Do you want an absolutely perfect job? Where you make tons of money, have no stress, only do exactly what you love and have complete security? Don’t worry – Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy are teaming up to deliver it to you on February 30th. Or… if you’d rather find an imperfect job that you can still love, read on!
“Perfect” Is The Enemy of “Great”
When you get right down to it, all jobs fall into one of two categories: Jobs that fill your needs, and jobs that don’t. The problem is that many people make the false assumption that only a tiny, tiny percentage of jobs fit that first category, and everything else falls into the second. The reality is almost the opposite.
The reason people tend to think this way is they view jobs as if they have to be perfect from day one. They want their job to be like a beautiful piece of jewelry – perfect from the moment you take it out of the box and put it on, static and unchanging, made by someone else and fitting you exactly right. Jobs aren’t like that at all! The better analogy is that a great job isn’t like a piece of jewelry; it’s like a gold mine. There’s a ton of value, but it’s not shaped specifically to you – yet. Your technique and effort will matter a lot to how much of that value you can personally capture. It will always change, but the value will keep growing as well.
If you’re turning down a gold mine because you’re waiting for the gold necklace to appear, you’ll be waiting a long time, and you’ll be unhappy while you wait.
What does this mean for me?
I’ve had many jobs I love. I’ve even had jobs I would call “ideal.” Even the ideal jobs probably contained roughly 70% activity that I wouldn’t describe as stuff I loved doing. For every hour I get to spend coaching and helping people directly (the stuff I love and that gives me deep satisfaction!), there are probably three total hours on average of emails, research, meetings, and administrative tasks that I do in order to keep myself prepared for the “good stuff.” I don’t love those things, but I recognize their long-term value; they make me a better coach, better at business, and better positioned to help the people I love helping.
That’s all jobs. So why don’t we feel that way?
You see all the reality of your own job. All the gritty details. When you look at other jobs – people on television, your friends on social media, etc. – you’re getting a highlight reel. You’re getting a glimpse of the “good stuff” I described, but you’re not seeing the boring-but-essential support structure. Ever watch a legal drama on television? That might give you the impression that a lawyer’s job is glamorous, all high-profile court cases and dramatic speeches. The reality is that it’s 95% contract review and other paperwork, but that doesn’t make for a good show.
Does this mean I should just stay in my existing job, and not look for anything better?
It just means that when you’re looking to better yourself, you shouldn’t hold out for “perfect.” You should aim for… well, “better!” Life is about incremental improvements, and if you’re always doing a little bit better than before, you’re in great shape.
Many people are presented with many opportunities for something better, and they pass on them or don’t pursue them because the opportunity isn’t “perfect.” Some people walk right by that gold mine because they don’t like the idea of picking up a shovel to start digging!
Process of Elimination
Enough theory and analogy – let’s get into actionable steps you can take to find a great job or career without getting in your own way.
First, let’s examine the reasons many people eliminate opportunities from consideration. Here is a list of common reasons I hear people not wanting to even consider a particular job:
- The job title isn’t glamorous enough/the job isn’t high-status.
- It doesn’t pay enough, and/or the non-pay compensation isn’t good enough.
- It’s too far from where I live.
- The workload is too intense/too many hours.
- It involves skills I don’t have.
- I’m not completely passionate about the work itself.
Individually, any one of those is perfectly reasonable! Now consider what you’re saying if you take all of them together, “I’ll only consider high-status, high-paying jobs with great benefits that are close to my home, aren’t difficult and are exactly aligned with my existing skillset and deepest passions.” When you say it like that, it starts to sound like there aren’t many jobs out there for you, doesn’t it?
The reality is, you need to prioritize your deal-breakers. Think about much more reasonable versions of the above statement, such as, “I’ll only consider high-paying jobs with great benefits, but I’m willing to travel, work hard, and learn new skills in order to get one!”
Or perhaps, “I’ll only consider jobs that are relatively easy and have flexible schedules, but I’m willing to learn new skills and trade some salary for that benefit, which is the most important thing to me.”
Your current job might not be giving you any of those things, so trading up is great! But if you’re waiting for the “perfect” opportunity, you might be stuck in a bad job for a long time, when you could have been in a great one.
Over time, you can make each new adjustment a positive one.
Consider This Scenario:
Instead of waiting for a “perfect” job that meets all those criteria above, you accept a job that you’re passionate about and has the status you want, but is lower pay, farther away, has an intense workload and involves skills you don’t have.
After a few months, you’ve picked up those new skills, because you rolled up your sleeves. So now the job no longer is as difficult.
Because you have new skills, you’re more efficient, and you manage to cut down on the working hours gradually as well, while still maintaining high performance.
Because you’re getting better and more efficient at the work, you’re able to negotiate for a higher salary.
Bit by bit, you’ve turned that great job into a nearly perfect one. The only issue left is your commute time – it’s still almost an hour each way. So maybe you negotiate for more remote work time, or maybe you use your new salary to buy a nicer place close to work. But maybe instead, you look for a new opportunity closer to your home! It’s a lower status/titled position to start, but once you get in…
Rinse, repeat. Incremental improvements towards a perfected life.
Enough About The Negatives. Let’s Talk Positives!
Now we have an idea of what kinds of things we shouldn’t allow to be deal-breakers. We’ve learned how to compromise. So what should you look for in terms of benefits to you? What helps turn your career into a constant climb, getting better and better?
I have a list that I call my Five Golden Criteria for evaluating job or career opportunities. The more of these questions that can be answered with a resounding “yes,” the better an opportunity it is. If you chase these five positive things instead of simply trying to avoid the negative things above, you’ll find that your career satisfaction is tremendously improved!
- Will I learn new skills in this role?
- The more skills you have, the more valuable you are. The more valuable you are, the better you’re positioned in future career moves. This isn’t about learning totally new industries or wildly different career tracks (although it can be!); it can just be about learning new technologies, new applications of your existing skill set, or new industry trends within your current field. Everyone wants a job they’re great at already, but don’t be afraid of a job that will challenge you. In fact, embrace it!
- Will I have the opportunity here to expand my professional network?
- Your professional network is going to be an absolutely critical component of your career. It will be more important than any single job. No matter where you go, you should always be meeting and engaging with people – the more, and the more varied, the better. Not only is a network of great peers an awesome motivational tool, but it’s also your security in many ways. A great network can be your escape hatch if things go bad, a lifeline to call when you’re faced with a difficult problem, or even just a way to vent temporary frustrations. Working in isolation can really hurt your love of even a great job, so look for the community!
- Will I have the ability to demonstrate distinct excellence, unique to me?
- I’ve seen this happen so many times. Someone gets a job, they like it okay, and they do a good job at it. No problems or issues. And then 5, 10 or 20 years later they want to leave and do something else, but they can’t point back at a single distinct accomplishment. It’s no fault of their own; that’s the nature of many jobs. But what you should look for are opportunities to put your name on something. To risk failure and step out from the crowd in order to have something you can point to and say, “Do you see that awesome thing that improved this company? I did that!”
- Is the company itself really impressive, interesting, or innovative in some way?
- A great way to increase your job satisfaction is to be proud of the team you’re on. Think about companies you’re a fan of – sports franchises, movie studios, favorite brands, whatever you like. Chances are, you can talk about them pretty passionately! If you worked for a company that you loved like that, that same passion will work its way into your role, even if your role isn’t ideal in every way. For years I sold medical devices for the world’s largest prosthetics company. I didn’t find my role very exciting, but I loved what my company did – they were designing cutting-edge technology to let amputees reclaim their lives. I watched para-Olympians win gold medals with our prosthetic legs, and watched a man who lost an arm play violin again with a hand my company built for him. That made me really proud to be on that team, even though I didn’t work with those people directly.
- Are the people I would work with really awesome?
- This one is last because it’s easily both the most important and the most underrated! Most people, unfortunately, don’t give nearly enough consideration to this factor. Companies aren’t theoretical constructs – they’re made of people. Those people will be the largest factor in your job satisfaction. A mediocre job can be made amazing by great leaders and co-workers, and even an amazing (on paper) job can be ruined by a terrible boss. Seek out people you want to work with and work with them!
Take those five questions with you as you look for jobs, evaluate your current role, or go on interviews. Get the answers to them – and the more of them are answered “yes,” the more excited you should be about that opportunity!
No job is perfect, just like no life is perfect. But while “perfect” is impossible, “better than yesterday, good today, great tomorrow!” is a very real, attainable journey.