Thoughts on a Career Worth Having

"How can we explain this? Certainly factors like the sluggish economic recovery and stuck wages play a role, but I think the real answer is even more straightforward: It’s not clear how one designs a satisfying career in today’s professional culture, especially if lasting fulfillment (as opposed to salary maximization) is the goal." - Nathanial Koloc

The quotation above is one of the main ideas that's driving my research efforts as a Ph.D student. People move jobs more than ever nowadays and the traditional plan of getting a "good job" and working your way up an organization over 40 years is largely a relic of the past. There needs to be new ways to think about what a successful career looks like in today's more fluid job market.

Koloc argues that we should seek legacy, mastery, and freedom (in that order). I have qualms with that order, but fully support those concepts otherwise. I think mastery often drives freedom and legacy but I'll leave my quibbles with the specific order for another time. I'm particularly interested in the idea of freedom and how more and more people are consciously choosing careers as freelancers to fulfill this need. A career of conscious freelancing or solopreneurship is becoming more and more viable and I want to understand the forces that preduct and support success in this kind of work.

The final point of the article is one that I predictably throw my full weight behind: treat your career like a grand experiment. 

"I use the word “grand” to describe this experiment because the reality is that your career is not just a way to earn a living. It’s your chance to discover what you’re here for and what you love."

It can be easy to lose sight of this in the quest to make enough money to keep food on the table but I think we do so at our own peril. I think work should be more than a transaction where you shut off your brain and emotion and dreams for 8 hours a day in exchange for a modicum of security. 

We can do better than that.

Your Life Is Not a Children's Movie

"These (literally) childish plot devices are eerily similar to the popular conversations surrounding career planning. The passion culture tells us that the key to an extraordinary life is to look deep, be true to your inner passion, and courageously ignore the naysayers as you pursue your dream." -- Cal Newport

Animated children's movies are becoming more formulaic and perpetrating the cult of self-esteem. Whether you're a rat that wants to cook or a panda that wants to be a kung-fu master the key seems to be simply believing in yourself. While this is perhaps harmless (although that's debatable) in a children's movie, Cal makes the point that much of today's career advice sounds a lot like Disney movies. From a popular career guide:

"You see, I believe you already have everything you need inside of you. You are good enough the way you are. You’ve simply learned ideas that keep you from living up to your full potential.”


Cal points out that this is not deep wisdom. Finding your passion and overcoming naysayers does not a successful career make. Real life is much messier, complicated, and frankly boring, than most career advice would have you believe. 

Find something that at least holds your interest for a little bit. Become completely engaged in it and develop your skills to the point where you actually have expertise. Continue exploring the process and refining the skills of your chosen profession and you're likely to see passion emerge. It's not something to be found and there aren't naysayers holding you back from the life you're "meant" to live. 

You are not a crop duster that wants to become a world class racer or a snail that wants to go fast. You are a person who has control over where you put your attention and energy. That's a super power most children's movies have yet to explore.