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4000 Weeks

Updated: Jun 13, 2022

In his bestselling book, Four Thousand Weeks, Oliver Burkeman points out that 4000 weeks is all that the average human has in their life, based on living until they are 77 years old. Of those 4000 weeks, most people will spend about 650 in formal schooling from pre-kindergarten to the completion of a bachelor’s degree. Just about 2,300 will then be spent in the workforce, based on current retirement ages and a month of holidays every year, before about 360 in retirement.

Given that more than half of an average person’s life will be spent in the workforce, there are some key lessons that we all should consider. First, it makes no sense to spend more than half of one’s life being miserable. To quote Ken Blanchard’s bestselling book “Gung Ho!”, “Too many people’s spirits die at the office door”. Without discounting economic realities which sometimes require people, especially early in their careers to work in jobs that are not what they most desire, there are things that can be done to live a life of joyful and fulfilled work. The ultimate goal in work is not to have a job, not to have a career, but rather to have a Calling. By having a calling, I am talking about doing something that you feel so strongly about and that is so fulfilling to you that if you had enough money that you didn’t need to work, you would still do it and most importantly, it is something bigger than yourself and that benefits others. People who have meaningful callings live the half of their life in the workforce in happiness and fulfillment. So, what if you are in that economic situation where you are doing something that isn’t your calling, how can you save yourself from daily misery? The way to do this is by finding what is meaningful in your work and focusing exclusively on that. When I worked at a fast-food restaurant when I was 16, I was doing a job that many people looked down on and nearly all of my colleagues were miserable every day. I, on the other hand, focused on the fact that I was feeding hungry, busy people and by doing that, I was giving them nutrition and time so that they could do what they needed to do to fulfill their life goals; I was making a meaningful different in the world so even that job felt like a calling.

Second, despite the fact that parents, relatives, and other adults have probably been asking you what you want to be when you grow up, since you were about 12 years old, it is nearly impossible to really make an informed decision at that time, or even when it comes time to go to university. In many cultures and households, as one very successful entrepreneur said, “You are either a doctor, a lawyer, or a failure”. Often that list of acceptable careers is expanded to include engineers and accountants. In such a culture, it is easy to make a choice because of the limited choices but it is nearly impossible to find a calling again because of the limited choices. Finding a calling is fundamentally different than finding a job or a career. In finding a job or career the focus is primarily on the prestige of the career, the stability of the career, and the salary and benefits from the career. A calling, on the other hand, is focused on what you really want to accomplish in life to make the world a better place. Only by doing this can one live a life of real happiness and fulfillment. After determining one's calling and looking honestly at one’s abilities it is then possible to find many careers that will fulfill that calling. It is then best to try each of these careers through internships if possible or at least through talking with someone in the career and understanding what it is really like to work in that career. Here is an area where schools could improve. From the start of primary school, schools should have worked into the curriculum, discussion of the whole spectrum of careers with short talks, even if pre-recorded, of people who are actually in those careers, so that students have a much better idea of the great variety of careers that are actually available.

So, how can you apply this in your life?

Tip #1 Know yourself and set your values

First, you need to know what really matters to you in life so that you can find your calling. One of the best ways to do this is by using a resource that has helped millions of people, including me, find their callings; habit number two, “Begin with the End in Mind” of the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”, by Dr Steven Covey.

While I would highly recommend buying the book and working through all seven habits, there are great YouTube videos of Dr Covey and others explaining habit two that can be used as a guide.

Tip #2 Develop your mission and goals

Once you have taken the time to actually develop your personal mission and goals, you will then be able to identify your calling.

Tip #3 Determine careers that match your abilities

From there, it is a matter of determining which careers will enable you to fulfill that calling and then doing what is necessary to enter whichever one of those careers most closely matches your abilities and best allows you to fulfill your calling.

If you do this, you can live a life of happiness and fulfillment and make the world a better place for all of us.

About the author:

Daniel Adkins is the Group CEO of Transnational Academic Group which operates international branch campuses of Top 200 universities in the Middle East and Africa.

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