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Be vs. Do: A Career-Planning Trick that Could Make All the Difference

June 20, 2014

career planning

From the time we can walk and talk, people start asking us what we want to be when we grow up. Kids are great at answering this question, because they don’t give a fuck. A cheetah, a milkman, an explorer, a Jedi. It’s all within the realm of possibility.

But as we mature and that question—“What do you want to be?”—starts to feel more pressing, things can get confusing. We often get caught up in the world of appearances. We watch other professionals from the outside and say, “I want their life.” I want to be a rock star, I want to be a CEO, I want to be a novelist, I want to be Christiane Amanpour. But do we really?

career planning

By the time I finished college, I had run through so many possibilities for what I wanted to be that I had no idea where to actually begin. A few months before graduating, I stopped by an event at my school’s career center. I got to chatting with an alum who had graduated about twenty years earlier, and he told me something I’ve never forgotten:

“Don’t think about what you want to be. Think about what you want to do.”

At first, I wondered: What’s the difference?

Well, it’s a matter of perception versus action. It’s one thing to idealize the idea of being something, but it’s another to live that reality day in and day out. You might say you want to be a chef, but do you really want to commit to the long, odd hours and intense physical work of it? You might say you want to be a novelist, but do you really want to spend your days writing, rewriting, and working in solitude?

career planning

The reverse is also true. You might say you don’t want to be something—maybe it doesn’t sound glamorous enough, or you’ve simply never taken the time to consider what it would entail—but then you find that it actually suits you perfectly.

As you start to plan your career, the most important thing is to be honest with yourself. Appearances aside, how do you actually want to spend your precious time? On your most mundane day, when no one else is paying attention, what do you want to be doing? Start there.

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Tory Hoen is the author of the novel The Arc. She spent five years as the Creative Director of Brand at M.M.LaFleur (where she founded The M Dash!) and has written for New York Magazine, Vogue Fortune, Bon Appétit, and Condé Nast Traveler. Read more of Tory's posts.

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