Choose your rut carefully-you’re going to be in it for the next ten miles.
-Sign on a muddy road in Tennessee
Some people are born lucky. They seem to know from age six exactly how they want to earn a living and how to go about finding the right job. Others seem to just effortlessly fall into a job they love. Then there are those who are not so lucky. They move from one unrewarding job to another.
How you’ll spend the majority of your waking hours is too important to leave to blind luck. Here’s an approach to finding your life’s work:
- Look inside. Don’t study the job market and then try to shape yourself to fit a slot. First, study yourself. What you enjoy doing, thinking about, talking about, and reading about? Pursue your interest. Answer the call of those natural talents that cry out to be used. As instruments and talents blossom, career choices often become obvious. Career-guidance professionals can help. Schools and other organizations may provide these services for little or no cost.
- Ignore others. Parents, teachers, friends, and society subtlety push us to make “acceptable” career choices. Because you’re intelligent doesn’t mean you should be a physician, lawyer, or similar professional. Because your grandfather and father were lawyers doesn’t mean you must carry on the tradition. Seek no one’s approval-only you will have to live with your decision. It’s better to be a happy auto mechanic or zookeeper then a brain surgeon living a life of quiet desperation. Trust yourself. Down deep you know what feels right and what doesn’t.
- Study. Many before you have had similar hopes, dreams and aspirations. Seek advice from those who’ve made good career choices. Review the paths they took and then chart your educational and employment course.
- Play offense. View work as an opportunity to create something worthwhile, not simply as a way of keeping the wolf from the door. Playing defense means allowing your talents and personality to wither while you wonder why financial security or creature comforts seem unrewarding.
- Don’t grow roots. Chances are you’ll be part of an organization. It will have its own personality, values, and purpose. If you find yourself in conflict with these, get out-fast. Don’t hope and wait for a magical convergence. While you wait, security, pay, family obligations, inertia, and a pension will become a golden chain attaching you top something you really don’t want. You’ll feel trapped but stay unhappily put because “it’s only fifteen years to retirement.”
- Don’t look for peer support. Many of your coworkers may find themselves incapable of pulling themselves out of a rut. Don’t seek career guidance from them. And don’t expect them to support you in your quest for a more satisfying job. They’ll find countless reasons to try to convince you, and themselves, that it’s too impractical and risky to seek real job satisfaction.
- Don’t think it’s too late. It’s difficult to make the perfect career choice on the first try. If inner satisfaction just isn’t there, try again. Ours is an enormous, dynamic economy with innumerable opportunities. Try another fit if necessary. Don’t think in terms of a single decision. Be open to the possibility of several, perhaps very different, careers over your lifetime.
- Do, don’t just be. Becoming an architect, holding an advanced degree, or being a computer expert are not ends. They should be means to a larger end. Decide what you want to accomplish. Help feed the world? Entertain others? Help ease mental suffering? Design earth-friendly products? Decide on your purpose, then choose the means to best achieve it.
Your work is to discover your work and then with all your heart to give yourself to it.