Everyone loves a good cliché. 'Do more of what sets your soul on fire'. 'Live the life you were meant to live'. It begs the question, who do you think was born to code exactly? And does being an account manager or a copywriter or a UX designer really set anyone’s soul on fire? I mean, seriously, right? Would that even be a thing? I highly doubt it.
I suppose it could be, but for most of us, the meaning of life and true happiness goes a bit deeper than that.
Maybe we want to create beautiful, amazing, useful things. We want to help people. Change the world. To be filthy rich and live on a private island. Or perhaps a combination of all of those things. (Sign me up for the island, by the way.)
I only ask these questions, because if you’re on the hunt for a job, it’s really worthwhile doing two things:
Firstly, it’s worth asking, what is it about the job you want, that you think will make you happy? Is it because you think the work will be satisfying? Because it pays well? What is it really about that job that you think will bring you happiness?
Close your eyes and imagine you’ve been doing that ‘dream job’ for five years. Are you really, genuinely happy? Does your life feel complete because of your job?
I’ve been in the industry for quite some time now, and while I know plenty of people who have great and rewarding careers, I can honestly say I’m not sure I know too many people who are genuinely happy because of their job. Including myself.
I followed the standard path, from junior dog’s body to junior copywriter, copywriter, senior copywriter, creative group head, creative director and even a few management and board positions. But If I’m being real, while some of the better roles made me money, none of them actually made me happy.
Don’t get me wrong, some of the money I earned paid for stuff that was quite good fun. And some of that stuff helped me do other things like travel where I was able to learn and grow as a person. Or pursue side ‘passion projects’ that were immensely satisfying. And I suppose those things brought me some happiness. And it sure was better and more creatively rewarding than washing dishes or cleaning toilets, but ultimately, work itself didn’t bring me happiness. I’m not even sure if it can.
So start by working out what you think work will give you.
And be honest about it. Because even the best jobs have bits that no one likes. The bits that are a bit tiresome or even flat out annoying and painful. No job is going to be all rainbows and unicorns all the time. And it’s good to acknowledge and accept that up front.
Then, once you’ve had a bit of a soul search and possibly a reality check about what you think you want to do, and why you really want to do it, take a step back, and open your mind to other roles where you might be able to achieve similar things.
Once you’ve let go of the notion you have a specific ‘dream job’ that will make you happy, it will open up a whole world of opportunities. Other things you can do that will help you live a satisfying and rewarding life in ways you simply may not yet have imagined.
Maybe these jobs won’t bring you ‘happiness’, in fact, my guess is they absolutely won’t. But once you’ve let go of some utopian notion of that one ‘dream job’, you might just find the options available to you open up. That there are more types of jobs you’d be open to doing, increasing your chances of landing one.
It’s radical, I know, because while everyone else is saying cool stuff about chasing your dreams, here I am potentially advocating settling for what might seem like less. Although, truthfully, that’s not what I’m saying.
It’s just that I honestly believe we shouldn’t look to our work to make us happy. And when we do, we make it more difficult than necessary to land a job, put far too much pressure on our job to deliver that perfect level of happiness, and make it way too easy to be disillusioned with it.
In my humble opinion, work is a great way to learn and earn, but a lousy way to make yourself happy. Almost every job has the opportunity to teach you something. To be genuinely curious about how something works. To make life better or easier for someone. And if you’re fortunate to choose well, to leave your mark on the world. To make it a little better.
Although I highly doubt that any true satisfaction will come from selling cigarettes or skin whitening cream or some other thing people don’t really need. And trust me, I’d know, because I’ve done all of those things. And worse.
So before you get too myopic with your job hunting aspirations, I’d encourage you to look higher, wider and yes, even lower. To reach for the stars, but not be afraid to reach for the mud as well.