Should you try to find your ideal career or just treat work like a job?
I speak with many people who don’t feel fully engaged by their work. They imagine finding work that they can go “all in” on. They dream of diving into their life’s work head first and being swept up by their passion and drive each and every day.
They imagine Einstein must have felt that way. Or Van Gough. Or their friends who always seem enthralled by what they’re working on.
Why can’t I find that thing that I’m super passionate about?
They jump from job to job just to feel that burst of performance adrenaline fueled by momentary imposter syndrome. But ultimately that proves to be a poor substitute for genuine passion.
If that sounds like you, you might feel stuck at a fork in the road.
Do you quit your job and find a career you can go “all in” on? Or do you give up and just treat work like a job?
But what if I can’t find that perfect work?
The uncertainty keeps you frozen in place. And you continue suffering in ambivalence.
Because you’re asking the wrong questions.
Here’s my perspective having actually done the thing you are thinking about. I left my job to find my calling. And I believe I have found my calling in coaching. But life doing work I love is not what I expected, and here’s why.
Perhaps you wish to fully devote yourself to something and have that thing fulfill you. You dream of showing up to work every day feeling inspired, energized and full of purpose.
Perhaps you picture work that is endlessly interesting, with the perfect balance of familiarity and novelty that keeps you challenged but not overwhelmed.
You want to just find that thing, so you can stay put for the rest of your life and do that thing until you retire.
You’re making a few devastating assumptions.
Assumption #1: My fulfillment comes from my work.
Assumption #2: When I find that perfect work, my passion and engagement will sustain itself.
Assumption #3: When I find that perfect work, I will also find certainty in my life.
You’re offloading all the hard stuff of life onto a fictitious entity of “perfect work”.
Subconsciously, you want your work to do all the heavy lifting of providing fulfillment, stoking your passion and navigating uncertainty for you.
But it can’t.
Because that’s still on you.
That is actually your life’s work.
Your life’s work is NOT what you do for money, for a boss, for awards, for recognition.
Your life’s work is what you do to stoke your own passion.
Your life’s work is what you do to create your own meaning.
Your life’s work is what you do to show up and engage in each moment.
Your life’s work is what you do to embrace the relentless, terrifying uncertainty of being alive.
Perfect work eludes you because it doesn’t exist in the way you imagine it.
There is no point where you’ve “made it” and can coast in bliss forevermore.
Even when you find your calling, you will still deal with stress, lack of motivation, self doubt, resistance, and meaninglessness. You will still need to take risks and make decisions that might turn out to be mistakes.
Even when you find work you love, your life’s work never stops.
So stop wishing for perfect work that will free you from doing the hard work of life.
Take that image you have of your perfect work and don’t focus on the work at all. Instead, focus on who you’re being while you do it.
Bring into high fidelity the image of you being fully engaged, fully energized, fully alive and full of purpose.
And aim to be that no matter what you’re doing.
The decisions you make from that place will naturally lead you to your calling.
Reflect on these questions:
Where in my life do I currently feel that way, and what am I doing to create that?
Which of my current circumstances and behaviors allow me to access that way of being? And which do not?
Which of my current mindsets and beliefs allow me to access that way of being? And which do not?
Do I even have the ability to recognize when I am and when I am not being that way?
Then make a list:
What changes do I need to make to my circumstances, behaviors, mindsets and beliefs in order to access that way of being and show up as such?
What practices or skills do I need to develop to be able to detect when I am being that way and when I am not?
Now THAT is ACTUALLY your life’s work.
And it’s what you’ll need to do to have a chance at sustaining love for your chosen profession, whatever it is.
Perfect work is created. Not found.
And it requires your full participation each and every day.