The First Key to Mastery: Finding Your Life’s Task

by A Manly Guest Contributor on May 16, 2013 · 46 comments

in A Man's Life, Personal Development


Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt from Robert Greene’s book MasteryLast time he talked about the importance of the Apprenticeship Phase in gaining mastery over a skill or knowledge domain. Equally important is the need for an unbridled passion that will fuel you through the drudgery of your Apprenticeship. To gain that passion, the skill you seek to master must be part of what Greene calls your “Life’s Task.” In the excerpt below, Mr. Greene shares how you can discover yours.

Among his various possible beings each man always finds one which is his genuine and authentic being. The voice which calls him to that authentic being is what we call “vocation.” But the majority of men devote themselves to silencing that voice of the vocation and refusing to hear it. They manage to make a noise within themselves . . . to distract their own attention in order not to hear it; and they defraud themselves by substituting for their genuine selves a false course of life.

—José Ortega y Gasset

Many of the greatest Masters in history have confessed to experiencing some kind of force or voice or sense of destiny that has guided them forward. For Napoleon Bonaparte it was his “star” that he always felt in ascendance when he made the right move. For Socrates, it was his daemon, a voice that he heard, perhaps from the gods, which inevitably spoke to him in the negative—telling him what to avoid. For Goethe, he also called it a daemon—a kind of spirit that dwelled within him and compelled him to fulfill his destiny. In more modern times, Albert Einstein talked of a kind of inner voice that shaped the direction of his speculations. All of these are variations on what Leonardo da Vinci experienced with his own sense of fate.

Such feelings can be seen as purely mystical, beyond explanation, or as hallucinations and delusions. But there is another way to see them—as eminently real, practical, and explicable.

It can be explained in the following way: All of us are born unique. This uniqueness is marked genetically in our DNA. We are a one-time phenomenon in the universe—our exact genetic makeup has never occurred before nor will it ever be repeated. For all of us, this uniqueness first expresses itself in childhood through certain primal inclinations. For Leonardo it was exploring the natural world around his village and bringing it to life on paper in his own way. For others, it can be an early attraction to visual patterns—often an indication of a future interest in mathematics. Or it can be an attraction to particular physical movements or spatial arrangements. How can we explain such inclinations? They are forces within us that come from a deeper place than conscious words can express. They draw us to certain experiences and away from others. As these forces move us here or there, they influence the development of our minds in very particular ways.

This primal uniqueness naturally wants to assert and express itself, but some experience it more strongly than others. With Masters it is so strong that it feels like something that has its own external reality—a force, a voice, destiny. In moments when we engage in an activity that corresponds to our deepest inclinations, we might experience a touch of this: We feel as if the words we write or the physical movements we perform come so quickly and easily that they are coming from outside us. We are literally “inspired,” the Latin word meaning something from the outside breathing within us. Let us state it in the following way: At your birth a seed is planted. That seed is your uniqueness. It wants to grow, transform itself, and flower to its full potential. It has a natural, assertive energy to it. Your Life’s Task is to bring that seed to flower, to express your uniqueness through your work. You have a destiny to fulfill. The stronger you feel and maintain it—as a force, a voice, or in whatever form—the greater your chance for fulfilling his Life’s Task and achieving mastery.

What weakens this force, what makes you not feel it or even doubt its existence, is the degree to which you have succumbed to another force in life—social pressures to conform. This counterforce can be very powerful. You want to fit into a group. Unconsciously, you might feel that what makes you different is embarrassing or painful. Your parents often act as a counterforce as well. They may seek to direct you to a career path that is lucrative and comfortable. If these counterforces become strong enough, you can lose complete contact with your uniqueness, with who you really are. Your inclinations and desires become modeled on those of others.

This can set you off on a very dangerous path. You end up choosing a career that does not really suit you. Your desire and interest slowly wane and your work suffers for it. You come to see pleasure and fulfillment as something that comes from outside your work. Because you are increasingly less engaged in your career, you fail to pay attention to changes going on in the field—you fall behind the times and pay a price for this. At moments when you must make important decisions, you flounder or follow what others are doing because you have no sense of inner direction or radar to guide you. You have broken contact with your destiny as formed at birth.

At all cost you must avoid such a fate. The process of following your Life’s Task all the way to mastery can essentially begin at any point in life. The hidden force within you is always there and ready to be engaged. The process of realizing your Life’s Task comes in three stages:

First, you must connect or reconnect with your inclinations, that sense of uniqueness.

The first step then is always inward. You search the past for signs of that inner voice or force. You clear away the other voices that might confuse you—parents and peers. You look for an underlying pattern, a core to your character that you must understand as deeply as possible.

Second, with this connection established, you must look at the career path you are already on or are about to begin. The choice of this path—or redirection of it—is critical. To help in this stage you will need to enlarge your concept of work itself. Too often we make a separation in our lives—there is work and there is life outside work, where we find real pleasure and fulfillment. Work is often seen as a means for making money so we can enjoy that second life that we lead. Even if we derive some satisfaction from our careers we still tend to compartmentalize our lives in this way. This is a depressing attitude, because in the end we spend a substantial part of our waking life at work. If we experience this time as something to get through on the way to real pleasure, then our hours at work represent a tragic waste of the short time we have to live. Instead you want to see your work as something more inspiring, as part of your vocation. The word “vocation” comes from the Latin meaning to call or to be called. Its use in relation to work began in early Christianity—certain people were called to a life in the church; that was their vocation. They could recognize this literally by hearing a voice from God, who had chosen them for this profession. Over time, the word became secularized, referring to any work or study that a person felt was suited to his or her interests, particularly a manual craft. It is time, however, that we return to the original meaning of the word, for it comes much closer to the idea of a Life’s Task and mastery.

The voice in this case that is calling you is not necessarily coming from God, but from deep within. It emanates from your individuality. It tells you which activities suit your character. And at a certain point, it calls you to a particular form of work or career. Your work then is something connected deeply to who you are, not a separate compartment in your life. You develop then a sense of your vocation.

Finally, you must see your career or vocational path more as a journey with twists and turns rather than a straight line. You begin by choosing a field or position that roughly corresponds to your inclinations. This initial position offers you room to maneuver and important skills to learn. You don’t want to start with something too lofty, too ambitious—you need to make a living and establish some confidence. Once on this path you discover certain side routes that attract you, while other aspects of this field leave you cold. You adjust and perhaps move to a related field, continuing to learn more about yourself, but always expanding off your skill base. Like Leonardo da Vinci, you take what you do for others and make it your own.

Eventually, you will hit upon a particular field, niche, or opportunity that suits you perfectly. You will recognize it when you find it because it will spark that childlike sense of wonder and excitement; it will feel right. Once found, everything will fall into place. You will learn more quickly and more deeply. Your skill level will reach a point where you will be able to claim your independence from within the group you work for and move out on your own. In a world in which there is so much we cannot control, this will bring you the ultimate form of power. You will determine your circumstances. As your own Master, you will no longer be subject to the whims of tyrannical bosses or scheming peers.

This emphasis on your uniqueness and a Life’s Task might seem a poetic conceit without any bearing on practical realities, but in fact it is extremely relevant to the times that we live in. We are entering a world in which we can rely less and less upon the state, the corporation, or family or friends to help and protect us. It is a globalized, harshly competitive environment. We must learn to develop ourselves. At the same time, it is a world teeming with critical problems and opportunities, best solved and seized by entrepreneurs—individuals or small groups who think independently, adapt quickly, and possess unique perspectives. Your individualized, creative skills will be at a premium.

Think of it this way: What we lack most in the modern world is a sense of a larger purpose to our lives. In the past, it was organized religion that often supplied this. But most of us now live in a secularized world. We human animals are unique—we must build our own world. We do not simply react to events out of biological scripting. But without a sense of direction provided to us, we tend to flounder. We don’t how to fill up and structure our time. There seems to be no defining purpose to our lives. We are perhaps not conscious of this emptiness, but it infects us in all kinds of ways.

Feeling that we are called to accomplish something is the most positive way for us to supply this sense of purpose and direction. It is a religious-like quest for each of us. This quest should not be seen as selfish or antisocial. It is in fact connected to something much larger than our individual lives. Our evolution as a species has depended on the creation of a tremendous diversity of skills and ways of thinking. We thrive by the collective activity of people supplying their individual talents. Without such diversity, a culture dies.

Your uniqueness at birth is a marker of this necessary diversity. To the degree you cultivate and express it you are fulfilling a vital role. Our times might emphasize equality, which we then mistake for the need for everyone to be the same, but what we really mean by this is the equal chance for people to express their differences, to let a thousand flowers bloom. Your vocation is more than the work that you do. It is intimately connected to the deepest part of your being and is a manifestation of the intense diversity in nature and within human culture. In this sense, you must see your vocation as eminently poetic and inspiring.

Some 2,600 years ago the ancient Greek poet Pindar wrote, “Become who you are by learning who you are.” What he meant is the following: You are born with a particular makeup and tendencies that mark you as a piece of fate. It is who you are to the core. Some people never become who they are; they stop trusting in themselves; they conform to the tastes of others, and they end up wearing a mask that hides their true nature. If you allow yourself to learn who you really are by paying attention to that voice and force within you, then you can become what you were fated to become—an individual, a Master.


To read more, check out Mastery by Robert Greene. And be sure to tune into Saturday’s podcast interview with Mr. Greene.

{ 46 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Vincent May 16, 2013 at 5:34 pm

In the process of reading George Leonard’s “Mastery.” Planning on picking up a copy of Greene’s as well. :)

2 Eddie May 16, 2013 at 7:29 pm

John Cleese once said.
If I hadn’t gotten involved with Monty Python, I would have gone with my original plan to graduate and become a chartered accountant, perhaps a barrister lawyer, gotten a nice house in the suburbs, gotten a nice wife, a few kids, and got a country club membership, and then I would have killed myself.
When you find your true calling, there is no other path.

3 Philippe Desjardins May 16, 2013 at 8:37 pm

Excellent article, I’ve felt very concerned and it helped me clear my head tonight, thanks!

4 Daniel May 16, 2013 at 8:48 pm

I’ve just finished Ishmael by Daniel Quinn, and everything seems to be a reference. I highly recommend the read, It’s tied in my brain as one of the most influential books I’ve ever read with The Art of Happiness by Howard Cutler and the Dalai Lama.

Superb article as always.

5 Avenir May 16, 2013 at 9:02 pm

You know, I started reading this and immediately thought of Matthew 25:14-29 from the Bible. It is a parable which illustrates how imperative it is that we use our God given talents rather than simply letting them go undeveloped. It’s really nice to see an article echoing that idea.

6 jerry May 16, 2013 at 9:48 pm

We are fearfully and wonderfully made.

7 Rafeeq May 16, 2013 at 10:22 pm

Great read. I’ve had conversations on this topic this week. I’m happy for the timing of the article, it helped clarify some blind spots I had concerning the stages one must experience before becoming free of the “tyrannical bosses” and “scheming peers”.

Thanks as always for the inspiring work.

8 Jay Tee (Zimbabwe) May 16, 2013 at 11:02 pm

Super..I’m loving the excerpts from the book Mastery..Thanks

9 Evan Camomile May 16, 2013 at 11:49 pm

The meaning behind “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law”.

10 Jeremy May 17, 2013 at 12:09 am

Excellent article. I just wish that someone would come up with a formula that would tell you your vocation.

I’m 27 and at the point in my career where going to work, or even thinking about work, depresses me. However, I have no idea what would excite me. I am very intelligent, but never finished school because the course track I was on did not capture my attention. I have taken a series of aptitude tests that all say I would be happy “creating things.” That’s something I already knew, but creating what?

These decisions are not easy nor simple. I often think that, perhaps, some people are simply not meant to find happiness in their work. It is a depressing thought, for sure.

Just needed to get that off my chest, I suppose, and this seemed like a somewhat reasonable place to do so.

Again, excellent post.

11 Wardy May 17, 2013 at 12:52 am

All I know is that I am leaving the world a better place than I found it, in my own small way. That’s good enough for me.

12 Lee May 17, 2013 at 1:37 am

Hmmm, not up to the usual standard, sadly. This is too much about individualism and middleclass notions of a special career, that ignores the reality of work for the majority of people. Hence its opposition to conformity (which is a key part of being a man rather than a boy, as you learn to fit into a way of behaving that is passed on to you) and obsession with the special self.

13 Stew May 17, 2013 at 4:36 am

very motivating, might have to check out the book

14 Brian May 17, 2013 at 9:06 am

I’m on career number 4–High School Science Teacher…twists and turns is right. At 38, I think I am finally settling into the industry I belong…it’s been a crazy, fun ride so far but I totally agree–the journey is as important as the end state. I could neither be good at nor enjoy teaching if I had done this at 22, right out of college. Sometimes the journey is necessary to illuminate our path…

15 Mike D May 17, 2013 at 9:30 am

Fantastic article! Finding your life purpose is sometimes a long journey. I see this as a key point in the article:

“The voice in this case that is calling you is not necessarily coming from God, but from deep within. It emanates from your individuality. ”

When a man looks inward in this way while simultaneously considering all the things he has done in his life that bring him joy and fulfillment, he can find the “common thread” that runs through all those experiences. It is in this method of balancing his inner voice with his outward experiences that finds his life’s purpose.

16 J May 17, 2013 at 9:35 am


Can see where you’re coming from, but actually in the book, the author does say people can find mastery in any field they choose (I think he cites a plumber for example).

I preferred the 48 Laws of Power personally, but I think it is an important concept to at least think about. He basically dismisses the popular myth of ‘lightbulb moments’ and ‘born geniuses’ – yes, there are indeed these rare people, but what he is saying is that we can achieve excellence in our chosen career through real diligence. Sort of a 10,000 hours approach.

I do think we should acknowledge though that there are simply some jobs in society, which, as important as they may be, will not be ‘spiritually fulfilling’. And of course, someone has to do them.

17 Brad May 17, 2013 at 10:00 am

Great read! I wish, however, it would have gone a bit deeper into losing your uniqueness and delve into dissecting that particular issue.

Good stuff nonetheless.

18 Troy May 17, 2013 at 11:11 am

In this same vein, let me also recommend Start by Jon Acuff. It is a practical guide on how to stop settling for average and excelling toward awesome. Great read!

19 Solo May 17, 2013 at 11:28 am

I have to agree with Lee and J. Are the mass of men who lead lives of quiet desperation not men? If we think that everyone can do whatever they want, are we just ignoring the folks who actually do the work that we special people don’t feel like doing?

20 Cody May 17, 2013 at 11:59 am

In Totality and Infinity, Levinas designates (many) sections to the defense of subjectivity, or what we might substitute here as individuality as marked by a vocation. He describes how labor and economics (Oeconomia, derived from the Greek ‘Oikos’ – the ‘art’ of developing a good home or dwelling; also etymologically related to what Heidegger later describes as an ethics) are crucial parts of the positing oneself as a subject through the act of ‘creating’. Labor, for instance, allows one to be judged on his/her work; thus, judgement is a form of positing individuality, since to judge presupposes a separation of beings. Anyway, I only bring this up because the beckoning described as vocation is, I believe, a primordial phenomenon which gains support as you craft your individuality through your works. To build a good home is the equivalent of building a good character; a vocation is not just mastering a ‘job’, it’s mastering your individuality, your subjectivity and, ultimately, that which beckons you toward your personal zenith.

21 ZZ May 17, 2013 at 12:10 pm

We are all unique, but most of us are just BARELY unique. Our skills and abilities are PRETTY MUCH just like a lot of other people’s with only a few trivial differences. Many of us are not suited to much more than organizing shipments of sippy cups from China in a cubicle. Should we just give up and die?

22 Andrew Elsass May 17, 2013 at 12:34 pm

Superbly stated. Been thinking about this a lot lately as I am four months into my first full-time desk job. Thankfully I’ve been blessed with the pinache to attack my dream of being an author every morning, despite, like you said, the urging of my friends and family to stick with the known and comfortable.

Kind of depresses me though when I talk to people how many think their dreams aren’t worth pursuing.

23 Chad May 17, 2013 at 12:37 pm

“Our times might emphasize equality, which we then mistake for the need for everyone to be the same, but what we really mean by this is the equal chance for people to express their differences, to let a thousand flowers bloom.”

So true and so eloquently put.

This article emphasizes the importance of finding a purpose for your life. I believe it easier for a spiritual person to identify with having a “calling” or some sense of higher purpose, which is why it is important for people who do not identify themselves as spiritual to also seek to find that purpose, within themselves. Nothing is more manly than leading a meaningful life and, when this life is over, not only leaving the world a better place, but, also, leaving a legacy.

24 Pike May 17, 2013 at 12:47 pm

This post reminds me a lot of the book The Alchemist, by Paulo Coehlo. The boy in it leaves his safe life as a shepherd to search for a treasure he sees in his dreams. Along the way he meets a bunch of people and has experiences he never would have otherwise, including meeting the Alchemist. A line that always struck me, and is similar to the above essay is “when you really want something to happen, the whole universe conspires so that your wish comes true.” I always took it to mean that if you’re really on the right path it’ll be easy to tell and easy to move forward.

25 John May 17, 2013 at 3:20 pm

This was perfect timing for me. I just got my career path figured out this week, well the start anyway. I have not been so excited for something that will be so hard but I agree that I feel i fund my calling. Reading this just helped me support my decision even more.

thank you!

26 Jack Grabon May 17, 2013 at 9:42 pm

Excellent post!

The only thing that I might add is that your calling might not relate to what you do to secure survival. In fact, you might even need a job to be able to support it.

Now, I’m not advocating a double life as you mention above. I’m simply reflecting the fact that our calling may not be something that society is ready to compensate us for. At the moment, it extremely overpays those that add little value to the scheme of things.

Fortunately, this will change with time…

27 ben May 17, 2013 at 10:03 pm

I see this as one of my biggest failures. The things I picked for college were over saturated. I did this twice. Now Im in a job I don’t care for and have no idea how to find the right path.

28 John May 18, 2013 at 1:53 am

Honesty and Confidence – a winning combination.

Great article, thanks for posting.

29 Peaked May 18, 2013 at 1:15 pm

Excellant read! This reminds me greatly of Elliot Hulse on Youtube. His whole calling summed up is; to make you the strongest version of yourself. I highly recommend everyone check him out.
his two channels are;

30 Kunal May 18, 2013 at 9:22 pm

Excellent article !! Made my day !!

31 John K May 19, 2013 at 12:49 pm

@ Jeremy,
I’ve been reading a book that’s mostly about networking, but has a net a little formula for divining your passion and goals. It’s called “Never Eat Alone” by Keith Ferrazzi.

I literally just finished Chapter 3 and started working on the assignment he writes about there, when I took a break to check out AoM and came across this article. What a buoying find! I know I’m in the right field for my skills, but now I’m looking for how to advance myself and career and eventually strike out on my own. Keeping the ideal of the Mater in mind is a great focusing tool.

32 Alex May 19, 2013 at 3:14 pm

Interesting excerpt from Greene’s book. Seems a little more philosophical than practical, but it was still a good read. I’ve read Greene’s 48 Laws of Power and really enjoyed it, but sometimes I wish he provided more modern examples as opposed to da Vinci, Socrates, Napoleon, etc.

33 Pat May 19, 2013 at 5:42 pm

This is interesting, because a few days ago I was discussing something similar to this with a coworker. We were discussing religion and the correlation it has to conformity. He ended calling me a rebel, which is fine. I personally believe “I make my own path in life, and I will not follow another path even if it aligns perfectly with mine. Because I never know where my path might take me.”

34 Robert May 20, 2013 at 5:02 am

@ Alex
I have the book here and I’m finding it hard to get through for exactly that reason. Greene gives many examples of people from ancient history, but little current and little practical application. Still a very interesting read though, and a very interesting topic to many.

What stood out in the article for me is that life indeed is not a straight line, but one with twists and turns. I’ve done a few things up till now (wait on tables in fancy restaurants, work in reception at a hotel, now working in finance) and I personally also don’t believe in the whole “career for life” concept. Unfortunately society does though, so finding your way can be a bit difficult.

35 Kagisho May 21, 2013 at 12:06 am

Indeed, your life is up to you to decide, especially when you’ve got that ‘gut feeling’ within, but with calculated moves.

36 Oliver Allen May 22, 2013 at 11:11 am

I find this site, and especially this article, extremely inspiring. But I still have a root problem. What is my vocation? No one can tell you the exact steps to look inward and find your secret superpower. I know what I used to be good at and what I liked to do as a child and still do, but which is the skill I should hone? How do I find it and choose it?

37 Devon May 23, 2013 at 1:06 pm

Brett and Kate, any chance you might expand this into some insights on a process or priority system for addressing the question of how to resolve a direct conflict between pursuing the career / vocation I absolutely love (and currently have), which involves justice, debate, extemporaneous speaking, and intrigue, but simply does not pay enough to support my family, and the “job” I feel compelled by necessity (not guilt) to go back to, which will pay double or triple but involves stale, paper-driven, introverted, repetitive drudgery?

38 Manikandtan C K May 24, 2013 at 4:21 am

Thank you.. You just made my day.

39 Demone May 25, 2013 at 12:43 am

I Feel like a different person in a positive way,I reed something that was straight me now Im gona make some changes. I know it could take time but im all for it! !!!

40 Josh May 25, 2013 at 8:02 am

Perfect timing! I came across this article as i was drinking my morning coffee. What a great way to start my day!

41 John May 26, 2013 at 3:00 am

Reconnect to your inclinations, listen to your inner voice. I do see the concept and appreciate the article very much, but this crucial step is just not explained or guided. How do i reconnect? Where is that voice of mine? Is there a certain code to unlock my soul? For i don’t believe my soul to be honest with me, following constantly “inclinations” that are made up for some reason. That is one series lacking on AoM: Who is Who & who are you?

42 Sumgai May 26, 2013 at 9:39 am

I really don’t know if Robert Greene is right on this. I’ve been learning how to draw for seven years. Before that, I’ve hardly touched pencil to paper before, so everything looked like a kid’s drawing.

Now I have a somewhat adequate grasp of anatomy. I know how to draw something that looks 85 – 90% identical to a real life object (the reference must be present, and I’m ok with black, white and gray but not colours).

It took a lot of work to learn all that. Nowadays I spend most of my free time doing it – on trains, during lunch break. I bring my drawing materials with me wherever I go.

I’ll like to get to a really good standard and earn enough to live on by my work.

But that doesn’t mean I like drawing at all. I like to play video games, they’re more fun than drawing. I’ll like to sleep more and read more, but right now I need to start putting a portfolio together and get out to find assignments.

And I know that I would have taken a different path if I had more knowledge and confidence in myself – wanted to do business, didn’t know how to do that. Could have gone into music, but practice time is limited compared to drawing (you can’t play music on the train). I was basically an incompetent good for nothing.

But what do you do when you’ve spent seven years polishing a craft? Do you keep on doing it, knowing that there’s a lot of competition out there? Or do you fall back on a regular job?

There’s nothing that I can do, in view of my previous efforts and time spent on improving. I have to keep on trying to break in and get better..

And perhaps Robert Greene might take note of that – some people feel that they don’t have a choice. It can’t just be me.

43 Kodiyak May 26, 2013 at 4:44 pm

A lot of good points made in the article and the comments. I think there’s a point of balance to be found between the article’s “follow your star” idealism and some of the practical realities brought up in the comments. Following your star can be a luxury many do not have, and they work in the job they find themselves in. However, I think you can still follow *A* star within the confines of what you do without leaving the security of a paying job.

For example, I worked in environmental consulting and really did not care for it. It was mostly post-problem reaction rather than working with people to implement proactive solutions… and many, many, many boring site inspections. But, I found I was really good at coordinating people, working with government agencies, and slicing through paperwork and red tape. So I became the “go to” guy for bureaucratic snags and clients with problems that were out of the norm (like decontamination and disposal of equipment contaminated by an autopsy of a potentially infectious patient).

So I guess you could say I “found a star to follow in the section of the sky I could see.” What gifts do you possess that you can bring to the table in the sector where you find yourself? All of that red-tape slicing and project management really came in handy, most unexpectedly, for myself when my wife lost her eyesight and we had to coordinate doctors across several states. So sometimes those “drudge jobs” pay off in unexpected ways… and may even be a necessary step in prepping you for your “true vocation.”

That also can lead in unexpected directions that help you along. Sometimes those unexpected turns come because you chose to own your circumstances rather than pining for an idealized life path. I think that’s the trick to finding balance between “childish” idealism and “adult” practicalities. You can keep your eye open for opportunities that take you in directions you feel pulled, but until then build on your strengths and own your circumstances rather than being owned by them.

I think the other important take-away from the article is that not everyone will have a linear vocational path, and that’s okay.

We’re taught that we go into college to get a degree in something that interests us, we get out, get a job in that field, and pursue it up the ladder until we retire. But it doesn’t work that way for everyone. More so because advising both before and during college are often atrocious. College is often treated as the ends, rather than the means to an end. Even though it’s been demonstrated that you really have to prep for a career with work opportunities like internships and develop a nework of contacts and such, the mantra when it comes to college is still the overly-simplistic, “You have to get a college degree to get a good job.” College is simply one piece of the puzzle, but it’s given far too much credit for being the majority of the puzzle, much to the chagrin of those who are clueless about navigating the college experience.

Students are rarely advised to look at their future as a kind of destination (though a path in itself as well) and use their schooling as a way to move in that direction. Usually college is conducted with the mentality of “do what interests you now and then get a job when you graduate” as opposed to looking for work experiences and such that help you acquire skills and build connections as well as find out about the industry you’re looking at WHILE you’re at a point in life when you can change directions without as much worry about the upsets caused to spouses, kids, and… to some degree… even finances. So many people come out of college with no idea of what their chosen industry is actually like or how their skill sets fit into it.

Not to mention people are dynamic, and what fueled your passions or interests (which for many equate to “make lots of money, get married, buy a house” and so on) at 21 may change drastically over the next few decades as experiences both in work and life shift your priorities and interests.

The TL;DR jist of that being that it’s not some great failing on your part if your vocational life was non-linear. It happens as people change and their life circumstances change. Not everyone has a ’50s-era sitcom life path.

44 Tim May 30, 2013 at 3:15 am

I just read the passage from Matthew after reading your post. I gave up acting a few years ago after becoming very frustrated with it professionally. While I never made money in it, it was my calling since childhood. I’ve noticed that I’ve been quite miserable in the last few years, as I was once before when I attempted to quit. I think I understand your post and what Matthew mean’t. A fellow actor who studies the Bible, also said that it’s a sin to squander one’s talents..

45 Lena July 13, 2013 at 9:39 am

So true for me as an experienced prof. I have learn “things happen for a reason”
once upon college time I found myself intrigued by technologies because it “sparked that childlike sense of wonder and excitement”, that was also the prime time for IT. Then IT had its own down time (after Y2K), I thought I left the field for a healthcare career. I was a fitness trainer. But this opportunity had led me back to IT field, picking up the new knowledge and more hands-on has put me in a more competitive position. It is called the “opportunity that suits you perfectly”. It’s so true. “Once found, everything will fall into place. You will learn more quickly and more deeply. Your skill level will reach a point where you will be able to claim your independence from within the group you work for and move out on your own. In a world in which there is so much we cannot control, this will bring you the ultimate form of power. You will determine your circumstances. As your own Master, you will no longer be subject to the whims of tyrannical bosses or scheming peers.” I am now my own Master and decide when to take in projects and when not to. Of course, we have to continue learning as there are other masters out there.

46 Andrew March 7, 2014 at 11:30 am

I’m not convinced. I feel like this obsession with self is dangerous rather than liberating. For any of you who’d like, here’s a post that hits the other side of things a little bit:

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