3 Reasons Most People Never Find their Perfect Career
According to the most recent Gallup State of the American Workplace report, 67% of U.S. employees are disengaged at work. Looking closer, 16% of employees are actively disengaged, meaning, they are miserable, and their efforts often result in the destruction of what their engaged coworkers are building. The other 51% are simply "not engaged" and are "just there". They are unattached to their work and workplace. They're doing their time, unenthusiastically, without energy or passion. This means that roughly two-thirds of Americans wake up every morning to spend most of their day doing something that isn’t meaningful or fulfilling.
I believe there is a career for everyone, and if we are equipped with the right tools, every person can find a meaningful career that is worthwhile, pays the bills, and grows the skills they want to learn. Before we get into the three places people get stuck, let’s look at the three elements of a perfect career.
Finding Your Perfect Career
A “perfect career” does three things:
It Speaks to Your Purpose:
Most of the time, when someone says passion, they really mean purpose. Purpose is why you do what you do, something that is bigger than yourself. Passion is looking inward, while purpose is looking outward. Both work together, but purpose is the result of putting passion to work in a way that helps others. (To learn more, read my blogs: Why you need a purpose, How to find it and Why it’s not your passion)
It Can Support Your Lifestyle: Meaning, if someone wants to play golf every weekend, they have to make more money than someone like me who enjoys walking down to the park with my one-year-old and throwing sticks into the river together. Everyone’s baseline is different and that may push some people to work in one industry over another or take on a different role in the company. (To learn more about lifestyle, read my blog here.)
It Utilizes & Develops the Skills You Have or Want to Grow: This is the area that speaks to your passion (the what, not the why). The skills you use every day should engage your whole mind and body, and they should be what you’re interested in developing.
Why People Hate Their Jobs
Most people get stuck in the corners and only meet two of the three “perfect career” conditions. When that happens, they get stuck in one of the following:
1) Golden Handcuffs: When I was living in Seattle, I met a lot of people in the tech industry who made gobs of money. Even though they didn’t have time to spend all of it, watching their checking account number rise became a kind of addiction. And with any addiction, they eventually became unhappy because work stopped being about the task they once loved doing; it turned into an exchange of time for money.
Their unhappiness was contagious, and they made everyone else around them unhappy. They woke up every morning with a panic attack and drank or drugged themselves to sleep every night. Even though they were unhappy, they didn’t want to risk doing something that fulfilled their purpose because they had gotten used to a classy lifestyle and a transition would put their lifestyle at risk.
Those are the golden handcuffs: they had the skills and their salary supported a lavish lifestyle, but they were never proud of the work they did. It’s hard to feel sorry for someone who drives around in a Porsche… but I did. A lot of people think money opens doors, but it also closes them.
2) Volunteering: This is when people are working in a job that fulfills their purpose and utilizes or grows the skills they want to learn, but it doesn’t pay enough to survive. This often happens in non-profits and start-ups. If you love the work you’re doing but are tired of eating noodles for dinner, showering at the gym, working weekends, and sleeping in your car, your lifestyle stress may pull your focus away from the meaningful work you’re doing.
3) Plateau: This is when you’re working at a company whose purpose aligns with yours and you're getting paid well, but your job is boring because you’re not doing anything new. It might be data entry, or you may want to switch roles from the one you were hired on as. Whatever it is, you’ve stopped growing and you’re itching to try something new.
If you're stuck in a corner, it’s time to start looking for a way to find your missing piece. Life is too short and too precious to waste on a job you don’t care about. While you’re searching for your perfect career, you can still hit all the conditions in what I call a “distributed perfect career.” To learn more about a distributed perfect career in the gig economy, check out my blog post here.
More than luck, friends.
Andrew J. Wilt is the author of Age of Agility, a book that addresses the skill gap between school and work. He can be reached at Andrew.firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @andrewjwilt