Know Thyself, Know Thy Work

When you're little and someone asks you what you want to be when you grow up, you usually don't say things like: "I would like a reactive job," or "I don't really like working in teams – I'd rather plug at it alone," or "I love project management."

But yet, these are the things we need to think about when deciding what kind of job we want.

I was thinking about this the other day as I've just come out of a really busy time at work – I just published a report and helped to organize a conference, spoke at the conference and did some internal presenting of my work as well.

The adrenaline rush from these sorts of things is great. Speaking to people about what I've published and realizing it matters in some small way is encouraging and fun, but it also confirmed my belief that there's only so much of this type of work activity I can take. The exhaustion I felt after last week was incredible.

Now is the time to regroup and start working on new research and writing projects. Not only do I enjoy this part of my work, but I think I also need it. It's not downtime per se – in fact it's hard work and requires a lot of discipline – but it's certainly calmer and quieter work.

When I was a journalist I tended to like the constant deadline pressure as it kept me disciplined, but realistically, it was probably too much adrenaline for me on a daily or weekly basis.

There are so many aspects to work that we don't even think about before we set out to become a writer, journalist, teacher, programmer, doctor etc. But sometimes the way we work can be just as important as the topic we are interested in. We may want to be a writer and work for a glossy magazine, hoping to some day be a high-profile editor, but are we aware that being an editor is often more of a project-management job and has little to do with writing?

As we grow older we start to learn this. As hard as it is to admit, we realize that we are good at some things and not so good at others. And although there is always something to be said for learning new skills and challenging ourselves, we get paid more to do the things that help us shine. And the very good by-product is that it often makes us happier too. Even employers acknowledge that it's best to give people tasks that they are best at – and actually like doing.

School doesn't prepare us so well for these realities. We pretty much all learn the same material, take the same classes – and the same exams. There's not much opportunity to put your own stamp on your day-to-day life. But now that we have some choice, we should actually take advantage of it. Every job is going to have its stinky annoying bits, but the more you get to know yourself, what drives you and keeps you motivated (and calm!), the more you will get out of your everyday life. After all, we're at work for a big chunk of our lives. Living for the weekends just doesn't seem like the best option.

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