Staying focussed

And now another little book review…

The quest for fulfilling work

fulfillingworkbook(How to find fulfilling work, by Roman Krznaric)

A master in the art of living draws no sharp distinction between his work and his play; his labour and his leisure; his mind and his body; his education and his recreation. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence through whatever he is doing, and leaves others to determine whether he is working or playing. To himself, he always appears to be doing both. – François-René de Chateaubriand, French writer

Love this quote. This is exactly what I’m aiming for in life.

I appreciate it’s a pretty hefty goal, but one that I think’s worth working towards.

This might not be a life changing book, but there are some good little lessons in it. The conclusion talks about growing a vocation, rather than finding one. Roman says that the three key factors for fulfilling work are:

  1. Meaning – to be fulfilling your work has to have meaning for you, you have to believe in what you’re doing every day
  2. Flow – that state where you’re so engrossed in your work that time just flies by. It’s never going to feel that easy all day every day, but a bit of flow during parts of your work is definitely important
  3. Freedom – no-one wants to feel boxed in by rules and routine, there’s got to be some flexibility

Roman goes on to say that the way to find a career that fulfills the above three factors is to carry out:

  • Branching projects – like writing a blog alongside your day job, freelancing on the side or starting a small scale business that you run evenings and weekends
  • Conversational research – a personal favourite technique (if you ever meet me you can guarantee I’ll be asking for your full career history and the pros and cons of every job you’ve ever had!)
  • Radical sabbatical – I particularly like this last one, but it is difficult to put into action for most people. Going part time while carrying out work experience/ shadowing/ informational interviews/ voluntary work could be the most plausible path

There are great fulfilling jobs out there, it just takes a bit of experimentation to find them.

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When it’s time to leave

chickencrappyjobI’m leaving my job. I’ve set the date, written my resignation letter and stopped worrying about anything anyone mentions that’s happening next year.

Katie over at Ask the Young Professional inspired me to write this post by her response to my comment on 3 signs it’s time for a new job. I completely agree with Katie’s 3 signs it’s time for a new job, though I have a few more reasons why I know it’s time for me to move on, namely boredom (I guess this fits in with Katie’s first point about not being challenged), colleagues I just don’t click with and, very importantly, I feel completely inauthentic – the job has no meaning for me and, quite frankly, life’s too short.

So my decision to leave wasn’t at all difficult. I’d have left a good few weeks ago, when I came to this realisation, if it wasn’t for 3 logical reasons: a) It would look bad on my CV b) It would annoy my boss and c) As much as I hate it, it is giving me the time, space and income to work out my next step. The only one of those reasons that my authentic self remotely agrees with is c, so I’m struggling everyday, but part of me knows it has to be done.

I’ll be out of there by Christmas, for a fresh start in the New Year. The challenge now is to make sure I have the right next step lined up. But I believe that sometimes you just have to make that jump and take that risk. I’m certain that leaving is the right choice – I have no doubts about that. But what to do and where to go next? Well I’m still working on that one, with 4 months to get it sorted. That’s ages right? And anyway, I like a challenge.

Sometimes the logical decision is tough to deal with day-to-day. Maybe I’d have been one of those kids who ate their marshmallow as soon as the psychologist left the room during that delayed gratification experiment. Then again there’s a massive difference between holding back from a good experience (eating a marshmallow) and coping with a bad experience (my job). It is going to be worth it. I’m going to make sure of that.

Personality patterns

I’ve just read a well-known book on a personality assessment closely associated with the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, and it’s made me realise just how important it is to accept people as they are without trying to change them to be like ourselves. It’s also made me realise how differently people think, and I hope will help me to understand and accept in future when I don’t get the responses or encouragement I’d like.

To me, understanding people seems so key to everything. And it’s just fascinating. Whether you agree with the Myers-Briggs typing and Keirsey’s Temperament Sorter (explained below) or not, recognising different attitudes and values is important in all areas of life, from career to relationships. I think everyone should read this book – though I do accept that my ‘type’ might make me more interested in this topic than others are!

PUM2I’ll just be me and you can be you

(Please understand me 2: temperament, character, intelligence – by David Keirsey)

So in parts the book is a little bit repetitive and a little bit stereotypical, but only because the author wants each chapter to be understandable when read in isolation and because stereotyping is the clearest way to make his points.

Rather than focussing specifically on each of the 16 Myers-Briggs personality types, the book focuses on the 4 main groups of types, which Keirsey came up with based on Myers-Briggs and earlier research (hope I don’t lose anyone here, if you’ve never read up on the Myers-Briggs personality types here’s a great place to start: Personality Page). The 4 groups are Artisan, Guardian, Idealist and Rationalist (described here: The Keirsey Temperament Sorter).

I’m an Idealist and can completely relate to this general description. I’m also almost certain I’d class as an introvert and perceiving rather than judging, however I can relate to parts of the descriptions for the other types of Idealist too. What’s most important to me is accepting myself as in the general category of Idealist and understanding myself in relation to those around me.

Career is a big issue for me right now, and this book has really helped to shed light on why I feel so unhappy and inauthentic in my current job and why this bothers me so much. It’s also given me some really interesting career ideas and taught me that I do have something unique to offer that many others don’t. I feel like I’m getting a clearer picture of who I am and who I want to be.

Of course personality types can’t explain everything, but the Myers-Briggs system and Keirsey’s Temperament Sorter do seem to be pretty accurate and well-respected. Even when simply used as an insight into preferences and relationships, they’re a great place to start in exploring and accepting differences.

You’re only lost when you run out of petrol

road-trip3-edit

I read that quote on my old university’s alumni Facebook page – a past student had added it to the end of a little piece of advice to this year’s graduates. As long as you have the hope and motivation – the petrol – to keep going, to keep searching, then you’re never truly lost, or at least not permanently lost.

I enjoy driving, and I’m not the sort of person who worries too much about planning a route before heading to a new destination. A quick look on Google Maps, memorise or scribble down the roads, then off I go with about 10 minutes added to the journey time just in case I should get lost (which of course is highly unlikely).

But, inevitably, I do get lost. First I continue to drive, I turn around, thinking I’ve missed a turning, or keep going hoping it must still be ahead. Then I finally give in, pull over and get out a map. Except now I’m watching the clock worried I’m going to be late, so it’s a glance, guesstimate of location and how to get back on track, then I’m off again, full speed ahead. But my hurry often means the journey takes longer than necessary, when I miss the turning again, get in the wrong lane at the lights, or realise I wasn’t quite where I thought I was…

Wow. The more I think about it the more this feels like a perfect analogy for my career (or lack of it).

It’s funny because right now what I want more than anything is to quit my job and never go back. And in order to do that I need to find a new job. Except despite my extreme desire to resign (which increases every day I go into work), somehow I’m not in a hurry to make a decision and grab hold of another job. I want to make sure my next choice is the right one for me – not me pretending to be sorted, me pretending I’ve found something different when it’s actually just a variation of what I currently do and dislike, but me knowing that I’ve thought about my next move, planned it and made sure that this time it’s different. This time I’m taking a very good look at the map.

lost.Because when you’re pulled over at the side of the road, you might still be in the wrong place, and not all that happy to be there, but it’s worth taking that extra time to make sure that when you head back on the road to take a different turning, you’re taking the right road – the one that’s going to get you to where you want to be, not another dead end.

And something else to remember: dreams are journeys, not destinations. As soon as you take one tiny little step towards a dream you’re already living it. You’re already no longer lost. I came across a great post about this by Paul Angone: The big lie about your dream.

So I may feel pretty lost right now, but I’ve definitely got the energy and motivation to get moving, and becoming un-lost could just be a matter of one or two tiny little steps in the right direction. It’s all about taking a good look at the map before getting started.

Why I keep applying for jobs I don’t want

puzzle(d)I feel like I’m going round in circles at the moment.

I know my official ‘skills’ (well, kind of, I like to think I have most of the standard ones: communication, organisation, teamwork etc. – who would ever admit to not having one of those?) and I know my ‘interests’ (the stuff I like but still don’t know quite whether I like it enough to be classed as a ‘passion’) and I find jobs that require these ‘skills’ that I have and are related to these ‘interests’ of mine.

Except something’s missing.

Let me try to explain…

My newly started job hunt/ application/ interview/ result process goes something like this:

  1. Find a job that fits my ‘skills’ and ‘interests’
  2. Write an application that shows how I match all of the person spec and links in with details of the job description (Write something vague about linking ‘skills’ and ‘interests’ to explain why I really (?) want the job)
  3. If I’m lucky enough (or unlucky enough) to be invited for interview, answer the questions trying to sound as interested and enthusiastic as possible
  4. Convince myself I want the job
  5. (Usually) Rejection – depending on how well I’ve managed to convince myself the job is perfect, a period of mild unhappiness that I didn’t get an offer, followed by a feeling of great relief that I haven’t been offered another desk job which would be ok, but in no way excites me

I apply for jobs that on paper, and to other people, look pretty good (do I have the right skills? check. Is it an area I’m interested in? check. A good company? check. Good opportunities for progression? check. Reasonable salary? check. Okay location? check… check. check. check. check. check.) Except when it comes down to it, I dread having an office job. And I’m confused about how and where to compromise. I still don’t really know what I’m looking for, only that I’m not going to find it by carrying on applying for similar office-based 9-5s. I’m also not going to find it by running back to something familiar like education.

I’ve turned down more than one job offer in the past, I’ve been the reserve candidate on more than one occasion, and there have been many more times when I haven’t even reached the interview stage or have failed to receive an offer after interview. But never has there yet been a job I’ve really genuinely wanted. I’ve been offered jobs I don’t want, and not offered jobs I don’t want. But never have I been offered or not offered any job that I do truly feel excited about.

It’s official: I hate my job

dead endOkay, so I have just had a rubbish day at work. But not an awfully or unusually rubbish day, just another bad day of many.

For the first time in my life I’m in a position to say, you know what, I’m not enjoying this and I don’t feel it’s helping me professionally or personally, and I have a choice to leave. All through school and university you’re on a set path – if something’s not working you make small adjustments within that path, like swapping a module, or changing a project or group. But in the world of work there’s no longer that sense of commitment to a set time period. There’s no clear path to follow or ladder to climb.

I miss learning and feeling like I’m really getting somewhere. There’s always a sense of progress with exams and time-frames, whereas in the world of work you make your own targets. I realise I could take a course alongside my job, but I’ve been working so hard to build up experience alongside work that I don’t feel like I have enough time just to relax. It doesn’t feel like there are enough hours in the day to do everything. Busyness is never an excuse. If you want to do something you make time. And I really believe that, but I’m getting stressed out. 8 hours a day, 5 days a week feels like a massive chunk of my life right now.

And everyone’s been talking about Meg Jay and her book. Part of me feels I should read it, part of me wants to avoid it like the plague. I know your twenties are important and aren’t for messing around. I know that professionally and personally it’s the time to start to make sure you get to where you want to be. I know all that and it scares me and stresses me out. I don’t want to read about how behind I am and how much work I have to do in my twenties. I’m already terrified that time’s flying by and I’m getting nowhere.

I’m considering going back to university, but I don’t want to pick that because it’s all I know, I want to pick that if it’s genuinely the right thing for me to do. Because I miss knowledge and learning and academia. From my experiences so far I’m really not sure that the business world is for me. And then there’s teaching, and I like that idea, but am I just clinging onto another thing that’s familiar?

I’m not proud of my job. I want people to ask me what I do and for me to be able to tell them with pride, not embarrassment.

In and out of control

controlI’ve been thinking a lot about the type of job I’m looking to move on to, and one of the aspects I’ve been thinking about is control.

I like to be in control, to be able to see the bigger picture and move things forward. I guess to have some degree of power and influence. I’m not one for maintaining any kind of status quo just for the sake of it.

I’ve never been one for following the rules. If it’s a useful rule with a clear and valid purpose then I see no reason to break it, but sometimes you’ve got to see the bigger picture and be flexible about things. I see rules as guidelines, if they’re not working, try something different.

So in a job context let me give you a couple of examples of levels of control:

Teaching assistant vs teacher

Teaching is something I’ve always had an interest in – learning, communicating, creating, planning, supporting, presenting, leading. Yet I dislike working as a teaching assistant. In the past I’ve helped out in classes and most of the time I’ve just felt like a spare part. I hate that. When, on the other hand, I’ve been allowed to take a lesson or work with a small group I find the work much more enjoyable. It’s all about the level of control and responsibility.

News editor vs news reporter 

Writing news stories is something I have experience of and really enjoy doing, and I’ve worked both as a reporter and as an editor. Both have their pros and cons. Being an editor is stressful yet rewarding, you have control of everything, you arrange and attend the meetings, you interview people, you allocate stories to writers – you do what you like to get the job done. Whereas being a reporter or writer is much more relaxed, yet can be frustrating. I’ve had stories changed so much I’d rather my name was no longer alongside them, and it’s much harder to see the bigger picture when you’re focusing on just one small article in a publication.

I’d choose high responsibility, a high level of control and flexibility over working for someone else on just a small part of the puzzle any day, but you have to start at the bottom.

You can’t edit others’ writing until you’ve written lots yourself and had your own work scrutinised. You can’t teach others until you’ve observed lessons and worked alongside rather than in front of classes. Sometimes you might not enjoy the stepping stones as much as you’d enjoy the final position, but they’re the only way to get to that great job.

I guess it’s about enjoying the journey as much as you can, knowing that you will get to where you want to be in the end, and that it will be worth it.