The last pitfall is perhaps the most complex, yet addressing it can tell us not only what's wrong with our current job but how to avoid falling into the same trap again. It's the failure to have asked, of any current or possible job, the three questions of why, who, and what: Why will I be doing these things?—the job's broader purpose. Who will I be working with? And finally, What precise activities will I be performing every day? Often people who seem to be doing something suited to their needs—who, in theory, should be happy—have nailed one or even two of the three answers through instinct alone. But such a partial fit will never feel right, no matter how much we think it should. Kylie had been on the right track when she'd embarked on her online psychology degree; she knew in her gut that she loved engaging with people. The why of that degree resonated. But the what was all wrong—the degree wasn't preparing Kylie for actual human engagement. It was preparing her to write papers on psychological theory.

Such near misses, Marcus says, are particularly baffling. He once worked with a woman who had always longed to work in healthcare. ("I have a passion for helping people," would be skywriting to Marcus: very noble and surely true, but way too vague to be of any real use.) She became an ER nurse and was incredibly unhappy. That made no sense to her—she was doing what she'd always longed to do. She loved the why of healthcare, and here she was, living it. But when Marcus pressed her to detail her passion, it turned out that what she really loved was seeing people get better. And an ER nurse rarely gets to do that; they see patients at their most dire moments, and then the patients are whisked away. The thing that made this woman feel strong—the thing she was passionate for—was missing. She found it as soon as she transferred to one of the hospital's pediatric wards.

The questions of why, who, and what don't work just in these situations. They can also rescue that rare person who really is lost. This had been the case with a copy machine saleswoman Marcus worked with. She was quite successful—always in the top 10 percent of the sales force—but at some point she couldn't bear the idea of getting up every morning, every day, and doing more of the same. How had she ended up there? Her list of strengths yielded clues. She felt strong when sensing another person's emotions. And she felt strong when she told another person what to do—and they did it! The what of selling copy machines had, in fact, played to these passions, making her a very good saleswoman. Unlike the ER nurse, she had her what nailed, but she didn't have the ghost of a why.

This was when Marcus began casting his net beyond the workplace, but with the same basic principle in mind—that we have good instincts about our needs and wants. He began asking the saleswoman a series of questions. What were her hobbies and special interests? What did she think about early in the morning and late at night, when she was alone? What stories did she find herself always reading in the newspaper—the ones about rescues? About making money? About big fancy parties? What were the last two books she'd read, and why had she chosen them? What prizes, if any, had she won in her life, and for what?


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