4 reasons it’s so tough to find your calling if you’re an abstract thinker

I can remember it clear as day: A sunny, warm afternoon in NYC, flowers in bloom…

…and me stuffed in a dark subterranean basement in the Village begging a $10 palm reader to tell me what I was meant to do with my life.

I was that desperate!

I even felt my eyes prick with tears when she said she couldn’t tell me.


By my late twenties I felt like everyone else had it all figured out, while I was more confused than ever and becoming increasingly self-flagellating about the whole thing.  

I liked lots of things, but nothing was “it.”

(Or if it was it, it was only it for a few months or maybe a year until I either grew bored or got distracted by a different it.)

Luckily, I've learned a thing or two since then.

Why it’s different for abstract thinkers

Last week I talked a bit about what an abstract thinker is, how abstract thinking is different than concrete thinking, and that while we all use both types of thought we tend to gravitate to one dominant style.

It may seem obvious now that abstract thinkers would have it tougher than concrete thinkers when it comes to choosing one specific course of action. But let’s take a moment to highlight four of the top reasons:

4 things that make it difficult for abstract thinkers to choose

1. FOMO – Abstract thinkers live in the realm of possibility, so they’re super susceptible to FOMO (fear of missing out). If you can imagine the grass being greener, then it’s entirely possible that it truly is greener. It’s also possible that your skills might be better suited elsewhere, that you could make a bigger contribution, be more appreciated, or have a better quality of life. The list goes on and on…

2. Curiosity – Similar to #1, abstract thinkers are highly curious because they gravitate to patterns and associations (as well as what doesn’t fit within a pattern). One seemingly benign new piece of information can have their mind making connections with something completely different that they learned long ago, or a new hypothesis that just occurred to them … and of course then they’ve got to find out more. Their curiosity inevitably leads them to discover potential careers that their more concrete-thinking colleagues might never consider.


3. Is it enough? – Abstract thinkers spend a lot of time thinking about meaning and the bigger picture, which leads them to second-guess their jobs. It might not be “enough” to be good at something or enjoy something, unlike many concrete thinkers that are focused on the here and now. Abstract thinkers have to talk themselves into believing that their chosen vocation has meaning.


4. Details seem incomplete – Since abstract thinkers naturally gravitate to the big picture, anything too detailed or concrete seems incongruous to their nature. It’s as if something is missing. For instance, they may love to travel and people might suggest that they become a travel agent or flight attendant or travel blogger. But somehow, none of those feels right. Each is only one tiny facet of the greater travel experience.


So if you’re a big-picture, abstract thinker who has struggled with narrowing down your vocational interests … don’t do what I did. Don’t take it out on yourself.

Recognize that your situation is an understandable consequence of the way your brain works, period. That doesn’t mean your situation is hopeless. It doesn’t mean you’re doomed to be a drifter, squandering your education and potential. It simply means that you have to go about your search in a different way.

And that’s what we’ll talk about next week.


Here’s to recognizing the advantages of your uncommon way of thinking,


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