As I have been spending the better part of the last two months thinking about what to do next with my career, I have actually been doing something I never would have thought: reading books on the topic of “finding yourself.”
The first book that I started reading, way back in early January, was the Tony Robbins book “Awaken the Giant Within.” Sure, we have all seen the late night informercials with Tony, and some might even get the reference to Banana Hands. I don’t think I would have given this book much more than a second glance had a friend of mine from business school (someone whose judgement I trust immensely) not been singing the praises of a Tony Robbins weekend he attended. I happened to see the book in an airport bookstore and figured “what the hell?”
This is a long book, and certainly filled with what many would call common sense advice. Mostly, I think that what a person gets out of these books is based in no small part on what they were trying to get out of it. I was not trying to change my life, nor was I trying to turn a huge debt-load into a million dollar plus surplus in twelve months. Many of the personal stories in the book are of this variety. More than anything, I am trying to gain clarity on what I want out of my working career, and, more broadly, how much I want to let my working career infiltrate my private life.
The second book that I started reading around the same time is called “The Pathfinder” by Nicholas Lore. This book recommendation came courtesy of my wife, who has infinitely more EQ than I do. She knows what a traumatic experience it has been taking a germ of an idea to founding a company, building and releasing product, and ultimately selling it. While it was a fine outcome, the least likely bit was the feeling of emptiness inside of me. How much of what I had accomplished really had anything to do with me, and how much of that experience did I want to go through again? I wasn’t sure how to even begin thinking through these problems, but considering that I had a two month vacation in front of me, I figured now was as good a time as any to sort it out.
I am not sure how others use these types of books, but I went about it like I would a class in college. I had a notebook where I was taking notes, and I was dutifully going through the exercises. The big problem I have is that there is no teacher, and as such, no one of whom I could ask questions. These books are laid out to walk you through a specific experience, but they both felt very long on having exercises for the reader, and little in the way of material helping you know if you were doing things right. I tend to be pretty cerebral, and, certainly as an engineer, I like order and process. Throughout the entirety of both books, I felt like I wasn’t making progress, due in no small part to the fact that I wanted to feel like I was making progress, and without some reference point or instructor, it was hard for me to feel like I was.
Do I feel like I know more about myself now than I did before endeavoring to tackle these books? Yes. Do I actually feel more calm and less stressed about what will come next? You bet. I just am wondering how much of that had to do with the thought exercises of the books rather than the fact that I have also been on a dream vacation for two months, in two dream locations, with my family and no other obligations.I suspect that a good bit of my time in my future writings will be dealing with this topic of inner bliss. As I begin to accept invitations from companies to hear their pitches as to why I should come work for them, I feel better equipped to go through the process with the mindset of doing what is right for me, with little in the way of compromise, than taking a job to fulfill the life need of having employment, and with that being able to feed and clothe my kids. Setting the parameters for personal satisfaction is something that I did not do enough of early on in my career, nor do I get the sense that this has had any kind of importance amongst my peer group. Yes, people talk about work-life balance, but what does that really mean to them, and what are they really doing to achieve it. Besides, I don’t think that the discussion is entirely about work-life balance, but rather work-life optimization. You can be working the right amount of hours per week, but hate your job. You can be spending the right amount of time at home, but hate where you live.
When you remove the stress of where your next meal is going to come from, or the worries of having some number of monthly checks you have to write to creditors, it’s surprising the level of clarity that can be achieved.