Is your job right for you?
In a world of limitless possibilities making a definitive choice about the work we do can be debilitating. The American psychologist, Barry Schwartz, refers to this as the Paradox of Choice. This abundance of choice, he says, can often lead to depression and feelings of loneliness. When faced with a global job market how do we begin to decide what would best work for us? Most surveys in the West suggest that around half of us are unhappy in our jobs so perhaps our decision process can be faulty.
We put huge amount of pressure on ourselves to land the perfect job. The good news is though that on average a job lasts four to five years, so your choice is not forever and there are some helpful frameworks to improve our thinking on this crucial subject.
At the top level, there are three components to our work:
- Role- what work I am actually going to be doing, am I going to be on my own and self-employed or part of a team? Am I part of something is that growing, shrinking, transforming?
- Sector- what does the organisation do? Is the sector healthy? Is the sector highly specialised (medicine) or more general (retail)?
- Location- where in the world / UK London is my work based? Am I travelling locally or internationally? What is the actual work environment like?
Part of the problem is that some of these questions are hard to figure out from outside a company. I had an incredible experience at an immersive theatre night where I experienced being (really being) a university lecturer, TV chef and detective inspector, amongst other jobs, in one night. What it made me realise (apart from how great the evening would be for people trying to decide on their career) was how much simple things like environment, colleagues and clients mattered. This sounds obvious, but thinking and questioning deeply about where you spend your day (location), what you are actually doing and whom you are doing it with, whether clients or colleagues, is crucial (role and sector). This is what we did at school age with work experience. My 48 hours in Slough General Hospital finished my ambition to be a doctor, partly, but not exclusively, due to semi-fainting in the operating theatre. Why can’t we all do work experience?
Roman Krznaric, in his great book, “How To Find Fulfilling Work”, has an exercise called Imaginary Lives. He asks you to imagine five parallel universes where you have a whole year off to pursue whatever career you wanted. Write down those five jobs and have a good think about what they entail (rock star was one of mine as was barrister and university professor). Once you have these, how do you assess each one? What factors or criteria do you use?
For many of us, money is seen as a big factor but what else? The CEB Global Labour Market Survey in 2014 showed that work-life balance was the key factor with location, stability and respect as the next factors. Manpower found five key priorities for millennials, which included money, security, time off, great people and flexible working.
I run a workshop with clients called Perfect Job. It focuses on teasing out what is most important to them about work (their needs or criteria), and then looks at where they are most likely to have those needs meet. If you would like to like use on of the worksheets from the exercise, click here.
Having done this with over 50 clients, these are the top five needs that people identify as most important:
- Alignment with the values and culture of the business
- Interesting work
- Autonomy at work
- Financial reward
- Great team
Try taking your needs and now matching them against your five jobs in your parallel universes. It can be hard to imagine how well a job might meet your criteria- go find out. Ask people who work in that sector / company, read up what is in the public domain. Go for interviews. Gather as much information as you can for this decision. Be proactive. It amazes me how often people describe their careers as; “then company X approached me and then I moved to company Y because they made me a great offer.” This may work for you, but at least every five years, I recommend a complete review and re-appraisal of your career and job. Making a positive choice to stay in your company or sector is very different to staying through inertia or a lack of curiosity.
For many people, being an entrepreneur is one of their five parallel universe jobs. It is hard to really understand what it is like to start and build your own business. I have developed a few questions here that give you some insight into how well suited you may be for this route. Another common conundrum is whether to lead or be a Number 2. This requires some real thinking about your strengths and times in your life where you have excelled. Much as being the boss seems attractive, in many cases recognising you are a great enabler or Number 2 can be less stressful and more rewarding.
My overall message would be to spend time on this. Involve others, a partner or a friend or a coach. Doing this on your own tends to trigger the same repetitive thought patterns. Be honest about what you enjoy and what you are good at. Sadly, it is unlikely that anyone else will pick your job for you. If you don’t figure out what the right job is for you then you are likely to end up at a career crisis at some point in your life.
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