You're stuck. Dead-end job and strained relations with the spouse. Your pants are struggling to zip, and you just found a bong in your daughter's closet. You consider seeing a therapist, or a life coach, or maybe a psychic. But when it comes to figuring out what you want, and how to get it, there's a newer, hipper self-improvement guru in town.
Wantology is "a critical thinking method," says Kevin Kreitman, an industrial engineer who is credited with inventing it and the profession. (Yes, her name really is Kevin; we'll get to that in a minute.) "So you can't be trapped in your own assumptions, beliefs and perspectives. It's a skill."
For a living, Kreitman, 60, helps other people figure out what they want -- for a fee of $200 an hour. People walk into her office thinking that they want to get a promotion, she says, and leave realizing that they actually want to quit. They may think they want to get married, but actually want to travel the world for six months alone. They walk in desperate to buy a Mini Cooper, and leave wanting a Toyota Camry.
Now, if at this point, you're wondering how you can become a wantologist, Kreitman's career path was hardly a conventional one. Perhaps not surprising, given that her mother gave her a boy's name -- because she never wanted her daughter to be denied a job interview because of her gender.
Kreitman's resume isn't typically female, or typically anything. After stints as a peer counselor, motorcycle mechanic, cross-country semi-truck driver, rock 'n' roll musician, and health food store worker, she got her master's and a Ph.D. in advanced technology, and consulted and taught cybernetics -- the study of complex systems -- for a dozen years.
Sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild, in her new book "The Outsourced Self: Intimate Life in Market Times," places the wantologist in the same camp as dating coaches, rent-a-friends, and professional potty trainers. Americans are increasingly, she writes, hiring people to provide very personal services that we used to do ourselves, with perhaps a little help from our (unpaid) family or friends.
This trend is tumbling fast down the rabbit hole, she explains in The New York Times: "The more anxious, isolated and time-deprived we are, the more likely we are to turn to paid personal services. To finance these extra services, we work longer hours. This leaves less time to spend with family, friends and neighbors; we become less likely to call on them for help, and they on us."
But that's not how Kreitman views her service. She regularly conducts training retreats, where psychologists and other interested parties come to learn her method. Kreitman already has several dozen disciples who are using her unique doctrine to help hundreds of their own friends and patients. That may make Kreitman a good wantologist, but not a particularly good businesswoman.
But it is true, she says, that wantology may be all the more useful now, when so many Americans are unemployed or overworked or unhappy as the economy struggles and shifts shapes. "We're having to rethink how we do things," she says. "People are used to having things a certain way. People are starting to be challenged."
What really happens in these sessions with a wantologist? Is it all New Agey nonsense for privileged folks with money and time to burn? I decided to find out. I had two wantology sessions with Kreitman, and for interested readers, who don't have $200 an hour to spend on touring the inner depths of their psyche, I've got the cliff notes. So come back to AOL Jobs tomorrow to learn how you can unleash your true wants.
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Find What Fascinates You
Examine your life up to this point: What fascinates you? What, even if I don't fully understand it, really lights me up? What is worth doing? What's most rewarding and where can I make a contributions? Dr. Shep Nuland, a retired surgeon-turned-author who was interviewed by Mark Walton, author of the book <em><a href="http://www.amazon.com/Boundless-Potential-Transform-Unleash-Reinvent/dp/0071787852" target="_hplink">Boundless Potential</a></em>, suggests, "...look back, begin to rediscover who you were when you were 15, 25, or 30 with all that wide range of things that fascinated you that you gave up to become a doctor, lawyer, engineer, business executive and so forth, to care for a family or whatever."
Look For "Flow"
Explore ways in which your personal fascination can be translated into action -- into real-world work you would deeply enjoy, and that would empower you to succeed, Walton writes. Track all the different activities you do, both at work and outside of work, and write down whenever you find yourself experiencing "flow," Walton advises. This concept, created by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, is characterized by a sense of being so engaged in the activity that time disappears; a sense of clarity, energy, creativity and joyful mastery. What aspects of your work or leisure activities evoke a sense of flow?
Don't Be A Business Card
"After being a 'grownup' for 20 to 30 years, there is a certain 'tranquilized obviousness' to our lives, to who we 'hold ourselves' to be," writes Mark Walton, author of <em>Boundless Potential</em>. "We have become, in many ways, what we print on our business cards... Psychologists call this 'institutional identity.' It took us a long time to develop these roles for ourselves, and if we have been successful, they have served us quite well. ...Recognizing our fascination necessitates looking behind the labels we have adopted, penetrating our own PR." <em>Flickr photo via: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/needoptic/5356504970/" target="_hplink">Needoptic</a></em>
Pay It Forward
As you weigh your reinvention strategy, consider work that leaves a legacy. Psychologist Erik Erikson said "In adulthood you learn to know what and whom you can take care of." As author Mark Walton writes in the book <em>Boundless Potential</em>: "...Erikson held firmly to the conviction that by creating a legacy through our love and work, by paying it forward, we generate, for ourselves, a higher order of existence -- a level of well-being and self-fulfillment that is otherwise rarely experienced." <em>Flickr photo via: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/tinytall/5003650838/" target="_hplink">TinyTall</a></em>
Think Like An Entrepreneur
Whether your reinvention involves a project, a role, a career, a business or a nonprofit, think like an entrepreneur, advises Mark Walton, author of <em>Boundless Potential</em>. Consider marketplace structures and unserved niches of demand that will allow you to pursue your new work. On the financial side, pay off any revolving debt, such as credit cards, and figure out exactly what you are spending each month. Then, set aside at least six months' of living expenses to help fund your transition. Don't buy into the illusion of safety of a full-time job, Walton adds, noting that the unemployment rate for post-midlife workers doubled from 2007 to 2009, to the highest level in at least 60 years.