WHAT DO YOU WANT to be when you grow up?
It’s a question that’s hammered into most of us since childhood. One we’re forced to answer early and often, at a time when our only reference points are the few adults surrounding us. Parents, teachers, firefighters and zoo-keepers—those who stand out in their bold costumes and obvious responsibilities.
Remember how you used to answer? Remember your first dream job? (Of course you do.)
Astronaut? Actor? Musician? Athlete? Detective? Veterinarian? Ventriloquist? Scientist? Socialist? Senator?
It’s a question that weighs heavier on us the closer we get to that perilous transition between school and the Real World (as misnamed and terrifying a moniker as that may be), culminating in possibly the most stress-inducing iteration of all: “What are you going to do after graduation?”
Or the variation posed by our more cerebral allies: “What will we become?”
Or the one that haunts us as we lie awake at night: “What will I do with my life?”
Those lucky enough to have the liberty to explore answers to these questions may find themselves on a path that’ll last a lifetime. One that zigs and zags and winds through the cosmos, sometimes spanning industries, trades, professions, time zones and even cultures. The desire to find our place moves us all differently. We all search in our own ways.
But we all search.
Many of us actively. Some, haphazardly. Others, desperately. Seeking, yearning, climbing, crawling, clawing . . . Looking for our fit. Our kingdom! Our calling.
Some who can’t find it, build it. Yet even those of us who can’t create it still try as we might to shape it.
But how? We ask ourselves, haggard and road-weary as we wade through the jungles of modernity, leaving job after job in our wake. Or rather what, if it even exists, does this elusive gig look like? What is The Perfect Job?
Here at Firebelly Industries, we try to simplify.
To visualize. To reduce things to their barest bones. Their purest form. Their most honest essence.
One way to do this is with diagrams. Graphs, dots, circles and lines. Audacious attempts to represent big things swiftly and succinctly.
Like all things, finding our overlap—our happy sweet spot—is about balance. About trade-offs. About luck.
There’s the people. Those we work with. Day in and day out. Do you like them? Do you respect them? Are they your kind of humans? Do they inspire you? Challenge you? Make you better? Do you enjoy spending time with them? Would you say hi to them if you ran into them at the mall?
There’s the stark reality of the job itself, the practice. Whether you’re a pop super star or paralegal, a dentist or a designer—do you like what you do? The day-to-days. The tasks, the activities, and all that goes into it. Is what you’re doing fundamentally what you want to be doing? With your time? With your life?
And then there’s the purpose, the mission. The greater “why” and all of the context that surrounds it. What’s the spirit of the job, the company, the pursuit? Its reason for being. Do you believe in it? Do your values align? Are you contributing in a way that’s meaningful?
One might claim that inhabiting just one of these three spheres is the bare minimum for maintaining sanity in any work. Any use of time.
A gig that overlaps in two is generally a great thing, but is it sustainable? If you love the people and the practice but aren’t aligned with the mission, will you stay forever? If you dig the purpose and your peers, but can’t stand the day-to-day, is it healthy for you? If all is well except the people, will you last long?
And then there’s the intersection—the elusive triple overlap. Three’s the goal, three’s rare, and three’s a place you can hang out in, if only we can find it. If only it can find us.
One response to such a model comes from the grizzled pragmatist: there is no “perfect.” There is only better. There is simply progress. Forever forward, toward “a more perfect union,” to quote a famed preamble written many moons ago (U.S. Constitution, 1787). Which is damn well true, of course. It’s about the learning. The continual renewal. The “infinite expectation of the dawn” (Thoreau, Walden, 1854).
But how do we know when to move on? When to pursue a healthier overlap? Maybe it’s when we stop growing. When we stop learning. When we’ve gotten (and given) as much as we think we can from each and every stop along our path. Whether it takes five months or five decades.
Could it be so simple?