I got an email this week from a lovely 25-year old reader – she asked:
Since you work with a lot of professionals and others in the work force – what’s your experience? How many people out there really love their jobs? I wonder if I was being too negative in thinking that there’s no such thing as the perfect job or that I’ll never just LOVE going to work every day. Any advice to thoughts along these lines?
This is a great question, whether you’re 25 and just launching your career, or if you’re 55 and in the thick of your working life. Can’t wait to answer it.
First of all, there seems to be a collective idea about The Plan. Know what I mean? The Plan goes like this: Do well in high school –> go to a great college –> go to law school/get a MBA/become a doctor –> get the perfect job.
And guess what? Doesn’t always happen like that. Sorry to burst your balloon, kiddo. There’s a story in the Washington Post that might be of interest – 22-year old Bekah Steadwell graduated from a competitive college – Oberlin – and is working two jobs as a cook while living at home with her parents. And her two college-graduate sisters. Her path is much different from the one we outlined above, huh?
The trick for Bekah and anyone else whose path did not go the way they planned – they couldn’t get a job in their field, or worse, got a job and realized they didn’t really want to do that kind of work – is to accept that their path is different, and that it’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Because sometimes the deviations from The Path turn out to be the most serendipitous. Don’t believe me? Watch Apple’s CEO Steve Jobs talk about his own Path in this Commencement Speech delivered at Stanford.
Perhaps the biggest hurdle is accepting that The Path is a myth – one which creates legions of quietly desperate anxious strivers in pursuit of the impossible. Because you could go to the very best schools in the world, achieve academic excellence, get a coveted job in a prestigious place – and absolutely hate what you are doing.
So what do you do if you find yourself hating your job?
Here’s what I tell my clients who find themselves in this fix – ask yourself four questions:
- What can I do all by myself to create a better work situation? Could you break up the monotony by consciously doing things differently? Can you learn to manage difficult people?
- How can I shift my thoughts away from the negative, toward the positive, about this job? Can you focus on the outcomes – like how, because of your job, you can afford that gym membership, or that trip? Can you seek to find the good?
- Have I ever been happy? Look at past happy experiences and see if you can replicate any of the factors you loved back then into your current work. But if you’ve never been happy in any job, then there may be something you need to explore. See #4.
- Are there underlying issues I need to work out? If you’ve had a series of unreasonable, demanding female bosses and you had an unreasonable, demanding mother, it doesn’t take Dr. Freud to determine that a bit of therapy might be in order. Really. Burying past ghosts is the single best path toward creating a happy now.
The first step in any situation that’s not working is to look at yourself and make positive changes. And if you try, and you still can’t find relief… then it’s time to leave. No matter what The Plan says.
I’ll write more on figuring out when it’s time to quit – and how to do it – next week.