Career Amnesia

Career Amnesia

You may have seen the news story. A teen was recently found in New York City with no memory of her name or personal history. Her amnesia was profound. Happily, however, the story ends well, as a CNN viewer recognized the girl’s photo and identified her as a missing person from Oregon. She’s now on her way to being reunited with her family.

But think about what it would be like to be in her situation. Not knowing who you are. Unable to remember anything that’s important about you or to you. It would be a horrible even desperate condition. Without our self-identify, we are … well, that’s the point—without our self-identity, we aren’t.

Which is why I am astonished at how many people willingly subject themselves to “career amnesia.” They invest thirty, forty, fifty years of their life in a career without knowing what their true talent is or what they have the potential to do with their work. According to a recent poll, an astonishing 88% of Americans daydream at work about quitting their jobs to do something else, something more meaningful and rewarding to them. They don’t forget who they are; they never figure it out.

How do we fall into such a trap? Many of us graduate from college and head off into the workforce without having spent a credit hour on the tough subject of ourselves. So, what happens? We fall into a career field, work at it diligently and eventually acquire a degree of expertise in accomplishing the work involved. But here’s the rub: competence isn’t talent. We can do a job well, but if it doesn’t thrill or challenge us, we will never express and experience the best in us.

On the other hand, many of us believe we should work at our passion. We read all the books and listen to the gurus who tell us we should do what we love to do. And then reality sets in. We may want to write the great American novel, but Hemingway has nothing to worry about. So, what happens? We convince ourselves that work is a four letter word. It is a demeaning and depressing passage, and the best we can hope for is enough of a salary to support the enjoyable parts of our lives.

These kinds of experience are common in America today, and they are symptoms of career amnesia. Many of us are standing on a corner in New York City with absolutely no sense of who we are or were meant to be. And that’s a tragedy. Because we all have a gift, an identity—an inherent talent. It is not, however, either competence or passion. Our talent is the intersection of two things we know—or can know—about ourselves: it is both what we love to do and do best.

There’s only one way to avoid the tragedy of career amnesia. We must give ourselves permission to take the time and make the effort to discover our talent. We can’t rely on someone else to find out who we are. No photo on the evening news will reveal our true identify. We have to do it, and we must. We spend one-third of our day at work, and that time should be every bit as good as the rest of our lives.

Thanks for reading,
Peter