Back in 2010, I attended a class at The School of Life entitled How To Find a Job You Love. Designed to help you think about what you really want from your working life, the class got me thinking about what I enjoy doing, what I’d loved about each of the roles I’d had in the past, and what success really means to me. Recent months have seen me at a potential career crossroads and so I figured it was time to reevaluate what I’ve learned over the years and, perhaps, shape it into something resembling advice.
Since finishing my MA, I have started to compare myself unfavourably to my course mates. They all seem to be doing ‘better’ than me in some way, so I took a moment to consider why I thought that. I want to take steps towards an academic career, or at least something that features some amount of research, but financial commitments mean that I am unable to take entry level jobs. Just because I have to take a different path – and also work out what that might be! – doesn’t mean that I’m progressing any worse or better than anyone else, but years of being told that you need to find what you love and then make a go of it had left me feeling like a failure for not being willing to take a 10k pay cut in order to get a foot on a new ladder.
However, just like many other things in life, there is more than one definition of career success and more than one route to it. I loved Julia Llewellyn Smith’s recent article for the Telegraph on why your dream career could turn into a nightmare. She takes issue with the idea of ‘doing what you love’ and ‘never giving up on your career dream’ which may sound harsh, but I think she has a point.
One of the most celebrated proponents of these exhortations was the late co-founder of Apple, Steve Jobs, who in a 2005 graduation ceremony speech told Stanford University, “Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle.” This statement infuriates me. It insults everyone who is neither creating a masterpiece nor setting up a technology company that convinces us to buy upgraded versions of its products every six months.
Llewellyn Smith also points out this insinuates that some types of work are inherently ‘better’ than others, simply because they enhance our personal wellbeing. Of course, not everyone can afford to do that sort of work – due to lack of time, money, education etc – and it is worth remembering that the sort of work that is necessary for large public organisations to function is no less important or worthwhile than a job title with wow factor. My current day job is PA to a Dean at a large university. I may not be a member of academic staff but, for all its bad press, admin is important and universities couldn’t function without it. Just because I’m not teaching the students, doesn’t mean I’m not helping them to learn.
You don’t need to find your passion and then do that for a living. Fulfillment can be found in other ways and you can find a way to love the job you’re in, or make your next move a little bit better. I’m not saying you need to ditch your dreams – they can be for spare time, with your job providing the money for you to achieve those goals. So, what have I learned from my various jobs?
1) Make sure you take the route that’s right for you
Do you like to have a structure to work within, or do you like to set your own rules? Just because many people think that setting up their own business or climbing the corporate ladder is for them, doesn’t mean it’s right for you. Some people stick with the same job for years and become an expert at it. Others are constantly taking side steps and end up, intentionally or otherwise, with a portfolio career. You may flourish as a freelancer or revel in the 9-5, so take time to look at how you like to work before setting a path.
2) Identify what it is about your role that you love the most
Even if you don’t always love your current or most recent job, take some time to think about what the best bits are. Never wanted to be in that particular role, but love the ethos of the organisation you work for? Is it the people, the place or the work that helps you get up in the morning? Would you rather be making a difference, pushing boundaries, maximising profit, helping people or being a specialist? I discovered that universities are a good fit for me because I like the security and structure of a large organisation, but I prefer to be working towards something other than profit. That’s just me though. You may simply love your job simply because the office is so close by that you can go home at lunch time!
3) Take joy from the best bits of your job
Even folk who have the sorts of jobs that make the vast majority of us green with envy have parts of their role that they dread and days when they’d rather jack it all in. If you focus on the great stuff, however small, it can help to bring back your enthusiasm no matter what your job is. Love the people? Why not plan to go out for lunch with your colleagues, take a little bit of time to chat or keep a calendar of birthdays. Love your company’s ethos? Read the latest news on their website about public facing activities or community projects. Love the freedom of freelancing? Why not offer advice to others or become a mentor.
It’s also worth remembering that everyone shares their ‘best bits’ via social media, so that friend you think has an amazingly glamorous life may not be as high flying as you think. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing though, just that we can all learn something from it. So, why not take a bit of time to ponder this… what do you love about your job?