I suspect you've been advised to think rationally about your career decisions. That would be a big mistake. You might expect people with damage to the emotional parts of the brain, presumably free from the distractions of emotions, to be brilliant decision makers. Quite the opposite. Though they retain full use of their rational faculties, such patients are tragically indecisive, endlessly debating logical pros and cons, unable to choose any path. Their brains send out random, contradictory, and confusing directions, like my rogue GPS. It turns out that, as Jonathan Haidt writes in The Happiness Hypothesis, "it is only because our emotional brains work so well that our reasoning can work at all."

Although humans are the only beings on Earth with advanced linguistic skills, any animal with a brain has the automatic capacity to form preferences. It's an irrational sense of "Yes, this!" that takes a migrating goose a thousand miles to its perfect nesting ground, or a whale to its calving waters an ocean away. To find—or rather, design—your perfect career, you have to let your animal self lead you through a wilderness of choices. The way to do that is to make your rational mind not the master but the tracker of your own irrational instincts.

Tracking Your Inner Animal

I was trudging down the traditional career path of academia when my students, weirdly, began offering to pay me for advice. I didn't think of it as a career path; I'd never heard the phrase "life coach," and if I had, I'd have gagged like a sommelier drinking Kool-Aid. But I loved my students, and I loved helping them build happy lives. My emotional self trotted cheerfully forward, enjoying the scenery, while my rational, verbal GPS argued, puzzled, and worried:

Animal brain: Me like this!

Rational brain: But what are you doing?

Animal brain: Me like this!

Rational brain: Is it secure? Is it respectable?

Animal brain: Me like this!

Rational brain: Get a job, dammit!

This process continues even now, with my animal self migrating through unknown territory as my logical mind struggles to make sense of where in God's name I'm going. How grateful I am to be familiar with what one expert describes to me as deductive/predictive animal tracking. It's helped me calm my nerves and follow my animal into a thousand joyful and productive career events I never dreamed possible.


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