You need to eat. You also need the new iPhone because you shattered your current phone’s screen when you made the valiant effort to text, walk, and eat pizza at the same time. Ergo, you need a job to buy these things! But finding a job that you actually like—that doesn’t make you persistently wish a storm would sweep into town and close all the roads to work—takes some inward thinking. You don’t want to spend your days in occupational prison, impatiently staring at the clock all day and wondering how only 11 minutes have passed since the last time you checked it. So before you dive into a pursuit, here are some mistakes to consider while job browsing (and refreshing Facebook). And if you’re looking for more help, check out our new book, Roadmap, that’ll hold your hand through the struggle!
1. Choosing something based on superficial appeal
We’ve all read (or had a parent email us) those Important Business Magazine articles that subjectively deem certain professions better than others. The metric used to determine winners usually involves evaluating some combination of average salaries, job growth, unemployment rates, etc. And while it’s important to investigate the cold hard facts of a field, just because a bunch of data analysts proclaim a profession stable doesn’t mean it’s right for you. Similarly, it’s easy to get swept up by the latest Hollywood movie depicting Wall Streeters as hedonistic moneybags who throw parties that would make the Greek God of Drunkenness say “Whoa.” But that kind of romanticized folklore doesn’t show the mundane tasks that make up the day-to-day of a profession. (Like spreadsheets! Analyzing data! Calming down angry clients!). Dig beyond the surface veneer (aka $ and prestige), talk to people who are doing the job, and determine whether you’d actually like devoting thousands of hours to the work all day, erry day.
2. Choosing something that conflicts with your values and character
Do you like to work independently or do you need defined structure? Would you be cool wearing a suit every day or would you be happier working at a place that considers Converse business casual? Maybe financial security is your top priority. Or maybe you can’t stand to live in a big city where you hear car horns every 3 seconds (but can’t hear your own thoughts). Whatever your preferences, identifying what yours are can mean the difference between feeling fulfilled and totally on edge about your job. We’ve all got our quirks, and just like you’d be uncomfortable wearing a trucker hat if that’s not your style, having a job that doesn’t jive with your subjective values will cause conflict.
3. Choosing something because it’s expected of you
Everyone in your family is a ___(insert profession)___, so if you don’t follow suit, your sister will become the favorite child and mom will nag you till the end of time. It could be that you got a college education, so it’s expected that you not “take a risk” with something creative like cooking or art. Whatever the circumstance, the bottom line is: you are the only one who understands the complex tangled wiring of your brain. People can hint and suggest and guilt trip, but listening to externally-imposed dictates about what you should and shouldn’t be doing with your life rarely leads to personal satisfaction. You have to look yourself in the mirror every day and look back on your life when you’re old and grey; make sure you see something you’re proud of.
4. Staying stagnant
Humans tend to crave security. Maybe it’s all those years of fleeing hungry woolly mammoths who thought we tasted like chicken. We stay in bad relationships because they feel safe; we stay in jobs that don’t satisfy because we’re afraid of unknown territory. But given that we’re only on earth for a fleeting blip of time, we owe it to ourselves to at least try to realize our dreams. If something’s not feeling right—and you know in your gut when it’s not right—ask yourself questions. Does the work you do give you meaning? Are you challenged? Are you living for the weekends? What do you love so much you’d do it for free? Just because you put a shit-ton of work (or grad school money) into an endeavor and it’s not turning out like you hoped doesn’t mean you’re trapped. There’s always a small step within reach that could lead to a greater leap down the line. Join a Meetup of people with like-minded interests; volunteer on the side and see where it goes; take a Khan academy class and build skill in an area that’s always intrigued you. Just listen to the voice in your head that’s wailing. The ref could call time on your life at any time, and no one should waste their precious minutes feeling miserable (and watching puppy videos to feel better!).