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Penelope's Advice: Do What You Are

Penelope Trunk, whom I had the pleasure of meeting a few weeks ago in Madison, has just written what I think is her best piece. She trashes the common career advice of, "Do what you love."

She takes to task the impossibility and unfeasibility of this advice, claming that:

Often, the thing we should do for our career is something we would only do if we were getting a reward. If you tell yourself that your job has to be something you'd do even if you didn't get paid, you'll be looking for a long time. Maybe forever. So why set that standard? The reward for doing a job is contributing to something larger than you are, participating in society, and being valued in the form of money.

I love the realism in this paragraph. Sure, all of us want to do what we love. But we also have so many things to do that we need. We need to eat, have a place to live, and spend time with others. So, job hunting then becomes like a Presidential election: we choose the option that's the best among a few awful choices. We pick something we can hate the least in order to do the things we love the most.

What Penelope suggests is brilliant, although not so groundbreaking: find meaning outside of your 9-to-5. She encourages readers to do stuff like build relationships and try new things. After all, all of us are, in fact, so much more than our jobs. I'm more than CoolPeopleCare, no matter how blatantly I wear that on my sleeve, my chest or my car. All of us should be more than where we spend 40 hours a week. This is why Penelope suggests that instead of waiting to do what you love, you should go ahead and do what you are. She adds, "Doing what you love will make you feel fulfilled. But you don't need to get paid for it."

But how do we even know who we are? What if we're 19 and can't pick a major because we can't answer this question? How in the world are we going to pick a career? What if we're 30 and can’t stand one more day at our current job? Do we really know who we are when we've hated what it is we do for more than half a decade? And what about when we get married or have children or lose someone close to us or experience any other major life change that radically alters our own identity and even how we view ourselves?

This is exactly why the notion of process is key. Toss your plans of finding a meaningful life out the window and replace them with a process that leads you to continually discover and rediscover who it is that you are.

By embracing the notion of process, we understand that things don't go according to plan. Anyone who's ever booked an airline ticket knows this. By embracing the idea of process, we understand that our dreams and passions will change throughout life. By taking the steps of process instead of the steps of a preconceived plan, we live a more dynamic and meaningful life as we reevaluate and reexamine who it is we want to be, and therefore, what it is we want to do.

After all, if I were doing today what I loved and who I was ten years ago, I'd be a pastor of a Southern Baptist church somewhere.


So yes, do what you are, but realize that will change. Thus, basing an entire career today on what you love or who you are right now is a step in a direction that may be hard to reverse once you realize you're not who you used to be. Instead, allow the transformative process that is life itself to guide you in ways that are priceless – such as building deeper relationships, forming a meaningful community, and continually becoming the kind of person you always dreamed of being.

Sam DavidsonComment