Friday, May 27, 2011

On where one belongs

Writer, teacher, consultant Peter F. Drucker, on figuring out where one belongs:

A small number of people know very early where they belong. Mathematicians, musicians, and cooks, for instance, are usually mathematicians, musicians, and cooks by the time they are four or five years old. Physicians usually decide on their careers in their teens, if not earlier. But most people, especially highly gifted people, do not really know where they belong until they are well past their mid-twenties. By that time, however, they should know the answers to the three questions: What are my strengths? How do I perform? and, What are my values? And then they can and should decide where they belong.

Managing Oneself (Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 2008)
When I spotted this well-designed little book, I had to buy it. The text is a Drucker essay first published in the Harvard Business Review in 1999. Managing Oneself would make a great and perhaps surprising gift for a high-school or college graduate.

comments: 4

normann said...

I think one reason some highly gifted people do not know where they belong is that their gifts are not as obvious as musical or mathematical talent or a genius for cooking. In my case, cooking might have been an option if I had better motor dexterity, which determines the difference between (merely) heavenly tasting food and attractively presented heavenly tasting food.

I am also a capable (if prosaic) draftsman, illustrator, if you will (not really an artist--I was aware of the difference even in high school, and as an adult I have not pursued drawing or painting as hobby in the same way as I have pursued cooking). It was my linguistic talent that won out, but it was not until after I started teaching that I discovered how much l loved translating (if you recall, you read through a translation I did back in 1997 before I sent it in). Of course, in order to be a well-paid translator in the language combinations which that merry prankster destiny had equipped me with, I needed to emigrate to a country where at least one of these languages was spoken (which I did anyway for a very different reason). And so here I am in Norway, 15 years before mandatory retirement, with the most interesting, most important and best-paid job I could ever expect to get.

Another obstacle to finding one's place is lack of support at home for pursuing one's dreams. Wordsworth wrote: "The child is the father of the man". I remember telling my teachers when I was in fifth grade that I was going to be a translator. But then I suppose I must have put that notion aside, especially since it was clear that language study was not something my father was particularly interested in paying for. This is the reason I started out majoring in architecture. To be sure, it is a field I was interested in then (and that I appreciate now), but one for which I discovered that I had no passion and no talent. By the time I switched majors to German, I was the one doing the paying. So the joke was on the both of us, only Dad never lived long enough to appreciate it. Whether he would have savored the joke is another matter...

Michael Leddy said...

Norman, thanks for this great account. I think many young adults could benefit from your example.

I have to ask: how did you know in fifth grade that you were going to be a translator?

normann said...

I read a book about translating and interpreting from the grade school library and was hooked. I had several Berlitz "Self Teacher" books (Italian, French, Russian and Hebrew) acquired over the years from age 10 to 14 (my father also taught me some French) and I taught myself to read Dutch and Afrikaans (albeit rudimentarily) on the basis of my high school German. I also used to go to the foreign language section of Kroch's and Brentano's in the Loop and be amazed. So you can imagine how I must have felt when I saw and went into the U of I library for the first time.

Michael Leddy said...

I can also imagine how the library must have felt when it first saw you. (“Someone who will appreciate me!”)