Boredom is the mind’s way of rejecting anything that lacks nutrients.– Barbara Sher, Refuse To Choose
I’m standing outside a Government building in central London. It’s taken a year to secure a prestigious position in the Government’s Fast Stream Graduate program.
I’ve fought off hundreds of other contenders to win a place among a select group of young grads who will go on to become senior civil servants, advisors to the Prime Minister and Diplomats all over the world.
There’s just one problem.
Right in the heart of me, in my guts I know…
I do not want this job.
I’m looking at the office building, gray, drab, and concrete. I’m looking down at my uncomfortable black suit. And my eye drifts across the road. To the glass and chrome of the Channel 4 television company. With its external lifts and laughing hipsters in casual, stylish clothes.
I realize am on the wrong side of the road.
How did this happen?
And what do I do about it now?
Can I walk away from this job?
I have debts, no plan B, and no invite to channel 4. I’ve been patted on the back and cheered on and toasted, for securing this role I never thought I would get. And that I don’t want.
I took the job.
I lasted 18 months.
I watched my colleagues pass the Terrorism Act after September 11th and knew I didn’t agree.
I argued with my superiors about how we ought to tackle teenage pregnancy and consensual sex amongst teens – I knew their views did not reflect my own experiences.
I found myself taking up smoking, losing my temper, developing an ulcer. The bombproof windows made me feel like I would suffocate.
And yet, I learned some really useful skills – project management, presentation, how to argue a case in one page, how to make the complex simple and I got to deal with issues that matter – euthanasia, rape, corporate manslaughter.
One day, I took myself to a personal development seminar. And as I watched the person at the front of the room lead an education in life with laughter and energy, I realized – this is what I want to do.
And I made it my mission to get there.
Being In The Wrong Job Can Make You Sick
Before I found the work I love, I would sometimes hide in the toilets for up to half an hour. The office was so stifling and claustrophobic, that I would sometimes fall asleep on the cold floor.
Before I found my ideal career, I felt ashamed, embarrassed and stressed that I wasn’t enjoying this prestigious role I had won. Why wasn’t it ‘enough’? What was wrong with me?
Before I found the work I love, I would find myself in hysterical tears on street corners, feeling totally trapped by the salary and the prestige, in work that didn’t feel like me. I would sob until I needed to pull myself together, wipe away the tears and conduct a briefing for 50 people.
Fast Forward 10 Years….
For the last ten years, I have had the privilege of helping hundreds of mid-life professionals, find their ideal career and do the work they love. I’ve had the opportunity to teach my method of career change to people all over the world, of all ages.
You see the trouble is, that none of us had a very good education in who we actually are and what we love. The education system is not really set up to provide this. And we are so bombarded with a variety of messages about what success is meant to look like (reality TV, the media, social media, friends, family, religion and culture, what our teachers said…) that most of us have no idea what we really want.
A recent survey suggested that over 80% of people are unhappy in their current job. 80%?!! How did it get this bad?
If you’re there, you are not alone! Let me share with you three key insights to help you reorient to a career you were born for.
Here’s How to Find a Career You Love
1. Think About What Success Really Looks Like For You
It’s actually quite tricky to hear yourself think, but you need to be able to separate the stories other people told you about success from your own point of view. For some of us, success is about the freedom to do the things we love. For others, it is the chance to solve interesting problems or to travel the world. Success is not just about climbing the ladder; it can be about expanding outwards as much as heading ‘upwards’.
What would you define as success?
Once you know what this is, you can start working out how to get it.
2. The User’s Guide To You
Although knowing what your strengths and likes and dislikes are is really important for career success, I personally think that knowing the conditions in which you thrive is as, if not more, important. My first role suited my skills – writing, speaking, project management, values-driven work, but the environment, the pace and the politics were all at odds to my character, and so I was miserable.
Think about yourself as a unique and rare plant – with specific requirements of soil, water, sun, and other nutrients. What are the conditions in which you tend to be happiest and most productive? Maybe you love to be alone, in a quiet space, maybe you love the thrum of a loud and buzzy office. Maybe you want to work outside, maybe you want to work in your pajamas, and maybe your most productive hours are late at night. Understanding these conditions is crucial before you head off on the job hunt.
What are the conditions in which you thrive?
3. Take Heart and Take Action
At this point, most of my clients start scoffing and doubting. C’mon Erica, seriously, you think I can find a job where I get to eat ice cream all day and then produce hilarious scripts all evening? And my answer is… why not?
The world of work is changing, radically. The job for life is dead; the ability to work from anywhere is a reality. Many jobs that are popular today didn’t even exist ten years ago.
I stumbled across my career in coaching, facilitation, writing and speaking, because I kept putting myself out there. I kept going to things I thought might interest me, I asked people how one might use these skills with integrity, to make a difference in the world.
The fact is, once you know what you want and where you thrive, the question to keep asking is:
How can I get it?
The astonishing thing I have found in career coaching is that once this definition is in place, most often we find the solution at the end of my client’s nose. Or some magnificent swerve ball we could never have planned comes to light.
I believe it’s the universe, rewarding action. It’s the response to the question:
How could I get it?
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12 thoughts on “How to Find a Career You Love”
Wow. Thank you. Needed that today. It’s tough.
Interesting point of view. I think being in the wrong job more than make your sick. It literally suck the soul out of you. As you go through each days doing what you don’t love, you become more like an automated zombie instead of the once passionate fiery person you once were.
Thanks for sharing the story.
Thanks Kenny. I agree it can be very bad for you. And I also think that the cult of ‘ find your passion’ isn’t always the solution – because you can’t just find a subject area, you have to get GOOD at it to be valuable. So i was fortunate in way to do my time at the Home Office because it taught me some things I could pursue that i was good at – talking with people, summarising ideas, managing projects, interviews, consultations, which are skills i still use now. So for those of you struggling, have a think about what you could get really good at because its being really, really good at something, through putting in the time to be a ‘craftsman or woman’ as Cal Newport puts it, that makes the difference. You should definitely leave a job if it has no progression, compromises your ethics or forces you to work with people you hate.
Thank you for this post, it really resonated with me. I’ve also been in jobs I didn’t want to do (interviewers must know that when people talk about how much they want the job, 95% are lying!), and I’ve hidden in the toilets for half an hour too.
Funnily enough, it was a personal development seminar where I first started to learn my calling too, and although I’m not at the end yet, just knowing I’m on the right path makes me happier and more positive.
Your advice is excellent and something that I think all teenagers should be taught, or at least asked to think about, so they don’t end up wasting years of their lives in jobs they hate, when their true destiny is already there waiting to be discovered.
thanks Stephen- i actually do quite a bit of work in schools for exactly this reason – because if we could have worked this out at an earlier age, imagine the time we would have saved! sometimes i feel like i am coaching my younger self! I also wrote the book with teens in mind, as i used to run a social enterprise bringing careers education into schools – so Your Life Plan was my how to for teens.
Stephen – what was the seminar? Mine was Insight Seminars – wonderful heartfelt education!
Thank you, Erica.
Defining our own definition of success is really important. Most of us think of success as recognition, achievements, and accomplishments, but that is only one part of success (the outer box). The other part (the inner box) of success will be self-awareness, happiness, and relationships with our close circle.
The process of figuring out our personal definition of success is difficult because our concept of it usually influenced by our environment and culture. Stepping out from the inherited beliefs and looking at ourselves are the best way to define what success means to us.
I have talked a lot about the effect of environment on our behavior and outcome. And I’m very glad to learn a fresh perspective about whether environment fits (not just our skills) our characters and personalities.
Great – fab to meet a like mind Dean – i really think environment makes a huge difference. If different species of flora and fauna thrive in different landscapes, the same, i feel, must be true of us! Are you a cactus or an orchid? :)
Yes. Our environment really has a bigger impact on our accomplishment and happiness than we think. By the way, I think I’m more a cactus. :P
:) I reckon I am probably some kind of bushy shrub. Maybe a Rhododenrum!
A very interesting and inspiring read. I loved the self-coaching questions :)
thanks Zac! Would love to hear your answers!