Good to Great or Stuck to Moving

I have always been a big proponent of write what you need to write, not write to the market. I still am. But a recent comment on Lifehacker led me to a recent post on the Wandering Mirages blog, that led me to the Hedgehog Concept from Jim Collins’s book, Good to Great. It reminds me of some of the tools in What Color Is Your Parachute, a book that helped me tremendously about twenty years ago in making some big life decisions. The Hedgehog Concept (not to be confused with the hedgehog song from Discworld) goes something like this:

1. What do you love? What fills you with joy when you do it?
2. What are you good at? Really, really good at?
3. What will pay you a living wage? (You define “living.”)

The place where all of those intersect is where you should put your energies.

Or:

I still think that you have to write what you have to write, but if you’re looking at changes in your life that are affecting your decisions about what to write or just your ability to write certain things, I think this is really useful because it simples things up: here are the three basic things you need to know about yourself. Now what do they mean to you?

77 thoughts on “Good to Great or Stuck to Moving

  1. Wow. I’m living the Hedgehog Concept. I’m deeply passionate about where I work and this is where I can do my absolute best and also make a living wage. I’m deeply grateful that this is the case.

    I just don’t understand why it’s called the Hedgehog Concept.

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    1. Well I have tried to explain why it is called so in my blog… It comes from an old folktale about a Hedgehog and a Fox. The Fox comes everyday with a hundred new ideas on how to catch the hedgehog and he tries it all. but for everything the Hedgehog reacts by doing the one thing that it knows best – rolling tight in a ball and protecting itself. The fox is always out-foxed.

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  2. That’s actually a pretty succinct summary of how a would-be fiction writer and martial artist wound up doing web design for a municipal government. Fascinating…

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  3. “[It is called Hedgehog Concept by contrasting hedgehogs to foxes – foxes are wily and know a lot of things, hedgehogs are wise and one thing well. It is the equivalent to the old proverb of ‘jack-of-all-trades and master-of-none’]”

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  4. Interesting, Julie. I’ve always thought it was because the hedgehog rolls into a ball to protect itself. By puffing out it’s quills, rolling into a ball, or running (they’re fast) they get to protect themselves from predators. They do this weird thing too with taking on other scents as camouflage. Wonder how long they live? Must go google. : )

    Anyway, yeah. Strengthen that inner core of who you really are and what makes you that way. BE the hedgehog.

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    1. I think your conclusion makes sense – that’s what I was suspecting as well. I just noticed that the article had the definition, so I pasted back once I’d read it. Now, I just have to figure the core. As a wishy-washy person, that’s the trick… 😀

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      1. Cute. I remember researching hedgehogs after reading The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery. Also, I have a favorite brooch that is a mother and baby HH that I bought at Harrods in London. So I’m quite partial to them : )

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  5. Nothing like a Venn diagram to start my day:)

    I like this but disagree slightly with the economic engine bit. I’m a big believer in the universal laws of energy. Not to sound too religious (nothing wrong with that, I’m just more spiritual than religious) but I believe the saying: “Your talent is God’s gift to you. What you do with it is your gift to God.” I think everybody has something they’re naturally inclined towards and if they follow that passion, good things happen because the more energy we put into something, the more it grows and flourishes.

    And sometimes, if we don’t follow the path we’re meant to follow, things happen in our life to lead us back on course.

    In terms of writing, that might mean the type of writing we do. I had a lot of friends, for instance, who felt I should be writing more literary books. But that’s just not for me. I prefer spreading joy through light fun reads that still have some depth.

    This is a great topic. For me, Cher summed it up well when she said to Jack in an episode of Will & Grace: “Follow your bliss.”

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    1. I agree, except most people have to pay the electric bill. This is about finding a way to live while doing your best work. If you have somebody else to support you, then you can downplay the financial aspect do the bliss-following thing. And if you don’t have somebody to support you, you still can’t let the financial aspect drive your decision, but neither can you ignore it in the expectation that somebody else will show up to pay your bills. I think a lot of people separate the two–here’s what I do to make money and here’s what I do for love. But I don’t think that’s a great way to live, nor do I think that following your bliss is entirely satisfactory (although that may be just me). I’d rather go with Frost: “Only where love and need are one, and the work is play for mortal stakes, is the deed ever truly done for Heaven and the future’s sake.”

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      1. Good point. It’s too easy to do what you do for money, and have nothing left in terms of time and energy, for what you love. If you can do something that is closest to what you love, with the focus on getting closer, you’ll also be growing in the area as you make the path. And, your earning potential will also be growing.
        Ah, perspective. Wish I could talk to the 25 year old me again. 😀

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      2. That’s a great quote. And a good point re support. That’s where stuff like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs & basic survival comes in. Only the very lucky of us even have a choice. And it definitely helps to live in a country with social programs like health care.

        But ecomonics is a funny thing. And man-made. Love the documentary by Marilyn Waring called “Who’s Counting.” In it, she explains how our economic system is structured and covers the often-ignored topic of unpaid work truly contributing to the GDP. Very eye opening for everyone but especially women since our work is often not counted.

        Ideally, what we love is something that can also earn a living. I’ve met accountants who are passionate about numbers and human rights lawyers who are passionate about rights and shop owners who are passionate about clothes and so on. Folks whose passion falls under the arts can have a tougher time.

        I’ve lived both sides of this and was raised by a mom who had to give up her love for teaching to get a better paying job when she became a single mother. My issue has been that I’m passionate about several things. But I’ve been able to find a way to incorporate them all into how I make a living. It took work, but more importantly it took recognizing that it was up to me to find a way to do it and being patient while I pursued it. That’s what I mean by “follow your bliss” because I think it will lead you to having what the fab Frost quote talks about. Not always easy, though.

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      3. But yield who will to their separation,
        My object in living is to unite
        My avocation and my vocation . . .

        This poem and ‘The Road Not Taken’ are among my favorites, ever since high school, where Madeline L’engle used ‘Two Tramps in Mud Time’ as a literary password of sorts, in her ‘Arm of the Starfish’. Thanks for bring it all back to me. 😉

        I feel fortunate in that I love my full time job as children’s librarian, I love my part time job as copyeditor, and I enjoy my hobby of quilting. I just wish I’d come to it all earlier, with out all the mistakes and missteps I made when I was younger.

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      4. V. interesting. I think creative people fall on a range, though — there’s William Shakespeare who, AFAIK, was a full-time playwright and created genius. And then, on the other end, was Chaucer, who had a day job (which, IIRC, was kind of a sop to keep him financially solvent while he wrote, but I understand he also had to oversee the thing). We are so lucky to live in an age where we can indulge our passions as hobbies . . . if we are disciplined, they can amount to moonlighting. And of course, some lucky people get to write full-time and keep their heads above water (-:.

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  6. I like this idea. However, the economic bubble doesn’t overlap with the other two for me (speaks the ex-reporter now doing data entry for a living). I am tired of my skills being expendable/useless in this economy, but hell, I wouldn’t hire me to do what I’m good at these days either.

    I guess that’s what hobbies are for.

    Also I can’t get past the “I must have a stable job someone else employs me at so I can have health insurance” thing. I watched my dad die for 10 years, I am not cool and froody with becoming self-employed and probably no longer having that as an option. Argh.

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    1. Absolutely this. My staying healthy requires health insurance. I’m a reasonable engineer so I do that for a living and get a living wage and health insurance. I think I’d be a great glass artist or designer of appliances, but I don’t have a clear path to make those pay a living wage or health insurance, so I’m a process engineer making widgets. I’m lucky in this economy because our widgets go into cell phones. I’m unlucky because the bad economy closed my glass studio and I need to find a new one that’s open evenings or weekends. (The guy who runs the other studio I rent from wants a “normal” life with “normal” hours and stopped offering weekend hours, curse him 🙂 )

      The other problem is that I am a fox, not a hedgehog. I’d rather do 30 things than 1 thing really intensely.

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    2. I think that’s why the three have to balance. You need income and health insurance. This is what you love to do and are good at. Finding where they cross is going to be a compromise, but that’s the goal.

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      1. I am good at the job I do to pay the bills but I do not like it. And nobody will pay me to sleep, which I do enjoy, when I have the time. It is a nice concept though, and more power to anyone who can make it work. I’m with the other “wishy-washy” people here. I would like to someday do a job that allows me time for the things I actually do enjoy.

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  7. This makes quite a bit of sense.

    When I used to do career counselling, one of the questions I ask is “What would you do if you had unlimited time and money?” Even if the answer is flippant, dig a little deeper and the true needs and wants shine through.

    But I don’t discount aptitude tests, interest inventories and personality questionnaires. Those tests help to show evidence of what norms someone falls under. Many times, all three showed clearly what a student wanted to be that parents had to accept that s/he was NOT going to be a docotor/lawyer/accountant.

    This is the third time vocational ideas have come into my life since Saturday. Wonder if the universe is suggesting I go back to it. Because I really enjoyed it and could make good money out of it.

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    1. Is there a job that requires reading, travel, and a pajama wardrobe? I’m inspired to update my resumé.

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      1. That was the first part of my career: I wrote in my pajamas, researched like crazy, and went everywhere to promote the career. It sucked. Now I just write in my pajamas, don’t travel, and never have time to read. This also sucks. Hence, the hedgehog approach.

        It is really hard to get respect when you travel in your pajamas, though, so take “respect” out of your goals.

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        1. Oh heck, I only dress to save my kids from dying of embarrassment. As soon as I can stop dressing for them, I’m living the Hef life. 😀

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          1. I find that going without underwear is enough. It’s like being naked without getting arrested.
            Of course the people I live with tend to differ, but that’s their problem.

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  8. Sure Thing: You could use me as a test subject! I’ve never gotten the three together. And I’ve probably always undervalued my skills. If I can’t write and make a living, then I want to design costumes for movies anamatronics. Except they are going to be obsolete. But I could design costumes for theme park anamatronics. Probably not much money in either of those. I could go back to school and learn to do computer animation. That’d be fun…

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    1. I had about decided to retire in a year and go back to art school to be an artist again. Then the whole blindness-is-your-future thing hit. Regrouping again.

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      1. ‘Then the whole blindness-is-your-future thing hit’ — Is horrible. I’ve tried every which way to say — but whatever I try comes out sticky-pasty, like a treacle bun, something your not supposed to have anyway. 🙂 And all of that seems trite, so I’ll move on.

        At first the hedgehog exercise was easy. Looking deeper into myself I found it difficult, there’s so much stuff I’m passionate about, but have no control over.
        I love writing, at least it’s something I can control.

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        1. I’m sorry! I didn’t mean it like that, although now that I look at what I wrote, duh. But really, it’s made me think about my future in very real terms instead of, “And someday, I’ll . . . ” So that part’s good.

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  9. The management team of the non-profit I work for is currently working through this book. Or just finished it, not sure. Haven’t read it myself or heard much about it, though I’ve been curious what it was about. It was weird to come here and find it being talked about!

    My day job as a receptionist is pretty much for the pay (being non-profit, it isn’t much) and insurance. Thankfully, I am supportive of the mission of our agency, so I at least get some satisfaction from that. The passion lies in another area. Art. With the limited free time I have after work and other responsibilities, I try to create on a regular basis and take classes whenever possible. I opened an Etsy shop two months ago and there’s a little money coming in from that, plus I use part of the proceeds to support a cause I’m passionate about. This all helps with fulfilling the other two. But frustration is high due to lack of time and money to really follow that dream. At least I get a taste of the other two circles from my free time, since I’m not getting it from my job.

    Plus I’m supposed to be cleaning out my part of the house and preparing for a relocation in a few years, but that gets ignored for stuff like art and reading. Truth be told, I’m conflicted about the art and the relocation, how it’ll all work together or if it even does. Seems I’ve been puzzling this out for most of my life. I’ve dreamed of a counselor or coach who could work with me to help me sort all this out and help me figure out what I really want and the steps to get there, because I’m tired of going at it by myself! And to be honest, I really don’t want to spend the next 25 to 30 years of my life working as a receptionist.

    Really, I just want to stay at home in my pajama pants and painting sweatshirt(s), creating things all day long with my bunny keeping me company. 🙂

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  10. This has given me something to chew on. I’ve always thought of myself as sort of a writer-in-embryo. Because I like to read so much, and I can communicate well in writing, but I rarely sit down and try to write. Because if I try and fail, then I no longer have it as something I will do one day. Yes, I know how little sense that makes. Then I’ll see something on TV, a scene or character, or read something, that inspires me to write. But usually it’s just, sorry to be crass, something or someone that makes me horny. Then I write terrible kink fanfic short stories. Terrible because they ignore character and even story to get to the implausible payoff. But that’s the only thing that really engages my passion lately, that and political anger, and I know the passion in that diagram can’t be a negative. It has to be a passion for, not a passion against. I’m too old to not know what I want to do with my life.

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      1. Well, why not? People have written about weirder stuff, and come up with readers (-:.

        Tangent: Elizabeth Von Arnim (at least the two books I’ve read) was all about vacations and gardens. And she threw in some men because she thought she had to, I think, but to tell the truth, she shone in other areas.

        You’ve done great things with romance. It would be fun to read more romance, but it’s very entertaining to see your cast of Popeye’s Revenge getting a makeover. (I do hope you finish Liz first, though. V. much want to read that!)

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    1. Rose said, “Because I like to read so much, and I can communicate well in writing, but I rarely sit down and try to write. Because if I try and fail, then I no longer have it as something I will do one day.”

      Me too, me too! I love reading, and love writing, but rarely ever sit down to do so because I don’t like not being good at things. So if I fail at writing, then I’m stuck. I think I need to work on this…

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      1. I think it’s very true that a person just starting out is going to “fail” at writing, for some value of “fail.” Even the best writers “fail” at writing some days, and then they hit the sweet spot, or they polish it up until it’s good enough. The thing is, you’ll never get better at it if you don’t do it. This is one of the things I say to motivate myself, and it works about 30 percent of the time, so it’s better than some of my other motivators. (-: Assvice, I know. Worth every penny. (I think this struck me while I was reading Malcolm Gladwell . . . I want to say “Outliers” but it might have been one of his earlier books.)

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  11. Jenny – My mother had AMD (the “wet” kind) and kept her complete sight up until she was in her late 70s (when she had to give up her driver’s license). She had very good medical care (lived in the San Francisco Bay Area) and paid strict attention to her eye doctor. I will tell you that she had a specialist. Not every eye doctor knows much about AMD (really…). If you have an Opthomologist (MD eye doctor) in your area that specializes do not hesitate – go. My Mom passed at 91 and could still see well enough to read with a magnifying glass… she thought she was going to go blind also – lost some central eye sight but did not go blind… there are laser therapies… done by specialists…

    Also, Judith Dench just announced that she has macular degeneration – so you are in good company… Just sayin’…

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    1. Ditto Lou’s comment. Please don’t give up your art plans. Maybe your body is nudging you to adjust for that sooner, rather than later. I’m also keeping my fingers crossed for some of the stem cell treatments to make it through testing.

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      1. Me, too. And if you’ve been over on ReFab, you’ll have noticed that I’m suddenly reupholstering and painting furniture like a mad woman. So sooner is here.

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        1. Most excellent! I was told at 11 I’d be blind by 18, so I went and learned Braille. Still don’t need to use it on a daily basis. Not all catastrophe is impending 😉

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  12. Just got the results of a 360 survey at work today. One thing came through loud and clear which I agree with is I am excellent at organization. I currently make a living as a project manager. I am not passionate about much of anything. I will defend my family (hubby & 2 cats) to the death tho. So, this is hard for me to figure out. The 360 does leave me to believe a job not dealing with people would be good as apparently I need to work on the touchy feely side of things. I suspect they are right. Pansies.

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  13. Sometimes the Venn diagram can’t be 3 equal circles. Usually the larger circle is the economic one. But, still, it can be possible to find parts of the job that feed the Passionate circle and the Best in the World circle. Maybe the bliss doesn’t last as long as it would with 3 equal circles, but a person can come to appreciate the short spurts of bliss when then come.

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        1. Ah, but when Cher said it on Will & Grace she was surrounded by half-naked men dancing about if I remember right, so I think there’s room here for interpretation;)

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  14. Just FYI for anyone who’s interested, here’s the original “follow-your-bliss” quote:
    “If you follow your bliss you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. …you begin to meet people who are in your field of bliss, and they open doors to you. I say, follow your bliss and don’t be afraid, and doors will open where you didn’t know they were going to be. – Joseph Campbell”
    To me it suggests that the more you follow your bliss, the more the living wage will be there if you want/need it. (Not necessarily riches, but what meets your needs – of course, that doesn’t leave out the possibility of riches. But if you’re living in joy because you love what you’re doing, that’s about as rich as it gets). At the same time, if not factoring the “economic engine” into one’s decision is too scary, then that definitely would NOT feel blissful. Maybe with following your bliss (as with so many other things) you find the balance by beginning with baby steps. The more blissful your life becomes, the more confident you get and pretty soon you’re taking big strides. Then maybe you start to enjoy hiking – maybe you even begin to enjoy rock climbing. Or maybe you don’t, in which case don’t do it. It’s obviously possible to make a living doing what you love and are passionate about, as Mary Stella illustrates. Ken Burns is another example – he probably doesn’t get anywhere near rich creating documentaries that air on PBS, but he does seem to be making a living wage, following his bliss, and creating amazingly wonderful programs. I love watching the NASA channel and seeing the HUGE smiles on the faces of the astronauts and often also the folks working on the ground. (Yes, I know a lot of people in that industry were laid off last year, but that doesn’t diminish the bliss their jobs brought to their lives.) I do like the hedgehog concept. It looks very useful. For what it’s worth, I don’t believe people find their balance and stay there – at least, not those moving towards or already having a blissful life. Finding and keeping your balance is kind of an ongoing process, like walking a balance beam – something draws you and you lean towards it and if you lean too far or too fast you’re off balance and have to lean to the other side to catch yourself. Then you walk in perfect blissful balance for awhile and then something draws you and you lean towards it . . . Not as secure as walking on the ground, but more exhilarating. You’re the one who knows what’s best for you, Jenny, but I surely do love the way you write about art and color. Some of those painting scenes surely do seem blissful . . .

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    1. Thanks for posting that and I love what you said. I also agree about Jenny’s painting scenes. One of the reasons that Faking It is my favorite are those joyful painting scenes and the fabulous art that Tilda creates. I really wish there were an illustrated version. 🙂

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  15. JulieB – your response Is there a job that requires reading, travel, and a pajama wardrobe? I’m inspired to update my resumé is just the sort of thing that I’d get from adults.

    It already tells me that you love reading and that even a proofreading job might start you in the right direction. If you can get past turning a joy into a job (some people can’t) you’d be ok. The pajamas tell me you need to be comfortable and relaxed. A publishing job would be pointless, regardless of the slush-pile reading you could do. And I’d carry on from there – not just asking what did each aspect truly mean for you. That wayn we’d get closer to what you could try to do.

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    1. Interesting points Sure Thing! I do love reading, and I’m pretty happy in the classroom actually. Having to explain why my students their having problems made me a better proofreader. But the pay doesn’t support my Roman fountain quest. 🙂

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      1. (-: Teach ESL in Italy? You’ll have to lose the pajamas, and the reading could be excruciating, but you could have Roman fountains (-:.

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  16. Two things. One — and I know I am going to sound WET BLANKET and NOT FUN here — that many of the things I now realize I am good and enjoy are things I did because I perceived that I had to, in order to make that money stuff. They’d never have registered in those circles when I was 20.

    For example, I’m pretty good at administration, which I had to do because the only job I could get was answering a phone. I learned to do other office stuff, too. It wasn’t a great job at the time — nowhere in my circles — but it was useful. Today it makes our home life easier and I have the org skills to freelance.

    I’m also pretty good at a specific kind of writing, which I learned through taking a freelance job I because I needed $$, and surprise, turns out I enjoy it. There’s less of it now so I’m looking to other things I can develop skill at and enjoy. Also things I can return to that I hoped to have left behind but oh well.

    Which brings me to Two — the contents of these circles have changed for me, during the decades of my life. I didn’t know that. I thought people became adults at 22, had children by 25 or so, and then next life event was retirement. I would fill all three circles differently today than I did 30, 20, or 10 years ago. Travel is less fun than it was because I looooooove my home. I enjoy feeling competent at a few less glamorous things in my life that I do for money, and they ground me to venture into uncharted creative territory.

    Thanks for this discussion, everybody.

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    1. Ah! Very good points. I did make a flip comment above about re-educating my 20 year-old self, and then thought, right after clicking, “Huh. No, I wouldn’t go tell her what to do. I have no regrets, and I was different back then anyway.” It’s remembering and acknowledging that we do change as we grow, that makes using these questions important. Taking time to orient ourselves and asking ourselves what we want, are things we can too easily forget to do as we grow.

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      1. JulieB, I totally agree, and this reorientation doesn’t mean failure! I used to think I was wasn’t an adult because I couldn’t get “there.” Now I know there isn’t a there there! Not that failure is bad, either.

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    2. I’ve had four different jobs, in different fields and only one of ’em was in the filed I originally studied because I loved it.

      The third one, in industry is the one where I learned that I am quite good at technical things, not just social aspects. I learned that I can apply my ability to investigate career options to something like what causes a problem on a product on a certain production line.

      Things always change/amend with new experiences.

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    3. I agree. I DID NOT want to be a teacher, my mother made me. (I started college at seventeen, I was still listening to her then.) Turns out, I love it. I thought I wanted to be a journalist. I would have been a sucky journalist.

      And yes to going back to re-evaluate every ten years or so, another reason I love What Color is Your Parachute. I didn’t start writing fiction until I was 41. It just wasn’t time until then.

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      1. I wonder if knowing that was why I decided (when I was 14 or so) that I shouldn’t worry about not writing good fiction until I was at least 35 because I wouldn’t have enough life experiences before then. Of course, now at 27 that’s a bit closer and I’m still not sure I have enough life experiences!

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  17. I’ll just add that people too often confuse happiness and passion with short term thrill. Thus the tendency to chase after rainbows instead of looking in their own back yard.

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    1. Exactly. The difference between happiness and pleasure came up today over on ReFab, and it was an eye-opener. It had never occurred to me that they were two very different things and that the pursuit (and capture) of pleasure can torpedo happiness.

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    2. I have found Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project to be a very gentle guide through various aspects of happiness (vs. pleasure vs. duty vs. selfishness vs. self-esteem etc). I also admire her honesty about her own failings.

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  18. That’s very wise McB. I know this – being a thrill seaker myself. I’m realizing that I’ve always undervalued the skills I have. And also haven’t recognized things I can do as skills. For example I watched Michael Jackson moon walk, analyzed it for five minutes and then practiced for a while and could do it. That was just something I could do. It came up last night when my boys were trying to figure it out and I showed them.

    How this translates into marketable skills? Don’t know. But it’s part of the wild list of “things I’m good at.” In a different life I may have discovered a job that made use of that list. Sometimes I think I should have become a stunt woman, but it’s too late for that now, I have no interest in breaking bones at this point!

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  19. As someone currently jobless (after taking several thousand dollar paycut to follow my bliss into animal sheltering where I was darn good) I struggle with this a lot. I’m looking for jobs in sheltering rather than my old field (govt contractor/communications) but it’s rough seeing what the pay is for the jobs available. I’ve got a part time gig at the moment that keeps me afloat with the help of unemployment, but in a city like DC that gets difficult to justify to myself. I keep wondering if I’m fooling myself that I can make a living in this field. More than half the shelter staff (not management) at my old shelter were on food stamps. It makes a girl worry.

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