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Are We Asking The Wrong Question When Planning Our Futures?

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When Mary Oliver asked the question “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”—what was she really asking?

Do you imagine she was asking about your occupation—about whether you plan to be a bricklayer or a doctor, a teacher or a chef, a policeman or a scholar? Was she asking whether you plan to spend your life flipping burgers or settling lawsuits, writing reports or writing code?

Something tells me occupation was not what she had in mind.

And yet when most of us think about our futures and about our life paths, this is the approach we take.

We’ve been raised in a culture that’s obsessed with occupation, with doing.

And so we grow up believing that if only we could figure out our occupation—if only we could figure out what we wanted to DO with our lives—then we will finally be fulfilled and come to know who we are.

“What should I do with my life?” we ask ourselves over and over and over again. We pull our hair out in the agonizing search for that one perfect occupation, that one thing we think we’re  “supposed” to do.

I think we’ve got it all wrong, guys.

After all, it’s ludicrous to think that our fulfillment in life or our sense of who we are is wholly dependent on what we end up doing—on whether we find ourselves teaching arithmetic or doing taxes, walking dogs or waxing eyebrows.

In fact, placing sole and dire importance on doing is perhaps one of the biggest mistakes we can make, because what we spend our lives doing matters very little unless it is first preceded by the far more important, far more elemental question of being.

Oliver wasn’t interested in the specifics of our “doing.” Instead, what I think she was concerned with (and what we ought to be concerned with, too) was simply this:

WHO will you spend your one wild and precious life being?

Will you spend the minutes and hours of your precious life being who you really are, or will you spend them living someone else’s life, living up to someone else’s version of who you ought to be?

Will you show up fully? Regardless of what your hands are busy doing, regardless of your job title or your responsibilities or your level of income, what qualities of being will you embody? And how is it that you’ll choose to live this one wild and precious life of yours?

When seeking your truest career path, here’s where I suggest you start: try replacing the question of “What do I want to do when I grow up?” with “WHO do I want to be when I grow up (and who am I already)? How do I want to show up in this world?”

The question of being is the primary, fundamental, elemental question.

The question of doing, then, comes second, and it sounds something like this: “Under which circumstances can I most fully be myself? What type of occupation (and people and culture and environment) best support and facilitate my ability to show up fully as who I am?”

Because in the end, your truest occupation is not to do anything. Rather, your truest occupation is simply to be. Your truest occupation is to become the greatest, grandest, truest version of yourself—to live and breathe and become that person you were born to be.

Everything else is just secondary.

Therese Schwenkler wants to help you become your awesome self and discover your truest career path. Learn how to do this by visiting her blog, The Unlost.

Brazen powers real-time, online events for leading organizations around the world. Our lifestyle and career blog, Brazen Life, offers fun and edgy ideas for ambitious professionals navigating the changing world of work.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=664005190 Zach W Thoren

    This is exactly how I see life. I’m not concerned with doing one thing. I know for a fact I’ll lose interest in most any job I have when something else that excites me comes around. I am interested in so many things , people, places, and possibilities and I want to learn as much as I can from life by living it. I have many things that I enjoy doing and I’ve based my life so far around those things. And around good people who are similar to me, but allow me to grow by knowing them. There are a lot of things I want to do when I grow up (what age is grown up again?), but who I am will not be defined by any of the things I do for work.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1035024702 Joanna Brown

    Well said. Great article.

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  • Melissa

    Totally agree. I especially feel this since I am a stay at home mom and to a lot of people, I don’t “work” but when did we let our paid job define all we are.

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