want to do or to be? a question to ask in your career search

There’s a chapter in the book ‘Ego is the Enemy’ called “To be, or to do?”

This concept has been guiding my search for a career direction recently.

Do you desire to do something because you want to be that kind of professional, or because you want to do the things that come under that job title?

This question is helpful to ask because it leads to more questions like:

Am I fantasizing about taking this career path because I like the idea of it? Because the title is revered in our society? Because I’d like this title in front or end of my name? Because I have a romanticized image of myself being in that role that is conveniently ignoring or downplaying the more annoying or grating parts of being in that profession?

Or is it because I can see myself doing some kind of work regardless of how it is described by others, or regardless of whether I get recognition for it?

This question is especially helpful for people who are inspired easily and start daydreaming about being in some kind of role. You might attend an art conference and come out buzzing with energy thinking “this is it! I know what I’m going to do now!” only for it to fizzle out in a few days, if not mere hours.

Do you like the idea of being a painter sitting on a stool in front of her giant canvas in a personal art studio surrounded by lots of paintings, having crazy hair while wearing a shirt covered with paint stains, and deliberating about your next brush strokes as your cute cat wags it’s fluffy tail while looking outside your sunny studio window?

Photo by Jeffrey Riley on Pexels.com


Do you actually just like to paint for hours and would paint regardless of any of these external factors?

Do you actually see yourself doing the actual work under the job title, or do you like the idea or the vibe of it? Try to pay attention to the details of the job in real life to pull yourself out of your imagination.

Getting a hang of this takes time because your identity, and thereby your thoughts in regards to your decisions, may be tangled up in external factors like the desire to make your friends and family proud, the desire to be able to say “yeah I’m becoming a physicist” to impress the seniors you visit etc.

If you’re not used to being very pragmatic and love to daydream, this could take more time, but certainly being able to answer this question honestly will be of great help in at least eliminating some career options from your list, while you start to focus on the actual things you like or prefer to do.


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