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Finding a career you love

Let’s first rephrase the title of this blog to: crafting a career you love.

'Finding' a career is often mistook as a search for something concrete. Often this search comes with a sense of urgency, too. But you don’t stumble across a great career suggestion through a mere Internet search. The ‘find’ option on Google search may not satisfy your quest to ‘find your passion’, ‘find your true calling’, or ‘find a great job’! Listening to motivational talks or reading quotes that reinforce your sense of entitlement to a great career will also not get you there. You will have to work for it, take chances, make tough decisions, gain meaningful experiences, and develop linkages before you are able to identify where your true potential lies, and what you are intrinsically carved for. Unfortunately, so consistently have we been fed the ‘follow your passion’ mantra that we almost feel entitled to a career we love, and pay no heed to anything less than ‘what we [think we] deserve’.

Careers are not made overnight

A career is when you start off as a receptionist; are promoted as an administrative assistant; find a job elsewhere as an executive assistant; and become the Chief of Staff someday. The years of administrative support experience that you thus gain will familiarise you with the working of multiple departments, equip you with a diverse range of skills, and help expand your network. You might eventually end up being the CEO of a company or initiating your own venture. All these stages put together is what you call a career.

So if you are trying to equate with your career, a job that sucks, chances are you will end up being dissatisfied. Worse still, you might just be missing a great career opportunity because you are not looking at the larger picture.

Your degree doesn’t have to determine your career choice

Finding work that is relevant to your degree may seem the obvious choice for someone who has spent four [or more] years studying a certain discipline. But honestly, what were your reasons for choosing a major? Your parents thought it was the right thing to do, your friends were choosing the same major, it sounded cool, people in that field were minting money, or worst of all, you couldn’t get into a major or college of your choice?

Even if your choice was led by your ‘passion’ or ‘interest’ in a subject, a job might be a lot different from what you had expected. People make a career of something least relevant to their degree all the time [I did] for a crazy number of reasons including lack of employment opportunities, greater earning potential, or finding something they enjoy more. You can too. And there’s nothing wrong with it.

Passion is misunderstood

If you can’t get over the advice to ‘follow your dream or passion’, you need to go through a reality check. Passion is almost always paired with work, but a lot of times, it doesn’t pay too well. A great career, on the other hand, should ideally be one that offers you a reasonable [if not great] lifestyle and enables you to pay your bills.

In his blog post on doing what you love, Seth Godin is brutally honest about what that might entail. It has so much to offer that it was tough selecting just a few sentences to share here. While I do that, I would still suggest you read his blog.

He writes, ‘That passion you have for graphic art... perhaps making your painting commercial enough to sell will squeeze the joy out of it.’

He continues saying, ‘‘Maybe you can't make money doing what you love (at least what you love right now). But I bet you can figure out how to love what you do to make money (if you choose wisely). Do your art. But don't wreck your art if it doesn't lend itself to paying the bills. That would be a tragedy.’

When you monetize a passion, it almost always loses its charm. But that doesn’t mean you should let go of it. Passion can continue as a hobby as long as your career offers a lifestyle that allows sufficient time and peace of mind to pursue a hobby.

Still looking for passion? Take a break

You might just be sitting on your passion, but are unable to see it because you are too busy looking for it [like the only time I can’t find something is when I am looking for it]. And in all probability, you might be looking for ‘all things nice’; something that’s too flowery for real life.

Mark Manson said it just right when he wrote in his blog [everyone should read it if they’re too occupied looking for passion], “The issue here is, once again, expectations. If you think you’re supposed to be working 70-hour work weeks and sleeping in your office like Steve Jobs and loving every second of it, you’ve been watching too many shitty movies. If you think you’re supposed to wake up every single day dancing out of your pyjamas because you get to go to work, then you’ve been drinking the Kool-Aid. Life doesn’t work like that. It’s just unrealistic.”

Every job in the world, no matter how gratifying, feels miserable at some point. There will always be bad days and you will have to work hard to prove yourself. Keep going if it fits into the bigger picture and offers opportunities for growth and learning.

Stop waiting for a miracle – a great career is hardly ever accidental

You often come across people who seem to be at all the right places at the right time. Everything seems to be working for them. And you envy them for it. You curse your fate but hope something equally miraculous will happen to you one day.

But a great career is hardly ever accidental. People are not just there at the right time – they make it a point to show up and not lie in their bed antagonising over having to make the effort to dress up and be somewhere. They give their best to everything they do; they avail opportunities; they act fast. They may not have answers to everything right from the beginning, but they ask the right questions. What sort of life am I looking for? How much money do I want to make? How long will it take me to get there? What options do I have? What do I not know about what I want to do? Who do I want to be like?

They plan; they don’t slack.

Chalk out a plan by asking yourself where you want to be in five years, what you must do to get there, and what kind of lifestyle you are looking for. Then look for opportunities that take you closer to your objectives.

Explore, learn and grow

Little experiences, sometimes unrelated, add up to building a great career.

Focus is a pre-requisite, but remember, that to get from point A to B, you sometimes have to go via points C and D. This is not to suggest that you stop thinking your options through, but do not neglect an opportunity merely because it doesn’t fit your idea of a ‘perfect job’. Try out new things; join a new organisation; or work as a part-time volunteer to get a taste of how things work. Learn from other people and from your own mistakes. Even while at university, try choosing electives that may or may not be related to your core educational career choice, actively contribute to student societies, and participate in university events. All these experiences add to your ‘career’ growth.

Embrace the learning curve – give everything some time

Give yourself and your job some time before you decide whether or not it fits into your career plan.

If you chose a vocation because you were inspired by the lifestyle or income of someone who dedicated a lifetime to the profession, you too will have to wait to get there. There is a learning curve at every new job, and while it can sometimes get boring or intimidating, give it some time. How much time will depend on a host of factors but give it as much time as you possibly can. You will learn to enjoy your work once you get to know your colleagues, understand the potential impact you can make, figure out where you fit into the bigger picture, and see yourself grow with the organisation.

Don’t wait to find something you love, instead love what you do

Since you are doing it anyway, why not give it your best?

Sales jobs seem like the bleakest, except when one day, you close your first deal. Imagine being turned down at every try, being kicked out of offices, having calls hung up in the middle of you trying to say something. But the day you close your first deal or sell a product is the day you realise how much fun it is. But that first time is never easy; sometimes, it comes after months or years of insult and abuse.

You can’t love doing something if you consistently fail at it and are bashed for it. But you have to be persistent. You have to give it your best and continue to get better at it. Learn from every defeat and come back stronger. And then one day, one small win at a job will introduce you to your new passion. Mostly because it has come after such a struggle, it is more rewarding.

This is the single most important piece of advice you need, but many will not follow it. Still others will question it because it doesn’t sound as fancy as ‘follow your passion’ and requires patience, persistence and perseverance.

Develop meaningful relationships

This means making friends and expanding your professional network.

Any work can become a lot more rewarding if you surround yourself with people you like, people who build you up, and people who help you out of your comfort zone. Be in the company of people who are already where you would want to be. And this does mean restricting yourself to the organisation you are working for. Go to industry events and seminars at your university and engage with people. Digital social media will make it easier for you to stay connected to these people. Engage with them online and make your presence known. But just like good company can help you up the ladder, bad company can bring you down. So, choose wisely.

Develop a personal brand

This one deserves an entire series which I’ll begin working on next month, but right now, I will just explain why this is extremely crucial to designing a career you love.

Ask yourself what three words you want people to associate with you? And then do everything in your power to design your brand around those words. A powerful personal brand is a combination of your values, what you talk about, how you carry yourself, where you spend your time, what you do best, and what problems you can solve for people.

With the right personal brand, chances are career opportunities will come to you instead of you running after them.

Your CV is your passport to all the possible opportunities out there. Get your brand right with a stellar Resume Makeover.

Differentiate between job achievement and job satisfaction

At first glance, that investment banking/accountant gig may look appealing with the great benefits and salary on offer, but you should also consider whether the price for reaping those benefits comes in the form of continuously odd work hours or the rigors of a cutthroat workplace.

A great TEDx article published on the findings of Dan Ariely in a variety of workplace scenarios involving the concurrent offering of tangible (like money) and intangible (like recognition/appreciation) incentives found the intangible ones having a greater morale-boosting effect than those offered in a tangible form.

So choose career options that offer greater social freedom (like teaching) and creative autonomy (like writing/blogging), and that may give a greater sense of satisfaction in the long run. After all, what good is money if you’re too busy or depressed to spend it all?

When a person enters the workforce, they face a variety of decisions to make and a lot of factors to contend with. Accept the struggle as “growing pains”. There’s tons of advice out there but none of it will help till you put it to use. Just remember - finding a career you love or loving the career you have are things that don’t happen overnight, and often require a combination of all the above.

Good luck!

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