Very few people get to work at a job they love. First of all, there’s more competition for fun, exciting or rewarding jobs, so they tend to pay less and be less stable than more dull jobs. Second, entire industries are disappearing and taking the jobs with them – overseas, or into automation. Right now, most of us are lucky to find a job at all, but the truth is, even in a great economy, you just can’t always do work you enjoy.
If you care what you do for a living, you’re probably a passionate person who has specific dreams or ambitions. I’m one too, so this is all coming from personal experience.
Find a job with a good company
The most wonderful job in the world can be hell if you’re working for crazy or nasty people. And a tedious or difficult job can seem kind of wonderful if you have a company that values you and treats you with respect and fairness. Even if they don’t pay enough – seriously, who you have to work with and for matters, and can add to your quality of life even when everything else about your job is putting a big fat ding in it.
In my own case, I realized early on there was no job I wanted. I wanted to write fiction for a living, which is not something you get a degree in and then get recruited into a nice fiction-writing firm with a stock bonus plan. It also doesn’t pay well at all, unless you become a best-seller. If you’re like me, there are two ways to handle this:
- Accept a job that’s kind of like what you wanted. For example, I could’ve gone to school and become a journalist – it’s not fiction, but it’s writing for a living. The reason I didn’t is that if I spent all day writing for other people, I didn’t think I’d have the creative energy left over to write for myself. And I really wanted to write for myself.
- Get a day job. Find a job that pays the bills, is low stress and doesn’t require overtime. Then spend time outside your job doing the work you love until you convince someone to pay you for that work. Remember to love the work you do for yourself rather than focusing on the fact that you can’t do it full-time, or you’ll end up overworked and frustrated.
It’s also important to realize that you may just plain guess wrong when you’re 20 and deciding on a major. You may put in all the work to become a lawyer, but find the market for lawyers is just too competitive and you can’t do the sort of work you want. Or you may love the work you do for twenty years and suddenly wake up one day and realize you’re suffocating and you’d rather own a bait and tackle shop. Or your family may pressure you to go into engineering for job security when you’d be much happier as a graphic artist, even if the money’s tight.
When you’re young, there’s so much horrible pressure to decide once and for all how you’re going to spend the next forty-some freakin’ years of your life, and all I can say to that is: relax. You cannot possibly predict where you’re going to be in 20 years or how you’re going to feel about it.
Enjoy your co-workers
Even if your job and your company are painful, you may find you have some wonderful co-workers. These are people you can vent to, have lunch with, or even hang out with outside your job. You may even find some of them have connections at other, nicer companies, or can advise you on how to start working for yourself, if that’s an option that interests you.
Working on the side
If the work you love is something you can do alongside your crappy job, do it. Whether you do it for a charity, for yourself or whatever, just do it – because that’s how you’ll meet people who can help you get where you want to be.
If what you really want to do just isn’t something you can pursue as a sideline, it’s still smart to spend some time outside of your job networking with the sort of people who can help you. You’ll find them in surprising places, too: free classes, charities, sports… anywhere successful people hang out to relax or give something back to the community, you can find people who will introduce you to other people or give you helpful advice. Most people want to show you how connected or smart they are, so it’s not hard to get them started telling you what they know (though with really successful people, I’ve noticed I have to work harder to pry any secrets out of them, which says a lot).
Keep the dream job in your sites
Don’t give up! Even if you have to work at a job you hate for years, perseverance is the key. As long as you keep trying, eventually something falls into place. You may never get to do the dream job you once envisioned (I’m not even sure I want to write fiction anymore), but you’ll find something else you love that lets you earn enough to replace a full time job.
Need some frustration relief? Read The Onion’s article on the same topic.
Updated Jul 16, 2012.