Tuesday, August 30, 2005


life as an apprentice

i've been thinking a lot lately about the message we get that we are supposed to pick a career path and get climbing already - up, up, up that career ladder. it's an interesting expectation to navigate.

i find it problematic for two reasons. the first is that it assumes that our goal is to "reach the top" in our career and second is because it assumes we will be climbing just that one ladder. i think in today's economy and in our lives as twentysomethings (or thirty or fortysomethings for that matter) this is a highly unlikely reality.

we are complex people and this is a complex world. careers no longer last a lifetime as they did for past generations of workers. climbing the ladder becomes a whole new game when you know going into it that you will likely find yourself on at least 5 ladders in your lifetime.

in addition, the goal of reaching the top seems in many ways like a set up. now i'm not saying that i don't advocate putting your full self into your passions and striving to be your best - but the idea of "the top" seems wrought with unattainable expectations. moreover, it puts us in a place where we are measuring our success based on society's standards instead of our own.

as i've been milling all of this over, i came across this brilliant quote:
We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.
-Ernest Hemingway

whether hemingway is referring to writing or to life in general in this quote i am uncertain. regardless of the original intent i think the concept provides an interesting perspective for us to consider.

what if life was not about becoming a master, but rather remaining in a place of learning?

how would you approach your career differently if you felt no pressure to "reach the top"?

as always i'd love to hear your thoughts, feel free to post them here!

dream big,

Wow, what a fantastic thought. I love the quote and do think it can apply to people in all different types of careers. I definitely like the way you talk about not climbing the ladder and moving more towards a place where you remain in a learning phase.

Reading, researching, learning, being challenged and engaged are so key to being happy in any career. I am in total agreement that ‘the top’ is not always the best place to be either.

Some of the best mentors I know live in that spot of continuous learning and are definitely not at the top, although considered successful in a different kind of way. I am in a place where I am not at the top (don’t want to be at the top) have been in my career for 10+ years. When I am most engaged and happy I am learning something new and not just cranking out work. I always try to throw in some research with academics in my field since they are typically a great place of inspiration. These professors I work with are always looking at new things and learning from them everyday. I know that not everyone has this chance but if you dig deep enough there is probably someone studying exactly what you do for a living everyday, and I would venture to guess this is true in just about any field. Find a professor, or other professional in your field, do some research, I am sure they would be more than happy to collaborate with you if you are passionate about it; help with a paper, some other study, etc.

I really like your thinking here and hope that others find value in this type of discussion. Companies and other organizations need to insure that the people in their organization are engaged and learning otherwise what is the reason to be doing what you are doing. Keep writing and keep inspiring, I really enjoy your blog!

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