Marcus Buckingham
Personal strength expert Marcus Buckingham answers questions on finding your place in the work force Ask Marcus your career question
Q: I feel like I've been searching and yearning to do something bigger my whole life. I have a lot of ideas, but never seem to follow through on them. I am too busy most of the time and am a poor planner, so I know I bring stress on myself. I have big ideas: I want to write a book, want to be a professional speaker, want to be super organized and have a super clean house. Why do I sabotage myself from going forward with these dreams?

— Lauren Kirkpatrick, age 44

A: It's interesting how often the word dream comes up in our society when we talk about our hopes for the future. We talk about our dream jobs and about living the American dream, and we all think we understand what the word means. But different people mean vastly different things when they talk about dreams. For some people, the word dream is synonymous with goal—it's something they are working actively to achieve. For others, dreams remain mere fantasies, things they don't believe they can achieve, and so they don't even try. For such people, the appeal of having a dream is that it skips ahead to the accomplishment, rather than bogging down in the difficult details of the process.

We dream of having a clean house—but who dreams of actually doing the cleaning? We don't have to dream about doing the work, because doing the work is always within our grasp; the dream, in this sense, is to attain the goal without the work. And for that kind of dream, there is simply no solution except either to abandon it, or to turn it into a true goal. The only way to do that is to start doing what's necessary to achieve it. Of course, it can be difficult to take that first step, and we can get bogged down in our weaknesses—in your case, not being organized and being a poor planner. But if you're energized by your ideas and can't find a way to channel that energy, that's when you have to rely on your friends and colleagues and family members. Often, if you're having difficulty starting a project, it can be easier to collaborate or brainstorm with others to get the ball rolling. If you know someone with a knack for planning and organizing, ask if she'd mind sitting down with you to talk about some of your ideas. Involving others can also give you someone to be accountable to for making progress. Once you're started down a path, ultimately it's up to you to sustain the momentum.
Q: I believe that fear of being laughed at, low self-esteem and being a failure in life is part of my problem. Now that I am 41, the fear is not there so much, but I feel like it's too late for me now to do the creative things I always wanted to do.

— Portia

A: Portia, you probably know the story of Anna Mary Robertson Moses (aka Grandma Moses), who gained fame as a painter only in her late 70s and went on to become one of the more celebrated American artists of her time. So let's put a stop to the notion that it's ever too late to explore your creative impulses. More importantly, you cannot ever let fear prevent you from pursuing what you love to do. Most of the stories of great artists are stories of perseverance. The rejection letters accumulated by literature's most famous authors would stretch to the moon. James Joyce's first book, Dubliners, was rejected 22 times and sold fewer than 400 copies (120 of those to Joyce himself) in its first year. Many now consider him the greatest novelist of the 20th century. The first Chicken Soup manuscript was turned down by 33 publishers, but the series went on to sell more than 80 million copies.

When it comes to exploring your creative side, it's very easy to think of all the reasons you can't do it—you don't have the time, you don't have the money, etc.—but if you are truly passionate about expressing yourself, you can find a way. When you feel as though you can't do something, the simple antidote is action: Begin doing it. Start the process, even if it's just a simple step, and don't stop at the beginning. Take the next step and the next until what you've dreamed about begins to become reality. Don't worry about how your work will be received; don't worry about rejection or laughter. Create for yourself first. There will be time enough to share your work with an audience, but first you must produce something.
Q: Dear Marcus, I saw you on The Oprah Show and was fascinated with the joy that these women started to live with after you helped them define who and what they were meant to do or be. I really need your help. After some deep reflection of my life, I realized that I have been living on autopilot for the past four years. I am leaning toward the healthcare field, but I am so undecided on whether I am moving in the right direction or if this a safe move. I want to be fully living, and the only way to do that is to know my purpose. Every day I have been asking, "What is my purpose?" and I have been grappling with the answers. I have so many interests, which makes matters worse. I took your test and my role is advisor, which is on the mark—at work or with family I am always sought after for advice. My supporting role is creative. I would like to do something creative, but I always get close to it and not quite there because I just wasn't giving the opportunity in the past. In four years, I will be 40 and I am still moved to tears that I don't know the answer to the question. Please help me.

— Maria, age 36;

A: Maria, advisors can make excellent healthcare professionals because they tend to be good at things that patients need: Advisors ask lots of questions; they love being able to provide expertise; they are demanding and never settle for "good enough" but always look to improve things; and they are confident and decisive when they are asked for guidance. So, you're looking for purpose, and your sights are set on the healthcare field. Since purpose is so important to you (as it is to all of us, really), the first question to ask is: "Does the purpose of healthcare fulfill me?" It may seem like a silly question: What could be a nobler purpose than helping people to get well and stay well? The truth is, though, that there are plenty of people who simply aren't invigorated by that purpose. That's not cold, or heartless, or wrong. It's just the way things are. So—does the purpose of the healthcare field really speak to you, or is the attraction simply that healthcare has such a well-defined purpose, whether it appeals to you or not? There's a big difference there.

Beyond that question, you'll only really know whether healthcare is the right field for you when you figure out whether the tasks you'll be performing continually are tasks that you love to do. If you love advising people but can't stand the sight of blood, for instance, then being a surgeon or a phlebotomist is probably not for you. You haven't specified what field you're currently working in, but I also suspect that, although you have been on autopilot, you didn't land in that field entirely by accident. There were some elements of the work that drew you in. Which things still manage to get your attention a little more fully, even though you may be bored overall? Which things can you simply not stand? Can you envision parallels in the healthcare field to those activities you love doing now? Examining what you have done and what you're currently doing is always the best clue as to what you should do in the future.

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