We spend much of our lives being told about the golden path that we must follow. I learned about it first in a sociology class I took in high school where the teacher talked about the importance of social norms. And what better way to be socialized than to be in school? It is a time where the system tries to make you into everyone else by not only grading you on a bell curve but by having your peers accept or reject you. You either get invited to that cool party or you don't. You either get picked for that team or you don't. You have to wear the latest fashions, know the latest trends and try to act older than your age. Oh that dream of being a "grown-up" and having freedom sounds so absolutely mind blowing.
The system teaches you early on to conform and it doesn't stop there. When you finally graduate with one or two or three degrees then again, you must find that job will provide you eternal happiness. And you wait for some organization to realize how brilliant you are and pick you for that job so you can make money to buy a house and raise a family.
That is the formula that many generations have started to reject both consciously and unconsciously. Everyone is talking about the millennial generation, while I am one of the few Futurists who is talking about the change that is happening for people in their 40s, 50s and 60s. And it's happening fast. More and more people are hitting all the markers of success that they were sold and waking up to the question: "this is it?" And this is where the millennials enter center stage, as the older generation enviously see their values and the fact that they traveled more, and start questioning the path they followed.
Marketers and advertisers don't want us to figure this out as they would like us to consume more and more of their products and services. And yet, we keep building larger walk-in closets and ordering more dressers and cabinets to keep our stuff. But that stuff is not making us happy. That corner office or large cube that we earned through blood, sweat and tears is no longer enough.
We are also realizing that work-life balance is a myth and we were sold a bill of goods. We were told that we were two people: our professional self and our personal self and never should the two meet inside the workplace. We had to split and fragment ourselves and find a way to balance these two personalities. When in reality, we are one person and we want to bring our whole selves to our lives, where work is part of it.
I am personally tired of hearing people saying that we spend most of our lives at work. I have chosen the 21st century model of "life working." I no longer define myself simply by what I do but who I am. I recently went to an event and put on my name tag the title of "Janitor" because I wanted to see who would talk to me. In the past, I had the nice big corporate tile and an affiliation with a well respected company and that's why people wanted to talk to me. This time I wanted to connect with people who could see beyond the facade and would want to get to know the real me. And that's exactly what happened as well as a lot of laughter for people who dared to talk to a Janitor. And yes, I have done a lot of clean up already in the life time.
So what is "life working"? It's about showing up in life as a whole person, knowing who you are and working with purpose. Imagine a world where we asked kids "what do you love? What bugs you?" instead of "what do you want to be when you grow up?" Imagine a world where we figured it out and decided to practice our art in whatever profession we later chose? Imagine if life was more important than work and we could figure out what kind of life we wanted before we were conditioned by how we would support this lifestyle?
Imagine if you were doing your life's work? Would you retire? Would you have to escape from a job you hated to have a life you loved? We would no longer have mid-life crises because we would continuously make choices and pick ourselves instead of waiting to be picked by an employer, a life partner, or friends and family. More and more people are waking up to a deep need for meaning and purpose in their lives. The changes that are coming in our world will not come from the top of the organization, they will come when more and more of us pick ourselves in life.
We have been trained to value and reward the mind and the intellect. The 21st century is about learning more about ourselves and learning to make choices that come from the heart. The heart knows how we feel and yet so often, we intellectualize our decisions. The movement that is taking place is that many of us are starting to listen to our hearts, while taking wise advice from our opening hearts.
I had dinner with an amazing woman last month. A mom of four kids under the age of seven who told me: "I am so tired of people pitting me because my twin son has Cystic Fibrosis. Don't people understand that we all have a degenerative disease and die. Should I pity them?" She has become a patient advocate with four kids. She is amazing and nothing stops her fight for what she knows in her heart.
What's your life work or are you still trying to balance a myth?