Do you remember the mix of job advice you were given when you left school? Were you encouraged to pursue your dreams, to look for traditionally ‘safe’ jobs or to apply for any job going until you worked out what you really wanted to do?
The chances are, you probably heard a mix of all three approaches, and maybe they were all partly right. Each has their advantages and disadvantages.
Following your dreams
Let’s look at the ‘follow your dreams’ approach as it’s the one that’s touted most often. This approach can work well for those who have a strong sense of direction, even if they don’t know the exact form it will take. Some kids change what they want to be when they grow up almost as often as they change their clothes, but for others, their career path looks more obvious. Think of the kids who build model planes or pull things apart to see how they work. They often go on to be the best engineers.
Being in the drivers’ seat of your career is very empowering. When you know what the end goal is, and you really want to achieve it, you’ll keep learning, you’ll put in the long hours, you’ll do whatever it takes to get there.
Following your passion for your career can sometimes backfire, though, as it can become all-consuming and you can lose sight of the big picture. Working obsessively toward something can isolate you from friends and family. It can even lead to divorce or burnout. It’s ok to have periods of intense work, but we all need to balance that with some down time, too.
It’s important to remember that what you are passionate about and what you are good at can be two different things. You might have always dreamt of becoming a professional singer or footballer, for example, but it can be devastating when you discover that you don’t have what it takes.
Going for safe jobs
We’re all familiar with the stories of people who end up in unsatisfying jobs because it was expected of them. There are also those who aren’t really aware of any alternatives or who don’t have the self-esteem to try anything else. We tend to think that they go on to lead very unhappy lives, but that’s not always the case.
Sometimes, ‘safe’ jobs can be ones we’re passionate about. There are whole families of teachers, police officers, and accountants who don’t just follow that path because their parents did it. They do it because they see it as valuable and rewarding work.
It’s also possible to deliberately choose a safe job, that you are not necessarily passionate about, to help you achieve other objectives. In her article Don’t do what you love for a career – do what makes you money for Quartz Media, Catherine Baab-Muguira shared how she chose an ‘unsexy’ job for the money. 8 years out of grad school, she was able to pay her mortgage out in full and had the freedom to pursue other dreams. As she said:
“If you really want to be free, not just from one bad relationship or one bad work situation, but to do what it is you really want to do, you need the dollars first and foremost.”
Applying for any old job
People who have gone through life, drifting from one job to the next with no purpose or nothing to show for years of work can often feel lost or even ashamed of their lives. However, the unplanned approach can also take us in amazing directions.
“The plan was that was going to take 6 months while I worked out what I was actually going to do … I ended up spending 17 years in banking.”
This experience led her to leadership roles in state government, including being the head of TAFE in South Australia. Then, Elaine saw the job of chief executive of Zoos SA advertised in the paper. She was an animal lover but had no experience running zoos. Although she had never foreseen having this role, Elaine loves her job and is incredibly passionate about conservation and working with an inspiring group of staff and volunteers.
Reframing how you see your current job
Being passionate about your job is often more about seeing the value in what you do, regardless of how you got there, even if it can sometimes be stressful or challenging. It’s more about other people than yourself.
You can choose how you respond to even the most menial work. Factory workers and personal care attendants, for example, often find their jobs very rewarding as they feel their work is valuable and makes a difference to others, even when they are shown little respect.
Passion always gets noticed. Just remember, it sometimes develops while doing a job, not before.
“The only way to do great work is to love what you do,”
Call to action…
Want to hear what it’s really like to literally work in the middle of a zoo? Then follow the link to Elaine Bensted’s podcast interview on The Mentor List. You’ll also hear how she managed 50 TAFE campuses in South Australia and became a nominee for the Telstra Business Women of the Year awards. We know you’ll find Elaine’s story truly inspiring.
Kick start your personal journey to success from the conversations David has with his inspirational guests on The Mentor List. www.mentorlist.com.au
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