Words of wisdom from Mike Rowe, of “Dirty Jobs”.
I have to say from personal experience, his advice to a fan about how to find fulfilling work that suits your life really works.
The fan writes:
I’ve spent this last year trying to figure out the right career for myself and I still can’t figure out what to do. I have always been a hands on kind of guy and a go-getter. I could never be an office worker. I need change, excitement, and adventure in my life, but where the pay is steady. I grew up in construction and my first job was a restoration project. I love everything outdoors. I play music for extra money. I like trying pretty much everything, but get bored very easily. I want a career that will always keep me happy, but can allow me to have a family and get some time to travel.
And Mike Rowe responds in a thorough and well-thought-out manner which includes:
Stop looking for the “right” career, and start looking for a job. Any job. Forget about what you like. Focus on what’s available. Get yourself hired. Show up early. Stay late. Volunteer for the scut work. Become indispensable. You can always quit later, and be no worse off than you are today. But don’t waste another year looking for a career that doesn’t exist. And most of all, stop worrying about your happiness. Happiness does not come from a job. It comes from knowing what you truly value, and behaving in a way that’s consistent with those beliefs.
The idea of just getting hired is key — especially in this job market. We’ve got truckloads of grads coming out of colleges and universities, all looking for something that suits them… and we’ve also got truckloads of recent grads playing X-box or Netflixing on their parents’ couches because they “can’t find anything”. Some of them have been “growing stale” for a number of years, as they don’t find exactly the right opportunity that matches their expectations.
Having entered the job market at a time that was unprecedented in its utter crappiness since the Great Depression (it was 1987, when the bottom fell out of the stock market and large-scale layoffs were rampant in the area where I lived), and having never been unemployed for longer than 2 weeks since early 1988, I can’t say I feel a lot of pity for recent grads — or their parents who allow them to languish.
What I’ve found, after more than 25 years in the workforce, is that just getting a job is a much bigger insurance policy against career stagnation, than refusing to “settle” for something that’s “beneath” me. Why?
Three big reasons:
First, it keeps your resume from developing any holes. Trust me, you don’t want holes in your resume. It tells the world that nobody wants you — and if nobody on the face of the planet has been interested in you for extended periods of time, why should prospective employers have an interest in you? They take their clues about your character and your work ethic and your desirability from your job history. So, if you plainly show that nobody was interested in you before, it makes prospective employers very, very nervous.
Second, it opens you up to potential opportunities to advance inside companies. I’ve taken plenty of jobs that were “below my skill level” — and you know what? They’ve always parlayed into something bigger and better.
Every. Single. Time.
The temp-to-perm marketing admin position I took with a little B2B publishing company, about a year after I left school turned into a Cardpack Coordinator position that put me in charge of a growing direct marketing channel that expanded exponentially over the time I was there and brought in a whole lot of money. This came after a year of working temp positions that provided me a steady paycheck and distressed my concerned parents to no end, because I was being “shiftless” — or something like that.
The office manager position I took with a little software company turned into a position as the Head of Documentation for a software product that was way ahead of its time and got me hands-on experience with DOS (remember that?), Windows, AND Mac platforms.
Along the way, I’ve had a lot of “scut work” jobs that everybody said were “beneath me”. But you know what? They always – always – always turned into something else. Something better. Because I figured out how to parlay them into a bigger and better opportunity — either at the company where they were located, or at another company that needed the kinds of skills I’d developed doing “grunt work”.
Third, it keeps you busy, and it keeps you hungry. There’s nothing like having to get out of bed every day to go off to a job you don’t like, to fuel your fire for self-improvement. If you hate your damn’ job, and you know you’re capable of so much more, it gives you plenty of incentive and energy to develop yourself for something better.
I got into web development that way — I was working a “good job” that had a lot of responsibility, power, and influence and looked great on paper, but I was miserable.
So. Utterly. Miserable.
So, what did I do? I found something I liked better, and I studied it like a mad person, each and every day. I had a 30-minute commute to and from my job, and I used that half hour each day to study up and learn the skills I needed in order to make my move. I practiced like a possessed person on the weekends. I was totally focused on Doing Something Else, and that desire for something better drove me, day in and day out.
After a little more than a year’s time, when my ability level was up to snuff, I revamped my resume and posted it online. And not long after, I got a call from a recruiter with a sweet opportunity that got me out of that hell-hole job pronto. It was a breath of fresh air — which I’d been earning with consistent hard work and dedication for quite some time.
I went from dreading going to work, to loving it. And even volunteering to go above and beyond. And the annual earnings goal that I’d set for myself a few years before (I intended to earn x-amount of dollars by the time I was 35), I reached a few years early.
Not only was I doing work I loved, but I was making a better living than I’d honestly thought I could make.
I doubt that would have happened, if I’d taken a job that “suited me fine” instead of that job I grew to hate. Sure, I could have found something half-way decent that I liked a little bit more, but that would never have fueled my fire for self-improvement, and if I’d stayed on an “okay” track, my present situation would be much more… modest, than it is today.
Ultimately, the thing that really matters to how successful you are — more than any qualifications you have or any career designs or ambitions or personal interests — is not where you are. It’s where you will be. What your potential is. And it’s about making sure others know you’ve got potential — so they can support and promote you.
That’s largely determined by what you bring to your work — which contributes to the greater whole. It’s not all about you. What you bring to it gets noticed. And the degree to which you contribute, determines your value, your hireability, and ultimately your long-term prospects.
In the end, what really makes it possible to find the perfect career, is to make yourself the perfect person for the job — no matter what job you’re doing at the time.