Friday, January 9, 2009

The right career isn't just about the job

The dream job. It's out there - somewhere. And all you need to do is find it. Should be a fairly easy process, right? I mean the key to it all is figuring out what you like. Once you do that, you can work out what qualifications or training you need and the rest is history. It's one simple process.

From the moment we can conceive having a career goal we are taught that there is a dream job out there for each of us. A job where days won't be spent working, but rather enjoying ourselves in the knowledge that we are doing what we were always meant to do.

Sadly, the reality is much different. If you take 10 high school students and fast forward time about 7 - 10 years when they're all are in employment, statistics tell us you will find the following:

6 will be in a job they don't like

2 will be in an 'ok' job

1 will be in a job he/she enjoys but not their dream job, and

1 will be in the job they felt they were born to do.

1 out of 10 isn't a great statistic. So how do you know what job is right for you? How do you figure out where you were meant to be in life?

The answers to the above questions have plagued workers since the beginning of a time when you could choose what you did for a living. If you can choose a job then surely you should be able to do what you want. Sadly, most of us won't be in our dream job. We won't even be in a job we enjoy.


Why we do a job we don't like is quite simple. It all comes down to attitude and circumstance. We don't like our job because we tell ourselves we should be doing something different. Perhaps something with more pay. Something with more power or something more fun. We kid ourselves that our circumstances have pushed us into a role we don't like and we are forced to stay in that role because of those same circumstances.

Not true.

When I was younger, I watched a young man go through school as an intelligent guy. Problem was - he was born on the wrong side of the tracks and forced to take a job after high school to make ends meet even though he dreamt of going to university to become a teacher.

10 years on, he's still not a teacher. 10 years on he's the assistant regional director of the education board in Australia. 10 years on he's one of the most influential people in education in his area. 10 years on, he'd still like to be a teacher.

After he finished high school, he got a job as an administration assistant on minimum wage in an education authority office. Fortunately for him, his colleagues noticed his potential and through hard work he rose to the position he holds today. But he never forgot his dream and he's currently studying a teaching course part-time round his full time role to become a teacher.

I've included that example because I think it illustrates two things. First of all, circumstance means nothing when you really want to do something. I could tell you a story about a man who was a self made millionaire after growing up in a poor household in a council estate. Thing is, I don't know one of those stories. I just know the story of a man who now earns an average wage working in position whilst he trains to work as a teacher. He's not a millionaire or a TV star. He's just a man who ignored circumstance and followed his dream of becoming a teacher. He isn't quite there yet but I'll be the first to ring him up when he makes it.

He took an unfortunate situation and made it work.

The second point I take from this story is that a dream is only as good as the person who dares to dream it. From the example, you could argue that an assistant regional director is a higher position than a teacher. After all, the regional directors are responsible for the teachers in their region and get paid more. Also, the opportunities for senior management from regional manager are very encouraging and he is likely to continue moving up in the world of education, gaining more power and more money.

But that's not what it's all about to him. He wants to be a teacher. He wants to encourage young minds and doesn't care that it's not as well paid and doesn't have the promotion opportunities that directors have.

Human beings, in general, seem to get caught up in this idea that success, and therefore enjoyment, come from promotion, money and power. They come from continually progressing and proving something to those around us. We are quite bad at comparing our success against that of others meaning that we'll never quite be completely happy.

The idea of a dream job is not a myth. It is a fact and it is there for all of us. However, in order to find it we need to be looking in the right place. We needn't compare ourselves to others because that won't get us anywhere. Drawing comparisons just puts us in that dangerous place of always trying to go one up and never quite finding our own happiness with our jobs.

I think it's important to acknowledge circumstance but also use it our advantage rather than an excuse.

Happiness comes from so many different areas and it's important to acknowledge those. Things like work colleagues, feeling valued, improving ourselves and becoming good at a job all help. I've often been caught out in a great job with rude colleagues only to find out that I've been miserable. A job alone isn't enough. A pay packet of x amount isn't enough.

If family makes you happy then the more family friendly the role the happier you'll be often regardless of position.

Some of the happiest people in the world type up letters for a living because they work in a place that allows them to do other things. And that makes their jobs enjoyable because it fits in with their lives.

When I talked about that story earlier with 10 high school students I didn't mention what they did. And I didn't mention it for a reason. Here's why.

The original study consisted of 10000 students. That's where we get our statistics from and how we know that 6 out of 10 high school students won't be in a job they like.

The researchers then chose 10 of the participants, at random, to find out a little bit more. They found some interesting stuff.

Of the 6 that didn't like their job, there was an: accountant, investment banker, soldier, doctor, factory worker and a photographer.

The 2 that thought their job was ok: cleaner and a journalist.

The 1 person that enjoyed their job but didn't think it was their dream role - social worker.

The 1 person that felt they were in their dream job - a nurse.

When I first found out about the 10 I expected the last person to be something like a movie star, radio personality or similar celebrity.

It goes to show you that the right career isn't about the job. It isn't about what others think is an important job to have. It's about what is right for YOU.

It's so easy to compare yourself to others, to fall into the trap of thinking you want what others think is a good job. But if you do that then you'll always fall short of your dream.

Your dream job isn't in your pay packet, position or power. It's in what you think is important.

Ignoring circumstance and finding your own path is a hard thing to do. Like many, I've struggled with on my fair share of occasions. But considering you spent most of your life at work it's got to be worth it.

Good luck and happy hunting.