We spend a large chunk of our lifetime on this planet working, roughly one-third of each day. Therefore, you might think that people spend a lot of thought and energy into finding the perfect line of work. That means work which matches your strengths, interests and values. Surprisingly that’s not the case at all. For proof, observe the morning commuters in any western city and you will see predominant tired faces with an expression of either stress or resignation in anticipation of the coming workday.
There is a fundamental debate about the importance of work. The discourse is split into two main camps. One camp argues that you should follow your passion and the money will come automatically (artists, musicians, etc.). They see work as an integral part of your life and you should be passionate about it. The other camp argues that our expectations of work are too high in modern times and that your job is only a means to an end. They recommend to separate your work and free time and find fulfillment in the latter (accountants, bankers, etc.).
You can find me somewhere in the middle, but I lean towards the passion camp. You can only thrive in a field over an extended period if you are passionate about what you are doing. To quote Mark Beaumont: ”You can’t use the economy of scale for people. You need to strip it back to what we each are individually passionate about.” I am publishing this business blog because I am passionate about the craft of writing and entrepreneurship. At the same time, I try to write relevant content by serving my readers. Having said that, you also need to be realistic regarding supply and demand. Is the world really waiting for another world class bagpipe player?
2. Decision-making process
Why do so many people end up in the wrong job? I think the answer is twofold. The first part is the broken decision-making process of most people based on external factors. Most people read a few articles about potential jobs and in the best case do an internship in the respective field and then listen to their parents and decide on a degree program or vocational school. The simple problem is that most people don’t know their strengths, interests and values at age 18 when they finish school. You can somewhat increase your odds by doing proper research, but at the end of the day, it remains a long shot. The best thing you can do is take your time and test different fields (trial and error).
3. Personal values
The decision-making process is broken because the majority of people lack clarity regarding their personal values. Each job has eight dimensions and it’s our job to rank them according to our values. Our values are guiding us in the right direction. Before you accept your next job, you should think about the following dimensions:
This one is obvious. Most people optimize for salary. Salary is easy to quantify and compare. We like to simplify complex decisions and with salary everything comes down to one number. It’s about keeping up with the Joneses. I think salary is overrated.
2) Working hours
Working hours are easy to quantify, but there is not much variance in the working world. Most people work around 40 hours per week. Some people choose to work less for a specific time (e.g., young parents) or longer (e.g., ambitious singles). But it’s an afterthought for most people.
Status has a high variance, but it’s hard to quantify. It depends on your peers and changes over time. For example, the status of investment bankers has evaporated in the wake of the global financial crisis. It’s basically a vanity metric.
Most people limit their options to a particular area. Multinationals pay more in more expensive cities. According to this logic, remote jobs should be paid less, because you can choose to live in a cheaper location.
5) Common welfare
A minority of people value their contribution to society higher than monetary compensation. It’s easier to have a sense of purpose when you help people instead of selling them useless shit.
6) Financial security
The main advantage of a job is security. You get a monthly paycheck in exchange for giving up your dreams and aspirations. The times of lifelong employment are over if you don’t happen to live in Japan. Therefore jobs give a false sense of security. Robots and AI are coming for your white-collar job. For example, the banking industry used to be a safe bet; those days are over. I think security is overrated because I believe I can always find an adequate job in a reasonable time frame if I want to.
You have zero autonomy in most jobs. You are told when, where and how to work. I prefer to be the king instead of the pawn, who is potential subject to reorganization. Autonomy is the reason I prefer entrepreneurship. You can work on the subject of your choice and you can choose the time and place to do so. As an entrepreneur, you trade security off for autonomy. I think autonomy is massively undervalued, but it seems that most people prefer security.
8) Learning potential
Most jobs have a high initial learning curve (if at all) and after two or three years you know everything there is to know. Learning potential is another undervalued factor. If you only look at the salary and disregard learning potential, you are hurting yourself in the long run. I am happy to work temporary for little money if I can learn a lot. It’s an investment in my career. I am less willing to work a job with good pay and little learning potential.
There are more soft factors like self-expression and fun, which are more tied to yourself (interests) than the job and therefore excluded in this list.
4. Path dependence
The second part of the problem is what happens after the decision making. People decide on a “career path” early on and then stick with, instead of changing their trajectory when necessary. They lie to themselves and hope that somehow magically the situation gets better in the near future. They ignore their inner voice, which tells them that something is wrong. This goes on for a couple of years until the voice gets increasingly louder with each day and the whisper eventually turns into shouting. But now it’s too late. They have settled for a cookie-cutter life in the suburbs with a wife and two kids and now they have to provide for their little family and pay of their home and student debts. They feel trapped in the rat race and think it’s too late for change. There are four explanations for following this unsatisfactory path:
- The Sunk-Cost-Fallacy.
- The need to live up to outside expectations.
- The fear of uncertainty. It takes time to find your passion.
- Plain laziness. It takes a lot of effort to find your passion (trial and error).
None of these reasons is acceptable. I speak from experience because I have been down this path. When I was 18, I decided somewhat arbitrarily that I wanted to work in the marketing department of Volkswagen, more specifically in market research. I probably chose Volkswagen because it’s located in my home state, but I am not exactly sure. I wasn’t especially interested (or talented) in statistical analyses, but that didn’t stop me from pursuing my “dream”.
My “dream” crashed down in flames when I finally interned for three months in the automotive department of a big market research institute in my fifth semester. I learned three valuable lessons during the internship. First, I hate quantitative market research. It’s the most boring, tedious and meaningless work I have done in my life. Whenever I feel unmotivated, I think about my work there and use it as negative motivation. Second, I don’t like working in a big organization. You are just a small cog in a big wheel. I prefer working as a generalist in a start-up and not as a specialist, who is doing the same stuff every day. Third, I need some form of purpose in my work. I can’t work on something I consider meaningless. After my internship, I finally did some soul-searching and embraced entrepreneurship. I haven’t looked back since.
5. How to find fulfilling work
It’s not easy to find your calling. It’s a slow and sometimes painful process with a lot of dead ends. You need a lot of persistence and faith during your search. But when you find your line of work, the struggle was worth it. Part of finding your perfect job is accepting that each occupation has its downsides. I love having a business, but I am not passionate about the bureaucracy that comes with it. It’s part of the package.
Fortunately, you can use resources, which can guide you along the way. I have listed them already in my article the power of internships:
1. Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life
2. Do What You Are: Discover the Perfect Career for You Through the Secrets of Personality Type
3. How to Find Fulfilling Work (The School of Life)
4. The Designing Your Life Workbook: A Framework for Building a Life You Can Thrive In
5. What Color Is Your Parachute? 2018: A Practical Manual for Job-Hunters and Career-Changers
6. What Color Is Your Parachute? Job-Hunter’s Workbook
6. Job mismatch
Your decision will most likely result in a suboptimal job, if you don’t consider your values. This is why most people feel lukewarm about their job. They don’t love their job and they don’t hate it either. They have chosen it somewhat arbitrarily and now they stick with it. It’s the silent majority of people, who show up every day and you can spot their tired faces in the subway. They have accepted their faith as a hog in the wheel. There is a high probability that you are part of this group.
You settle for a mediocre job because that is what everyone is expecting of you. Your peers are doing the same, so you don’t feel too bad about your choice. You are not one of these naive dreamers, who tries out different things and fails from time to time. The rest is split into people, who love their job and people who hate their job. This minority groups are more vocal and therefore drown out the silent majority. The people, who hate their job are better off than the silent majority in the long run because their suffering will eventually lead to change. On the contrary, it’s easier for the silent majority to flee in a parallel world of mindless consumerism.
Entrepreneurship is an alternative to working a 9-5 job, but it’s an option most people don’t even consider, because of limiting beliefs. I don’t believe everyone is cut out to be an entrepreneur, but the percentage should definitely be higher. You can transfer your value analyses to entrepreneurship.
There is a caveat though. This argument is only applicable to developed countries. Your occupational options are nonexistent in a lot of countries because of a combination of lack of education and social security and a dysfunctional job market. In this case, I recommend moving to a location with better opportunities, but that’s easier said than done and not always possible. When you read this article, you are more likely than not from the Western World and therefore my argument is still valid. It’s a privilege to choose the occupation of your liking and you should take advantage of this opportunity.
I think as a young person you owe it to yourself to try out different things. It’s the best time to take a calculated risk. If you settle down for a mediocre job, you are doing yourself a disservice, because you are prolonging the problem. It’s a path, which more often than not leads to a midlife crisis. The risk is less visible, but it’s still there.
Now you know everything you need to know about finding satisfying work.
The rest is up to you,
Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life
Do What You Are: Discover the Perfect Career for You Through the Secrets of Personality Type
How to Find Fulfilling Work (The School of Life)
The Designing Your Life Workbook: A Framework for Building a Life You Can Thrive In
What Color Is Your Parachute? 2018: A Practical Manual for Job-Hunters and Career-Changers
What Color Is Your Parachute? Job-Hunter’s Workbook