Teaching professional development, I spend a lot of time helping people who don’t know what to do with their careers, or lives for that matter. We’ve all been there (many of us are still there). I generally help them through lots of exercises that give them a better idea of their motivations and use coaching-style questioning to help them arrive at their conclusions.
Once they have some ideas, we then work towards understanding the steps necessary to achieve these dream jobs or ideal career goals. While doing this, there is a major hurdle we often come across… the fact that it all looks a bit too much like hard work, so maybe it would just be better to continue as usual, making some vague efforts to move forward, but nothing too structured.
I recently read Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Big Magic, Creative Living Beyond Fear”, (an excellent book for anyone working on anything creative). Of course the book has lots of great ideas on overcoming creative blocks and living a more fulfilling life, but one of the ones that stands out for me is “The Shit Sandwich”.
Gilbert cites Mark Manson, who says that, the secret to finding your purpose in life is to answer the question in total honesty: “What flavour of shit sandwich do I want to eat?”” No job is perfect, even our dream job but if we are doing something we love, we will have a higher tolerance for the bad bits. As Gilbert puts it, “Because if you love and want something enough – whatever it is – then you really don’t mind eating the shit sandwich that comes with it.”
We need to remember this as we often find that once something becomes routine or an obligation our interest or passion in it wans. A few years ago, I started writing and illustrating a children’s book so during the summer every morning I would dutifully take my cup of coffee down to a space I had commandeered as my own, to work on my illustrations. After two weeks of sweltering heat and with calluses on my hand (the likes of which I hadn’t seen since school), I was fed up.
Drawing had changed from something I loved and found relaxing to something I felt obliged to do, and worse still I had no plan. I still don’t really know how to pitch a children’s book to publishers, so I decided to stop until either I could enjoy the process or was ready to eat the shit sandwich required to get it published (finish it, pitch it, suffer rejections, edit, redraw it, etc.).
Still I often think I should have lead a more artistic career, but tests like this help me to realize that I just wasn’t willing to eat the shit sandwich that went along with acting, writing or illustrating. Some day I’ll be ready to change flavour again, but not right now.
So I like the shit sandwich idea. It helps us to put things into perspective. All jobs have tough bits you won’t like but what do you love enough to suck up the bad bits and be successful?
I’m currently working on a new name for it, since (sadly) come clients require less potty mouthed classes!