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Find Work That Matters

Mark Albion doesn’t want to hear your excuses. He doesn’t care about your mortgage, the recession, or unemployment rates. If your job stinks, you’ve got to leave it. Here, Albion shares advice for finding fulfilling work now.

Times are tough. Jobs are scarce. Confidence is waning. So what? If your work stinks, it stinks. And you should leave — fast.

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That is the advice from career counselor and best-selling author Mark Albion. Easy for him to say, right? Actually, no.

Albion, a former Harvard Business School wunderkind and marketing consultant to Procter & Gamble and Coca-Cola, swallowed his career dissatisfaction for years before making a clean break from his comfortable paycheck and pursuing his professional dreams. He calls that exit the riskiest and most rewarding career move he’s ever made.

Now Albion, author of Making a Life, Making a Living: Reclaiming Your Purpose and Passion in Business and in Life (Warner Books, 2000), is helping other discontent professionals find the courage to change their work lives. No small feat at a time when 70% to 80% of businesspeople say that they would rather be doing something else for a living.

“Do you feel like jumping out of bed in the morning?” Albion asks in Finding Work That Matters (Sounds True, 2002), his new three-part audio book. “Does time fly at work? Are you doing what you dreamed of as a child? If prestige and money didn’t matter, would you stay in your current job?”

If you answered no to any of those questions, Albion urges you to stop and analyze your work life. “Most people only make changes when the pain of not changing becomes greater than the fear of changing,” he says. To encourage change without pain, Albion has designed a four-part career examination for people seeking work that matters.

Here is a brief outline of that analysis. Contribute your own story of career examination and reinvention below.

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Who Are You?

The first and messiest step toward career reinvention: acknowledging your own unfulfilled expectations. In Finding Worth That Matters, Albion urges listeners to consider these questions: What are your passions? How can you contribute to the world? How can you best serve others and yourself?

Ninety percent of people can’t answer those questions right off the bat. That’s normal. And it’s sometimes painful when professionals begin to recognize that who they are is not who they want to be, Albion says.

What Do You Want?

Okay, so your current job is not nirvana. But can you name a better alternative? Do you know where you’d rather be? Chances are, the solution is hazier than the problem.

Albion recounts a conversation he had with his father during his undergraduate years at Harvard. “Do you want to be rich, or do you want to be famous?” his father asked. “Most people can only be one or the other. Which will it be for you?” Albion stammered, squirmed, and slumped. He didn’t know what he wanted. He couldn’t offer a straight answer.

Albion says it took almost 20 years to realize that his father was asking the wrong question. To him, success was neither riches nor fame; success was happiness. He just didn’t know it yet.

What Can You Do?

The third step in Albion’s assessment asks participants to factor their strengths and skills into the equation. A job is not an avenue for making money, he says. It’s an opportunity to combine your professional and spiritual selves in a meaningful way.

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How can you incorporate your past and your essence into what you do each day? How can you develop new skills based on who you are and who you want to be?

Where Are You Going?

The final step in Albion’s exercise involves charting your legacy.

To illustrate the importance of following your passion, Albion tells of a 1980 survey that asked 1,500 undergraduate business students whether they planned to pursue their dreams right away or to accept more stable, lucrative jobs upon graduation and feed their passions later in life. Eighty-seven percent of the students said they would take the money now and worry about self-fulfillment later. The remaining 13% said, To hell with cash, give me gratification!s

Twenty years later, the original group of 1,500 students contained 101 multimillionaires. All but one of those 101 wildly successful people hailed from the minority that valued passion over paychecks.

“There’s a clear link between loving what you do and being pretty darn good at it,” Albion says.

Anni Layne Rodgers (arodgers@fastcompany.com) is the Fast Company senior Web editor.

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Read all of Mark Albion’s columns.