How To Have A Successful Career Without Selling Your Soul
by Drew Hansen
Career dissatisfaction is a malaise that affects a majority of the U.S. workforce.
Less than half of American workers are satisfied with their jobs, and only 32% of employees are engaged. Even worse, 16% of millennials are actively disengaged, which means they are more or less out to do damage to their companies.
I have an acquaintance who, after graduating from college with a degree in computer science and mathematics, struggled for a few years to integrate into the workforce, mostly by choice. He didn’t want to use the skills he’d gained and other interests occupied his time.
But after getting married and starting a family he settled into a position as a software developer at a digital marketing agency.
He possesses some of the most in-demand skills in the economy. He works in a small office where he has autonomy. The hours don’t impinge on life outside of work. Yet his brow furrowed when he described the frustration he feels in his current situation.
At first I thought he doesn’t enjoy the nature of his work. But he described the challenge of needing to solve a new programming problem on a regular basis with enthusiasm.
He appears to be motivated to master these skills. He’s missing, however, purpose in his work.
But the inner voice doesn’t lay out a step-by-step plan. It provides hints and corrections.
“You sometimes have to figure it out from subtle clues, like a detective solving a case in a mystery novel,” Paul Graham, founder of Y Combinator, writes in one of his essays.
It can be difficult to hear that inner voice amid competing voices like those of parents or society. If we’re determined to be successful, we may overcome every obstacle in our way – including not liking the field we’re in.
I talk to friends, colleagues, and clients whose choice of major continues to typecast them a decade later, even though less than half of graduates would study the same subject if they could do it over.
Why should a decision made at 20 years old seal their career fate?
Searching for career satisfaction is dangerous. It’s easy to read books, take assessments, and listen to advice from others, all of which are passive approaches.
Rather than consume more information, always produce, says Graham, and “[you] will discover your life’s work the way water, with the aid of gravity, finds the hole in your roof.”
We don’t know what we want to do until we’re doing it. For this reason it’s important to experiment and tune into how different activities affect us. Energy is one gauge.
Graham encourages us to ask ourselves, “What seems like work to other people that doesn’t seem like work to you?” The answer to that question points to a more reliable field of focus.
“We have to realise that a vocation is not something we find, it’s something we grow — and grow into,” writes Roman Krznaric, author of How to Find Meaningful Work.
A vocation may emerge after collecting data points working in a variety of fields. Steve Jobs told his story in the 2005 Stanford commencement address:
Again, you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.
By connecting our experiences, we can grow, or create, work that only we can offer. Our personality isn’t monolithic. We are a constellation of selves. We’re evolving and so is the economy. Bridging these two dynamics is the key to success that satisfies the soul.
Our careers are a broad canvas on which we express ourselves. Because of our varied interests, values, and talents, we can construct an identity like an artist who arranges a mosaic.
Author: Drew Hansen