Reality Check: There is No Perfect Job

This is the first in a series of posts about the realities of life as I have found them.

“Find a job you love and never work again” – This quote is completely wrong.  The truth is that every career, every job, almost everything in life, has both good and bad parts mixed together.  There is no job that will make you feel like you are not working all the time. This post explores how to come to terms with this reality and helps identify how to choose a job that is maximally rewarding and enjoyable.

What does it mean to “Love Your Job”?

When people talk about loving your job they are usually not talking about your job.  They are usually talking about your profession.  This is a subtle but important distinction.  You can, and hopefully do, love your profession.  My definition of “love your job” means you love every minute of every day you are at work.  I don’t know anyone that will claim that.  Most people will say, “Well I love my job, except for …” and insert a string of random facets about their job.  This is exactly where the saying breaks down.  You may love your profession, but it is unlikely that you love every minute of every day at your job.

Another important thing to understand is the definition of a job.  A job is simply everything you do for your employer.  This means everything related to going to work, coming home from work, and everything in between (and if you work from home after getting home then that too).  If that means you wear a certain outfit to work then that is part of your job.  This means the annoying person with bad breath who decides to sneak up over your shoulder and bother you with mind-numbing stories of the past weekend that you wish would go away is part of your job.  The report your boss wants on his/her desk on Monday morning at 8am (even though he/she doesn’t show up until 10am) and doesn’t bother to read is part of your job.  The team members you work with, they are part of your job.  The output of the team is part of your job.  Your office workspace is part of your job.  Simply everything you do for your employer.

How Frequently do you “Love Your Job”?

Since you don’t love your job every minute of every day (and I am making this assumption because you’ve chosen to continue to read instead of sending me mail or moving onto another post or something else), how frequently do you love your job?  Think about this carefully.  How often do those random facets repeat themselves in a typical week?  Maybe you: dislike the weekly status reports, the daily sync-up meetings, the monthly ‘all-hands’ meetings, the fact that your cubicle buddy doesn’t shower on Mondays, the smell of the hallways after Chinese take-out is ordered, the constant interruptions from slacker coworkers, or a giant list of other things.  How often do these bother you?  How often do you IM, vent over beers, or sigh loudly about these parts of your job?

The natural argument I’ve felt in the past is, “Well the things I don’t like aren’t related to my ‘core’ job so they don’t count.”  This is a simple rationalization – everything at work is related to you job.  I used to feel my core job was writing software by itself, regardless of the management, team, environment, etc – but the truth is that I was still unhappy when the parts of my ‘core’ job were good but the rest wasn’t.  That helped me understand that my ‘core’ job is really my profession, but my job is everything that happens at work.  Being unhappy at work for me has never been about my ‘core’ job (and I believe that makes me fortunate), it has always been about the rest of things at work being bad for me.

The Compromise – What is an Ideal Job?

The compromise in feeling good about your job is to understand that no job will make you happy all the time.  There will be times in any job that suck, to put it bluntly.  There are times in any job when you won’t feel good about what you’ve accomplished, or how the team or organization has made an important decision.  If no job can make you happy all the time, when do you know that the job is ‘perfect’ for you?

The ideal job is one where you believe that 40-50% of the time you devote to it is doing what you love.  That means if you love to solve complex technical problems, then an ideal job is one where you get to do that 40% of every week.  That translates to about 3 hours a day.  Three hours a day.  Said again – if you get to do what you love for 3 hours a day then you have an ideal job.  Just let that sink in for a minute.  That means that even ideal jobs are ones that you only love 50% of the time.  The other 50% are doing things that you don’t love to do.  Maybe you like to do those things, or you don’t mind them that much, but they aren’t what you love.  Often times they aren’t what you consider your profession.  They are the minutiae associated with what you love that you put up with but never love.

How To Find Your Ideal Job?

Using the new definition above for what an ideal job is – finding your ideal job is not as much about enjoying everything you do at work as it is about loving about half of what you do at work.   So the important question to ask yourself is, “Why do I think I will love my ideal job?”  You already have a thought as to what your ideal job was (before our new definition) – so why did you think it was ideal?  Specifically, what behaviors made it your ideal job?

Behaviors used here are simply a generalization of the various facets of any job.  A behavior may mean the style of participation encouraged in group meetings.  It may mean how written reports are expected to be formatted.  It may mean the dress code.  It may mean the working style, working hours, or any number of things that define a work environment and the work you do.  List the behaviors that you enjoy the most.  These behaviors are the guiding principles for how to find the perfect job for you.

The ideal job for you is one in a discipline of personal interest of that lets you perform the behaviors you enjoy.  The more behaviors you get to utilize on a regular basis while doing a job the more happy you will be at that job.  In an ideal job you will get to exhibit the specific behaviors you love about half the time.  It doesn’t sound ideal, but that is the lesson to learn.  In such a situation remember the following – You won’t be happy all the time, but on a semi-regular frequency you will be delighted.  And on a less-semi-regular frequency you will be annoyed.  And that is the ideal job to have.

Please let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

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