Many years ago, in my first term of grad school, I reached a sudden and dreadful conclusion. I did not want to be there. I had no interest whatsoever in completing the program. I did not want to enter the career it offered. I needed to find something else.
I dreaded telling my advisor (also our lab manager and department head). He was, and is, a remarkable person with an infectious passion for his chosen field. I hesitated to tell him that I didn't share that passion.
That's when I received some of the best advice I have ever been given. When I got up the courage to tell him, he was neither disappointed in me nor particularly upset. Instead, he told me:
I applied to a different program at a different school, starting the following Fall semester. I learned a lot in that new program, met my to-be-spouse, learned Unix, got my degree, and started on the "career path" I've been following for the past two decades. In that time, I've never forgotten that important early advice.
Recently, I came across some similar advice, this time published for all to read. In his book, The One Thing You Need to Know, author Marcus Buckingham sets out his recipe for sustained individual success:
Your strengths... are your natural appetites, and are, in this sense, irrepressible. I say this because your strengths are not only activities for which you have some natural talent; they are also activities that strengthen you.
What makes sustained success so elusive is that, unfortunately, your strengths are rarely left to their own devices. After you have employed your strengths and achieved some initial success, other people — often well-meaning people, but, more often than not, people who are unaware of your strengths — insist on offering you new opportunities, new assignments, new roles.Some of these may call upon your strengths, but many will not. The secret to sustained success lies in knowing which engage your strengths and which do not and in having the self-discipline to reject the latter.
— from ch. 5 of The One Thing You Need to Know
This is all too familiar for me. At various times throughout my career, some misguided manager will tell me that he wants me to change direction and do something vastly different from what I've been doing. Each time I explain, as politely as possible (but firmly), that I have no interest in becoming someone else. Now I have corroboration and support for what I've believed all along.
If this problem is all too familiar for you, i.e. if your managers try to change you, mold you, and re-form you, I have a suggestion. Get two copies of The One Thing You Need to Know. Read one copy. Then loan the other copy to your manager with certain pages and sections highlighted.
Memorize it. Repeat it to yourself until you believe it. Then Make It So.