Why do some struggle with their life purpose while others seem born knowing it?

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Noah I was watching Oprah today (one of the benefits of a flexible work at home schedule!) and was blown away by the profile of a 10-year old boy named Noah McCullough.  According to Oprah’s website,

"Noah McCullough has been called a presidential prodigy. Even though he’s only in fifth grade, he plans to run for President of the United States in 2032. While most kids are at summer camp, this 11-year-old whiz kid went on a 10-state tour in 2005 to lobby for social security reform. Having read over 250 books about the commanders-in-chief, Noah impresses with his vast knowledge of presidential trivia. He’s had the opportunity to challenge some of the biggest names in politics on presidential trivia—and he usually wins!

Noah says his interest in American presidents began during the 2000 presidential election when he was only 5 years old. "There was a mock election in my school and I wanted to learn more and actually vote for the real reasons, like adults do," says Noah."

This kid already is passing out bumper stickers with his name on it for the presidential election in 2032.  What I found totally amazing and fascinating about the profile is that I absolutely believed every word he said and felt his passion was genuine and deep.We have all seen examples of scary Stepford-like children who profess to want to be a math genius/beauty queen/doctor when we really know it is their psychotic parents who are driving them harder than Romanian gymnastics coaches.

Noah is different.  He radiates a beam of focus, intensity and light.  I absolutely believe that he will reach his goal and happily jump into the presidential race of 2032.  (Not a moment too soon to straighten out my Social Security – you got my vote Noah!)

Why is it that some people are born like Noah and have a totally clear picture of what they want to do with their life while others desperately reach for meaning and direction, unsure if they even know what they are passionate about?

In my experience teaching lots of career development classes, I think that the fundamental problem is that we are all wired differently, but society places a higher value on single-career folks.  Some, like my father the photographer,  prefer a single, deep career track that lasts their whole working life.  Others would prefer to try a little bit of Alaskan fishing followed by investment banking topped off with yoga teaching.  Those in the latter group that have "tapestry careers" or "renaissance souls" often feel bad that they "just can’t stick with one thing and make it work."  So instead of embracing the great diversity of talents that they have, they beat themselves up for being slackers.

And indeed there are some that try on different careers as you change your underwear, just so they can avoid committing to any one thing and facing the frustration of the learning process.  This is really a different issue than the person with multiple talents/interests that goes deep in each one for a defined period of time, then moves on to the next with equal intensity.

The only advice I give in this area is to relax and embrace whatever work pattern comes naturally to you.  If you have multiple interests and aren’t sure which one to pursue as your own business, do some research and choose the one that sounds the most interesting and holds the most potential for success in the marketplace right now.  Then just experiment!  Start small so that if it doesn’t work, you won’t lose your shirt.

If you are a "renaissance soul," maybe your life’s purpose is learning a little about a lot of things so that you can be an excellent teacher or parent or entrepreneur.

If you are a single-minded person like Noah, you might just find yourself president at age 36.

BOTH are valid career paths!

8 Responses to “Why do some struggle with their life purpose while others seem born knowing it?”

  1. Pamela Slim says:

    Thanks Ariane!

    It is so delightful to hear stories like yours of people who have really made the leap and are loving it.

    I will definitely check out your post!

    -Pam

  2. What a great blog and post! I left the corporate world a year ago April and I’m now LOVING what I do in a way I’ve never felt before in my 25+ years of work.

    The keyword is meaning. It can be so hard to find…but once you do, it just keeps revealing itself to you. I work more hours than ever, but I really enjoy it. And, the best part is I can take breaks when “I” need to – not when “they” allow me to. No more having to request vacation time and deal with the guilt they try to lay on you for taking time off.

    Anyway, when I read your post, I felt like I had connected with a kindred soul! So I thought you might be interested in reading my post on what I call “Seeking Your Bliss” and the different paths of “knowers and seekers”. I’d love to hear what you think!
    http://www.neatliving.net/blog/seeking_your_bliss/index.html

  3. Leah says:

    I was recently sent a link to your post going out to the CEOs, COO, etc. I have to say…I was intrigued and have begun to read every one of your previous posts and have even signed up for your ezine. I am truly encouraged by this particular post. As a 20-something in the business world…I am still in the process of trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up. I have a passion…and I have a goal in place that is my ultimate desire and does involve my own business. I believe my first thought of starting my own business though was when I was shot down time after time for jobs because of my resume…and the “jumping around” I seemed to do in my work experience. I love to learn…it is a passion. I spend hours doing endless amounts of internet research for friends and family. I have worked in Real Estate, Retail, Coffee, Bartender, Wireless communications, Telecommunications, sold hardware and software, sold large power systems, built data systems, worked for home builders, law firms, dental offices, marketing firms, and currently an engineering firm. Each one of these jobs has given me the opportunity to not just learn a new trade…but to learn different aspects of business…how differently they are run, organized, and in some cases, how they fail. I am able to adapt faster to a new position better than almost anyone I have ever known…and I actually enjoy it! I enjoy making a difference in a company and then moving on to make a difference in another. I only wish potential employers could see the value in my “jumping around” as you seem to have! It is who I am…and ultimately, who I will always be. Luckily, my goal of owning my own business incorporates this love of learning and change…and I look forward to learning a better way to “jump” into this life and out of the corporate world! Thank you for your blogs…truly inspiring.

  4. John says:

    I don’t mean to be an ass, but Noah doesn’t sound suspiciously at all like an Asperger’s Syndrome kid, does he? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asperger%27s

    I’m generally on the Freakonomics side of these debates. The surrounding numbers of person’s life add up more than their spoken determinations.

    Levitt and Lubner seem a little closer to the truth with something like this article, about age cohorts and adult success: http://www.freakonomics.com/blog/2006/05/05/do-you-know-why-you-are-good-at-what-you-do/

    I think to the extent a person is willing to confront these facts about life, it is possible to overcome them.

  5. steve says:

    “Those in the latter group that have “tapestry careers” or “renaissance souls” often feel bad that they “just can’t stick with one thing and make it work.” So instead of embracing the great diversity of talents that they have, they beat themselves up for being slackers”

    Pam for many years I thought there was something wrong with me. Why is it I want to learn everything. It is good to hear this is not uncommon.

    Learning about many things is one of the spices of life. If I could afford to lock myself in a room with Internet access for 30 days and just read and learn I would be a happy camper.

    Great post.

  6. Carla says:

    When I read things like this, I can’t help but think of other stories that I have read and about the concept of the “old soul”. As a believer of reincarnation, I think that we can come into this world with soul memory of other lifetimes and a desire to complete something that was undone in a previous lifetime. Children who have been questioned early on in their lives tell stories of other lifetimes. They forget them as time goes by. Who knows, maybe Noah is the reincarnation of Thomas Jefferson or Ben Franklin. Don’t laugh now…all things are possible.

  7. Pamela Slim says:

    Hi Kevin!

    I appreciate your insights. That is very interesting that you take the opposite view of many people and see narrow focus as being a very limited thing.

    You could absolutely be right. Some people with narrow focus could be missing out on a huge number of opportunities and experiences if they are only focused on their area of passion. But I think that the important thing is how the person FEELS about what they are doing. My Dad is an extremely talented photographer and has been for over 45 years. He sees the world through a camera lens, whether or not there is camera in front of him. Would he be a happier person if he had done a stint as an accountant or salesperson or grocery store clerk? He did work in an oil refinery for 8 years when he went through a rough period, and despised every single day of it. Outside his work, he has been a passionate recycler, tap dancer, environmentalist and community activist. I see his passion for his work as an inspiring part of who he is. I don’t feel he has limited his life at all by his work choices.

    I guess it comes down to a diversity moment. I believe what is important is not what we THINK the other person should do so that they are more like us, it is how the person FEELS about their own life. If they are overflowing with joy and single minded, I say more power to them.

    Thanks for shedding some good light on your perspective – I welcome the dialogue! And I like what you are doing at your blog too.

    All the best,
    -Pam

    P.S. And although Noah may lack a breadth of experience for being an effective President, he wouldn’t be the first one to run anyway! Look at our current Commander in Chief!

  8. kevin says:

    I may be way off base here, but I am more than a little distrustful of people who are so focused on a single path. It strikes me that they may be missing some great parts of their lives. I’m sure their lives are full and happy within the scope of their chosen path, but do they have the breadth of experience and knowledge that others do? True, I suspect they suffer far less angst about their life choices but is that really a good thing? Don’t we need some level of indecision and confusion to help us with our decision-making and an appreciation of what we have?

    In my own experience, though they may have great depth of knowledge in a given field, these highly focused people are unable to function effectively outside that narrow scope. I’m reminded of an awesome neurologist with whom I’ve worked who, while awesome in his field, could not grasp how to turn on a computer and click a button to access the internet.

    With respect to the presidential young man, while he may have tremendous knowledge of “presidential trivia”, does he truly have (can he have) the mental acumen to grapple with the complex range of issues with which he’ll have to deal as president?

    I suspect that while he may seem to be born to the knowledge of his future, in fact he has born with a lack of appreciation for the myriad options available to him in life. In short, he’s not focused; he’s limited.

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