How to Get Out of Your Rut and Feel Fulfilled
Before you romanticize about landing your “dream job,” think carefully about this….
If what you’re doing is rewarding, it's going to be challenging.
If it's challenging, it's going to be stressful.
If it's stressful, it’s not always fun.
The Reality Behind a Dream Job
Find yourself thinking about how much of a breeze that dream job is going to be? Think again.
It's not all butterflies, rainbows and unicorns. It's hard. Instead of thinking it's going to be easy, focus on the rewarding aspects, like what you are contributing to and the value other people find in your work.
Don’t focus too much on how it will feel on a daily basis. Zoom out and look at it from a more holistic approach to remind yourself of the bigger picture and why you wanted to do this work in the first place.
We often get caught up in over thinking what we’re doing with our lives:
Am I doing what I love? Is this what I’m meant to do? Am I fulfilling my purpose in life?
We assume that if we have that perfect job then we’ll be able to answer all of these questions positively. Unfortunately, that's simply not the truth. The reality is we are not static when it comes to our development. What makes us happy now won’t necessarily make us happy in 10 years… or even tomorrow.
We are constantly evolving. Our tastebuds change over time, regenerating after 10-14 day life spans, just like our abilities, preferences, and goals are ever changing. When you truly understand and embody change, it can allow you to unleash your potential while you experiment with new and different things.
Gone are the days of a 30+ years career. We live in a time when it's okay to switch jobs or forgo a career path. Who says you have to limit yourself to one “type” of job or career? We all have so many interests and abilities that it’s a shame to let ourselves get categorized and compartmentalized by what we do for work.
After all, what we do for work doesn't determine who we are...
Your Job Doesn't Define You
I used to make ends meet with carpentry. When people asked me what I did for work, I would respond sheepishly.
Truth be told, I was a bit embarrassed about my profession. I felt like I was somehow 'above' manual labor or that I should be doing something that required me to be more 'brainy' or 'important.' In retrospect, it was foolish. Carpentry requires an intense amount of analytical thought, math, planning, problem solving and attention to detail. My brain was well used. I’ve become conscious of the “what do you do for work?” question and that other people might not be particularly enthusiastic about “what they do” either.
On a recent trip to Iceland I shared this conversation with a fellow traveler and her suggestion stuck with me. I now try to ask people “How do you occupy your time?”
If you’re an avid hiker, you can tell me about your most recent summit. If you’re crazy passionate about your job as a programmer, you can tell me about the newest innovation in software that you’re working on. It’s open ended.
Bonus Points: If you ask somebody this question and they start unenthusiastically responding about their job that they hate, push them to tell you something different. Don’t let them give you their cookie cutter response. If it’s obvious they’re not excited about it, push them to tell you about something that defines their character, nurtures their soul and gets them excited about life!
Before I was a carpenter I was living in Boston and landed what I thought was my “Dream Job”. I worked at a company that did all types of international travel, education and language learning. They are the provider of language classes for the World Cup and Olympics staff, have several different tour companies, an international student exchange program, an Au Pair program, and an International MBA program amongst many other products. They were a major player in everything that I was interested in. I thought I had really landed in the right place.
They had corporate culture down. The beer cart would come around to our desks for the last hour of work on Fridays. Our seven-story 800-person office building had a beautiful waterfront campus, a bar, and a restaurant downstairs. The company footed the bill for regular social events, awesome parties, professional development courses, ski weekends and great health care.
However, after just a year with the company, none of that mattered. They micro-managed everybody like lab rats and gave us an unbalanced amount of work and responsibility for our salary. Translation: they paid us like shit. Ass kissers were promoted, and who you were hanging out with from work was often more important than the actual work you were doing.
I had unknowingly landed in well disguised Corporate America….
Needless to say, that didn’t last long…
I ran back to my beloved home state of Vermont and decided I wanted to get back to basics. I had always liked working with my hands. I learned lots about different kinds of carpentry and building trades in general. After a few years, I was running my own business. I had complete autonomy and could take days off or go on vacations and trips whenever I wanted. I was able to decide what types of projects I took on. I was fulfilled, active, healthy and profitable and had taken back control of my life.
And as life progressed, so did I. A few years passed and I became bored, tired of working in inclement weather, depressed, unfulfilled, stressed and generally exhausted with what I was doing. It took another couple of years to actually move on. I had a couple of key projects that I finished up, and then to make sure I followed through with my plan to leave it behind, I absolved my business and canceled my insurance. There was no turning back after that, and I was terrified. I didn’t have a plan…
Lots of people ask me how I started working with U30X. I could tell that story a couple of ways, depending on who I’m talking to. The most honest answer is that I knew the U30X guys… Jared from college and Matt, as Jared’s friend, from home. I never expected them to start a travel community like U30X, and I know for sure they didn’t have a clue that’s what they’d be doing either. The guys knew that I had a connection to Brazil after living there as an exchange student for a year, so they asked me to develop a trip to Brazil for U30X a few years ago, and that’s how I got involved.
The takeaway here is that I never stayed stuck. I followed which path felt right at the time, learned from first hand experience, took the time to evaluate my situation, and pushed myself to move forward even if a set plan wasn’t in sight.
If you’re stuck as I was, you should understand something… you’re not alone or that special. Your situation isn’t unique, and there are a lot of other people fighting the same fight. What is unique is how you approach this, and everybody does it differently. Recognize that other people are facing the same obstacles and connect with them. They’ll have new ideas for you.
Neither Matt nor Jared were the travel-centric guys that they are today, and besides knowing them as hardworking and focused, I don’t think anybody could have guessed they’d be doing what they’re doing with their lives now.
With that being said, you should always do what you love doing and let other people know about it. You never know what opportunities could come from it. Dumb luck and connecting with anybody and everybody certainly comes into play more often than not…
A couple networking ideas that helped me through my rut:
Join a service organization. Do something good for your community. A lot of the business leaders, movers and shakers in your community recognize the need for philanthropy. By participating in service projects you might meet somebody that can point you in the right direction or that recognizes your skill set as something that could benefit their organization.
Join a peer group of professionals. In my city they had a group called “Rutland Young Professionals”. This group put on social gatherings and events with speakers from local industries. I learned about funding opportunities for new businesses and got great feedback and ideas from other people my age. Don’t be intimidated by the title or members of the group. If you’re young and you’re eager to excel at whatever you do, you are welcome to attend this style of meet-ups. (Check with your local Chamber of Commerce or business development authority if your city has a similar organization. Even try Meetup.com.)
The Most Important Things You Can Do…
1. The question you need to ask yourself is: “What would I do with my time if money wasn’t a factor”.
Remove money from the equation for the time being. (Yeah, I know...bills. I get it. You’ll always need money, but just allow yourself to play along for a minute.)
Don’t say that you’d lay on the beach and drink beer… be honest. You’d get bored with that real quick. If you take some time to do some serious and honest thinking about this question I bet you’ll figure out what you should be doing with your life right now. Keep in mind though that might not be what you should be doing with your life in ten years or even two.
2. Forget the idea of a “dream job”… they don’t exist in the way you think they do. They are disguised by hard work, stress, and long hours. Do what fulfills you because when you do, the rest doesn’t matter as much.
3. Accept that you will most likely need to do something else that will make ends meet in the meantime. Your passion does not always align with a pay check. This is real life... dreams can come true, but we all still have to eat and pay bills. You’re a big kid now.
4. Broadcast your goals and desires in a way that enrolls other people and communicates your drive.
5. Most importantly though… understand that this can all change in an instant, and be ready and willing to take on the next adventure.
The only consistent thing in life is change. Embrace it.