“One can never consent to creep when one feels an impulse to soar.”

– Helen Keller

Rob is a mechanical engineer who designs medical devices for a living. When we first met, he was in career transition due to staffing cutbacks in his company. What struck me immediately about him was his level of enthusiasm. His passion for his work seemed to ooze out of his pores. (No offense to engineers who may be reading this, but in general, engineers are not the most effusive people.) One day, I asked Rob what made him so enthusiastic about his work. He told me that his father had been a suspension bridge designer who would take him to job sites where he would watch the construction in progress. In their spare time, Rob and his father would build things together, anything from Lego sets to the swing set in their back yard. So, when I asked him why he loved what he did for a living so much his answer was “I love it because I never left the sandbox.”

During the time that I have been a career coach, I have discovered that Rob’s experience is not unusual. In fact, more often than not, I have found that childhood interests and experiences influence our career choices, sometimes without our realizing it. Research in positive psychology by psychologists Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Jeremy Hunter showed that interests in everyday life experiences contributes to happiness much more than monetary or status attainment.

The connection between early interests and career choices is not always as obvious as in Rob’s case. If that’s your situation, try the following exercise to uncover the connection. Think back to a time when you were a child or young adult, a time you were absorbed in an activity you loved. Take 5 minutes and write about the experience. What were you doing? What did it feel like to be fully absorbed? What was it specifically about the experience that captured your imagination and attention? Now, imagine what it would be like if you could recapture that experience in your work. Take another 5 minutes and write about what that would look like. What would the work be? What about it specifically would you find enjoyable and meaningful?

In the words of Helen Keller, “One can never consent to creep when one feels an impulse to soar.” Do you want to creep or soar? What is the sandbox you would like to rediscover? The choice is in your hands, and our youthful experiences unencumbered by the judgment or others or ourselves, can help us discover how to get there.