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power points

To choose a career that is best for you – or to check whether the one you are immersed in is right for you – spend some time studying your yearning octopus.

Every individual bundles aspirations and fears in a way that blogger Tim Urban compares to a many-tentacled octopus. “We each have our own personal yearning octopus in our heads. The particulars of each person’s yearning octopus will vary, but people also aren’t all that different from each other, and I bet many of us feel very similar yearnings and fears,” he writes.

Each tentacle is actually a bundle of separate but related aspects of our being. And the different tentacles do not get along with each other.

He sketches five that may resonate with you:

  • Personal: This reflects our specific values and personality as we seek fulfillment. The key elements are identity, self-esteem, passion, meaning, and achieving your potential. “The dreams of seven-year-old you and the idealized identity of 12-year-old you and the secret hopes of 17-year-old you and the evolving passions of your current self are all somewhere on the personal tentacle, each throwing their own little fit about getting what they want, and each fully ready to make you feel horrible about yourself with their disappointment and disgust if you fail them. On top of that, your fear of death sometimes emerges on the personal tentacle, all needy about you leaving your mark and achieving greatness and all that,” he says. But this tentacle can be neglected and, early in your career, can be overwhelmed by some of the other arms. Major regrets can arise from this failure to satisfy it.
  • Social: This covers power, approval, appreciation, status, inclusion, respect and fame. He suggests it’s probably our most primitive animal side, stemming back to our tribal evolutionary past. It includes your ego, which wants to be admired and fawned over, ideally, on a mass scale. Also, a little dog who wants more than anything in the world to please its owner. “The one problem with this adorable creature is that its owner isn’t you. It’s a person with so much psychological power over you that, if you’re not careful, you may dedicate your whole career to trying to please them and make them proud,” he warns.
  • Lifestyle: Balance, flexibility, freedom and ease of life converge on this tentacle. It wants each day to be a great day but also wants the bigger picture of life to be highly successful. “Life should be full of fun times and rich experiences, but it should also roll by smoothly, without too much hard work and as few bumps in the road as possible,” he notes. But different aspects of this tentacle collide with each other; for example, wanting to sit around and relax prevents the tough grind that can build a career offering long-term flexibility and sufficient wealth to make life luxurious.
  • Moral: We also want to reduce suffering, have our loved ones live a good life, improve the future and have an ethical impact. “While the other tentacles fantasize about what you would do with your life if you had a billion dollars in the bank, the moral tentacle fantasizes about the kind of impact you could make if you had a billion dollars to deploy. Needless to say, the other tentacles of your yearning octopus find the moral tentacle to be insufferable,” he observes.
  • Practical: All the other yearnings may be fine, but you also have to pay the rent or mortgage. Security, having food, not being in debt and other practical stuff hang out on this tentacle. Every time your income goes up, your lifestyle tentacle raises the bar on what it wants and expects, while the practical tentacle frantically tries to keep you solvent.

“You’ve got this yearning octopus in your head with five tentacles (or however many yours has), each with their own agenda, that often conflict with each other. Then there are the distinct individual yearnings on each tentacle, often in conflict among themselves. And if that weren’t enough, you sometimes have furious internal conflict inside a single yearning. Like when your desire to pursue your passion can’t figure out what it’s most passionate about,” he sums up.

It’s complicated. He says no human in history has ever satisfied their entire octopus. But you must understand your yearning octopus, making the choices, sacrifices and compromises to build a career.

Take charge of your busy life

Executive and investor Fran Hauser offers another set of categories to consider in your life: a matrix with four squares that can help you set boundaries and priorities.

Consider these elements: Me, friends and family, career, and the rest of the world. For each, Ms. Hauser wrote out her top priorities for that part of her life, limiting herself to a maximum of three for each square. Her goal was to allow those priorities to take up the majority of her time – ideally about 80 per cent – with the rest of her time given to administrative tasks.

“Right away, it was clear to me that my calendar and to-do list were not consistent with the priorities I had identified,” she writes.

Since the priorities were intended to be non-negotiable, she began to shift her schedule and commitments by saying no to more things and delegating where she could. She finds the amount of time devoted to each element has shifted from month to month, sometimes perhaps more focused on career and other months on family obligations. That’s fine, but she checks every two weeks that her calendar fits her priorities, and on a quarterly basis considers whether the priorities require change. She says the key is to allow them to change without adding to them endlessly, so that everything becomes a priority, which in the end means you have no priorities.

Your own squares might be different – for some people hobbies or travel or continuing education might merit special attention. And trying this approach won’t mean it won’t still be a struggle to find balance. But it should help.

Five surprising statistics about start-ups

If you’re an entrepreneur intent on building your own business, here are five surprising statistics that consultant Tom Koulopoulos offers on the Innovation Excellence blog to help you avoid being a statistic on the journey to success:

  • Fifty per cent of new businesses fail within five years, so instead of going for broke at the start, build a strong foundation.
  • You’re more likely to succeed if you’ve failed than if you’ve never tried, since failure teaches valuable lessons.
  • Ninety-five per cent of entrepreneurs have a bachelor’s degree, so while some glamorous drop-outs like Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs and Bill Gates found success, the odds suggest staying in school.
  • Scaling up too fast and too soon is the No. 1 reason most new businesses fail, so be patient with your dream.
  • Having two founders, rather than one, significantly increases your odds of success. Statistics suggest you will raise 30 per cent more investment and increase your customers three times as fast, yet be less likely to build up too quickly.

Quick hits

  • Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg says he will only hire someone to work for him if he would be willing to work directly for that person.
  • Recent research indicates jobs that require constant expression or suppression of emotion – such as the requirement to provide “service with a smile” – are key causes of workplace anxiety. Also: Positions with constant looming deadlines or frequent organizational change. Office politics and control over work can also be prime contributors to anxiety. 
  • If you have to get up to reach your trash can, it’s too far away says productivity consultant Craig Jarrow.
  • Don’t assume you’ll remember everything you’re being told in the first weeks of a new job, advises writer Jane Burnett. Take notes.
  • A restaurant in Oakland, Calif., has devised a code whereby servers can quickly indicate if they are being harassed by customers: Yellow means a creepy feeling or vibe, orange a comment with sexual overtones or an unwelcome compliment, and red an overtly sexual comment or touch (or repeated “orange” behaviour after the person has been asked to stop). If a server experiences a yellow, he or she can ask the manager to take over the table or keep an eye on it. Orange requires the manager to automatically take over the table and red means the customer has to leave.