I quit my job today.
It was, by all accounts, a good job. I made over six figures. I had benefits. I got to work with big ideas, work on really big international issues, and make people’s lives better.
My boss was great. I loved the people I work with.
Yet I felt an enormous sense of relief when I quit. I had this joy wash over me that’s hard to explain.
I’ve been really lucky over the past two years. The first job I got, I couldn’t believe somebody was going to hire me. But over time, I got to do some really neat roles and honed my skills.
With each job I do, the employer always asks, “Will you stay?”
And each time, I responded with the same answer.
“No, I don’t want to stay.”
I’ve given a lot of thought this year to what makes a job fulfilling. And last week, I came across an amazing diagram of Japanese Ikagi. Not sure where this has been my whole life.
If you’re wondering how to find a career you love, if you’re asking “What career is right for me?”… I hope this post helps.
It’s not easy, but it is possible. However, I don’t want to just give you some fluffy bull crap. I actually believe that figuring out what career is right for you takes a huge amount of inner and outer work.
It has nothing to do with googling, “What can I do with X degree.”
And, newsflash, most people will never do this work.
Here’s how to find a career.
Do the inner work
We all have psychological baggage. We all have ways that we’re wired that are, frankly, kind of fucked up.
Finding a career that fits you is probably equal parts skills mapping and equal parts therapy.
Find a career coach that can help you actually work through your stuff. Do therapy. Read self-help books.
Because until you realize how you’re wired, identify things like limiting beliefs and insecurities, and either make a plan to get rid of them or work around them, you’re going to keep bumping up against the same career walls again and again.
And you can’t be happy in the service of broken psychology. Fix your baggage, do the inner work to grow, and then come back to the question of, “What career is right for me?”
For what it’s worth, I have found different personality tests like the Enneagram end Myers-Briggs to be really useful for self-reflection.
Of course, a lot of my friends with PhDs in Psychology will tell me that Myers-Briggs is bullshit, but I still found it really helpful as a starting point for self-reflection.
Write Your Story
We all have a story about what our perfect career looks like. I’ve worked with super-educated people who want to be professors, and they all have the same story going through their heads.
“I will only be happy as a professor. That’s where I will do work that’s meaningful, have the freedom to research what I want, travel the world, only come to the university for my class on Thursdays, and just generally have the freedom and adventure that I crave.”
This is a career story that academics tell themselves. And it’s wrong.
BUT stories can be really powerful too.
One of the biggest things in my career story was this – I told myself I would only be happy if I can work from anywhere.
This is becoming more of a reality with the pandemic, but it represented the type of freedom I always imagined. Just bring me my laptop and living in a beach town or a foreign country somewhere.
I’m not saying this is a true story.. But it’s one that’s served me.
I really believe the stories we tell ourselves are important.
The reason why it’s important to map your story from the start is that in order to be happy in a job long-term, either the job will have to match your story, or you will have to adjust your story to match the job.
Somebody like me who believes in location freedom is not going to be super excited about taking the bus to the office every day.
So I have one of two choices. Don’t apply for jobs that require me to go into an office, or negotiate some work-from-home time. Or, work on rewriting my story, telling myself that the office provides chances to connect, build meaningful relationships, or network my way to the top faster.
The story you tell yourself is one of the biggest determiners of your happiness.
This is why one person’s dream job is another person’s nightmare. One says, “I’m so happy to have a solid job with a pension, this gives me stability.” Another says, “I have a solid job with a pension, I might as well be in my coffin.”
It’s all about the story.
Figure out the type of people you want to work with
Last year, I dove into researching work and happiness. And I found from the literature that the people you work with are just as important for your career happiness as the work itself.
Doing a job that feels like your passion, with a boss you hate and coworkers who are awful isn’t going to be a good experience.
This is the third I want to talk about, but it could be the first. The people you work with will make or break your experience.
I’ve worked in two different parts of the same company, and it was night and day. It had nothing to do with the company itself, or the job itself, and I’d everything to do with the people. And most specifically, most of it will depend on your manager.
This is also why I get annoyed when people tell me, “My friend worked at Google. And it was terrible! Google sucks. I wouldn’t work there!”
Seriously? There are thousands of employees. Your experience might be nothing like your friend’s experience.
Toxic managers, micromanagers, and insecure assholes are all out there. And they can be hard to spot in a job interview.
Once you find someone who’s worth working for, guard that relationship.
Recognize that they are not your friend, or your parent, but do work hard to understand them and humanize them. There’s nothing worse than getting into an amazing job and having it ruined by a bad experience with a manager.
Years ago, I got a job at a construction site. One day, my boss walked me over to an enormous front-end loader.
“Do you know how to drive it?” He asked.
“Nope!” I responded.
“You’re going to learn,” he said.
The first time I drove that beast by myself, it was thrilling. The ability to go over any terrain, pick up thousands of pounds of sand or dirt, or use the bucket to flatten what would become a new road.
The second day was a little less fun. By the end of two weeks, when the normal driver returned from holiday, I was relieved that I didn’t have to do it anymore.
What was the difference between a 1 and day 7? Day 1 was exciting, I was learning something new. Day 7 was monotony, my brain had checked out by that point.
AND I met people who had driven a loader or a dump truck FOR THEIR ENTIRE LIFE!!! KMN.
You need to grow. It’s an essential part of your work. So if you’re wondering how to find a career that matters to you, you’d better put growth into the equation.
My friend loves to bake. One day, he told me wanted to open a bakery and bake all day every day. I asked him, “Can you imagine doing it every single day for the next 20 years?”
He realized the answer was no.
Choose a career path that helps you grow. OR recognize that your next job won’t be your last one. And that’s okay.
You’re going to grow anyways. And there will be a direct correlation between how much you grow and how happy you are in your work.
Choose and use degrees carefully
I started this blog after I did a PhD in the humanities – and regretted it. I spent 15 years in school, and it was mostly a waste.
I’m not against degrees. Education can be a powerful force multiplier in life. I’m against doing ridiculously overpriced degrees you don’t even want or need because you don’t know what else to do.
That’s literally the story of my life.
If you’re getting a degree, choose it carefully. And DON’T overpay…
It’s easy to say, “It’s an investment.”
Trust me, if you’ve met as many 40 year olds with $300k in student debt as I have, you’d think that was bullshit too.
Pay as little as possible. Scholarships. State schools. Whatever it takes to keep costs down. And choose a degree that maps to a chosen career.
If you already have a degree, there are things you can do with it…. Even if your degree seems useless (like mine did).
You can start to figure out what actually gives that degree value and leverage it.
Professor Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi famously coined the idea of flow. Flow is a state we get into sometimes when we’re working. If you’ve ever gotten so engrossed in something you forget to pee, you might have been in flow.
You can watch his TED talk about it:
Flow is awesome. Pay attention to it. If you enter flow when you write or draw or do accounting or WHATEVER, it might be a sign you might need some in your career.
It doesn’t necessarily mean you need to make a career out of THAT THING…
But it can be a great clue about the type of work you should be doing.
If you got to where you are, and you thought it was going to make you happy, and it doesn’t… change direction.
There’s no shame in it. There’s no weakness. Your life is your own. Forget about what your parents or friends or society expects from you… and CHANGE! If you need to.
Whatever career you choose, it’s not a death sentence. I’m nowhere near the career I thought I wanted at 18.
And it takes time. You’re not likely to stumble into it on your first resume you send out. Be patient, and see it as a lifelong growth opportunity.
If you’re figuring out how to find a career, I hope these thoughts were helpful to you. I’m 37, probably somewhere around the middle of my career. I haven’t figured it all out… But I DO wish someone had told me this stuff when I was a teenager.
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