Are you trapped in a Shadow Career?

Yesterday I was watching an episode of Chase Jarvis RAW on YouTube, where Chase was interviewing Jeff Goins, about his new book, Real Artists Don’t Starve.  Among all the new and interesting things that I learnt, one idea hit home – the concept of a shadow career. 

Jeff encourages us to ask ourselves, “Am I doing what I’m meant to do, or am I settling?” The idea is to wonder if you are living up to your full potential, or just settling for something that is comfortable. If you hate your job and can’t take it even for one more day, you are lucky because in that case, you are highly motivated to pursue a different path. Whereas if you are “just comfortable”, it’s the worst place to be – you are neither living up to your full potential, nor motivated enough to do anything about it.

We all have a true and unique version of ourselves that sits at the core of our identity. However, as the old Trappist monk, Thomas Merton says, “Every one of us is shadowed by an illusory person: a false Self. We are not very good at recognizing illusions, least of all the ones we cherish about ourselves.” He says that the biggest sin committed by a person is when they are not true to themselves. 

We need to train ourselves to listen to the voice of our inner wise Self. When it says that something in our life is out of alignment, we must pay attention and attempt to correct it. Or else, we will just keep on hopping through life living a fake version.

Some people do the work which is very close to their true calling, but not quite it. Steven Pressfield, author of the book THE WAR OF ART – Break Through the Block and Win Your Inner Creative Battles, calls this phenomenon “shadow career”. Every great artist or writer had a shadow career – something that they were good at that paid their bills but wasn’t their true calling. Ernst Hemingway was a war correspondent. Elizabeth Gilbert was a travel writer for magazines. Tim Grahl was a marketer of other people’s books. It’s normal, this is where the work begins. 

But that doesn’t mean we have to settle. If you think you are in the shadows, make up your mind to move on. Because Hemingway moved on from his career as a journalist, we experienced a change in the English literature. Gilbert too set out to create her legacy in the world by writing Eat Pray Love. So did Tim Grahl when he wrote RUNNING DOWN A DREAM: Your Roadmap to Winning Creative Battles. You never know what gift you are depriving the world of by staying in your shadow career.

As Jeff Goins says, “Shadow careers are not a distraction from the work that you are meant to do. They are the first iteration of the work.” But if you ever feel like you are posing, or just being a fraud, know that it’s an important step in the creative process. See it as an opportunity to be honest about your work. Push through those feelings of inadequacy and set out to recognizing the truth about yourself.