Published on: 12 April 2021 • 3 min read
If you were given 75,000 hours to do anything, how would you use that time? That's the number of hours that full-time workers clock up over the course of their careers, according to Art Markman, a psychology professor at the University of Texas and author of Bring Your Brain to Work. For many of us, says New York Times writer Tim Herrera, that time might be used better. In the "Smarter Living" section of the Times, Herrera poses a question: "Are you doing what you actually want to be doing?" Most people—80% according to life coach Scott Dinsmore—are not happy in their jobs. Here are some concrete suggestions for how to become part of the one-in-five who really enjoys their work, along with practical tips on researching a more satisfying career.
As we start thinking about being happier at work, it's worth distinguishing whether it's a wholesale change of profession you're looking for, or more a question of reshaping (or "optimizing") the job you're currently doing. For optimization, some coaches recommend keeping a record of the tasks you enjoy—as well as those projects you dislike. By noting these different activities over several weeks, you should generate patterns. Pick out the positive elements, then craft a long-term plan on how to make these a larger part of your job and your career.
Choosing career presents a more comprehensive challenge. Many of the strategies that have been used traditionally by workers involve some kind of visualization—a process of imagining or planning what their next job will look like. One planning path is to follow your passion: think about your major interest and use it as the cornerstone of your new career. "When you're really interested in something, and you're really engaged in it," says life coach Christie Mims, "you're going to be happy, you're going to be fulfilled." A second suggestion is to spend time figuring out your values, then find a profession that matches that philosophy. "The litmus test for job satisfaction is what you would do no matter how much you were being paid," says career coach Maggie Mistal. "Some people want that excitement of having every day be different. Others want to be creative in their work. For other people it could be about giving back."
After all the visualizing and the planning, jobseekers still need authentic information about the new potential careers. "Go out and talk to real people," says Mims. "Talk to at least three or four people in the industry, field, or career that you're thinking about exploring or pivoting to." Bill Burnett and Dave Evans, the authors of Designing Your Life, refer to these as "prototype conversations." Whether it's a career in enterprise-level CRM sales or a position as a financial analyst in the banking industry, there are hundreds of professionals who are already making a living in that field.
There are a range of ways to reach these professionals. For some jobseekers, it's about emailing family and friends to leverage their contacts. Tell them exactly what you're looking for, ask if they have contacts in that industry who could help you, and follow up those leads. For others, LinkedIn is a portal to access key professionals: search for the relevant terms, research the appropriate professionals (demonstrating your research both proves your interest and flatters them), then send them a message. "I really like the work you're doing. I was particularly interested in the article you wrote last week. Would you mind spending 15 minutes speaking about your industry with me?"
A third way to set up these informational interviews is through an innovative platform such as CareerLunch, which enables knowledge workers to do their own research. "CareerLunch offers an easy and convenient way," said one user, "to get in touch with companies and more importantly people who take their time for you and provide deep insight." Another CareerLunch user met with a strategy consultant at one of the top consulting firms, saying, "I had the opportunity to gain valuable insights into the company and the values that define the workplace's culture. I also learned about the specific role itself and the responsibilities therein. It was beneficial to be exposed to a successful career path within the firm and discuss the skills necessary to adapt to this dynamic environment and thrive in your role".
Learning more about industry sectors, possible careers, and individual roles empowers jobseekers, giving them real data on which to base their decision. With genuine information, much of the apprehension and assumptions that might block you are taken away. And by the time you start your new journey, you'll do so with clear eyes and the knowledge to adapt successfully and thrive.