What’s Your Perfect Job? Look for These Things

6576855 - perfect job-dartboard-Erika AndersenMy husband, I am pleased to report, now has his ideal job. Over the past two years, he’s become a craft brewer, and he’s loving every day of it.  Now, don’t get me wrong; it’s not perfect in the sense of nothing bad ever happening. Just last week he was deeply irritated by a problem with his steam boiler. (The thing that heats up the water to make the beer.) But those are shadows in heaven. Most days he truly loves being a brewer. He bounces out of bed and off to the brewery with a smile on his face. Even the part of it he thought he wouldn’t like (selling) is turning out to be OK with him — he’s meeting good people who like craft beer — and more specifically, his craft beer.

I, on the other hand, would hate it. It involves many, many hours of calculations, a good deal of manual labor (grinding grain and pouring it into the mash tun; transferring the beer-in-the-making from tun to boil kettle to fermentation to bright tank to keg; schlepping bags of grain and kegs of beer), and lots of very detailed process focus.  Yuck to all those things, in my book.

The point is, what’s great for one person might be awful for someone else — there’s no universally perfect job. But it is possible, with some guided reflection, to get a pretty good idea of what might be the ideal job for you. I’ve found that the “hedgehog” model in Jim Collins’ Good to Great applies not only to organizations, but to us as individuals. For those of you who haven’t read the book, Collins discovered that great companies find the intersection point of three things:

  1. What they are most passionate about
  2. What they could be the best in the world at
  3. What would drive their economic engine

Here’s how to look for those things when you’re considering the best kind of job for you:

What Are You Passionate About?

I’m defining passion as a deep and abiding commitment to something — a sustained interest that is much more than a passing fancy. For example, I’m passionate about helping people become who they want to become, and have been for my whole adult life. Very fortunately for me, I get to focus on that in my work every day with clients. I know a marketing executive who is deeply fascinated by how people respond to the messages they hear — what motivates them and what doesn’t. He, as you might imagine, really likes going to work most mornings.

What fascinates you, or calls out your deepest commitment? If your current job doesn’t give you a chance to focus on something that truly engages you, you probably won’t enjoy going to work. I encourage you to take some time to think about what you really love to do or think about… and then imagine jobs that could give you a chance to do or think about those things on a regular basis. A few years ago, I asked a young woman this question, and she said, half-joking, “I love hanging out with my friends and talking about what to wear. Is that a job?” She’s now a buyer for Saks… and is loving it. As you start to think about your passions, don’t assume that you can’t turn them into a paying job — it’s best to start with whatever you love.

What Are You Great At?

Answering this question requires being a ”fair witness” about yourself — that is, being accurate and objective about what’s actually true of you. Sometimes it’s easy to convince ourselves that we’re better than we actually are at doing something we love. Someone I know spent 15 years pining to be a singer-songwriter until she realized that she was good rather than great… and decided to go in another direction professionally. Remember, you’re looking for the intersection of all three elements: passion, greatness and money. So once you’ve identified some things that you’re passionate about, think about whether or not you’re great — or could be great — at doing them. It’s often useful to get some third-party data at this point, since it is very hard to be completely objective about ourselves. When my husband was in the process of establishing his brewery, he entered his four standard beers in a number of brewing contests, to find out whether anyone other than me and our kids would like his beer. All four beers won state and national prizes, which gave him a better basis for believing that this was something at which he could become great.

What Drives Your Economic Engine?

We are talking about a job vs. a hobby, so it’s important to make sure that this thing that you’re passionate about and great at will also put food on the table. This is a good opportunity to think about what level of income you need and want to have, and to be — again — a “fair witness” about that. It’s easy to just say either “Oh, I don’t need much to live on” or “Six figures would be nice,” and not really get a realistic sense of what you need to live comfortably (however you define that for yourself). Do you have a family to support? Student loans to pay off? Live in an expensive city? Then you might need to find a job that pays more than you would initially assume. On the other hand, if you’re just responsible for yourself and live simply, you might be fine with a modestly compensated job that (especially initially) allows you to pursue something you love and can do well — or can learn to do well. Some people subscribe to the belief that if they “do what they love, the money will follow” — but I’ve seen too many people go into debt or end up living check to check because they focused on their passion without taking time to reflect on whether that passion could ever yield them a living wage. Many years ago, a friend of mine who was an extremely talented and passionate poet finally got tired of living in a fourth-floor walk-up and eating beans, and so he decided to consciously look for more overlap between his “passion” and “economic engine.” He realized that he was almost as interested in teaching poetry as he was in writing it — so he got a temporary job (that he didn’t like much) just to support him going back and getting a master’s degree, so he could teach on the college level. He’s been happily teaching, writing, getting published and paying his bills for the past 15 years.

If you can figure out a job or a career that fulfills these three criteria for you — you love it, you’re great at it, and you can make a living doing it — you’re much more likely to start the week smiling and come home at the end of the day tired… but in the best possible way.

Originally published at Forbes

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And if you’ve found something you love but need to get great at, read Erika Andersen’s latest book, Be Bad First, and become a master of mastery.

 



Erika Andersen

Erika Andersen

Erika Andersen is the founding partner of Proteus, a coaching, consulting and training firm that focuses on leader readiness. Over the past 30 years, Erika has developed a reputation for creating approaches to learning and business-building that are custom tailored to her clients' challenges, goals, and culture. She and her colleagues at Proteus focus uniquely on supporting leaders at all levels to get ready and stay ready to meet whatever the future might bring. Much of her recent work has focused on organizational visioning and strategy, executive coaching, and management and leadership development.

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