When it comes to job search and career development, I think 99% of the population has it wrong and “does it backward.” This realization comes from my more than 25 years of experience as a Career Coach and working with thousands of clients.
Looking back, I believe that this opinion has been developing in my mind for many years. But it was only recently that my thoughts crystallized into a form that I could express in a concise message.
New clients often feel anxious about their career situations and express a profound sense of urgency or panic about quickly finding a new job. Their focus is always on the JOB – “I need a new job; I have to get a job fast; Please help me land a better job now,” etc. While I understand this experience, I always try to shift the focus of the conversation to other, more critical questions. You might ask, “For a person in career transition or out of work, what could be more important than quickly finding a new job?”
There are more profound issues to consider than “the job.” So, I ask my clients questions including, but not limited to:
• What type of life do you want to lead?
• What kind of lifestyle appeals to you most?
• What are your biggest priorities?
• What are your core values?
• What do you love doing most?
• What type of work do you do best?
• How do you want to spend your time?
• What would be your ideal quality of life?
• How important is salary to you?
• What would your perfect workday be?
Simply stated, it is not about what kind of JOB you want; it is about what kind of LIFE you want!
When clients face questions like these, they often stare at me, perplexed, wondering “what language I’m speaking.” They frequently respond by saying, “Those questions are all good and fine, but I have to find a job!” To which I reply, “Why do you need a new job? What kind of job? How will this new job align with your career goals? What makes you think that your next job will be any better than the other jobs you have had (and often disliked)? How does your career fit into your overall life plan?” Predictably, the client will usually then say, “Life plan? What life plan?”
As I stated above, the problem is that most people “have it backward.” Instead of “Ready, Aim, Fire,” they are doing “Fire, Aim, Ready.” So, of course, they “miss the mark.” It is not surprising that many people are lost or confused in their work lives. No wonder so many people feel stuck and “tied in knots” regarding their careers.
I do not blame them, and I can empathize. In my earlier years, I suffered through my career struggles. It is our culture. We learned to focus on “getting a respectable job and always to have a job” even if that job makes us miserable. No one suggests that we should focus on building a life instead of just pursuing a career or landing a job. In simple, graphic terms, here is the message most of us receive – and live by:
MODEL #1: (1) Job > (2) Career > (3) Life(style)
Explanation of Model #1: Get out of school and get a job (usually by accident or by chance). The position (or series of similar jobs) shapes your career, determining your overall life experience. This mindset is generally “unconscious” and passive, such that your work becomes not much more than a routine or habit. The problem is that this model doesn’t work in 99% of cases – at least, not over the long term. Instead, I coach my clients (and I urge you) to flip the formula around. This approach is a much healthier, more productive construct:
MODEL #2: (1) Life(style) > (2) Career Job > (3) Job
Explanation of Model #2: Vividly imagine the type of life you want to have and the lifestyle you want to live. Once this image is clear in your mind, commit yourself to it completely. Determine which career(s) would enable and support that life and lifestyle. Then, research and analyze the employment world to identify the specific job(s) that would sustainably manifest the life you envision. This model is proactive and deliberate, and it places you “in the driver’s seat” with purpose and passion! It is also sustainable over an entire career.
I realize that this model runs counter to our culture and business norms. It might even confound or upset some people because it is unfamiliar, uncomfortable, and even threatening.
Let me say again – model #1 is broken, and it leads far too many people to career despair. When people shift their thinking and behavior too, however, amazing things start to happen. My clients explain what this experience is like far better than I can.
Here are just a few of the comments I have received from clients who embraced model #2:
• “I am grounded. I feel like me again!”
• “For the first time in decades, I know why I’m doing the work I’m doing, and I love it.”
• “Everything is aligned – my life, my work, my plans and dreams, my talents and skills, my belief system – all of it.”
• “It seems so simple to me now. It makes so much sense, and it is so clear. I just didn’t understand before.”
• “I feel like someone finally took the brakes off of my career!”
• “Why did I ‘bang my head against the wall’ for so long? I wasted so much time pursuing the wrong career for the wrong reasons. Well, no more!”
• “This was a tough transition for me, but I am 100% glad that I did it.”
Some people might assume that the behavior and thinking (and the benefits) associated with model #2 are only for senior executives and highly paid professionals. On the contrary, I have consistently observed dramatic improvements in clients’ careers of all levels when they have chosen model #2.
Other people may conclude that going with model #2 is too deliberate, takes too long, and does not address their urgent need to “get a job right now.” Ironically, however, model #2 has consistently helped clients be fully employed more of the time and unemployed (or underemployed) more minor of the time.
When explaining this to my clients, I often advise them to take a deep breath and look at “the big picture.” Once this “mental shift” to model #2 happens, the client realizes that they have a much greater chance of finding the job they want any time and keep that job if desired.
As a “bonus,” when you approach your work-life through model #2, you will inevitably secure jobs that are a much better fit. During the interview, you will project an entirely different sort of energy. You will “show up” more alive, present, and confident. Your levels of focus, clarity, and purpose will differentiate you from other candidates. Once you begin the new job, you will be more engaged, aligned, and productive. You will be “in your power” because you will be doing the right work for the right reasons.
Here is a beautiful quotation from Richard J. Leider and David A. Shapiro, authors of Work Reimagined, which further illustrate the point. “There are jobs which pay the bills; careers which help us progress financially and personally; and callings which give us a sense of fulfillment, engagement, and energy that we don’t have in the other two.”
So, here are a few questions for you:
• Are you satisfied having a job that “just pays the bills?”
• What is your vocational calling?
• What is the right work for you? – the Work that will give YOU a genuine “sense of fulfillment, engagement, and energy?”
• Do you know? If not, how will you find out?
• How important is this to you?
• What would be the long-term cost of NOT knowing?
I challenge you to take a long, hard look at the belief systems and “internal messages” that have formed your career experience to date. If you are not truly content with your own work-life, I encourage you to join the 1% of people who have “flipped the formula” and adopted model #2. After a while, I am confident that you will see a positive transformation – not just in your career but in the whole of your life.
AUTHOR: FORD MYERS