Finding satisfying work is a difficult task - uncertainty isn't only understandable, it can be a sign of intelligence, ambition, seriousness and strength. It simply isn't easy to know what to do.
In an ideal society we would be given extensive help to devote ourselves to years of thinking and experimentation around what work is right for us. Before we consider what specific jobs might suit us, there is much we should reflect upon - how our parents have shaped our desires, what frustrates us, what truly brings us joy, how our peer-group might be unduly influencing us...
Rather than suggesting particular jobs, therefore, this questionnaire focuses on the vital hinterland of beliefs and emotions which shape your thinking about work. It aims to bring to the fore of your mind a few key topics that are relevant to you and your situation. We're trying to help you find out who you potentially are in the world of work: what aspects of character you bring, what you need from a job and what your true underlying ambitions really are.
Which kind of working life are you more drawn to?
As a child, how were you in the kitchen?
Pick a moment of working life which appeals to you.
What would make your parents happy with your career?
Pick up to two.
What thought does this image bring to mind?
When someone asks "What is your dream job?"
What does this image evoke for you?
What phrase best fits this image?
In general, some pleasures of work are:
Do any of the following statements apply to you?
Pick up to three.
In relation to work, at the moment, I feel:
Pick the best interpretation of this picture?
What does this image bring up for you?
What brings you joy?
Pick up to three.
Finding a job to love is a challenge which gets to the heart of who you are and could be. It's a much bigger task than we can address here, but we hope to prompt your thinking with a few starting points for reflection. Based on your answers, we think the following three points are important for you to consider, as part of your ongoing search.
It is a particular challenge for you to work out what you truly care about and love. The roots of this could stretch back into childhood. All of us start off in life being very interested in pleasure and fun; in our earliest years, we do little but hunt out situations that will amuse us. Then at the age of five or six, we are introduced to a terrifying new reality: The Rule of Duty. This rule states that there are some things that we must do because other people expect us to. This became entrenched over the course of your education. Then you emerged, but you may now find it difficult and unnerving to ask yourself openly what - in your heart - you might truly want to do with your life and to explore what you might be capable of. It's at odds with way you've been encouraged to think.
It could be useful to ask yourself what you might really want to do, without any immediate or primary consideration for money or reputation; and if everyone you know were locked away out of earshot. It's a scary but helpful thought experiment. One helpful way to prompt yourself to do this, is to imagine what you might think of your life from the vantage point of your deathbed. Try to picture yourself lying in the hospital. The thought of death can usefully detach one's mind from prevailing fears of what others think. The prospect of the end reminds us of an imperative higher still than a duty to fulfill expectations: a duty to ourselves, to our talents, to our interests and our passions. The death-bed point of view can spur us to see the hidden folly of the supposedly sensible plan.
It takes immense insight and maturity to stick with the truth: that we will best serve others - and can make our own greatest contribution to society - when we bring the most imaginative and most authentically personal sides of our nature into our work. Duty can guarantee us a basic income. Only sincere, pleasure-led work can generate sizeable success.
You have strong desires and longings, but it's often hard for you to get specific about what you want. This is not your fault. Our brains are bizarrely ill-adapted for some key modern tasks. You might find yourself saying things like: 'I want to do something creative' or 'I'd like to make a difference.' These are reasonable aspirations but they are frustratingly vague. And when presented with a demand for further details your brain often goes blank: it feels like you don't actually know what you want because you can't close in on the particulars.
You have, however, already picked up a great deal of information relevant to determining what kind of work you should do. It lies in that store of unexpected career insights: childhood. When during these early years did you feel particular tremors of excitement? You should let your mind relax and surrender the smallest most incidental details. Perhaps it was lovely lying on the bedroom floor, cutting out pieces of paper from a coloured pad and arranging alternating strips. Perhaps there was a jumper you especially responded to, it had yellow circles on the front; or you really liked running around some bushes in the garden; or it was very special when your bedroom was extremely tidy. Fragmentary memories like these hint at major tendencies in your nature that are still active within you, though they might have gone quiet for a while.
To get in touch with them it's useful to start an inner dialogue. Take something like cutting out shapes. Say to yourself: 'So, I found this nice. What was it really about the experience that pleased me? It wasn't everything, it was something more specific.' You might answer: 'I don't know, I just liked it.' Push yourself: what was the specific pleasure? Maybe it was that you were doing something on your own, rather than the cutting itself. Then think of similar pleasures - maybe there was another time when you worked out a maths question on your own. What was the underlying enjoyment? Under this kind of questioning, gradually the hints yield information about what really makes you happy - and hence edge you further towards understanding who you can and ideally should be around work.
You tend to be attracted by the idea of a 'vocation': a calling which gives meaning to your life and sets out the required path you must take. It's a powerful notion in our culture - the idea of a vocation features in the biographies of many of the world's most famous people. For example, we might hear that the pioneering French scientist Marie Curie knew from the age of 15 that her life depended on being able to undertake scientific research. She struggled determinedly against every difficulty - she had no money and when she was a student she nearly froze to death one winter and frequently fainted from hunger. But eventually she was awarded two Nobel prizes, one for her work on X-rays and another for the discovery of radium and polonium.
As a result of such cases, having a vocation has come to seem like a sure sign of being destined for great things. And, necessarily, to lack a vocation has come to seem not only a misfortune, but also the mark of inferiority. What is worse, 'finding one's vocation' has come to seem like a discovery of which we should all be capable in a brief span of time. One should simply wait for a moment of revelation, for a modern equivalent of a clap of thunder or a divine voice: an inner urge or an instinct pushing us towards podiatry or supply chain management.
All this helps to explain the relative societal silence around the task of working out what to do. Well-meaning friends and family may suggest that you should just wait, until one day something strikes you as just right. However, contrary to what this unfortunate, oppressive notion of vocation suggests, it is in fact entirely reasonable - even healthy - not to know what one's talents are or how to apply them. One's nature is ultimately so complex, one's abilities so tricky to define in detail, the needs of the world so elusive that discovering the best fit between oneself and a job is a momentous, highly legitimate challenge that requires an immense amount of thought, exploration and wise assistance and might very properly use up years of your attention. It's wholly reasonable not to know what work you should perform. And it is indeed often a great sign of maturity to realise that one doesn't know, rather than suffer any longer under the punishing assumption that one should.
A good part of your motivation comes from envy. This is entirely normal. The difficulty comes from the shame we are taught to feel around envy. For to feel embarrassed by our envious moments risks encouraging us to repress them - and therefore to lose out on deriving some hugely important lessons from them. While envy is uncomfortable, squaring up to the emotion is an indispensable requirement for determining your career path; envy is a call to action that should be heeded, containing garbled messages sent by confused but important parts of your personality about what you should do with the rest of your life. Without regular envious attacks, you couldn't know what you wanted to be. Instead of trying to repress your envy, you should make every effort to study it. Each person you envy possesses a piece of the jigsaw puzzle depicting your possible future. There is a portrait of your 'true self' waiting to be assembled out of the envious hints you receive when you turn the pages of a newspaper or hear updates on the radio about the career moves of old schoolmates. Rather than run from the emotion, you should calmly ask one essential and redemptive question of all those you envy: 'What could I learn about here?'
Even when we do attend to our envy, we generally remain extremely poor students of envy's wisdom. We start to envy certain individuals in their entirety, when in fact, if we took a moment to analyse their lives we would realise that it was only a small part of what they had done that really resonates with us, and should guide our own next steps. It might not be the whole of the restaurant entrepreneur's life you want, but really just their skill at building up institutions. Or you might not truly want to be a potter and yet you might need in our working lives a little more of the playfulness on display in the work of one example you know. What your may be in danger of forgetting is that the qualities you admire don't just belong to one specific, attractive life. They can be pursued in lesser, weaker (but still real) doses in countless other places, opening up the possibility of creating more manageable and more realistic versions of the lives you desire.
In the background of your mind, there is what we can call a 'family work template' in operation, restricting what sort of jobs you feel able to devote yourself to and encouraging you towards a set of favoured options. This is unlikely to be obvious. Modern parents don't put up absolute barriers. Stepping outside of familial experience is seldom presented as plain wrong, wicked or stupid - but certain options might just not seem as imaginatively available to you. It's hard to know where to start when no one in the family has ever gone into, say, sport, electronics or the theatre. The people on whose affections you depend can't help you to become confident in new areas. They restrict you not because they are mean, nor because they have studied all the facets of your character and are refusing to accept your true inclinations, but because their own experiences are simply and necessarily rather narrow.
The family work template emerges as the result of what parents esteem and aspire to; and conversely, what they are afraid of and in flight from. In many families, there will be certain career options which the parents speak about with particular reverence; perhaps being a great writer or a senior judge, a headmaster or a civil servant. These frequently aren't the things that the parents are themselves engaged in; they are what they once wanted to do (but never did). Many parents quietly hand their dreams on to their children to fulfil - without usually telling them that they have placed these burdens on their shoulders. Yet a message is conveyed that following a given route will be a way to secure love and admiration; the son or daughter will be the architect that the parents were too timid to be, or the entrepreneur they were barred from becoming. Nothing like this is ever stated, but it's remarkable how much we can be influenced by fifteen years of admiring glances cast in particular professional directions.
We sense our parents' wishes and excitements and are impressed by them and, because we love them, we may try to align ourselves with them. It's very natural. But it may be tragically at odds with doing the kind of work that could actually bring us fulfilment.
When it comes to responding to difficulties we face around our careers, many of us have voices in our heads - a murmuring stream of thoughts that constantly comment on our aspirations and achievements. Sometimes, the voices are warm and encouraging - urging us to find more strength or to give an initiative another go: 'You're nearly there, stick with it' 'Don't let them get to you; rest and you'll be ready for a new fight tomorrow.' Yet sometimes, the voices are harsher and more condemnatory; their tone is defeatist and punitive, panic-ridden and humiliating: 'Stupid fool, imagining you knew a way to beat the odds.' 'You've always run away from the real truth about yourself...'
You are someone who often has harsh inner thoughts. Speaking sternly to yourself may feel natural, but another person in a similar situation might have in their head a very different kind of inner monologue - and they might reach their goals a great deal more effectively as a result. Being successful, after all, is to a critical degree a matter of confidence, a faith that there is no reason why success would not be ours. It's humbling to recognise just how many great achievements have been the result not of superior talent or technical know-how, but merely that strange buoyancy of the soul we call confidence. And this sense of confidence is ultimately nothing more than an internalised version of the confidence that other people once had in us.
An inner voice always used to be an outer voice that we have absorbed and made our own. Without us quite noticing, we have internalised the voices of the very many of the people who have dealt with us since infancy. We may have assimilated the loving, forgiving tone of a grandmother, the unruffled perspective of a father, the humorous stoicism of a mother. But along the way, we may also have absorbed the tone of a harassed or angry parent; the words of a schoolyard bully; a teacher who seemed impossible to please. Our heads are large, cavernous spaces; they contain the voices of all the people we have ever known. Part of mastering a career we can love involves coming to terms with our inner voices. We should learn to mute the unhelpful ones and focus on the voices we really need to guide us through the difficulties of our careers.
We typically aim for a particular career because we have been deeply impressed by the exploits of the most accomplished practitioners in the field. We formulate our ambitions by admiring the beautiful structures of the architect tasked with designing the city's new airport, or by following the intrepid trades of the wealthiest Wall Street fund manager, by reading the analyses of the acclaimed literary novelist or sampling the piquant meals in the restaurant of a prize-winning chef. We form our career plans on the basis of perfection.
You love perfection, and because of this, you may find yourself often stuck in an uncomfortable paradox: your ambitions have been ignited by greatness, but what you know of yourself suggests that it won't happen for you. What you have managed to design, or make in your first month of trading, or write in an early short story, or cook on a weekend is markedly and absurdly beneath the standard that first sparked your ambition. It isn't your fault. Without in any way revealing this, our media edits out billions of unremarkable lives and years of failure, rejection and frustration even in those who do achieve - in order to serve up a daily curated selection of peak career moments. Our perspective is imbalanced because we know our own struggles so well from the inside, and yet are exposed to apparently pain-free narratives of achievement on the outside.
The solution is to find a saner picture of how many difficulties lie behind everything you would wish to emulate. You should not look, for example, at the masterpieces of art in a museum. You should go to the studio and there see the anguish, wrecked early versions and watermarks on the paper where the artist broke down and wept. You should focus on how long it took the architect before they received their first proper commission (they were over 50). The goal is to recognise the legitimate and necessary role of failure, to allow ourselves to do things quite imperfectly for a very long time - as a price we cannot avoid paying for an opportunity one day, in many decades, to do something that others will consider a spontaneous success.
You are held back in some important situations by the thought that someone like you could not possibly triumph given what you know of yourself. You often leave the possibility of success to others, because you don't seem to yourself to be anything like the sort of people you see lauded around you. Faced with responsibility or prestige, you may become convinced that you are an impostor, like an actor in the role of a pilot, wearing the uniform and making sunny cabin announcements while incapable of even starting the engines. It can feel easier simply not to try.
The impostor syndrome has its roots far back in childhood - specifically in the powerful sense children have that their parents are really very different from them. To a four year old, it is incomprehensible that their mother was once their age and unable to drive a car, tell the plumber what to do, decide other people's bedtimes and go on planes with colleagues. The child's passionate loves - bouncing on the sofa, Pingu, Toblerone... - have nothing to do with those of adults, who like to sit at a table talking for hours (when they could be rushing about outside). This childhood experience dovetails with a basic feature of the human condition. We know ourselves from the inside, but others only from the outside. We fail to imagine that others are every bit as anxious and disturbed as we are.
The solution to impostor syndrome lies in making a crucial leap of faith, the leap that others' minds work in basically the same ways as ours does. Everyone must be as uncertain and wayward as we often are. Without knowing exactly what it is that troubles or wracks an outwardly very impressive person, one can be sure that it will be something. Making a leap of faith around what other people are really like helps to humanise the world. It means that whenever we encounter a stranger we're not really encountering a stranger, we’re in fact encountering someone who is - in spite of the surface evidence to the contrary - in fundamental ways very much like us - and that therefore nothing fundamental stands between us and the possibility of responsibility, success and fulfilment.
You have strong creative tendencies, but you may struggle to integrate this side of yourself with the demands and possibilities of work. The idea of being able to be creative in a job attracts enormous prestige in our society. But it's easy to doubt yourself and feel excluded: 'creativity' seems to be reserved for exceptionally gifted people who are able to make a living out of art. In the 15th century the Venetian artist Titian was paid well to depict the way light fell on a sleeve or to unlock the secret of a friend's smile. Today the rewards seem similarly reserved for a rare set of roles: TV scriptwriter, novelist, creative director of an advertising agency...
Someone creative, like you, is able to think for themselves: they are not dictated to by convention: they can discover good options and possibilities where other people didn't see them. In a way, it is only coincidental that we have recognised these capacities in the film industry or in designing wallpaper. Really, artistic things aren't the central examples of creativity. Creativity can turn up in the shipping industry, in hotels, in entrepreneurship, for instance. One major need is for people who are excited about imagining and assessing the future: Should we go into the American market? Is it worth making greetings cards? Should we get involved with the South Korean company? These sort of thought experiments come easily to you. More than other people, you are positioned to imagine what the ideal education system or the perfect city might be like.
At the core of creativity is the courage and intelligence to see how the pieces might be rearranged, to serve the end more effectively. If you trust this ability of yours you'll find it can be deployed in many circumstances, to the benefit of yourself and others.
An important part of your character is your sensitivity to beauty. We tend to discount this because it is not something we tend to think of as highly relevant to to working life. The concept of beauty is mainly applied around things we are supposed to find beautiful in our spare time - visiting a church in France, visiting the Grand Canyon, looking at a sunset. If we do consider beauty in terms of work, we tend to pigeonhole it in very limited ways - we think of being an interior designer, a florist, or an artist.
This is because we tend to think of beauty as passive (appreciating something beautiful) rather than active (doing something or changing something to make it beautiful). A taxi driver who was concerned with beauty would pay attention to how she or he drives; they would enjoy an elegant acceleration or a well-taken corner. The teacher who is concerned with beauty is keen to bring beauty into his work: he loves solving a problem for a student with just the right words, clearing up a confusion, simplifying judiciously. The CEO of a law firm who takes beauty seriously would want to make sure everything about the firm enacts their highest values: she would care that the lobby represents calm, accuracy and concern with details, as does the language of the firm, and the behaviour of her senior staff.
Beauty is an overarching, guiding concern in life: when we say that something is beautiful we are saying that it manages to integrate and embody qualities that are dear to us. You should trust that you can bring your love of beauty, understood in your own way, into any environment: you can make your desk embody qualities that are close to your heart; you can set out to build an organisation that enacts the best qualities of spirit. Appreciation is indeed part of it - appreciation of, say, kindness, persistence, intelligence, skill and insight - but moments of beauty happen when we bring qualities we value to life.
Part of you is thrilled by the idea of making money. Few people confess such a feeling; we live in a society which stresses the negatives of making money. The only people who brazenly declare their wish to be well-off tend to be awful people. Yet money can represent many good things. Perhaps, for instance, the pleasure you might have had as a child of making biscuits for a stall and selling them to people, and turning a profit; this kind of pleasure wasn't really about the money, it was the excitement of seeing that people really liked what you'd done and were happy to prove it by giving up something unambiguously valuable.
While there are unscrupulous ways of relating to money, there are other ways of relating to it which involve genuine pleasures. Money is well-deserved when it comes from guessing correctly what other people require. This is a good pleasure that comes from money-making. Of course, it's not simply guesswork; the insights are the result of being always on the lookout for little revealing signals that people don't even know they are sending. Deserved profit is an achievement of psychology: the reward for correctly guessing the needs of others ahead of the competition. Another good pleasure of money is the endorsement it brings of one's insights and skills; the fact that this year's profits are higher than the one before is a confirmation that you were right in a myriad of little decisions you had taken over many months. Finally, making money is, in general, connected to a set of down-to-earth virtues: understanding, hard work, efficiency, discipline; canniness.
Our society really needs people who want to make money in good ways. The thrill around money is not an inherently guilty pleasure. Your search for fulfilling work can legitimately be motivated by a desire to make profit in ways which help society.
We don't necessarily think about it all that much, but the impulse of organise things - to tidy up, to sort a mess - is really a central aspect of a lot of different kinds of work. It's the attempt to bring efficiency, clarity, calmness and precision where these things were lacking. Perhaps as child you rather enjoyed the task of setting the table (you liked making sure that the knives and forks were straight) or perhaps you felt a special satisfaction after tidying your bedroom.
It might not be a quality in yourself you've given much importance to: culturally, our most prestigious notion - creativity - is aligned with disorder and a degree of chaos. But there's an important point to be made in the other direction. The German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe once said that double-entry bookkeeping was the most beautiful and poetic idea he had ever encountered - he was latching onto the crucial and noble goal of creating order out of chaos, which is central to so much productive work. He was reminding us that tidying up doesn't just apply to domestic life or industrial cleaning. It could equally mean simplifying and making more streamlined the reporting system of a corporation. A well-presented report organises ideas and tidies up a tangled mass of information; chairing a meeting can be an exercise in drawing coherence, and a unified team, out of a heap of initially random suggestions and dislocated individuals. There may be many parts of your life that are quite messy, but the desire to organise to bring order is a valuable part of who you are that can find its largest outlet - and its proper reward - at work.
An important part of what would satisfy you in work is the element of helping other people. This is one of the most basic ways work feels meaningful: the sense that we are adding to other people's lives. We recognise this in a familiar way - the nurse helping the patient recover the use of their injured leg, or the aid worker.
But helpfulness is not just about doing what immediately and overly people want. It's about understanding their needs perhaps better than they do. At your best you can assist people in recognising needs that they really have but which aren't at the moment at the front of their minds. Looked at in this way, most jobs could be more helpful than they currently are. For example, a washing machine retailer can help people to have an easier time getting hold of a reliable, efficient machine. The advertiser, ideally, helps people to identify what is genuinely important to them, by presenting images of a truly better life and products which will help them remember and aspire to those images. Ideally, a journalist helps people manage their emotions around very challenging events.
The desire to help doesn't mean you have to join one of the obvious helping professions. Helpfulness should be brought into every industry and profession. Your task is to take your desire to help into the work that you do. Following this through (which may involve approaching the work in a different spirit from how practitioners currently operate) will be the foundation of you finding the work satisfying and meaningful.
Your instincts suit you for leadership. Being a leader is most obviously associated with prominence - being at the top, being in charge. But circulating just below the surface is a more fundamental and noble idea: wanting to take responsibility, so that good things you believe in can have a better chance of success in the world. At the core of leadership is wanting to solve the problems that cause others difficulty. This applies to a small group: it's lovely when the person in charge of you brings out your better qualities; they appreciate the real difficulties of the task but they also recognise in you the future ability to master things that at the moment feel too hard. They are conscious of how fragile optimism is, always repairing it, making difficulties more bearable. It also applies to the task of taking on society-wide responsibilities.
A burden of true leadership is that you have to sometimes say no. You have to disappoint certain people; you have to focus efforts (and therefore decide not to follow a path that could be interesting), so that the more important goal can be accomplished. Leadership also involves an essential loneliness: you have to protect people from some major uncertainties and worries, out of love and kindness as well as for strategic reasons. Expecting your working life to be a little lonely and embattled, as well as significant, therefore, might be helpful preparation.
When you're thinking of making a first step or making a change in your career, you have a tendency to get dismayed by the scale of the change you're contemplating. You imagine things in dramatic terms. You feel that this next step needs to establish the basis for your entire future, or that you need a revolution in your life. A more helpful approach, however, may be to think in terms of smaller steps and gradual alterations: that is, in terms of evolution rather than revolution.
Evolution is a deeply valid process of change, but it's a tricky idea for to have faith in. We're not sufficiently practiced at seeing the relationship between small steps and large overall alterations. It's like children growing up: we don't usually observe any alteration day by day, yet over time an eleven month old infant crawling on the carpet and deeply excited by an orange plastic keyring becomes a six-foot tall seventeen year old obsessed with mountain biking. We know that a million small changes have been occurring every single day in the intervening years, but they almost never announced themselves as major steps. In the background, bones were growing, ligaments were expanding, neural pathways were being formed, skills were gradually accumulating, attitudes and interests were taking shape.
In order to find a job you can love, it may be wise to try out some modest first moves. You could start with taking a single evening class every week, or spending three days during the holidays exploring an option, or retraining part-time in a process that might be finished in two years. An enormous shift might be set in motion by nothing more outwardly dramatic than meeting someone in a field you are interested in, or volunteering for a new responsibility in your existing job. Minor moves can strengthen your courage by giving you a sense of possibility in an area where you as yet have little experience. They break through the unhelpful but widely prevalent sense that one might attain a happy life by making the right, single, decisive move. Oddly, there is a far less glamorous, more neglected option to explore: the careful evolutionary step.
Sometimes your ideas about the kind of work you really want don't tally with anything that exists at the moment. You come up with a picture of a job or enterprise you could love but when you look round the world, don't see it anywhere. If you are to proceed, you will have to invent your own solution; you'll have to become an entrepreneur. There's a lot of excitement in our societies about entrepreneurs; they can seem to embody the summit of achievement. But there are also a host of fears about what might be required to start off on one's own. It's easy to get discouraged; and to doubt the soundness of one's original impulses.
Often, at the centre of your self-doubts, the fact that something doesn't currently exist seems in your mind to indicate that it can't be worthwhile. You find it difficult to imagine yourself as the locus of originality. Yet the difference between the creative and the uncreative mind is not that the creative person has different thoughts, only that the creative person takes what is in their mind more seriously. You may know inside, in a muddled way, what could be done, but you don't trust your quiet intuitions. In effect you abide by a submissive, feudal story: that it is only other people who have permission to originate good ideas.
Now that the cereal bar exists, it possesses an aura of inevitability. But it was 1975 before it emerged, the work of the inventor Stanley Mason. What had held people back was a fear of oddity: the fear of seeming absurd in creating a product constituted merely from a few dry congealed cereal flakes. For decades, people would have had the experience of returning home and putting a hand in the breakfast carton and eating flakes without milk - and yet they had not taken their manoeuvre seriously, failing to acknowledge that they were having an experience which - if commercialised - could found an industry. The fear of being strange may be quashing a sizeable share of your best ideas.
You have a tendency to attack yourself for not living up to your ideals. This can sometimes be useful, of course: some ideals are good to strive hard towards. At other times, the ideals you set may simply have the effect of leading you to punish yourself and feel badly about your life - leading you even further away from the goal of satisfaction in work.
One helpful response to this mindset was developed by the British psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott in the 1950s. Winnicott specialised in relationships between parents and children. He often met with parents who were trying their best to be everything to their children and yet were in despair. The parents were getting angry and frustrated at how far from their ideals their family lives were turning out to be. To help them he developed the concept of what he called 'the good enough parent'. Children, he insisted, don't need an ideal parent. They very much need an OK, pretty decent, usually well intentioned and generally, but not always, warm and reasonable father or mother. Winnicott emphasised this not because he liked to settle for second-best, but rather because he realised that in order to become well-balanced robust and enduring souls (which is a very big ambition in reality) we need to be people who can cope with imperfection and can resist torturing themselves trying to be what no ordinary human can be. The concept of 'good enough' was invented to give dignity to a failure to live up to a punishing, counter-productive ideal. It pointed out that much that is really important and lastingly valuable goes on at a much lower level than the flawless and problem-free.
With Winnicott's advice to parents in mind we could usefully develop the notion of a good enough job. A good enough job has the normal, full range of defects: it's a bit boring at some points, it's got fiddly, frustrating aspects; it involves times of anxiety; you have to put up with getting judged occasionally by people you don't especially respect; it doesn't perfectly utilise all your merits; you have to be polite to some rather irritating people; there will be days when you wonder how you could have been such an idiot to ever get involved in this in the first place. But, in a good enough job, there will be plenty of good things along the way. You'll make some good friends; you'll have times of real excitement; you'll quite often see that your best efforts are recognised and rewarded; you'll appreciate the overall worthwhile direction of what you are doing; you'll finish many days tired but with a sense of accomplishment.
The public probably won't be singing your praises; you won't get to the very top; you won't single-handedly change the world; many of the early fantasies of what a career might be will gently drop aside. But you will know that you work with honour and dignity and that in a quiet, mature, non-starry-eyed but very real way, you love your job enough. And that is, in itself, already a very grand achievement.
The drive to be a teacher is part of who you are. This, however, does not necessarily mean that you should join the current educational system. The lesson is more general: teaching is a core human activity. It's most familiar guise is being a teacher in a school. But just as much, teaching might be involved in the job of an HR manager, or the chief financial officer teaching the board why a certain kind of investment is really important.
Too often we forget the importance of teaching because we don't feel that we would do well working in a school. As a child, you might have had a lovely teacher who knew how carefully you were listening and when you were trying, even if you got something wrong. Behind such moments of good teaching are some important abilities. First, the tact to be careful how and where one delivers 'lessons': the good teacher knows that people don't like to feel patronised. Second, they balance tact with their love of filling in the gaps in the knowledge of others, turning someone's panic and frustration with themselves into mastery and confidence, or correcting people and setting them off down a better path.
A teacher is practiced in addressing the parts of others that are lost, confused, and even somewhat ashamed - without provoking people's defensive and prideful reactions. This is a vital and universally needed skill. The instinct that might have made someone, as a child, want to be a primary school teacher, could lead them in many directions - it could equally make them want to be a police commissioner (in an ideal world, the police commissioner would be one of the best teachers in the country). Politicians should be good teachers, explaining the need for difficult changes; radio presenters should be good teachers, acting as guides for their listeners. You should develop your skill in teaching in whatever workplace you enter, even if the line of work you pursue never involves classrooms or obvious lessons.