by Dustin (bio)
NOTE: This is the second in a series of posts that piece together things I've learned over the last eight years of using my life like a lab rat to figure out the question "what should I do with my life?" This series is aimed at those who are exploring career, looking to change jobs, or who are simply searching for more happiness in their daily work regardless of what that work entails. Read Part 1 here.
In Part 1, we figured out that doing what you love and loving what you do are both possible if you change the way you look at "what you love." Quick anecdote to drive home this idea: My wife is a master at diving into stressful situations and arranging people and things to achieve an outcome, particularly when everyone else is freaking out. As you can imagine, this happens all the time in a house of six people, two cats and a dog. She skillfully manages the chaos and actually gets energy from doing it! She loves using this talent prior to having visitors stay with us or preparing for guests. So how does she take what she loves and transfer it or replicate it outside of the home to get that same energy high, satisfaction, and results?
Two weeks ago we attended a youth fundraiser at the church, a spaghetti dinner and auction. As the new second counselor in the Young Women's presidency, my wife didn't have any direct oversight over the fundraiser but showed up to be supportive and lend a hand. I arrived to the church 30 minutes before start time to help out and chaos was in full effect. Women were racing around the church slinging spaghetti and sauce on plates and setting up tables in the gym. Each of them had brought their children and the kids were running rampant through the church. Lord of the Flies had ensued. As I walked the halls I saw kids standing on the metal chalkboard trays scribbling on boards and setting up rows of chairs and leaping off of them at full speed. My natural instinct was to cower in the corner in the fetal position and protect myself and my children but then I came across my wife in the kitchen. She had immediately jumped in and organized the insanity. She deftly delegated responsibilities to some of the young women and organized the supply chain. More importantly, you could tell she was at her best doing it. Her energy was high, she was calm, and she had that "in the groove" look in her eyes (which is scary because it often ends in me vacuuming the whole house or building something). I, on the other hand, faded into the background and rocked quietly in the corner.
Now imagine if she decided to enter the workforce and showed up at a company with this talent: organizing and arranging people, things, and responsibilities to achieve an outcome on a deadline. It wouldn't take long for this skill-set to manifest and my guess is she would be favorably recognized and compensated for it. The talents we use in the home and in our callings that yield high energy and satisfaction can be replicated in the workplace to our benefit (and vice versa) and the result will likely be more joy from 8 a.m.-5 p.m., a feeling of living in harmony with who we are, and perhaps even recognition and more financial security.
Now let's dive in with three myths about career that I've learned over the past decade:
MYTH 1: Career is linear, or in other words, where I think I will be in 10 years is exactly where I will end up. If you think about this for a second, the probability is totally unrealistic. Ten years ago today I was kneeling on a tile floor in Puerto Rico installing an alarm system as a technician for an alarm company. I never could have imagined where I would be now because this career path was not part of my paradigm. A lot can happen in 10 years, and to land precisely where you thought you would 10 years from now would mean that you have total control over the universe around you and any element that could potentially shake you from your path. I was talking with a friend the other day who said that her goal was to get a job at IDEO in 6-8 years. She had seen a video about them at the beginning of her Rice career and loved the environment they fostered and so she would end up there. The plan upon arriving to Rice was to study mechanical engineering for four years, get into Stanford, complete her master's in two years, and get a job at IDEO. I asked her how the plan was progressing and she admitted it was a little shaky.
The challenge with this strategy of identifying a goal on the distant horizon and heading toward it is that 1) you may find upon arrival that it's not what you thought it was, 2) you could very likely get re-routed along the way and end up in a quarter-life crisis, and 3) so much of this plan is outside of your control. You can't make decisions on behalf of Stanford, the master's program, or IDEO, nor do you know if a job will even be available when it's your time! Very few people seem to end up where they thought they would be, and that's largely because career isn't linear. It's a nonlinear, dynamic process of self-discovery where each step ideally leads you closer to living authentically and contributing your strengths to the world to benefit humankind. Note the word "dynamic" as in not static and stale. Change is good and is often the only way to get us closer to who we want to be and how we want to live.
MYTH 2: There is one best-fit job. My first career test was in high school, and it predicted that I would end up in horticulture. I can't see many connections to what I do now other than that I spend my days helping humans grow and I like to eat horticultured things ... like bacon. So what happened? Well, the majority of career inventories set out to discover who you are and place you in a best-fit profession. The challenge there is that once you arrive you will likely find that each profession is run by a variety of skill-sets that aren't exclusive to that industry.
For example, virtually every business on the planet needs an accountant, someone who is good with managing systems, a leader of people, a strategist, human resources, and the list goes on. I would posit that a more effective way to begin to look at career is to decide what roles align with your strengths, and then to narrow down industries based on your values, or the causes that drive you. In other words, there are many places you could fit in the world, the goal is to find the ones that allow you to be the most of who you are.
MYTH 3: "That industry definitely isn't for me." This phrase is most often used in conjunction with careers in counseling, teaching, and non-profit work, and usually this is because we have a tendency to discount entire industries based on limited information and misguided perceptions. When I was in college I considered a major in psychology. I took a class in it and really enjoyed it. But then I got to thinking that if I graduated in psychology I would have to be a counselor, and I couldn't bear the thought of dealing with people's personal problems day in and day out. So I bailed on the major based on limited information in my pre-existing paradigm. Ironically, I now spend my days working with people through their career problems and helping them be better leaders -- and I love it. We often discount entire industries because "I once had a really bad teacher" or "my friend worked at a non-profit and survived on Ramen" or "my parents say you can't make a living in teaching." The reality is, as previously stated, every industry needs a multitude of skill-sets to make it run, and there's always room at the top of any industry for those who love what they do. Universities are notorious for underpaying their employees, and yet there is someone at most private universities making a million bucks a year to manage the university's investment portfolio and endowment. This person probably didn't go into investment banking dreaming of working at a university, but had they discounted that option they may have missed out on the many other benefits that come with working on a college campus.
So if career is non-linear, there is no one job for me, and my paradigms are skewed, how do I choose a major or career? Choosing a career is really about narrowing down options based on what you do know instead of what you don't. Much like that nifty AutoTrader.com commercial where the cars are being filtered through the character's brain stem, your goal is to filter out options that you know won't be a good fit based on what you know. And, just like the commercial, the information you need to know to figure out your career is mostly within you already ... you just need to mine it out with some directed reflection and by asking the right questions. If you narrow the target you are aiming for you won't feel so overwhelmed.
So what do you know that could help in this process? What information could be most helpful in getting closer to a best-fit career path? In the next post we'll talk about the three questions you simply have to answer to get where you want to go. In the meantime, are there other myths about career that I missed? Leave them in the comments below or drop me a note with questions/comments. You can also email me directly at dustin (at) petersonleadership (dot) com.