This blog was originally published on Medium.
What’s the number one piece of career advice you hear everywhere? Here’s what I have heard since I was in high school and too many times to count since: “Find a job that you love and you will never work another day in your life.” How do you find such work? “Follow your passion, the money will follow.”
Even as an inexperienced high school student I noticed something strange. The people who were delivering such smug, certain sounding advice to me usually were people who talked a lot about how much they hated their job! Their advice was kind of like a wistful, “I wish I had done that” sort of advice.
Consequently, I started to get the idea that the only way to find work that you loved was if you were lucky enough to be one of the chosen few who were struck by passion lighting early enough in life to know exactly what you wanted to do and could then get the right degree in college and go and start not working a day of your life.
Alas! I noticed pretty quickly in college that I was not one of the chosen. Woe was me! Apparently I was doomed to struggle through the dark years of my working life, doing work I hated, wistfully telling the young that they should hope they were among the chosen few who got struck by passion lightning early, until I achieved the golden age of retirement and could once more spend my days doing something that was fun.
Times have changed. I now view that career advice and the logical conclusions it reveals as a great, big, huge, pile of stinking garbage. If you happen to run across someone who encourages you to follow your passion my advice to you is to smile and nod politely while privately reminding yourself that such advice, no matter how well meaning, is a big, huge, pile of stinking garbage.
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Does that mean you can’t find work that you love?
Not only can you find work that you love, you absolutely should find work that you love! A person’s “work” is his or her primary contribution to the world. We do our best work when we are doing work that we really love. When you love something you do your best at it, and doing your best at your biggest service to the world and your Creator is something worth doing.
How do you find work that you love? Finding work that you love means finding three things:
- Autonomy. A job that you love will usually be a job where you get to have control over how and when you do the work that you do.
- Work that makes a difference. A job that you love will be a job that allows you to do work that you think is important and makes a difference in the world.
- Compensation that comfortably pays the bills. A quick survey of reality will show that massive heaps of cash doesn’t equal happiness. Reality will also show that it’s pretty tough to be consistently happy if you’re worried about getting evicted every month because you can’t pay the rent. If you’re going to really love your job it needs to pay you enough so you’re not constantly worrying about money.
If you have a job where you have autonomy to decide how and when to do the things you are responsible for, that you think makes a difference in the world, and that makes it possible to pay the bills, then I can pretty much guarantee that you will find that you love your work!
Here’s how you get those things:
- You trade skill for autonomy. When you are highly skillful at something people will allow you to do what you do on your own terms.
- You trade experience for work that makes a difference. It takes a while to learn what the world needs, what you are uniquely gifted and interested in, and to build the skill you need to do what you are gifted and interested in. When those all intersect you will be doing work that makes a difference.
The combination of skill and experience will almost always result in adequate compensation if you are doing something that creates value.
Here’s the bad news/good news: It takes a while to gain these things. Usually 7-12+ years.
Which can seem like bad news since that sounds like a long time. The good news is that you shouldn’t feel any pressure or feel like you’re behind if you’re not doing awesome work right now. It’s basically impossible for you to be doing work that you completely and totally love and that pays great if you’re at the low end of the experience scale. You don’t have enough skill and experience to be able to do work like that…yet.
More good news: Knowing these facts should provide context that makes whatever work you are doing now make sense and make it worth it. If you’re doing a tough, low paying job right now it’s pretty depressing to think that’s where you will be stuck for the rest of your life. You will wonder if you’re wasting your life.
The right way to see this is that you are building skill and experience with whatever you are doing right now that will accumulate until you are able to trade it for autonomy and meaningful work – work that you love!
How do you do that? By constantly asking these questions while you are working:
- What can I master here? What about my current job am I interested enough in to focus on and get better than anyone else?
- Is there something that I want to master here?
- After you have mastered something ask this: What can I master next? Is there more opportunities here?
- After you have mastered a few things ask this: What is the pattern and the connection between the things that I have mastered? What do the things I have chosen to master all have in common?
If you follow this pattern of mastering things and reflecting and asking these questions you will make gradual (and often rapid) progress in gaining skill and experience.
Soon, you will find that your skill and experience are making it possible for you to gain autonomy doing work that makes a difference in the world and that pays your bills.
Congratulations, you have now become one of the chosen few that has been struck by passion lightning. Enjoy your new season of not working another day of your life.
Jonathan Brush is the President and CEO of Unbound, a homeschool graduate, and a homeschool dad of six. He worked for nine years as a Director of Admissions for a private, liberal arts college, and then spent over ten years working in non-traditional higher education.
Jonathan loves Unbound and Unbound students and dreams every single day about new ways to connect them to each other. He gets to work with the world’s best team and the most amazing student body in the history of the world (which is just as awesome as it sounds), and field questions about Rule 4 violations (ask an Unbound student to explain). Jonathan and his family make their home in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia.