Truth You’d Rather Not Hear About Your Career

When I was leaving Medicine, there were three types of reactions from others:

(a) “Are you mad? After all those years of training? What’s wrong with you?”

(b) “Mmm… I can see why… I wish I could do the same…”

(c) “Amazing! Go for it!”

One of the hardest things during my career transition was to make sense of how to handle my strong identity as a doctor. I didn’t know who I would be when I stop being a doctor. I feared that Dr W. Dyer was right when he said: “When you are what you do, then when you don’t, you aren’t”.

I learnt that success does not necessarily mean fulfilment. Medicine was OK but it didn’t feed my soul. I knew I wanted to help people in other ways than a doctor can, something that became apparent only when I chose to be honest with myself. When confronted by “You must be mad to be leaving” comments, I found it hard not to buckle under peer pressure as I tried to justify my decision to be myself and to do what feels right for me.

Many people, especially in life-long vocations, such as Medicine and Law, doubt their career choices but are too ashamed to admit it. For some years I pondered over a question whether it was just me being ungrateful, especially after a colleague told me “thousands of people would kill for your job”. He was a very senior doctor, so surely he knew something I didn’t know?!

It is easy to lose yourself in this never-ending drive to “fit in”, to be liked and to be accepted by others. We adopt certain roles in the society, often defined by our qualifications and job titles. Over the years, we mould ourselves into those “personas” to the point that it is difficult to tell who we really are.

Being true to yourself is actually very hard. It requires making certain choices and decisions that may not be understood or accepted by others. It requires being deeply honest with yourself, being “real”, and making a decision to take off a mask and stop living someone else’s life. It may mean disappointing others or being viewed as “crazy” or “ungrateful”.

There is a powerful parable, which illustrates how we often sell ourselves out in our pursuit of approval, acceptance and conforming to what we should be (even when deep inside we know that it’s not right for us).

 

*** A fine young man once went to a tailor to have a suit made for himself. He chose Zumbach the tailor who had a reputation for making the finest of clothing, especially the impeccable suits.

Some weeks passed, and the young man came for the fitting of the new suit. As the man stepped into it, he felt that something was pulling across the shoulders. “No problem,” said the tailor. “You just need to bend sideways a bit more and also raise your shoulders up so that they’re almost touching your ears.” The young man had never had a suit made to measure before and did not want to appear too critical, so he hunched himself into the jacket. Now the sleeves were of different lengths, and the tailor said: “Your arm is too long. Just pull your arm back a few inches and you will see that the sleeve fits perfectly.”

The young man did not like to argue, so he complied, but this movement rumpled the upper portion of the jacket. “The nape of the collar is several inches above my neck,” he pointed out. “There’s nothing wrong with the collar,” Zumbach insisted. “Your neck is too low. Lift the back of your neck and the jacket will fit well.”

The man raised his neck a few inches, and sure enough the collar rounded it where it was supposed to. But now the bottom of the jacket rested high above his seat. “I think my whole rear end is sticking out!” he whispered. “No problem,” said the tailor. “Just lift up your rear end so it fits under the jacket.” Again the customer complied, which left his body in a very contorted posture.

“But… standing like this… the trousers are too short!” the man said quietly. Zumbach replied: “There is nothing wrong with the suit! If you just bend your knees a bit, you’ll see the trousers are just right. The man had to admit that the suit did seem to fit better now that he was wearing it properly although somehow it still didn’t feel quite right.

The man was reluctant to complain about the work of the finest tailor in town. Besides, the cloth really was gorgeous and the stitching was meticulous. The man paid the high fee and hobbled home in a most awkward position, struggling to keep all parts of the suit in their right places.

On the street he encountered two women walking in the opposite direction. After they passed, one woman turned to the other and commented, “That poor young man is so crippled!” “He sure is,” the other replied. “But Zumbach’s suit looks absolutely fabulous on him.” ***

 

When it comes to ill-fitting jobs or careers, this tale offers a different lesson for each reader.

The two women represent the reactions of others: some will genuinely recognise (and sympathise) that you are unfulfilled despite high professional status, while others will be oblivious of the cost you are paying for success.

Our families, friends and society prescribe many suits for us to wear. Some of them fit and many don’t. If a job or career does not match your talents and values, others may try to convince you that it is you with the problem. The truth is you will never walk comfortably in an ill-fitting suit prescribed by a shortsighted tailor. Moreover, while some degree of flexibility is undoubtedly necessary in most jobs and careers, wearing the suit that doesn’t fit can eventually lead to dis-ease.

Robert Louis Stevenson said: “To know what you prefer instead of humbly saying Amen to what the world tells that you ought to prefer, is to have kept your soul alive”. You are never too old to revive your soul by choosing to take off the ill-fitting suit of other people’s dreams and expectations.

Thousands of people probably would kill for your current job/career, but if it is the wrong fit for you, perhaps it is time to create another suit?..

One comment on “Truth You’d Rather Not Hear About Your Career
  1. Carmen James says:

    Nail on the head! This brought tears to my eyes

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