I haven’t yet come across anyone who has zero desire to enjoy the work they do or find fulfillment in it. The degree to which this is a focus for people certainly varies, particularly across generations, but even those who are hard-wired to “just do the job” still seek to make a difference and find meaning in their work in some way. You may know by now if you’re following my other posts that I’m writing a book (sign up here for updates!) which will help the reader identify and live what I call their “career purpose,” or in simpler terms, meaningful work. If we all were working in our dream jobs, this book of course would not be necessary — so, what is it that holds us back from doing the work we truly love? Here are a few scenarios I’ve come across with my clients:
You don’t know what your “dream job” would be
Perhaps you’ve been chugging along in your career, getting promotions along the way, and following a fairly predictable path. There are some things you like about what you do, but you’ve never really thought hard about an ideal job — besides, they wouldn’t call it “work” if it were supposed to be fun, right? You show up, do a good job, and do your best to enjoy the time when you’re not working. Maybe you even find yourself living for the weekends and dreading Mondays, or finding the humor in it all to help you keep going while staying grateful that you have a job. Afterall, not everyone has a job or the comforts you enjoy. Shouldn’t you just be grateful and do what they’re paying you to do without complaining? If you relate to this one, I would consider whether you’re rationalizing all the logical reasons why you shouldn’t do meaningful work. Is there something more for you out there? Are you willing to start exploring what that could look like? One place to start is to make a list of all the things you love doing, and then list ways you could explore learning more about careers related to them. Examples could include: if you love visiting your cousin’s coffee shop, ask her some questions about how she got into the business or what she enjoys about the roasting process; if you love being around planes, look into what it would take to learn to fly one; if you love solving complex problems, ask a few friends if their jobs involve this process and narrow down some choices to explore further.
You know what kind of work you would love to do, but haven’t gone after it for any number of reasons
If you’re in this group, you have made a decision (whether consciously or not) to close off the path to finding your career purpose. The most common reason I hear from people who know what their ideal career is, but won’t go after it, is because they need to provide for their family. I’m not saying that isn’t a perfectly noble and valid reason, but if we look a little deeper, what’s really going on is these individuals have let fear or a lack of self-love cripple them and are explaining it away with logic. They have made a decision to use family (or any other reason) as a license not to live the life they want, and in doing so, they are silencing the voice inside telling them they have made the wrong decision and they’re meant for more. The problem with this strategy is that voice never really goes away, always nagging them. The people I know who do this to themselves work diligently to numb and suppress that voice, which is deeply upsetting to me to watch and truly tragic to see their fullest contributions to the world unrealized. Let me be very clear: you do not have to choose your family (or anything else) over yourself. You can have both. Is it easy to figure out how? Rarely. You’ll need lots of thought, creativity, support from others, and perseverance to figure it out. Please consider this permission to believe in yourself, love yourself, and live the life both you and your loved ones deserve — after all, if you’re unhappy in your career and numbing that voice inside you, are you really able to be there for them fully? Don’t they deserve the fullest, happiest, undistracted version of you? You could start today by talking to them simply about what the work you would love to do would be like, or doing a little online research about that dream job. Baby steps are completely acceptable!
You are afraid to make the leap or take the risk required to do the work you love
Enter the most common reason people come to me for help: you know exactly what you want to do, and what it will take to get there, but are afraid to do it. Whether you want to be an entrepreneur and have to quit your job, or change industries and take a pay cut, or start over completely and get a new degree, this leap of faith into the unknown is absolutely terrifying. Trust me — I’ve been there twice now, having to quit a “stable” job to get to my dream job. (I put “stable” in quotation marks because, as the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us all, no job is truly stable. When all your income comes from one source, that means it can also all be taken away in an instant.) What can you do if you’re in this situation? There’s only one way out: decide to leap into the unknown. Decide to tell the version of your story in which you went for it. Decide that you and your dream job matter, and that life is too short to keep going through the motions. Did you know that the Latin root of the word “decide” means “to cut off?” You have to sever the ties, jump, and grow your wings on the way down. Of course I do not mean to do this blindly with no support or resources — you should absolutely lay a foundation, have a financial plan, savings, or whatever you need in place to give you the greatest chance of success. In my case, I had just graduated with an MBA when I made the leap the first time, and had an enormous network of potential clients, mentors, and colleagues, and I had a solid 3-6 month financial plan to get me started — but there was still the chance it wouldn’t work out. Don’t let that chance keep you from the work you’re meant to do on this earth. You can start by identifying the people in your life who believe in you and who would support you no matter what choice you made, and ask them for help (both logistically and emotionally). As Simon Sinek put it, “Courage isn’t inside; it’s external. It comes from someone else telling you they believe in you.”
If you’re not in your dream job right now, which of these most closely aligns with what’s holding you back? I suspect if you’ve gotten this far reading this blog, there’s a little voice somewhere deep inside you telling you that you are meant to do more. Consider this permission to listen to that voice. There is no one else who can do the work that you’re both passionate about and have a unique set of strengths to accomplish — and if you don’t do it, nobody else can. Besides, life is entirely too short not to do work you love; you weren’t born to pay the bills and die. If you’re ready to take action toward your career purpose, please don’t hesitate to set up time to chat and let me know how I can help.