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Don’t You Get It?

Many people tell me, “This job isn’t it! I want something more.” Yet, when I ask them to define it, I often receive a blank stare.

Many people tell me, “This job isn’t it! I want something more.” Yet, when I ask them to define it, I often receive a blank stare.

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In the past, a secure job with decent pay satisfied most of our career expectations. Now, in the new economy, we expect work to draw upon and utilize our individual gifts. We demand that our work play a part in a larger creation — that it convey a deeper purpose, and connect with our personal values. Finally, we insist on schedules that will allow us to balance our personal lives with our livelihood. Clearly, the it we want has grown … and we want it now!

We live in extraordinary times, in which many of us have an unprecedented array of choices regarding how we live, where we live, and what we do for a living. Considering all these opportunities, our work should be more rewarding than ever. Instead, we start work earlier and end later, we feel harried by more stress-filled lives, and we strain to keep up our disintegrating relationships. Why the paradox of a rising economy mirrored by rising frustrations?

In part because we’re human. We’re hardwired to want “something more” — even if we can’t envision what “something more” is. We feel somehow entitled to have it all, so we work more and more hours to get the money to buy it. Money and stuff aren’t it, though. So, back to the bigger question: What is it?

Here’s an example from the many letters I receive from talented people hunting down it:

Dear Richard:

I am 31 years old and have 10 years invested in a finance career. I make a good living, but I hate my career and always have. I simply stumbled into this field and never got out. I am very dissatisfied with my work life.

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I know that I am going to make a change over to a career that allows me to be more creative, and that allows me to interact with people with whom I can identify. I have no idea what that career is yet.

Is there a publication, book or resource out there that specializes in drastic career changes? More specifically, have you ever consulted a person in my shoes who wants to leave the banking/brokerage business to pursue a more liberal-arts-oriented job path?

Thanks much, Stuck in Finance

I can offer no silver bullets for Stuck in Finance. But, I can advocate three keywords to guide the search: gifts, passions, and values. The ideal job pays us well to use our gifts on things we feel passionate about in environments that honor our values. That’s it.

We all arrive in this world with gifts. We spend the first half of our lives ignoring them or struggling to uncover them, then we spend the second half of our lives — if we are awake and curious — seeking something more, something we already have.

Poet May Sarton captured this sentiment in 21 words:

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Now I become myself.
It’s taken time, many years and places.
I have been dissolved and shaken,
Worn other peoples faces …*

We often mask our true nature in faces that are not our own. We often dissolve and shake our work endlessly until we discover it — the gift within us that constitutes the core of our life’s work.

Why do you get up on Monday morning? I am hopeful that you get up to partake in work that holds an authentic interest for you — work that moves you, that you have a passion for.

Passion springs from choice. The power to pick where, when, and how we work energizes us. And the ability to choose what we work on — that central challenge, idea, product, or service — taps still more vitality. When we use our gifts on something that moves us, we have new energy to jump out of bed Monday morning.

Work eats up the largest slice of our waking hours. Where we work, for whom we work, and with whom we work affect our quality of life. We thrive in work environments that match our values, and suffer at jobs that don’t. The stress of a bad fit between our values and our workplace’s can manifest itself in poor on-the-job performance. But it can extend outside of work, too, hurting our mental and physical health.

It does not come from a book, a magazine, or an external voice telling you what to do or who to be. You discover your passions, values, and gifts by listening to the voice inside calling you to be the person you were born to be. But when seeking a career that utilizes and develops your gifts, passions, and values, accept advice and consultation from trusted friends, colleagues, and resources such as these: Tuesdays With Morrie by Mitch Albom, Repacking Your Bags: Lighten Your Load for the Rest of Your Life by Richard J. Leider and David Shapiro, and Transitions by William Bridges.

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As May Sarton reminds us, the journey might take years and lead to many places. It takes time to become the person we have always been. But, taking the journey is the true work of every one of us.

*from May Sarton, “Now I Become Myself” in Collected Poems, 1930-1973 (New York: Norton, 1974)

by Richard Leider