If you do what you love, you'll never work a day in your life.
A number of people have come to us wanting to work on their career path. “Should I stay in this job I hate? Or would it just be the same wherever I went?”
I’ve certainly had that conversation with myself. Your job is an important part of your life, maybe the most important. After all, what else, aside from sleeping, do you spend this much time on? Most Americans spend about 80,000 hours of their life working. So, what can we do to make this rather large part of your life not suck?
But why settle for “not suck” when you could have the job you love, the job you were born to do, or even the job that makes you look forward to Mondays? Unfortunately, fixating on these goals causes more dissatisfaction and frustration, not less. Does that mean we should just learn to be happy where we are, no matter how miserable it makes us? Not at all. You can be happier.
Helping people find a better job has been an important part of my own career. I was a Data Scientist at Glassdoor, where we helped job seekers find out more about what it’s like to work somewhere before applying. I was also an instructor at Galvanize and General Assembly, where I helped people get a better job as a Data Scientist.
Finding my dream job
I’ve had a couple jobs I really loved. Like, pinch-me-I-can’t-believe-someone-is-actually-paying-me-to-do-this kind of love, namely being a graduate student at Rutgers, and my current job as Head of Product at Flourish Tech. But even those jobs have their bad days. Studying for my comprehensive exams was stressful as hell, and you wouldn’t believe the kind of rows I’ve gotten into with Paul.
I have also pursued careers that I did not love, but loved the idea of. I loved the idea of being a neuroscientist. But when it came down to actually doing science, I found it tedious and boring. I loved the idea of being a minister. But when it came down to actually working with a real congregation, I found it no fun at all. I thought I was pursuing my vocation, my reason for being, but in fact these turned out to be dead-end paths.
In between are the jobs that I’ve had that were, well, just jobs. Some started good. Some got better. Some I left because I saw a better opportunity, and some because the reason I joined went away. Over the last ten years I gradually transitioned from being a data scientist (coming off the heels of being a neuroscientist) to being a data engineer because I found I enjoyed programming more than statistics. Now, if you ask me, “What do you love to do most in this world?” Programming would not be in the top 3. It might not even be in the top 10. But if you asked me, “Do you love programming?” I’d say, “yes, I do.” So that made it a good career for me. If you asked me why I left my job, the reason was rarely the job itself. Usually, it was the people. There’s a saying that people don’t quit jobs, they quit managers, and I think it’s almost always true (apologies to my former managers!)
Find your dream job
If you are unhappy at your job, my first question is, do you love the job itself? To some extent, we can all enjoy a job well done, so if you’re good at your job, you should at least have that. If you’re not good at your job, there’s a good chance that’s because you don’t find any enjoyment in it. My first job in high school was at a car wash. I hated it and I was terrible at it. The only reason I wasn’t fired was because the owner was friends with my step-dad, but that doesn’t mean that one couldn’t find enjoyment in washing cars. Perhaps you enjoy the satisfaction that comes from cleaning (many do). Perhaps you enjoy interacting with a wide variety of cars.
Think critically about the job itself—not the people, not the organization—just what it is that you do when you do your job. If you do, in fact, like it, then you’re in luck. Because then it’s just a matter of finding another employer. Of course, this is easier said than done, but it’s also a lot easier than a career change. If you love your job, but hate where you work, then the next step is to identify why. Is your boss a pain? Are your colleagues rude? Do you have ethical issues with what the company is doing? If it’s your boss or your colleagues that are the problem, pay special attention to those factors when applying elsewhere. Remember that you’re interviewing your next employer as much as they are interviewing you. If it’s the business itself, then take a look at what else is out there and ask yourself, “would I want to be a part of this?” While it’s true that in most cases, for most jobs, the business itself does not affect the day-to-day. (I went from being a data engineer at a music company to being a data engineer for a mindfulness app. The job itself was practically the same in either case.) But it does affect the culture. I knew a number of people who came to work at places like Calm to leave a business that they did not align with, even though the job itself was essentially unchanged.
If you decide you don’t like the job, then your task is a bit harder. Depending on how much latitude your employer gives you, it may be easiest to stay at your company but trying out a different role. This is what I did at Glassdoor. I found I enjoyed engineering more than statistics, so I started giving myself more engineering projects. This isn’t always possible, but many companies are open to employees making lateral moves within the business. Perhaps there is some aspect of your job that you like, but it’s currently just a small part of your job. Is that something you can build on? This is going to be a lot easier and less risky than trying to reinvent yourself.
If you do feel drawn to do a radical career change, I urge caution. Perhaps you feel drawn to becoming a nurse, or a lawyer. This is where you need to be careful to evaluate the difference between loving something and loving the idea of something. The easiest way to evaluate this is to just do it, or at least, the closest approximation you can get to quickly. Is there a way you can moonlight in something close to that profession while keeping your day job? If not, is there some way you can immerse yourself in the day-to-day of that job without making the time (and often financial) commitment of going to school?
If you’d like to talk about this with one of our Flourish Space coaches, sign up for a free trial here.
- Dr. Strange