“If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with success unexpected in common hours.”
– Henry David Thoreau
I titled this series “The Myth of the Perfect Job” for a reason. It is because I don’t think a perfect job exists. As I have explained in earlier segments, I spent a lot of time pursuing a career only to find myself frustrated and burned out. I stated that I believe there is another path. I will outline my philosophy today.
To begin, we must differentiate two related concepts, labor and a job. In this life, we must work. Unless we are one of the few people who do not have to worry about money, who are so wealthy from inheritance or from winning the lottery, we need to work. We must spend our time doing something for which we are paid. This may be in money. This may be in goods or services, as in a barter economy. This may even be in a harvest of food for those few individuals who are really living off the land.
Webster defines labor as physical or mental effort, work for which someone is paid. I will add that labor can be thought of work that we enjoy. Of course, we may not enjoy all parts of the labor. Those areas or tasks that we do not enjoy are something that we can easily tolerate because we see it as part of the bigger whole (i.e. part of something we enjoy). In gardening, I may not enjoy weeding an annual bed, but I see it as an important part of vegetable production. In light of the bigger picture, it is easily tolerated. In Permaculture, I may not enjoy digging a long swale entirely by hand (an excavator would be faster and easier on my back), but I can appreciate what this work will accomplish in time, so it can be completed with a smile. For me in my career in medicine, I don’t really enjoy performing rectal exams, at all; however, I see it as part of the bigger picture. I can tolerate doing this when needed, because it allows me to care for the whole person.
In contrast, our work can be seen as a job. Webster defines a job as work that a person does regularly in order to earn money, something that requires great effort. I will add that a job is a means to a paycheck, and in that job we find little to no joy. We may like some aspects of the work we do, we may like the people with whom we work, but once the scale tips in the direction of boredom, monotony, displeasure, frustration, and/or discontent, then our work is now a job.
To summarize this first point, we all must work, but it important to find work that we do not see as a job. I can already hear you saying, “That sounds nice, but how do we do that?”
There are many career coaches who have spent their lives performing research to answer this question. The foundation of my answer lies in these professionals’ work, but I have some significant additions which I will explain as well. It is quite possible that one of these career coaches have already developed a plan identical to mine (there is nothing new under the sun); however, I have not seen it yet. This is why I am writing these articles.
First, we need to identify our passions. How do we do identify our passions? A business partner of mine, Jack Spirko, often asks people, and I am paraphrasing, “If you won the lottery, what would you do after you did all the initial travel and spending you wanted to do? Let’s look at your life two or three years after you won the lottery, and you still had millions of dollars left… how would you spend your time? What would you do every day if money was no object?”
I think this is a really good way to consider what your passions are in life. Spirko’s intent is to spur us to get in touch with the things we love to do. His belief is that you can create a career for yourself in this modern age of worldwide connectivity and social media, doing what you are passionate about if you are dedicated enough to work your butt off. I generally agree with this, but it can take some time to do it, and it is more difficult if you are not the entrepreneur type.
Next, we need to identify the things we are good at. What are our skills? What is it that we do easily, which others find difficult to do? What is it that our friends and family come to us for, asking for advice or help? Do we have specialized skills or training or education or experiences that others are lacking? As author Max Lucado would say, “What are the gifts that God has given to you?”
The next step is to identify where our Passions and Skills overlap, and then identify ways we could get paid in those areas. For example (not a real one!), I may love basketball (a Passion). I love to play it and to watch it and to talk about it. Unfortunately, I may have no athletic ability, so becoming a professional basketball player is not an option for me. I may have poor teaching skills, so becoming a coach is not an option either. However, because I can watch games and recall stats and details about players and coaches and team history like few other people (a Skill), I can then outline possible careers for myself… basketball writer, basketball blogger, basketball podcaster, basketball autobiographer, basketball newscaster/commentator, or any other sports media related career, and there are a lot.
This is where the majority of career coaches stop. They have us identify our Passions, our Skills, and careers where these Passions and Skills overlap. If we can get paid to do something here, then we should be happy according to their research and professional opinions. Unfortunately, they are not always right. For some people, this is does lead to a pretty happy life. I know that this has failed to work, twice now, for me. So there must be something more.
I have found a few career coaches and researcher/writer-types who have added another factor: “What does the world need?” The goal in adding this factor is to try and give us meaning to our work. I don’t say this lightly. If we can work in a career where we are making the world a better place, we often feel a lot better about what we are doing (or less bad about what we are missing). Max Lucado, a Christian author, has three factors (and I am paraphrasing again): Passions (things we love), Gifts (skills God has blessed us with), and God’s Glory (things we can do for the Kingdom of God). He leaves out identifying careers where we can get paid, not as an oversight, but to make a point that money does not provide us happiness. Money is needed, but should be a significantly lower factor in determining a career. I don’t really disagree. If you are a Christian or a religious person, then this approach may be great for you. I find this last factor, either “What does the world need?” or “God’s Glory”, lacking. I think there are more things to consider, and I will discuss them next. But I think if we stop here, we are setting ourselves up for even greater frustration. Imagine that we do find something we love, something we are good at, something we can get paid for, and something that the world needs, yet we are still unhappy or frustrated. Then what? We can find ourselves feeling like there is no other choice but to suck it up and try to push through, because if we can’t find happiness with this “ideal” combination, then maybe we just won’t find happiness. For me, when I was a graphic designer, I was able to combine my Passion, my Skills, and an income into one job, but I was still not content. I became a physician; this combined the first three factors and added the fourth. I was doing something the world needed, yet I still ended up frustrated. I was helping, and continue to help (since I am still practicing medicine at the current time), my patients who are sick or hurting. I should be content. But I am not.
So what else is missing? What are the other factors? I have identified two additional factors.
I discussed the next factor at the beginning of this series of articles when I explained that when my hobby of art became a career, I had lost a hobby. What I meant was that once I started to do something I loved (a Passion) every day, it became a job. It became something that I stopped enjoying. Maybe another way of looking at it is that some passions fade when we do it all the time. So the next factor we must consider is this: Is this Sustainable? Can I do this every day and is there enough variety and meaning in what I do to avoid getting bored? When it came to graphic design, I ended up asking myself, “At the end of 20 years, how satisfied will I be with my life to say that I designed 500 brochures, 200 magazines, and 100 websites?” My answer was, “I would not be very satisfied.” I thought that with medicine, because of the vast amount of information known and information that continues to be discovered, there would be no way I would get bored. That is correct. But I didn’t consider all the other factors pertaining to the practice of medicine, the paperwork, administration, lawsuits, bureaucracy, lack of time for my patients, my family, or myself. I didn’t consider burnout. If we look at a career, and see a high rate of burnout, then we need to strongly reconsider that career. As it stands now, up to two-thirds of physicians experience symptoms of burnout, and female physicians have a suicide rate twice as high as the average population. This doesn’t sound very sustainable to me.
The last factor I have added to the list is Balance. I reviewed this topic at length in my previous article. We must consider ourselves from a Biological, Psychological, Social, and Spiritual perspective. We should only consider careers which allow us to keep these components in balance. Sadly, a career in medicine is actually not very good for our health in any of these areas!
I do not think there is any way we can live a fulfilled life, let alone a meaningful career, unless we consider all these factors I described above. Here is a diagram which outlines my philosophy on living a fulfilled life:
This ancient symbol is the Celtic symbol of the Christian Trinity. I chose to use it because it reminds me of my need to keep my faith in the center of my life. For those of you who are not Christian, I also created the following diagram, but please do not get too hung up on a design or a pattern. These are used merely to express ideas. Create your own that has some meaning to you!
There is another factor that is not in this diagram, yet I feel it is vital for me and anyone like me. It is possibly vital to every person in general, but I think it is such a revolutionary (some may say unrealistic) concept, that I don’t know how many people will adopt it. This factor is a primary part of Permaculture, and I never really considered it pertaining to a career until recently when I was taking a Permaculture Design Course by Geoff Lawton. That factor is Diversity. Permaculture Principle Ten is “Use and Value Diversity”. Geoff Lawton stated (and, once again, I am paraphrasing) that every person should have one or two primary careers and another two, three, or four secondary careers. He didn’t dwell on this very much, but it hit me like a ton of bricks. It was that “eureka moment” for me that provided the last piece of the puzzle. Diversity in careers is where we can truly find stability in building a fulfilled life. Let me be clear that this is not one career after the other, but it is multiple part-time careers running at the same time.
Diversity in careers offers many benefits. It provides variety. It reduces boredom. I am certain it will decrease burnout. It provides resiliency – if one career doesn’t pan out or suddenly stops, we have others to fall back on. It is that classic Permaculture example of a fishing pole verses a net. If the single line of a fishing pole is cut, the fishing pole ceases to catch fish. But a net continues to function, nearly at peak performance, even with many lines cut. In fact, we have to cut a tremendous amount of lines before the net’s efficiency is significantly dropped. The same is true with work. If we have income from many sources, then we can handle the loss of one or two sources. We may have to tighten our budget a bit more for a while, but this is drastically different than if we lost our one, single source of income.
I am not really into symbology, but I find patterns quite interesting. The repeating pattern that occurred when I added diversity to this diagram was intriguing.
In summary, there is not a perfect job. Not for me. There may be a number of very good careers which I would enjoy, but I don’t think I would be living a fulfilled life if I tried to do just one. Here is my overall philosophy. I will choose to spend my time pursuing work:
- About which I am Passionate
- With which I can utilize my God-given Skills and talents
- Which is Profitable (where I can earn a living)
- Which is Needed by the world (or which seeks God’s glory)
- Which is Sustainable (will not bore me or burn me out)
- Which allows me to live my life in Balance (Bio-Psycho-Social-Spiritual)
- AND I will repeat this process over and again, so that there is Diversity in my work (many simultaneous careers)
Next, I will explain how I actually plan to implement this in my own life.
“I am not bound for any public place, but for ground of my own where I have planted vines and orchard trees, and in the heat of the day climbed up into the healing shadow of the woods.”
– Wendell Berry
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