Although my friends sometimes accuse me of being unromantic, I don’t believe in the concept of soulmates. I just don’t think that there is one person out there with whom we are destined to spend our lives. Rather, I feel that there are a number of people out there who could make us happy.
It’s the same thing with careers. Far too often, I see people putting unimaginable pressure on themselves as they struggle to find their one true passion. But in fact, it’s likely that they could be satisfied doing a variety of jobs. A better solution is often to love what you do instead of endlessly striving to do what you love.
Marty Nemko is a friend of mine and a pioneer in the advice space. I have been reading his work for years, and I’ll never forget one article he wrote for Kiplinger.com. In the piece, Nemko agrees with me that finding career contentment is often a matter of diving in wholeheartedly into the job you have, or the best job that’s available to you. He suggests that the best path for most people is to pick a practical career with the following characteristics:
- Moderately challenging
- Meaningful work
- A kind, competent boss
- Pleasant co-workers
- Learning opportunities
- Reasonable pay
- Reasonable work hours
- A short commute
Nemko says that a job with even half of these will make you more likely to love your job than if you had pursued a long shot career. He illustrates the idea with the story of Gary, a mentee who recently graduated from Michigan State with no clue what he wanted to do. His cousin told him that a job was open in a dashboard manufacturing plant. Gary wasn’t passionate about dashboards; who is? But he was tired of living on his parents’ sofa, so he took the job.
Because Gary was bright and curious, he asked lots of questions and soon became the go-to guy on the factory floor. Soon after that, Gary got a promotion and a raise and felt genuinely excited about his future in the industry.
Apparently, feeling expert at something – even something as mundane as dashboards – and being recognized for that expertise, is more likely to create career passion than going after a pipe-dream career. Here are some tips for loving what you do and creating a more meaningful work experience where you are.
Jumpstart your engagement
Imagine you are one of the hundreds of people who apply for jobs with your organization every day. What is going through these candidates’ minds? What do they view about your job as desirable? Think back to when you first started your job. Pretend it’s your first day and echo your initial enthusiasm for your work.
Grow and develop via organizational resources
Forget for a minute that you had to be dragged to your company’s last training seminar. Think about the skills you want to develop in your career over the long-term, and sniff around your organization to see how you might get them launched and paid for in the form of classroom instruction, job rotation, lateral moves, sabbaticals, or volunteering.
Consider formal mentorship
Research has shown that we enjoy our work more when we have an opportunity to teach it to others. Contact HR and sign up for your organization’s formal mentorship program if there is one. If not, volunteer to mentor a younger colleague and see what strategies she can teach you about finding meaning on a less-than-perfect career path.