one flask to another
was maddening to me at age 39. But the six year old Anne who
filled her grandmother's drawer with tiny bottles and longed
desperately for a way to transfer liquid accurately between
them, found the experience absolutely delightful."
Anne also pressed into service from childhood
the skills she'd learned from being blind.
"I knew, because I'd had to do it in my
daily life how to infer physical location from numerical data.
I could, from the very beginning, look at a set of mapping data
and 'see' the map. The process of inference so essential to
genetics had been a part of my life for years – because
of my vision impairment, not in spite of it."
from the memories of her childhood, Anne found all the clues
she needed, to identify her passion, her skills, her special
interests, and her mission in life.
When we are at that place in life ourselves, where restlessness
grows apace, it is to our childhood we must go, in memory,
and search to find again what once was very plain to us, and
now has grown obscure: our passion in life. Or, as Anne puts
it, "I wish I could make people understand that everything
which delighted them as a child still truly matters."
A bi-weekly column appearing in the Career
Search Section of the Sunday edition of the San Francisco
Chronicle & Examiner. This column appeared February 21,