The Dangers of Mystique

There’s a big difference between liking the idea of being/doing something and liking the actual being/doing.

  • It’s easy to like the idea of being the CEO of a Fortune 50. It’s harder to like the hours, the responsibility, and the pressure that comes with the top job.

  • It’s easy to like the idea of being a manager. It’s harder to like the demands from C-level execs, surprises from your direct reports, and the necessity of defending your turf in a political environment.

  • It’s easy to like the idea of getting an Ivy-League MBA or law degree. It’s harder to like the six-figure debt and the corresponding necessity of getting a 120-hour-a-week job to make the investment “worth it."

  • It’s easy to like the idea of being self-employed. It’s harder to like the fact that 100% of your income comes from your own effort, and if you screw up, you’re the one that will face the consequences.

  • It’s easy to like the idea of raising millions of dollars of venture capital. It’s harder to like the fact that you’ve given up control over the project you’re investing your life in.

  • It’s easy to like the idea of being an author or professional blogger. It’s harder to like the solitude, uncertainty, and the long hours of “butt in chair, hands on keyboard" that consistent writing requires.

  • It’s easy to like the idea of being a celebrity. It’s harder to like the scrutiny, loss of privacy, and constant fear that people will direct their attention away from you in favor of the “next big thing."

  • It’s easy to like the idea of being a supermodel. It’s harder to like strictly controlling your diet, constant workouts, and hour-upon-hour of sitting still for the camera.

  • It’s easy to like the idea of being a Broadway star. It’s harder to like the endless auditions, evenings of waiting tables, and recognition that

  • even after landing a high-profile show - you’ll probably be out of work again in a few months.

  • It’s easy to like the idea of being a secret agent or special forces commando. It’s harder to like people shooting at you.

Mystique is a powerful force - a little mystery makes most things appear a lot more attractive than they actually are. Fortunately, there’s an easy way to counteract the rose-colored glasses of mystique: have a real human conversation with someone who’s actually done what you’re attracted to. Here’s what to ask:

“I really respect what you’re doing, but I imagine it has high points and low points. Could you share them with me? Knowing what you know now, is doing this worth it?"

It only takes a few minutes, and you’ll be amazed by what you learn, both on the positive or negative side.

No job, project, or position is flawless - every course of action has benefits and drawbacks. Learning what they are in advance gives you a major advantage: it allows you to examine an option without idealizing it, then choose if it’s really what you want to do with your time before you start. That kind of knowledge is priceless.

Published: July 13, 2009 Last updated: July 13, 2009

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