Attaining Career Happiness: Aiming for the Perfect Job

By Robert Mandelberg, CPRW, CEIP 

When I ask a client what type of position he or she is seeking, the response is usually along the lines of: “Well, I’ve been in purchasing the past 12 years, so I suppose I don’t really have a choice” or “My whole career has been in retail, so I guess that’s where I’ll be looking” or even worse, “I’ve been in real estate for over 20 years; I’m too old to try anything new.”

Do you see the common thread among these responses? There seems to be a feeling of being trapped. Doomed! Sentenced to live out the rest of their lives in careers they don’t like, can’t escape from, and are forced to endure.

A popular belief is that once you begin a career, you are powerless to change to something else. But is this necessarily the case? Let’s take a look at some of the reasons people feel compelled to continue in their careers even though they may not have passion for or interest in the work:

Comfort Zone: It is very difficult for people to go beyond the familiar into the unknown. For example, a nurse with ten years of experience is comfortable in a healthcare setting. She has developed strong clinical skills, knows her way around hospitals, and has a pretty good idea what to expect. No surprises. She may not be satisfied with her job, but the thought of venturing outside of her familiar environment is stressful and even terrifying.

Starting Over: A stock broker with 15 years of experience remembers the early days of his career: cold calling, learning the ropes, and getting stuck with the less desirable tasks. He has worked hard and paid his dues to get to the level he enjoys today. Why would he sacrifice his growth and achievements just to try something new?

Salary: Although it is possible to maintain or even increase levels of pay when switching careers, salary levels generally decline when entering a new field. And not to mention benefits! Once someone has worked up to five weeks’ vacation, it becomes difficult to think about going back to one or two weeks.

Given the above reasons, why on earth would anyone ever consider changing their careers? The truth is that there are a lot more factors at play than salary and comfort level alone. Job satisfaction is an important consideration. According to a 2005 national survey by The Conference Board, only 50% of all Americans are content with their jobs. And of these 50%, a mere 14% are “very satisfied.”

The issue is quality of life. What are you willing to do to achieve job satisfaction? Can you afford to sacrifice a little salary to gain peace of mind, more time with your family, and work that you actually enjoy? Don’t you want a career that makes you feel passionate, satisfied, and alive?

 The good news: For many, it’s not too late. You’re not too old. You can learn new skills. You can make a transition. You can improve the quality of your life!

 Okay, if you’ve been a marketing coordinator for 25 years in the steel industry in Pennsylvania, but your goal has always been to play centerfield for the Phillies, that ship may have already sailed. But! If sports is your passion, what would be the harm of sending a resume to the Phillies for a position in their marketing department? And if that doesn’t work, how about the Pirates? The 76ers? (well, maybe not the 76ers – you have to hold some standards!). Unless your financial obligations are so great that your family couldn’t survive any type of pay cut, then you owe it to yourself to at least investigate other options.

Here’s your action plan: Since you are already considering looking for another job anyway, make two lists. The first is your “safe” list. Write down all of the companies that would seriously consider someone with your credentials. This list will most likely focus on opportunities in or closely related to your existing industry.

But then make another list. This is your fantasy list - a list of jobs you’ve always wanted. Why should you spend the rest of your life in an unsatisfying career without at least trying to get your dream job?

Even if your ideal career is a one-in-a-million long shot, take a chance anyway; you have absolutely nothing to lose. Be creative, resourceful, and enthusiastic in your job search, and you may find yourself working in a career that brings you a wealth of enjoyment and personal satisfaction.

This is a risk-free strategy. Since you are applying to the safe jobs as well, you will not be losing any productivity on your higher percentage job search. And if you are unable to find your dream job – or if you investigate a career change and decide to stay in your current field anyway, then you will have the satisfaction of knowing that you at least made the attempt.

Your career and your future are in your hands.

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