I was looking for a book at the library. I found it, but the cover art and dust jacket description totally turned me off so I took home the book next to it instead; I Could Do Anything If I Only Knew What It Was, by Barbara Sher. Don’t feel badly, Other Book; it happens.
I Could Do Anything… description from Amazon:
A life without direction is a life without passion. The dynamic follow-up to the phenomenal best-seller Wishcraft, I Could Do Anything If I Only Knew What It Was (the New York Times Bestseller) guides you, not to another unsatisfying job, but to a richly rewarding career rooted in your heart’s desire. And in a work of true emancipation, this life-changing sourcebook reveals how you can recapture “long lost” goals, overcome the blocks that inhibit your success, decide what you want to be, and live your dreams forever!
As many of you know I’ve been looking for a new job of late. There is always more than one reason to conduct such a search, and most of the time those reasons are uninteresting unless you’re a) the one experiencing them, or b) the one asking about them in a job interview, so I’ll spare you, Gentle Reader, by leaving them out. You’re welcome.
With my job search in mind I performed a few of the exercises in Sher’s book, then decided to go out on a limb- breaking every goal attainment rule in the process- and share my responses. I’m doing this because goodness knows I process information best when it’s weighed and measured in thoughtful discussion (I’m counting on you, Nerdfighters!), but also because I’m eager to read how youwould answer the following questions and can hardly ask you to share your responses unless I’m willing to share my own first. Right? Right.
Ready? Let’s go!
Chapter 3: Resistance, or What’s Stopping You, Anyway?
Exercise #1: Meaningful Work
Here Sher asks readers to write down what the world considers “meaningful work.” She goes on to say “…in the back of your mind is the thought that somehow you have to make a contribution to something, be acknowledged, do something that matters–or you’re just fooling around.” I wrote down what I consider “meaningful work” since, frankly, the idea of pursuing a path simply because the world considers it meaningful sounds exhausting and a little silly.
For work to be meaningful to me…
- It must involve creating something new, which will hopefully be acknowledged by its intended audience as 1) truly different from its alternatives, and 2) helpful.
- It must involve working with people, either in person or through the written word, to help them understand something better, or appreciate and be enriched by something they hadn’t previously given much thought.
Exercise #2 Part A: The Job from Heaven
Sher instructs readers to include what the job entails, where it would be performed, and who it would be performed with, and not to “limit [themselves] with reality or practicality, because this is Fantasy Time.”
- Blogging about every day life
- Travel writing on back road gems, Americana road trip culture, and introducing readers to towns that barely make it to the map
- Publishing interviews/mini-biographies on “folks” I meet along the way. Not the rich, not the famous, just the folks.
- Reading to kids at the library, homeschool groups, churches, etc.
- On my laptop at the table in my ground floor hotel room with the curtains open no matter how drab the parking lot outside
- In a notepad during walking tours
- On my laptop at a large, clean desk in a home office. A home office with a door that locks, plenty of natural light, a love seat, a coffee table, an electric tea kettle, and lots of green and wood and overflowing bookshelves and a giant map of the U.S. painted onto one of the walls. A home office outside the big city, on the edge of a small town– maybe even just outside of it– but with easy access to the city, the library, the theatre, and maybe a local museum or two.
- When writing I need to be alone, but when traveling I prefer the buddy system
I think I may have missed the point ever so slightly because “Fantasy Time” this ain’t. Is it too late to tack on something like “…and spend every other week riding horses in India and make $80 gajillion dollars a year”? Or should I just be glad that my dream job is more realistically attainable than, say Ballerina or Astronaut?
Exercise #2 Part B: The Job from Hell
- Processing bills. AP, AR, doesn’t matter. If I had my druthers I wouldn’t process payments.
- Scheduling international travel itineraries
- Customer service (for past-due payment collection) over the phone
- Answering a multi-line phone
- Being the final decision maker on things involving big costs and make-it-or-break-it deadlines
- Business professional dress code
- Long hours on weekdays, with lots of weekend shifts and mandatory overtime to top it off
- Working for a company which creates goods or provides services I care nothing about, or which I actively dislike
- In a cube farm surrounded by windowless gray or institution-green walls
- In a large metropolitan area
- In a building with more than four stories, or with a configuration that necessitates taking an elevator to my floor
- In a room that’s always extremely loud or always silent
- More than a half hour commute in bumper to bumper traffic
- Intense, high pressure coworkers who start the day stressed out
- Coworkers who are cool and stand-offish and who don’t want to sit with me at lunch or show me the ropes when I’m learning my job
- Coworkers who are perpetually dramatic, narcissistic, jealous, who harbor cruel opinions, and who are more mouth than eyes and ears
- Screaming customers upset about issues I have no power to correct or change
- So many coworkers I can never hope to know all their names
- Supervisors who make politics part of the job, with the understanding that agreement is the first step to advancement
Two things struck me about the second part of this activity: 1) I was surprised (and slightly embarrassed!) at how much easier it was to come up with the things I don’t want, and 2) the “professional” skill set I’ve spent the last nine years developing lends itself to the kinds of jobs that fit this bill. Uh-oh…
Chapter 4: The Sure Thing
Exercise #1: What Are Your Escape Dreams?
Per Sher, “…make sure they’re true fantasies, and not practical in any way… Escape dream[s hold] a powerful clue to something you really need. It’s like a photo film negative of your life. Whatever in your life is missing, wherever a blank spot exists, it shows up in this fantasy. …[W]e should do something about what’s missing. Because if you don’t use that information to improve your life, you’re using escape dreams to help you avoid life.“
Yeah, I can see that.
- My escape dream involves having enough money in the bank that my needs are met; enough that I can afford to travel simply on a regular basis (road trips, trips to other countries where I could stay in friends’ homes or mid-range hotels); and enough to give generously to support charities and friends’ projects and dreams; all while being able to help family members in need and to put funds aside into a retirement account and into college funds for my kids.
- In this dream I write, I read to kids, I act in plays, I road trip, I help community theatres in out-of-the-way towns to organize themselves and reach out to their communities, and travel throughout Latin America.
- I live with my husband, kids, dogs, ferrets, and home library in a ranch house somewhere out West (not the coastal west; the north/central West) where the outside of my office door is painted to look like the TARDIS, and where we own acres and acres of land that will one day go to the kids. It’s land with hills and woods and open fields and creeks and animals you don’t want to run into at night, and there’s a fenced in area and a barn where I house transient livestock rescues for the local animal shelter, and a special room to house all my ferrets, and a tree which for some reason is always filled with crows.
My constantly recurring themes? Family, Security, and Writing. Okay you three, you’ve made your point.
Chapter 6: I Want Too Many Things; I’m All Over the Map
Exercise #1: Time Management for the Person Who Loves to Do Too Many Things
This exercise is geared toward people Sher refers to as “Scanners.” These are folks who “want to taste everything. … Because our culture values… specialization and determination, we too often think of scanners as people who simply won’t get down to work. This is a foolish cultural oversight. … We’re trained to believe that we only get one choice in our lives. But to scanners, one choice sounds like someone’s saying, ‘You can have a coloring book or you can have crayons, but you can’t have both,’ and they’re onto something. Scanners know that life is not stingy. If anything, life is too generous. The choices are dizzying. But there’s a way to manage the riches.”
Part 1. If you were ten people, what would each of you do with your life?
- Documentary Filmmaker
- Wife and mother
- Something with independent ministry projects, focusing on providing education and technical training for children and young adults
Part 2. Quickly answer each of the following questions with one of your ten lives.
- Which life can you devote yourself to this coming year?
- Which life can you do when the first one is completed?
- Which activities can you do for twenty minutes or less each day?
- Which ones can you do on a weekend?
- Which ones can you do once in a while?
Naturally I was able to match up bits and pieces- or sometimes even whole “lives”- to each of those questions. And that’s the trick, isn’t it? Being faced with the fact that if you really want to do something you can probably find- or make- time to pursue it? Given that I don’t have much of a natural inclination toward the sciences, and that some of these pursuits can take years just to get the degrees necessary to engage in them for profit and to create the necessary relationships and contacts to make them fulfilling, it’s clearly unlikely that I could pursue each of the above “lives” to its fullest professional extent. But that’s okay too, because if I achieved some of them on a professional level I’d have to spend a great deal of my time doing *mostly* those things, and that wouldn’t satisfy my inner scanner either!
The book is 322 pages long and I’m only up to page 187, so I can’t speak for the whole thing. What I’ve read so far, though, has provided a thoroughly worthwhile reading experience filled with useful advice and approachable anecdotal support for the author’s opinions. It’s a charming, simple enough read, and I’m looking forward to working my way through a few more of the exercises, particularly those in Chapter 13: A Rage Against the Ordinary, and Chapter 14: The Red Herring, or Trying Hard to Love Something You Don’t Really Want.
I’d love to hear your answers to one, a few, or better still to all of the above exercises. If you’re up to playing along you can leave your responses in the comments, or provide a link in the comments to wherever you’ve answered them elsewhere. I can’t wait to read what you have to say!