Last Updated: Oct 28, 2013
Oscar Wilde said that if you know what you want to be, then you inevitably become it. That is your punishment. But if you never know, then you can be anything. There is a truth to that. We are not nouns, we are verbs. I am not a thing—an actor, a writer—I am a person who does things—I write, I act—and I never know what I am going to do next. I think you can be imprisoned if you think of yourself as a noun. – Stephen Fry
For as long as I can remember, I thought something would happen or someone would make me realize or some inspiration would fall from the heavens that would make me uncover precisely what it was career-wise I am “destined” to do. I put this intense pressure on myself to find out what it is I am “meant” to do in this world, as if I am only meant to do one thing or one job, as if I am only on this earth for one reason. Thinking about it in those terms makes me realize that it sounds kind of silly when you say it out loud, and it makes me realize that, even if something had happened and I had had this grand realization, maybe I would have been selling myself short.
Needless to say, in high school, I thought I would get this sign before college so I could choose my major accordingly. The sign never came so I just did what I thought I should do. Action taken—no matter what that action is—is always a way to progress and move forward, even if you are unsure of the direction you should be moving in at the time. Will Rogers said, “Even if you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.” You have to move. During college, I thought (again) that something would happen to make me find the career path for myself. I threw myself into my classes, worked as hard as I knew how, tried to branch out and meet new people and discover new options, joined different clubs and organizations, and still I never got a sign like I had hoped for so long. But I kept on going regardless.
After graduation, when I began working in “the real world,” I thought that perhaps those new experiences might uncover what it was I am “meant to do.” After this time and after many experiences, I think I began to come to terms with the fact that there was no absolute sign coming to lead me in the right direction. I still believe in following your heart and following your passions, but I no longer believe that I need to wait for anything (or anyone) to tell me who it is I am supposed to be in order to be that person.
I once read that “your dream job does not exist—you must create it.” And that is the philosophy I believe in today. I can reframe my desire to find what I am “meant for” into designing work that speaks to my soul, that aligns with my passions, that makes me feel fulfilled and alive. But I don’t have to limit myself to the confines of any one field or any one noun. And that is where I fall directly and perfectly in line with Stephen Fry’s aforementioned belief that we are not nouns. We are not stationary. We are not one-dimensional. We are verbs. And once we realize this truth, we free ourselves to live and be and act out the many verbs we hold in our hearts.
I have always been a firm believer in “doing it all,” something that I still hold close to my heart and something that I hope to be able to live out in my future. I would like to think it is possible if I work my hardest and do my best in every way that I can. Sometimes I have a paralyzing fear that I won’t be able to do all I hope to do or have an impact on people’s lives in the way I so want to. When I get this feeling, it can be hard to know where to turn or what to do in the present moment. Sometimes it can make me feel like I am wasting the precious time that has been given to me, even though I know I am taking steps toward the right path for myself.
Once when I was in a Whole Foods, I opened a tea that had a “six-word story” on the inside of the bottle cap. It said, “Finding myself by process of elimination.” No doubt I can empathize with the person who wrote that story. But should there be any reason to think there is anything wrong with that? Can’t we try on different things so that we know what the best fit is for ourselves and for the world around us? Would it be unfair—a disservice even—not to do this? And can’t we like more than one outfit? Can’t we see ourselves spending a great deal of time in more than one place?
The answer, to all of the above, is yes. And that is why you must remind yourself, amidst your struggles and self-doubts, that you can be so much more than society’s idea of a career. Because you are a verb, constantly moving, constantly changing, constantly rising to the challenge at hand. You teach, you write, you lead, you build, you care, you speak, you research—you live. You can do all of these things as seminal aspects of your current (or future) career. This leaves the possibilities wide open for you. It takes away any chains or ties we had to the belief that we “have” to choose one job or one major or one career path to follow. It reminds us that we are free.
Free. Free to follow different paths! Free to change our minds! Free to listen to the advice of others and then to do what we wanted to do all along anyway! Free to try a job on, decide it is not the right fit, and leave. Free to actively and completely be a human being who writes while simultaneously being a human being who teaches, or one who gives presentations, or one who does research or one who travels. It’s okay to want different things, so many things even that you feel like you can’t ever accomplish it all. It’s okay to believe that somehow, maybe someday, you can make all of these dreams in your heart and goals in your mind a reality, that maybe someday you can find a way. But it is also okay to know that accomplishing these many things will only happen by taking them one step at a time—one small step at a time.
Katie Kacvinsky once said, “You need to be content with small steps. That’s all life is. Small steps that you take every day so when you look back down the road it all adds up and you know you covered some distance. It took me a long time to accept that, but it’s true. You need to have patience.” Be deliberate about your steps. Be confident in the direction of those steps if you know where you want to go. Be open to the possibility that what you think you know could be different than what actually is, and thus be open to the fact that you may have to reroute somewhere along the way. But be content and proud of yourself for taking these steps, for taking steps at all means you are moving along as you should be.
There was an article in the Harvard Business Review not too long ago in which the author, Nick Tasler, said, “It is helpful to remember here that in the real world, ‘perfect’ options are a myth. Decision-making will always be an exercise in coping with an unknowable future. No amount of deliberation can ever guarantee that you have identified the ‘right’ option. The purpose of a decision is not to find the perfect option. The purpose of a decision is to get you to the next decision.” So do what you think you should do. Follow your heart, but don’t get too caught up in overthinking or overanalyzing or worrying that any one decision will make or break your professional life. Be smart about it, seek the advice of those you trust, and then act. Act with the knowledge that you are still a verb, and that you can live out your life as an action verb, constantly weaving and bobbing and being many different things at once to ultimately construct that dream job you are creating, one small step at a time.