What you need #2: Work that you love — from the Career Opportunities Podcast

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What do you need to have a successful career? I think one of the most important parts of any career is finding work that you love to do. Great careers are not built on work you don’t mind doing or work you can do without any effort or work you can tolerate. Great careers are built on doing work that you love to do — work that you can’t imagine not doing — and work that excites you, invigorates you and gets you out of bed each morning ready to tackle whatever comes your way. 

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Does this sound like a fantasy? Does it make you think, “There can’t possibly be work like that for me!” The fact is, though, that everyone can and should find work that they love to do. Your future — indeed our future as a people — rests on more people finding life’s work through which they can dramatically heighten their effect on the world. The past is past and will not serve us anymore. America — and many other industrialized countries — are no longer worlds of manufacturing and hard, physical labor. The work world is now one of thinking and dreaming and acting to make those dreams come true. If you want to find your place in this new world, finding work you love can be an important first step.

I know, many of you might be thinking, “but work is meant to be onerous, dull and difficult. That is the way it has always been.” While that may have been true in the past, I don’t think it is a requirement for the future. Sure, you can stunt your career growth by failing to develop skills, failing to find your niche in the work world or failing to understand how the work world has changed. If you do these things it is nearly assured that you will have the type of career that was prevalent in the past. A career that is “nasty, brutish and short” to quote Thomas Hobbes. Today, though, you have a choice. You can work hard for someone else or you can work hard for yourself and your career.

If you believe that your work and career must be onerous, dull and difficult, then that is exactly what you will achieve. We are all burdened with concepts from the previous generations — and previous centuries. Some parents and other elders might explain to us that work is meant to be unpleasant — something you merely tolerate — rather than a place to find fulfillment. While this might have been more true in the past, here and now in 2013 there is no need for this to be true. We have more freedom and more ability to develop the careers — and lives — we deserve than ever before in history. We only need to reach out and grasp the opportunities we are given and stop trying to develop a career with a 19th Century mindset.

How do you find work that you love?

First, you have to discover what work you are most capable of doing. You’ll need to do some hard thinking about what natural skills you bring to the table. Are you good with mathematics, spatial concepts, logic, empathy, interpersonal skills? Then you need to think about how you might apply your natural skills to your life’s work. If you are empathetic and have good interpersonal skills, you might go into caregiving, psychology, medicine or a host of other people-related careers. Do you excel at logic and math? Careers in statistics, investing, and programming might hold interest for you.

The best thing about starting with this approach is that when you discover and think about your natural skills, it often points the way to your desires, too. If you have natural skills in one area, you may find that that is also work that you would love to do on a daily basis. This isn’t always true, of course, but following your natural skills certainly leads you in the right direction. Too many of us never think about our skills and our desires when building a career and we often end up in jobs that go against our own interests.

Once you have discovered your natural skill set, you can begin to look for work that builds on those natural skills as much as possible. While looking, think about ways that your skills and work might have great effects on the people, companies and world around you. Where can you do the most good for both yourself and the world? Where can you have the most impact? This is where you should focus your attention. In fact, that becomes a great early decision factor for accepting or rejecting any individual job. Is this a job/company where you can have great effect or will you be just another cog in the machine? Effective people build a career where “cogs” are simply replaced with another, similar cog, when the need arises.

If you need help in discovering your natural skills — and your career likes and dislikes, please take a look at my book, Career Compass: Finding Your Career North. There I detail a method of discovering the work that you love to do and also the work you most dislike. With this knowledge you can begin seeking out and accepting jobs that will lead to your great career and not some poor duplicate of your parents’ — or even worse, grandparents’ — careers.

I believe that you might do adequate work in a job or career you do not love. You might even, on occasion, do good work. I also believe, though, that you can never do GREAT work at a job or career that you do not love. Love is an essential ingredient in any great career. Love allows you to grow. Love gives you the energy and drive to work hard — perhaps harder than ever before. Love drives you to acquire new skills, new knowledge and new insights so you can have even more effect on the world. Love is what keeps you working when faced with difficult challenges. Love is what helps you build the career you deserve!


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