At the moment, a long human life runs at about , hours. Quality of Life. Your career has a major effect on all the non-career hours as well. For those of us not already wealthy through past earnings, marriage, or inheritance, a career doubles as our means of support.
John Donne | Poetry Foundation
On top of your career being the way you spend much of your time and the means of support for the rest of your time, your career triples as your primary mode of impact-making. Every human life touches thousands of other lives in thousands of different ways, and all of those lives you alter then go on to touch thousands of lives of their own. All lives make a large impact on the world and on the future—but the kind of impact you end up making is largely within your control, depending on the values you live by and the places you direct your energy.
Whatever shape your career path ends up taking, the world will be altered by it. In our childhoods, people ask us about our career plans by asking us what we want to be when we grow up. When we grow up, we tell people about our careers by telling them what we are. Which is kind of a big thing. Which brings us to you.
We can group map holders into three broad categories—each of which is well-represented in the river, in the pond, standing on the shore, and at every stage of adult life. These are people who feel indecisive about their career path. Other people will see a nice clear arrow representing a direction they feel confident is right—but find their legs walking in a different direction. Was it really me? Extremely fair question.
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This framework has worked really well for me, so I think it can probably be helpful for other people too. From first principles. In the cook-chef post , I designed a simple framework for how a chef makes major career choices. At its core is a simple Venn diagram.
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The first part of the diagram is the Want Box, which contains all the careers you find desirable. The second part of the diagram is the Reality Box. The Reality Box is for the set of all careers that are realistic to potentially achieve—based on a comparison, in each case, between your level of potential in an area and the general difficulty of achieving success in that area. The overlapping area contains your optimal career path choices—the set of arrows you should consider drawing on your Career Map. We can call it the Option Pool.
This is straightforward enough. But actually filling in these boxes accurately is way harder than it looks. For the diagram to work, it has to be as close to the truth as possible, and to get there, we have to lift up the hood of our subconscious and head down. The hard thing about the Want Box is that you want a bunch of different things—or, rather, there are a bunch of different sides of you, and each of them wants—and fears—its own stuff. And since some motivations have conflicting interests with others, you cannot, by definition, have everything you want.
The Want Box is a game of compromise.
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To do a proper Want Box audit, you need to think about what you yearn for in a career and then unpack the shit out of it. Luckily, we have someone here who can help us. The Yearning Octopus. We each have our own personal Yearning Octopus 5 in our heads. The first thing to think about is that there are totally distinct yearning worlds —each living on one tentacle.
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These tentacles often do not get along with each other. It gets worse. Each tentacle is made up of a bunch of different individual yearnings and their accompanying fears—and these often massively conflict with each other too. The dreams of 7-year-old you and the idealized identity of year-old you and the secret hopes of year-old you and the evolving passions of your current self are all somewhere on the personal tentacle, each throwing their own little fit about getting what they want, and each fully ready to make you feel horrible about yourself with their disappointment and disgust if you fail them.
On top of that, your fear of death sometimes emerges on the personal tentacle, all needy about you leaving your mark and achieving greatness and all that. And yet, the personal tentacle is also one that often ends up somewhat neglected. This neglect can leave a person with major regrets later on once the dust settles. An unfulfilled Personal Yearnings tentacle is often the explanation, for example, behind a very successful, very unhappy person—who may believe they got successful in the wrong field.
The Social Yearnings tentacle is probably our most primitive, animal side, with its core drive stemming back to our tribal evolutionary past. On the tentacle are a number of odd creatures. This means he craves acceptance and inclusion and being well-liked, while likewise being petrified of embarrassment, negative judgment, and disapproval. More upsetting to it than being disliked is being ignored.
It wants to be relevant and important and widely known. There are other characters milling about as well. The judge is also big on holding grudges—which is the reason a lot of people are driven more than anything by a desire to show that person or those people who never believed in them. Finally, some of us may find a loving little dog on our social tentacle who wants more than anything in the world to please its owner, and who just cannot bear the thought of disappointing them.
The Lifestyle Yearnings tentacle mostly just wants Tuesday to be a good day. But like, a really pleasant, enjoyable day—with plenty of free time and self-care and relaxation and luxuries. Life should be full of fun times and rich experiences, but it should also roll by smoothly, without too much hard work and as few bumps in the road as possible.
The part of the tentacle that just wants to sit around and relax will hold you back from sweating to build the kind of career that offers long-term flexibility and the kind of wealth that can make life luxurious and cushy and full of toys. The part of the tentacle that only feels comfortable when the future feels predictable will reject the exact kinds of paths that may generate the long-term freedom another part of the tentacle longs for.
The Moral Yearnings tentacle thinks the rest of the tentacles of your Yearning Octopus are a real pack of dicks—each one more self-involved and self-indulgent than the next. The parts of you on the moral tentacle look around and see a big world that needs so much fixing; they see billions of people no less worthy than you of a good life who just happened to be born into inferior circumstances; they see an uncertain future ahead that hangs in the balance between utopia and dystopia for life on Earth—a future we can actually push in the right direction if we could only get our other tentacles out of our way.
While the other tentacles fantasize about what you would do with your life if you had a billion dollars in the bank, the moral tentacle fantasizes about the kind of impact you could make if you had a billion dollars to deploy. Needless to say, the other tentacles of your Yearning Octopus find the moral tentacle to be insufferable.
Likewise, not doing anything for others can hurt you on multiple tentacles—the moral tentacle because it feels guilty and sad, the social tentacle because this may cause others to judge you as a selfish or greedy person, and the personal tentacle because it may lower your self-esteem. At its basic level, your practical tentacle wants to make sure you can eat food and wear clothes and buy the medicine you need and not live outside. Then there are the distinct individual yearnings on each tentacle, often in conflict amongst themselves.
Or when you want so badly to be respected, but then you remember that a career that wins the undying respect of one segment of society will always receive shrugs from other segments and even contemptuous eye rolls from other segments still. So yeah, your Yearning Octopus is complicated. Human yearning is a game of choices and sacrifices and compromise. When we think about our career goals and fears and hopes and dreams, our consciousness is just accessing the net output of the Yearning Octopus—which is usually made up of its loudest voices.
The stuff in your subconscious is like stuff in the basement of a house. We can go look at it anytime—we just have to A remember that the house has a basement, and B actually spend the time and energy to go down there, even though going down there might suck. The way to start turning the lights on is by identifying what your conscious mind currently knows about your yearnings and fears, and then unpacking it.
Which tentacles in particular are yearning for that career—and which specific parts of those tentacles? You want to find the specific source of the fear. Is it a social tentacle fear of embarrassment, or of being judged by others as not that smart, or of appearing to be not that successful to your romantic interests? Is it a personal tentacle fear of damaging your own self-image—of confirming a suspicion about yourself that haunts you?
Is it a lifestyle tentacle fear of having to downgrade your living situation, or of bringing stress and instability into a currently predictable life? Or are a few of these combining together to generate your fear of making the leap? Maybe you pine to be rich. All five tentacles can feel a desire for wealth under certain circumstances, each for their own reasons. Unpack it. As you unpack an inner drive to make money, maybe you discover that at its core, the drive is more for a sense of security than for vast wealth. That can be unpacked too. A yearning for security at its simplest is just your practical tentacle doing what your practical tentacle does.
Or perhaps what you really want is a level of security so over-the-top secure it can no longer be called a security yearning—instead, it may be an impulse by the emotional well-being section of your lifestyle tentacle to alleviate a compulsive financial stress you were raised to forever feel, almost regardless of your actual financial situation.
The answers to all of these questions lie somewhere on the tentacles of your Yearning Octopus. And by asking questions like these and digging deep enough to identify the true roots of your various yearnings, you start to turn on the basement light and acquaint yourself with your octopus in all its complexity. Pretty quickly, a yearning hierarchy will begin to reveal itself.
Once you have a reasonably clear picture of your Yearning Octopus, you can start doing the real work—work that takes place another level down in your subconscious, in the basement of the basement. Here, you can set up a little interrogation room and one by one, bring each yearning down into it for a cross-examination. Why did that particular Because lead you to want what you now want?
And when did that particular Because gain so much gravity with you? You never stopped to ask yourself whether your own accumulated wisdom actually justifies the level of conviction you feel about that core belief. In a case like this, the yearning is revealed to be an imposter pretending to be an authentic yearning of yours.
In a 1 scenario, you can be proud that you developed that part of you like a chef.
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You might even find that some of your yearnings and fears were written by you…when you were seven years old. Humble people are by definition influence-able—influences are an important and inevitable part of who each of us is. The key distinction is this:. Or are your influences themselves actually in your brain, masquerading as inner you?