Aligning Your Career with Your Interests and Talents

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We all Have Natural Talents and Strengths
I was checking out some books from the library about two weeks ago when a middle-aged man beside me said something along the lines of: ‘I haven’t read a book in a long time. I am an engineer. I am a slower reader’. The last two sentences got me laughing because he said them in a way that suggested that one was the reason for the other and also because he wasn’t the first engineer to tell me that he wasn’t a voracious reader. So it got me thinking: Was he a slow reader because he was an engineer or was he an engineer because he was a slow reader. I thought the latter was the case. It reminded me of how much the careers we choose are largely influenced by our natural strengths and talents. Engineers are generally good with numbers, lawyers with letters.

Talents manifesting themselves at a young age when there has been little time for nurturing or developing them shows just how natural they are. Years ago, I visited my sister and on one occasion, I had just finished applying my eyeliner when my little niece, Mma, who was about six at the time came up to me and pointed out how I could have applied it differently for an improved look. I looked in the mirror and saw that she was right. (I know, I am not trendy). If you need a make-up artist, you would probably know who to hire between my much younger niece and I.

Just among my friends (and siblings), I know one who is gifted with an amazing swiftness and organizational skills that she can plan an event in no time; one who is so shrewd and frugal that I can trust her to keep afloat a company that is in the red; another who can effortlessly write a beautiful poem because of her contemplative nature; and yet another who has the gift of persuasion and is so passionate about the cause of the less privileged that I believe he can successfully establish and raise funds for a charity if he chooses to. I have a friend who is intelligent and very enthusiastic about eradicating corruption in Nigeria that she is courageous enough to resist bribes being thrown at her in her present job that I am convinced that she can be the next Akunyili.

Big Dreams, Then the Big Derailment
As children, we all had lofty ideas of how were going to change the world, and barring WAEC and Jamb setbacks, many of us chose careers that would keep us on the track to realizing our goals. But once we left university, the pressure to make money made many of us settle for the nearest job that we will put food on the table, however unrelated they may be to the career we once had a passion for. I once asked a Nigerian who works as a nurse in the United States if she liked her job and she simply told me,’It pays the bill’, and she has her beautiful suburban house to show for it. Of course I admire her hard work and I don’t know a profession that is more honorable than one that involves saving lives. But I wonder if she could be much more if she does something she is passionate about.

About ten years ago, the Nigerian banking sector got a boost (after the consolidation of banks) and was thriving so much that it became a key employer in the economy. Much as I love that the sector provided the much-needed jobs to many unemployed graduates, I am worried that it derailed many talented engineers and scientists from their careers. Nobody will ever know what these people would have become if they had continued to be engineers etc. We would never know if Nigeria would have had an Edison or Ford from those crop of graduates. With the promotions and decent salaries they now make as marketing executives and portfolio managers, my guess is that many of them will not have the enthusiasm to go back to their dream careers for entry level opportunities.

The Difference Between a Decent and a Great Career
Following one’s dream can make a difference between having a passable career and a remarkable one. Nigeria’s popular author chimamanda Adichie had studied Medicine and Pharmacy in University of Nigeria Nsukka for about a year before she left for the United States to get a degree in Communications and Political Science and her masters in Creative Writing. I can imagine that with a brain like hers that she was under pressure to study a ‘professional course’. She said that till this day she teases her parents that the only reason they eventually let her study her dream course was that her sister was already a doctor. I have no doubt that Chimamanda would have made a good medical doctor if she had got her degree in Medicine. But I doubt that millions would have been blessed by her literary works. She definitely wouldn’t have won an Orange Prize for fiction. It goes without saying that when one’s job is related to something they have talent for and are passionate about, they tend to achieve more and hardly feel the drudgery of work as they are getting paid for doing something they love.

The pressure to make ends meet shouldn’t stand in the way of our pursuing our dreams. While it isn’t prudent to idle away while waiting to realize one’s goals but is ideal to do some other things temporarily, we shouldn’t lose sight of our dreams and aspirations. Like I wrote in this post, all the odd jobs etc we do all help somehow to make us realize our bigger goals. I have always been inspired listening to many Hollywood stars talk on TV about how they started out small, waiting tables, flipping burgers, sharing room etc until they eventually got a role that brought them to the limelight. One told of how even between acting gigs, she still had a baby sitting job until she was certain acting could sustain her financially. The important thing therefore is not to lose focus of what we have always wanted to be.

The key is Fulfillment
One’s passion doesn’t necessarily have to lie in a big idea about changing the world. It could be taking up a business idea based on one’s natural skills and talents. I know someone whose kids always stood out because she always had them ‘cooly’ dressed. Because of her passion for having kids well-dressed, she opened a shop that sold high-quality and trendy stuff for kids. Needless to say that her business was successful.

I understand that some people who have deviated from their careers find fulfillment in their present jobs anyway and I do not encourage them to seek fulfillment elsewhere when they already get it from what they do. I wrote this for those who feel that they aren’t maximizing their potential and that they have skills that are currently underutilized that if they put to use would benefit the society more.

Untapped Talent to the Grave
Finally,one reason we should find ways to put our natural talents to use is so that we don’t end up like the servant in the Holy book who buried his talent and didn’t put it to use. We should rather be like the servants who utilized their and got rewarded with even more. Even if we don’t find ways to use our talents in our day jobs, we can find avenues to use them informally even if not for pay.

So if you have dreams you have given up on, consider rekindling that flame that once burned within you because there are many people waiting to benefit from your talents. Now you wouldn’t want to go to the grave with your talents unused, would you? The decision you make today may determine the difference between, at your death, an epitaph that only mentions what a good soul you were and one that also mentions a Nobel Prize you won.

Got stories to tell? Have a passion of yours you want to share? Got ideas on how one can keep their day job while pursuing their dreams? Please inspire us in the comments section.

PS: For more on this subject, see Larry Smith’s TEDTalk “Why you will fail to have a great career” and also this previous post in my archive which is based on a true life story.

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6 thoughts on “Aligning Your Career with Your Interests and Talents

  1. I have so many things on my mind but don’t know how to start. In life, there are so many dreams un_acheived and goals left to die like they were never set. I loved to read and write a lot but the career part I chose gradually stole my dreams away, fortunately I was passionate about my career part and suddenly it became more hectic than I bargained,i I tried to get back on track but realized a lot was at stake and sacrifices had to be made. I moved on to another phase of life which majority around me are excited for me and call me ‘brave’ but deep down my heart, unfulfillment creeps in from time to time . I feel under-utilised considering my career experience and educational background,but on the other hand, I have constant food on the table , I have time and do not lack.

    I have realised especially in Nigeria, most of us are where we are right now because of convenience. All things being equal ,Most of us would have been else where, most people chose to survive and let their goals n dreams go for better and sometimes less important reasons. Sometimes,where we are might be better choices than our dreams . I believe somehow,wherever we are, whatever we do, they do not happen by chance. God has a reason for me to be where I am right now and am always positive that somehow his plans for me come into play. I pray that somehow, that God leads us to our fulfilling and choice careers.
    As usual,had a hectic day and looked forward to a new post on your wall to make my evening and I found this. Thanks Anne.

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    • I am happy you saw this post and I do hope that my posts will continue to help brighten people’s day. You are right that sometimes we make choices bigger than our dreams. I know you aren’t in the career path you would ordinarily choose but you are also right when you said that God has a reason for having you do what you do now. You know, one’s dream doesn’t have to be something out of the ordinary. Sometimes we can achieve our goals vicariously through others. Take Bill Gates for instance, the only reason he is touching many lives, helping people achieve their dreams and become the best they can be is that he has the resources to do them. So one can never underestimate what good one can do when they are blessed with the resources. I am glad you are doing something that puts food on your table and I am sure that in no time, God will show you exactly why you are where you are right now and how it was only a stepping stone for bigger things to come. I also hope, like you prayed, that God will ultimately lead us to careers that give us fulfillment.

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  2. In developing economies like ours where corruption holds sway and where so many qualified graduates are chasing very little available jobs, you will definitely find so many round pegs in square holes. There are so many people doing jobs they would naturally not love to do just because of the need to put food on the table and take care of basic needs. The jobs arent there and this doesn’t help at all. The society too also plays a part in moving people away from their favorite careers paths. We live in a society where parents naturally love professional careers like medicine, banking, Engineering, etc but frown at careers such as Music, Fashion designing, dancing, security etc. So early in life they try to create your path and steer you towards that part and dream which they think its best for you. The good thing now is that the current generation is even making those jobs which the older generation thought was for dropouts and never do wells now the dreams jobs of most teeming youths because of the kind of fame and money it brings. Take music for instance, every young Nigerian believes he is the next Tu face Idibia. Every young male Nigerian wants to play professional football and earn millions of pounds in Europe. Parents now encourage their children to take part in talent shows where they exhibit their artistic skills like dancing and singing. Thank God Linda is making so much from Blogging and Chimamada is globally celebrated pushing many other Young people to be inspired to write. Thank God Mikel and Kanu nwankwo were successful football exports from Nigerian allowing young boys the freedom to develop there football talents other than throwing away their football and running away when their parents are in sight. I had a younger brother who is a fine Artist but after graduation decided that he wanted to be the next Robert Kelly but then He had a father who made a first class in statistics and felt a music careers wasnt right for someone who calls himself his son. There was no support and after some years of struggle in his chosen career with little success. my brother was forced to take up a 8 to 5 job just to make ends meet especially now he that he has a wife and daughter. Perhaps maybe, if He was fully supported but morally and financially, he might have been a success story, but that’s just perhaps.

    Sometimes we have the talent and passion but with an economy and society like ours its so difficult to follow through with your talents and passion, moreover our society only gives respect to the individual that appears to have ‘made’ it. So the best option is to do that or get into that profession that pays most and hope that later on in life you will have made it and then have time to do that which you love most. But the sad story is that most who take this path end up doing that which they dont love for almost their entire life, leaving their dreams to be what they are – dreams.

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    • Leaving their dreams to be what they are – dreams; Great line. And as always, insightful contribution. Yea, I thank god for the Nigerians you mentioned who are pushing the boundaries. They serve as inspiration to many. Like you rightly mentioned, due to the state of the economy, many Nigerians veer off careers that would lead them to their dreams because of the pressure to make ends meets. I do hope that when the pressure is off and they have a bit of financial stability, they will dream again and eventually live their life’s calling.
      And about parents’ reluctance to allow their children pursue unconventional careers, I can understand that stems from the fear of uncertainty of whether their kids can really make it in the field. However, it is always fascinating to see them make a big turnaround and take the credit when the child eventually becomes a star. Many years ago, I read an interview where Adichies’s mum said: ‘I raised her up a bookworm’. Mums……

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  3. lol@’i raised her up a bookworm’. Parents can be funny! I wonder what my dad would have said had my younger brother turned out a music super star.

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    • Lol! They would be so proud of him of course. Parenting is a hard job, really. The fears and uncertainties of how a child will turn out etc. I do hope that when the time comes, we will support our children’s dreams and aspirations.

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