Pursuing Your Dream

Recently Dick Bolles, author of What Color Is Your Parachute, posted an article on LinkedIn about the importance of pursuing your dreams. In the article, he asked readers to answer three questions:

  1. WHAT do you most love to do?
  2. WHERE would you most love to do it? and
  3. HOW do you name such jobs, and how do you find such jobs?

Ignoring the fact that this is four questions, not three, the point I want to make is that Bolles emphasizes that the word love is important, and that even in a recession, job seekers need to be “picky” and keep searching until they find a job that they can be passionate about. What’s particularly interesting to me about this article is that he does not address other recent publications that have argued that “do what you love” is elitist and, according to Miya Tokumitsu, “leads not to salvation, but to the devaluation of actual work, including the very work it pretends to elevate — and more importantly, the dehumanization of the vast majority of laborers.” This philosophy is echoed by Gordon Marino who says, “Our desires should not be the ultimate arbiters of vocation. Sometimes we should do what we hate, or what most needs doing, and do it as best we can.”

These contradictory articles are very good at making their arguments about the role of work in the life of the individual, but not particularly good at suggesting what it is that you should do based on the arguments. On the one hand, you may love reading novels or drinking beer or playing tennis, but are you going to be able to turn that into a career? Conversely, the world may need more farmers or plumbers or elementary school teachers, but does that mean you should pursue one of those careers because it is needed (even though you’re allergic to sunshine or don’t particularly have the patience for small children)?

I think the secret to resolving these differences lies in answering three slightly different questions, that I’ve not seen discussed in other articles:

  1. What do you value? If it’s family, you may need to find a career that won’t ask for long hours and travel. If it’s social justice, you may need to think about a career that will allow you to help the disadvantaged. If it’s being part of a team (or alternatively, working independently), that will influence the type of organization where you work. If it’s working with your hands, or making something tangible, or earning a big salary, those will influence your choices. For everyone, it’s likely that there will be some combination of things you feel are important, not just one, but figuring this out ahead of time can be useful. I changed careers more than two decades ago because there came a time in my life where it was more important for me both to help people and reduce the stress in my life than to earn a big salary—and that’s when I became a college professor.
  2. What are you willing to sacrifice? Every job has trade-offs: the amount of money you can earn, the potential for advancement, the hours you’re expected to work (both in terms of the times of day and the total number of hours), the people you interact with, the physical space you work in, the size and culture of the organization, the geographical location, the expectation for travel, and so on. No position is going to provide you with exactly what you’re looking for, so you need to prioritize the various features to help you make decisions about jobs that may interest you. For me, the sacrifice was money, but at the same time I gained more control over my schedule and more time to spend with family. My book has numerous tips that can help you think about the things that will provide you with a satisfying work life and that will help you establish your priorities.
  3. What are you good at? No matter how much you may want to be a rock star, you have to be very good (make that very, very, very good) and very lucky to turn that into a career. Think about all the things that you are very, very good at and that you enjoy doing, and see if you can’t make one or more of them into a career. My book’s first step, identify your skills and strengths, helps you do both of these things: figure out what you’re good at and uncover the type of career that requires your strengths.

Employment (for most of us) is essential. Money is great. But finding a place to exchange your time and effort for money where you can feel good about what you’re doing can make your live much more enjoyable.