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Beware Of What You Are Good At!

When I started high school in 1991, I just knew that I wanted to do be an architectural engineer. That was my career goal. So I did what any student in my shoes would do – I signed up for 5 straight years of courses in drafting and technology as preparation for reaching my goal! I grew a lot during those 5 years and met an amazing drafting teacher who kindly took me under his wing and taught me the basics of design, blueprints, robotics, and programming. I even drafted floor plans for my future dream home!

But at the half way point of my 5th year, I knew that something off. I wasn’t happy anymore. I mean, I enjoyed seeing the finished product of my work and I felt a sense of accomplishment each time, but I didn’t like the process of completing my work.

For example, I didn’t enjoy all the mathematical calculations, the blueprint revisions, and the attention to detail at each step of the process. I was skilled in those areas but I didn’t really like working in them. This was very hard for me to accept, because I had worked so hard over the previous years to prepare for the architectural engineering career I thought I had wanted.

Needless to say, this new realization led to feelings of self-doubt and questioning. What do I do? Do I pivot my career plans? Do I go for something else? Or do I stick with the architectural engineering plan and hope that I will grow to like it more?

My self-doubt grew even more when I received word from the British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT) regarding my acceptance into their architectural engineering program: apparently they were impressed with my application and offered to pay all of my tuition for the first year! How could I turn down an offer like that?!

Fortunately, there were some trustworthy friends in my life who helped me to clarify my self-doubt. Over the course of several conversations, they help me to see that my passion was not for drafting and design, even though I was good at those things. My real passion was for people, ideas, and teaching. They reminded me of all the philosophy books in my personal library (who reads philosophy as a teenager?!?) and how much I loved explaining ideas to help people live more examined lives. I already knew that I liked philosophy as a hobby, but for some reason I discounted it as a career because I just assumed I wouldn’t be able to make a living at it. But was my assumption true?

Well, soon after I received the free tuition offer from BCIT, I took a risk and submitted a last minute application to study philosophy at a liberal arts university near Vancouver. I was promptly accepted into their program and absolutely loved all of my course work. I couldn’t believe that people actually got paid to teach this stuff!

A few years later, after pursuing additional graduate work in philosophy, I secured a 4 year teaching post at an International Study Center in Switzerland – a virtual dream job – where I had the opportunity to teach hundreds of international students from over 20 counties. It was an ideal venue for teaching people about the “big questions” of life and enabling them to live better lives as a result of grappling with those questions. It was an experience I will always cherish.

Looking back, I’m so glad that I chose philosophy, something I loved, rather than pursue what I was good at (drafting and design) but didn’t really enjoy. The hardest part of that decision was finally coming to terms with the difference between a skill that I had and skill that I enjoyed using; between something I was good at and something I liked doing well. To be honest, it was hard for me because I was praised and affirmed for my accomplishments in drafting, and it was tempting to keep doing what I was being affirmed for, instead of pursuing what I really wanted.

So this is my encouragement to you: don’t settle for a job that you are good at, even if you are praised for doing it well. If deep down inside you really don’t enjoy it, then it might be time to start pursuing what you really love. For me, it was teaching and later becoming a career coach. What is it for you?

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