Believing the lie of "You Just Know"

Recently I read The Art of Work: A Proven Path to Discovering What You Were Meant to Do by Jeff Goines (a fantastic read, highly recommend) and one idea that he reinforces throughout the book is that 'the way to meaningful work doesn’t always look like a carefully crafted plan'. One part of this in particular really stood out to me, what he calls the myth of 'you just know':

For the longest time, I believed a little lie about people who were fulfilling their purpose, and it prevented me from finding my own calling. What was it? One simple phrase: you just know. When we find someone doing what they love for a living, we tell ourselves a story. It’s a nice piece of fiction, a familiar fairy tale, and a downright lie.

[...] This is what we hear from people who are too humble to admit how hard they worked or are uncomfortable with acknowledging how they got lucky. It sounds like how we often describe falling in love. You just know. The problem is that it isn’t true.

They. Just. Knew.

What an effective way for us to separate the people we see fulfilling their purpose from our own chaotic career path and lack of plan. Lucky for us, every person he interviewed who had found their calling said that they had no idea what they were doing. 

There was no plan. But they acted anyway. They didn’t just know. They chose. [...] We rarely hear this side of the story in interviews and documentaries about famous people. Why is this? Maybe because it sells. Because we’d rather believe the fairy tale that says some people are just special. That way, we don’t have any responsibility to act.

I struggle with this same concept when people congratulate me for quitting my job and following my passion. I'm afraid that the soundbite of 'look, you're doing your passion!' dismisses the two years of flailing and desperation and work and classes and everything else that went into making that choice. I don't ever want to give people the impression that I had a grand plan.

To give you a taste of my "grand plan", consider these points:

  • My career path so far has been Recycled Water Engineer in Australia, Technical Support at Google, now Career Coach. (If that isn't an intentional and well plotted out career path, I don't know what is).
  • Many people told me I would be a great coach... and I had no idea what that meant. I had to go take a class to figure out what coaching was in order to know how to respond to their comments that I'd be a good one.
  • I had ZERO plans of running my own business and I failed several of the items on the 'Should You Be Self-Employed' checklist during one of my coaching courses ('Being self-employed is a long-desired dream or vision' and 'Really wants to succeed at being an entrepreneur and has confidence'. Nope and nope).
  • The only reason I started what I like to call my accidental side-business is because someone asked me if I was taking clients yet.
  • I ran my side-business for two years before deciding to take the leap and even at that point my mindset was "I'll see how this goes before I get my next job"

I'm still figuring it out and I'm ok with that. I never "just knew" that this was for me and it may not even be the end. I've still got plenty of time for more unknown careers. 

If you're trying to move towards a fulfilling career, don't let yourself believe the lie that other people have it all figured out. Embrace the chaos and keep making decisions that will reveal new opportunities. And if this is the kind of mindset shift you need, read the rest of The Art of Work.