It always surprises me when certain clients (in total, quite a number of them) begin their work with me by somewhat ashamedly confessing that they’ve never really known what they’ve wanted to do with their lives. It’s slightly reassuring for them to know that their dilemma is a common one, but they’re still left with the feeling that they’re not normal, and that they should have figured out their calling by now.

Why are some people “late bloomers” (which I think is a slightly less derogatory description than “clueless”!)? There are four explanations that I most frequently encounter:

1) Family / societal pressures:

Quite often children will express a passion for something at an early age only to be strongly discouraged by parents: “you’ll never make a living being an artist;” “do you know how many basketball players make it to the top? – your chances are one in a million,” “being an airline pilot is too dangerous,” “why don’t you think of something that will give you more security?”. Parents can be hesitant to fully support the interests of their children for fear of encouraging their kids to pursue careers that won’t “pay off” or provide adequate security. There may also be an issue around the cost of a certain career: a poor family might discourage a child from dreaming of being a doctor or a lawyer because the resources needed to send a child down such an expensive path might seem out-of-reach,

2) A plethora of interests:

Although being interested in a wide number of things sounds on the surface to be a positive, too often I hear it characterized by clients as “A.D.D.” There’s a big difference. True A.D.D. is classified as a disorder because it interferes in a significant way with a person’s ability to accomplish important tasks. Having a multiplicity of interests, and rapidly switching from one to another, does not necessarily impede one’s ability to lead a productive life. But it will impede one’s ability to pursue a work life that is easily labeled, which in many settings can be seen as a negative. I often hear clients with fingers in several pies ask “what should I tell people when they ask what I do?” This seems a particularly troublesome issue in highly career-oriented Washington.

I recommend two books to people faced with the ‘too many interests” dilemma:

The Renaissance Soul: Life Design for People with Too Many Passions to Pick Just One by Margaret Lobenstine

One Person / Multiple Careers: A New Model for Work / Life Success by Marci Alboher

3) Perfectionism:

I view most perfectionism as a form of fear: “What will happen if I don’t do this exactly right” or “if I don’t have this completely figured out?” Perfectionism is often instilled in children by excessively demanding or judgmental parents who, hoping to help their children achieve success, set unrealistic expectations for them. Because those with perfectionist tendencies are reluctant to undertake projects in which there is a good likelihood of somehow falling short of ideal, they can get stuck in procrastination and depression; after all, how likely is it that one can be sure that any given career will result in success?

4) Lack of inspiration:

Artists frequently refer to a “muse,” a person or thing that inspired them to create. A construct to which more people can relate is the inspiration provided by a teacher, clergyman, wise relative, or some other admired figure able to point to a hitherto-not-considered path. Many people have yet to encounter such an inspirational presence, but there’s no reason that one can’t appear even late in life. However, later in life it’s more likely that such inspiration needs to be searched for and less likely that it will simply cross one’s path. Think of people you admire and learn about them – you may encounter inspiration by walking in their footsteps.

Here’s a short list of well known people who began the careers for which they’ve become famous later in life. Most of them did a variety of things before finding their “calling”.

Grandma Moses (artist) 80

Colonel Sanders (KFC restaurateur) 65

Miguel de Cervantes (author of Don Quixote) 58

Ray Kroc (founder of McDonald’s)- 52

Susan Boyle (singer) – 48

Fred Thompson (actor) – 41

Julia Child (chef) – 36

If you haven’t an idea of what career(s) to pursue, or what you want to do with your life, don’t despair and blame yourself – commit to a program that will help you discover the best path down which to move forward from where you are now.  I’d love to help.