At first glance this is a fairly unassuming book. It certainly does not scream bad graphics and self-help like some of the other contenders for your attention on the shelf. Similarly, it doesn’t have an authors name plastered all over it, in fact, it’s a bit of effort to even figure out who wrote it. It comes from the School of Life series which could easily be mistake for a joke book or something you might have as bathroom reading.
But this book is no joke. In fact, it probably struck more chords with me when it came to think about my career fundamentals than any other book, so far. It’s a very easy read and although there is no named author, it has a conversational tone and uses short stories and analogies in order to explain its concepts along with some small practical exercises to help you think about where the origins if desires came when thinking about what you want to do for a living.
Although the exercises are short, doing them takes quite a lot of thinking time, especially when some of them ask you to really analyse why it is that you think the way you do – and most of us are not very well versed in this level of deeper thought. I had to practice even though I have, in that past, thought quite a lot about these topics. I found it easier to think about them deeply for a while, but then to also have them in the back of mind to revisit over time – as sometimes what you have in the depths of your mind, and your motivations or memories are not readily available and can be triggered later. Sometimes by something completely unrelated that can cause unusual things to fall into consciousness.
The book spends a fair amount of pages exploring why it is so difficult for some of us to really examine what is in our minds and hearts:
‘Even when we accept that working out what to do is something we’ll need to devote much attention to over many years, we come up against a further, and much more puzzling, problem: how difficult it is to know the nature of our own minds.
Our brains are fatefully badly equipped to interpret and understand themselves. We cannot sit down and simply enquire of ourselves directly what we might want to do with our working lives – in the way we might ask ourselves what we would favour eating. The ‘we’ retires, falls silent and fragments under examination.’
One of the most useful exercises in the book is the pleasure points of work. It lists a number of different positive outcomes of work and helps you figure out which of these you most identify with based on some of the examples, such as, ’the pleasure of creativity’ or ’the pleasure of technology’. You could imagine them on sliding scales and attempt to mentally plot yourself on them to understand your career based motivators, which are generally different or have different weightings in everyone. It also then goes on to discuss various blockers or ‘obstacles’ that may be preventing you from understanding your life’s calling – these could be sense of duty or being too invested in our current job.
It also has other small exercises that I haven’t come across before – like one where you can imagine yourself having an interview with an employee of where you might work – one of your potential or desired career paths. I thought some of the questions were useful – ones that I would consider using even in an interview if it were appropriate, either when someone is looking to join my team or I’m even if I’m looking to join someone else’s.
- How do you feel on a Monday morning?
- Who do you admire at work? What is it about them you admire?
- Do you think you are suited to your job? In what ways? (pros and cons)
The book is short and to the point which I think is another of its strengths. Although it gives numerous examples to help you apply the thinking to your own views on work, it doesn’t labour the point or take long detours with stories or anecdotes that don’t add very much. The last part of the book called ‘Consolations’ takes a different tone, a more reflective one. It highlights some historic factors where relevant for example talking how things these days are quite different from the past:
“In 19th Century England, a respectable father could have his daughter locked up in an asylum if she persisted in a wish to become an actress or singer… Then in the early 20th century, under the sway of a romantic ideology, societies gradually freed themselves from class and parental structures. In two central areas – love and work – parents ceded power to their children, leaving choices in the hands of every son and daughter. We were liberated to marry whomever we liked and to do – professionally – whatever we pleased.”
This can make parts of it not that memorable; when I came to write this I had to refresh my thoughts but it is a small handy reference book that I will definitely be going back to periodically, perhaps the next time I’m on holiday and have the mental space to give to deep thought.