That is: how so many people I know have personal cultures that are gravely mismatched to their work culture. They’re about one thing, and the place where they spend their days and collect a paycheck from is about another. And they want a way out because it’s slowly killing them.
All of the big motivational talking heads and the coaches write about this constantly, using phrases like “living your dream” and gossamer-quality words like “potential.” They fill up events and sell books and get on Oprah specials.
Is there anything that hasn’t been said? Any vision-building exercise that hasn’t been illuminated?
But that there is so much chatter about it doesn’t make it stop being a thing. That a group of people are making millions of dollars inspiring the masses of unhappy people isn’t really eradicating the cultural/occupational mismatch brewing in so many people’s lives.
In fact, these conversations are coming at me rapid-fire lately. Friends, relatives, and colleagues—from recent college grads to people close to retirement—have been telling me about the situations they’re stuck in. And I feel for them.
Now, they’re not caught in the crossfire of warring factions and their children aren’t dying from malaria. They know in the scheme of things, life isn’t so bad.
It’s just soul-sucking.
I had one of these conversations the other day with a friend. She named a handful of co-workers who are really struggling at this company: we’re all just wage slaves with families to support, she said. So what if we’re not that happy? So what if the management team is divisive? We have good jobs. We’re well paid. What else are we really gonna do?
I have another younger friend with a less-than-great job. She’s low girl on the totem pole, and isn’t well-paid. But she lacks experience. How do I get what I need to move on out of here, she wonders?
I know that some of the people I’ve been talking to really don’t intend to do anything else. Venting is just part of the cycle that keeps them comfortable. And that’s okay. But others . . . well, you’re the ones I’m talking to.
What Are You Really Going to Do?
So I have two things to say. The first is a piece of that gossamer. But the second is probably the thing that means more.
So first, if you know me, you know that I try to talk just about everyone into starting their own business. I make it sound easy. Just do it, I say. Look, I say, I’m doing it. And do I seem that special, really? I’m just a trustfund-less girl who went to a state school. My business started in 1998 with one article for the community paper: a sweet story about my brother’s girlfriend’s family, for which I got paid $25. I didn’t even know how to interview someone, and I had no idea that telling stories was a real career. And now my husband stays at home with the kids and I support my family.
It’s the personal testimonial story. The “I’m doing it, so why can’t you story?” It’s the sparkly inspiration.
And it’s genuine. I mean every word. I see the possibilities for people long before they see it themselves. I want them to feel empowered. I want them to see what I see, and then act on it—whether it means starting their own thing or changing industries.
But really, it’s about a bridge. And that’s part two of my answer.
To un-stick your soul from whatever is squishing it, you have to build a bridge to something else. Another career. Your own business. A different set of clients. Or maybe just a different attitude.
Building a bridge is about a process of slow transformation. A series of thought experiments and conversations and painful moments. A migration from thinking one thing is true to thinking another thing might be true. And then, migrating yet again from doing nothing about it to doing something about it.
The idea of leaping is very glamorous. Most of us who run our own business or love our jobs like to tell stories about taking a big leap.
But if you really look at our histories, a lot of us are bridge-builders. Getting a new endeavor going meant freelancing on the side, moonlighting, volunteering, day-dreaming, and just trying a bunch of different things before hitting on a formula that sort of worked. It meant doing a little less of the stuff we didn’t like each day, and a little more of the stuff we did like.
Building a bridge is looking at what you have now that you can use, and what you don’t have, but can get where you currently are.
It’s using the system to build the thing you need to walk on out of it.
Of course there is a place for inspiration. Why do I write this thing if not to inspire?
But the thing is, testimonials and pieces of gossamer don’t really help you with the bridge. In fact, they’re pretty useless—distracting even—when you’re just trying to drive a beam into the river bed.
The other thing about building a bridge is that while you have to work at it just about every day, it’s not that linear. And big chunks of the bridge sometimes topple over, and you realize you might need an engineer to talk this thing through with you.
So then, back to our question: what are you really going to do?
Well, you can stay and suck up the mismatch and misery. A lot of people do.
You can grab a piece of inspiration and take a leap. There are plenty of books and speeches about it.
Or, there’s the third way: build a bridge and see.