Jim (not his real name) is a client who's having trouble with his job search. He graduated with a degree in Marketing in 1998 and worked in marketing positions for two large firms over the next ten years. In 2008, he was laid off with tens of thousands of other Americans. His job search did not go well. His mother had a contact that got Jim a job in customer service, a position he held for the next seven years. Now, he wants to look for work in marketing, not customer service. He has taken a part-time job in retail that will let him take his time and be selective in finding a position in the field he loves. The problem is his mom. She worked in customer service for 30 year and has broad industry contacts. She is pressuring Jim to take another call in a field he has no passion for. She says he needs to get a job as soon as possible. That advice is terrible. Jim's strengths are in marketing, and he enjoyed great success over his first 10 years in the field. I recommended that Jim does what he wants to do. The easiest job to get is often the worst one to take.
I often direct readers to Seth Godin’s blog. Godin has that rare skill of capturing complex ideas in clear, concise language. Recently, he hit another home run. Rather than think of our careers as a single calling, we should talk about “caring.” Godin says we care about many things, and those forces should drive how we work. I agree. Moreover, caring lets us balance our work and our non-work lives. If a person’s work keeps her from other things she cares about, she probably should look for a new job. A good salary and the recognition from co-workers or clients are great things. But if that’s all someone has, life is, that person's life is – literally – all work and no play.
Theodore Roosevelt wrote, "Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing."
Most of the clients who come to me for help in changing careers aren't looking for more money or a more impressive title. They want to do work that is meaningful, often something that helps other people. If that kind of career changes is appealing to you, start with your values: Who do you want to help? What do you want to change? Once you've established your mission, the next question is how you can best work in that field. For some people that will mean defining transferable skills and demonstrating how you are ready to work in a new field. For some people, the challenge will be to go back to school or to obtain a certificate. The challenge, as President Roosevelt said, is to find work that is worth our effort.
The founder of McDonald's Ray Kroc showed deep wisdom when he said, "If you work just for money, you'll never make it, but if you love what you're doing and you always put the customer first, success will be yours."
Love what you do, and serve your customer. It's easy to say those words, but often hard to follow up on them. Money pushes us to occupations that we really don't want to do. Over the last 13 years, several of my clients have told me they don't want to be in sales or management, but: "That's where the money is." Some polls I've read say that a third of doctors would change careers if they could. The problem? Income.
What can you do if you're in such a position? Forget about the money and focus on your customer. If you are doing a service to someone else (which includes internal customers like students, co-workers, and even bosses), you will find some meaning and satisfaction in your work -- and you get to keep the money. However, if you don't get satisfaction from serving your customer, it is time to think about changing careers. As Ray Kroc said, money in itself is never enough. Success is not the ability to buy things. It is the ability to be excited in doing your work and taking pride in how it helps others.
I’ve been learning a lot lately from reading Bloomberg. It’s a great source for business news, but it also covers technology, politics, and some career issues. Today it features an article on the best career path. The lead sentence says it all: “It pays to have a way with numbers.” College graduates who major in computer science or math have the best long term salary gains. My clients in these fields have not only had the opportunity to make money. They are also able to transition to new jobs quickly and adapt to advances in technology and systems.
Does this mean every college student should try to major in these fields? No. Happiness is a big part of success, and happy people do what they love. If a person’s gifts lead her toward a degree in English or Drama, she should follow that path with eyes open about career options. College graduates from all backgrounds have a broad ranges of skills and knowledge that they can use to build a career. They might not make the money that a computer programmer will, but they can still be successful.
The best career path is one that lets us earn a good living and still be happy.
Albert Schweitzer wrote: "Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful."
If you feel unsuccessful in your career, it's time to start thinking about what kind of work would make you happy. Some career coaches recommend finding your "passion." For many job seekers or career changers, that search leads to a dead end. Passion is often hard to define. I recommend that clients focus on discovering their gifts. Think about gifts as skills and knowledge you use on the job that you enjoy. If you want to be happy and successful, find a job that lets you use your gifts.
Most people think about career change in terms of finding work that will be meaningful. They want to follow their passion. That’s a great goal, but any career transition needs to start with this question: How much money do I need to earn? Would-be career changers often ignore this question, and they are shocked to learn that their dream career will not pay enough to let them cover their living costs.
Before beginning a career change, you need to research average pay for the field you are seeking to enter. Develop a realistic budget to see if you can cut your costs. After taking these steps, you can decide if a new career path is realistic or just a dream.
The Internet is a wonderful tool for learning more about any topic. It’s also the greatest megaphone in history for repeating and magnifying bad ideas. One of these bad ideas in the field of career planning has been “follow your passion.” Don’t get me wrong, I want my clients to find work that is meaningful and makes them happy (and provides a good living). I don’t like the “passion” plan because it’s very hard to define and turn into a realistic job search strategy.
I’m not alone in this belief. Cal Newport takes the passion-driven career apart in a Huffington Post essay. Newport cites a TED talk by TV host Mike Rowe that looks at dirty jobs, hard work that still makes people happy. Few of the people Rowe profiles went into their jobs with a sense of passion. They do work others don’t want to do. Still they find a way to happy. Rather than look for passion, these people found value in their work through what Newport calls “competence, autonomy, and impact.” In other words, they feel they are doing work that has value in the world (impact), work they are good at (competence), and work that they can do their own way (autonomy).
When you have a minute, read Newport’s article and watch the video of Mike Rowe’s talk. Happiness at work is never found through an easy formula like “find your passion.” I tell my clients that you have to be doing the right thing at the right place with the right people. That’s a very tricky combination. You can find the right kind of work and may even be working at the right company, but if you are working for a bad boss or stuck with a group of the wrong kind of co-workers, your job will not be passion. It will be misery.
Find the job that is right for you. Start with what you like to do, the kinds of action and thinking you will perform on the job. Then it gets harder because you have to land a job at the right kind of company where you will work for the right kind of boss with co-workers that fit with you. It’s not easy. But, if you have the right goals in mind, you can find the kind of job – even a dirty job – that makes you happy.
I recently saw Jon Favreau’s movie Chef, which I really enjoyed. The movie tells the story of Carl Palmer, a talented chef who works in a restaurant where he is forced to cook the same menu night after night. When Carl receives a negative review from a prominent food blogger, he engages in a Twitter war and then a face to face confrontation that becomes a viral video.
Becoming a laughing stock and losing his job is really a gift to Carl. He is forced to decide what he wants to do, which is to cook his way. He opens a food truck that is wildly successful. In the process he also bonds with his young son. They come to know each other by working together, through the father teaching his son a craft and how to respect work.
So what is the career lesson from this movie? Follow your passion? Not exactly. I don’t like that phrasing because its too broad. It’s hard to understand or describe our passion. Instead, I like to focus on skills – what do you like to do? Carl finds happiness when he is able to use the skill he loves: cooking. That’s the ticket to career happiness: Know what you want to do and find a place where you can do it with a sense of freedom and respect.
Writing in the February issue of Psychology Today, Carlin Flora explores “slashers,” people who have two careers at the same time. For some people, working two jobs is a great way to get through hard economic times. For others, it’s a strategy to ease into a career change. Others use their slash careers as a way to balance the job that pays the bills with the kind of career that feeds their passions.
What does it takes to have two careers? Flora says that “hustler personalities” are best fit for this role, since it often involves marketing one’s skills. She also says that good time management and organizational skills are need to balance both responsibilities. The article profiles the following types of slashers: computer geek/comedian, corporate recruiter, water aerobics instructor, PR coordinator/horror writer, and investment banker/bird trainer. These combinations tell us that people can balance the 9-5 with some other interest that will feed their minds and, in some cases, help fill the wallet. Think about “slashing.” It might be a new way to manage your career.
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