According to Google’s dictionary, a myth is a “widely held but false belief or idea.” Myths by their very nature surround us like air and often go unnoticed and unchallenged. We accept them without ever really questioning them.
Unfortunately, many myths surround our careers. These myths raise and narrow the expectations we have about our career paths, making it more difficult than it needs to be for us to feel fulfilled and happy.
There are four myths in particular that I want to focus on dispelling today:
- The Myth of the Title
- The Myth of Divine Intervention
- The Myth of the Ladder
- The Myth of the Rosy Glasses
It is my hope that, once you are aware of these myths, you will be able to avoid falling victim to them:
1. The Myth of the Title
According to this myth, you need to pursue a specific title. You are first exposed to this myth when you are around four or five years old. It comes with the words, “Now little one, what do you want to be when you grow up?” As kindly as these words are, they impart to us the idea that we must be one thing and one thing only in our careers.
The big idea behind this myth is that a career is about having a title and being able to say “I am a fireman,” or “I am a dentist,” or “I am a shopkeeper,” etc. Children are rarely rewarded with smiles from adults should they reply that they want to try out lots of different things, or that they want to skip from one title to another, or that they want to make a up a new title. So this myth goes largely unquestioned and perpetuates itself with ease.
As Emilie Wapnick explores in a wonderful TED talk, some people — in fact, many people — are not destined for just one career. Rather, they are “multipotentialites.” Increasingly, the work world doesn’t hand people distinct titles. Instead, the typical career today is varied, composed of different elements and created in a way that suits you.
2. The Myth of Divine Intervention
Somewhere along the way, we pick up the second myth: the Myth of Divine Intervention. This myth teaches us that our career needs to be something that we feel “called” to do, that there is one thing (i.e., one title) out there that is the thing that we were put on earth to do.
Along with this comes the belief that we can only have a great, fulfilling career if we find that one thing. When we don’t — and most of us don’t — we feel like we got it wrong. We feel unfulfilled, like we are missing out on something.
I don’t want to imply that you shouldn’t look for and do things you find meaningful, but that finding things you care about is a much more realistic and more attainable goal than finding the vocation you were supposedly born to do. The luminary thinker Seth Godin explores this idea further in a lovely short post about finding your “caring” rather than your “calling.”
3. The Myth of the Ladder
As if the Myth of the Title and the Myth of Divine Intervention did not make it difficult enough to feel good about our careers, there’s another myth we must contend with: the Myth of the Ladder.
The Myth of the Ladder says that no matter what it is you are doing in your career — no matter how content and happy you currently are — you should be looking to advance to a position of greater power and influence.
The insidious thing about this myth is that it implies that it is not enough to become more skilled and proficient at what you do. Instead, the myth goes, you should always be looking to move up the ladder, taking on more responsibility and gaining more power.
I see this myth in action all the time when good operators are urged to go into management roles because they “have to advance their careers.”
Now, it is important that you continue to challenge yourself at work in order to prevent growing bored in your role, but that does not necessarily mean you have to spend all your time trying to climb the corporate ladder.
4. The Myth of the Rosy Glasses
Finally, there is the Myth of the Rosy Glasses, which tells us that getting a higher-paying job, or a job with better conditions, or a job with a better boss will solve all of our problems. According to this myth, the things that trouble you now — the barriers and setbacks you come up against — will just disappear as soon as you find a new job.
Very rarely does this happen. Financial freedom, for example, does not come with increased salary; it only comes when you learn and follow the principles of good money management. Better relationships don’t materialize because you move to a sunny climate. Careers don’t become more fulfilling and engaging because you change jobs.
Before falling for the Myth of the Rosy Glasses, ask what you need to learn from your current circumstances so that you can avoid these barriers and setbacks in the future.
In general, it is a good idea to take some time to examine how these myths might be influencing the decisions you make in your career. It may be that you still make the same decisions after learning about these myths, but at least you will be fully informed about just what your decisions mean.
A version of this article originally appeared on LinkedIn.
Katherine Street is the director of People Flourishing.