You can tell if you are avoiding personal growth in your career by whether or not you feel challenged. You can tell if you are feeling challenged by whether or not you are scared. Being scared is what makes life interesting. You should be scared that you are going to fail at something, because if failure isn’t a possibility then you are not trying hard to do something difficult.
Most people think they are challenging themselves, but most people are avoiding personal growth on some level. There are many paths to personal-growth avoidance. Here are five ways people do it in their career.
1. You aim to be a generalist. The best way to see what you’re great at is to specialize. Pick a type of work that suits your personality, then pick a field that is a specialty within that. Usually you will pick wrong. So what? Keep trying. When I was trying to figure out what I was great at, I wrote a lame novel, I pitched stupid articles to Marie Claire and I got dumped as a feature writer for an alternative weekly. This is how I learned that I should be writing career advice. The process of becoming a specialist is finding out what makes you special. How could you not want to know that?
2. You are consumed with getting a book deal. Ninety percent of you do not need a book deal (or whatever singular accomplishment would be an equivalent in your line of work). What are you going to do with that? A book will not make you rich. It will probably drive you nuts because a book is very hard to write. If you have so many good ideas, put them in blog posts. The ideas get out faster and you get more feedback. A book is good to promote something. But you need to know what you’re promoting. Maybe a company, maybe a project, maybe you want to build a community. But in most cases, a book is not the most time-effective way to meet that goal. So people who are focusing on the need to get a book deal are, in fact, avoiding figuring out what they really want. A book is a means to an end, not an end. Uncovering your real goals is what personal development is about.
3. You have never had a long-term relationship. If you have never been in a relationship for more than nine months, then you have not let anyone really see you. Nine months is how long it takes for that crazy, being-in-love feeling to wear off. (There should be a link here, but it would be to my therapist, who told me that in last week’s session.) So after getting through nine months, the clouds dissipate and you start to see your true self reflected back to you from someone who knows you well. Before that, it’s pretty easy to cover up your true self. You can manage personal development much more effectively if you are looking at yourself through someone else’s eyes. It always feels different because you can’t hide from the stuff that you wish would go away.
4. You lack strong opinions. The only thing you get to do in this world is choose what a good life is and then aim for it. But that requires being opinionated. Every day you are choosing what a good life is for you. If you are scared to have opinions because you’re scared of being wrong, then how are you making choices? If you can’t think of stuff you have strong opinions on, you are probably living someone else’s vision of a good life. Not your own. Being wrong is way better than not having opinions. At least when you’re wrong you know you are trying.
5. You think career advice is stupid. We read the most about stuff we know the most about. It’s not optimal, but it’s how we are. Do you read about how to make tutus from materials other than tulle? See? That’s my point. It may be an interesting topic, if you knew anything to start with. So it’s a good bet that the people who read career advice are very consciously navigating their personal development through their career. And people who think it’s stupid to read career advice are ignoring the fact that adult life is about getting smarter and smarter answers to the question: What should I be doing?