Difficult, difficult, lemon difficult

If you’re not doing the work you want to do.

If your lifestyle isn’t what you want it to be.

If you feel that you are going nowhere.

How do you fix that?

To get to where you want to be, you’ll need to take some action. Usually the action is simple. But just because the action is simple doesn’t mean that it is easy to do.

Let’s say you work as an accountant in a big firm. The job is pleasant enough: it pays well, you get along with your coworkers, you get a promotion every year or two, and your boss and your clients are happy with your work.

But something is nagging at you. You feel restless. You never went on one of those nine-month backpacking trips that all your friends seem to have gone on right out of college. You want to travel a lot more than you have so far in your life, but you can’t. Not with the four weeks of vacation you get every year.

You’ve heard about digital nomads, and while you feel that the term is cliché at this point, you do like the idea of being able to work from anywhere. You like your accounting work and you’re good at it—it’s just that you want to combine it with traveling, rather than showing up at the same office and seeing the same people 230 days out of each year.

So, the actions you need to take are simple, right? Ask your boss whether you can start working remotely full time. If she doesn’t agree, quit and find a remote accounting job with a different company. Or start your own accounting business. Easy peasy, lemon squeezy.

No! It’s difficult, difficult, lemon difficult.

Moving towards your desired lifestyle isn’t as easy as grabbing a piece of paper, brainstorming, identifying what you want, and then sending some emails to make it happen. More than likely, there are objections in your head that you will need to address. Objections such as:

  • “My wife will never go for this.”
  • “What if something goes wrong? I might go broke!”
  • “I wouldn’t have the discipline to do any work while traveling.”
  • “Clients want to be able to meet their accountant face-to-face. I wouldn’t get any clients if I tried working remotely.”

Now, these are not trivial objections. They are based on real concerns. 

At the same time, I put quotation marks around these mental objections to emphasize that they are just thoughts. You are not your thoughts and you don’t have to let your thoughts dictate your actions. Get caught up in your negative thoughts, though, and it will block you from taking action.

If you have too many of these objection-type thoughts, you might want to upgrade your mindset first. There’s no shame in that. We all have to upgrade our mindset from time to time.

When you notice objection-type thoughts, see if you can reframe them. Perhaps like this:

  • “My wife likes new adventures too. I really should propose this to her.”
  • “What if I discover a new passion while traveling? That would be sweet!”
  • “I’ll probably meets lots more people while traveling than I normally do. Maybe some of them will end up being great business connections.”
  • “After a day of scuba diving/surfing/hiking, I might actually be in the mood to do some intellectually stimulating work.”

The point isn’t to be overly optimistic. The point is that you don’t know what will happen if you make a change. Maybe things will turn out worse than you expected—or maybe they’ll turn out better! (Usually, though, if you’ve done your due diligence before you make a change, things turn out for the better.)

Put differently, our experience of reality is subjective. You can choose to focus on certain aspects of reality, or on other ones. You’ll always have certain worries and fears come up, but you can let go of them and reinforce positive thoughts instead.

This is all a lengthy way of saying that your mindset matters. If you know that you want to make a change, but your mindset is stopping you, then acknowledge that and get to work on your mindset.

Yours,

— Peter

P.S. It helps to have someone guide you when you’re working on your mindset. It’s one of the things we work on in my coaching program.

How to find the perfect job, part II

A man from an aid organization cuts lumber.

Yesterday, I stated that you can’t find the perfect job

It’s true: the perfect job doesn’t exist. With every job you take, there will be trade-offs. How does the job make you feel? How much does it pay? How friendly are your coworkers? How far away from home is the office? Can you work from home? What are the prospects for career advancement? Et cetera et cetera.

That said, there might be a job that is perfect for you—if we define perfect as “best attainable” rather than “flawless”.

To find this job, you must start with what matters to you. Not with what matters to others. Not with what work seems successful to your dad, your grandma, your friends, or your partner. You have to listen to yourself.

The perfect job for you is one that makes you feel good. And what makes one feel good varies widely from person to person. For example:

  • You want make a living as a professional athlete, because competing at the highest level makes you feel good.
  • You want to teach in high school, because seeing kids grow makes you feel good.
  • You want to be a marine biologist, because helping to preserve ocean life makes you feel good.
  • You want to be an ophthalmologist, because helping people see better makes you feel good.

These are all great reasons to have a particular job. When your work makes you feel good, everything else follows: motivation, dedication, competence.

Typically, when we are unhappy with our work, it is because it doesn’t feel good. Our work might have qualities that seem good on paper, but it isn’t good work (for us) in reality. Still, we might stick with the work because of external reasons, such as:

  • The job pays well (“golden handcuffs”).
  • We have become friends with our coworkers.
  • The company we work for is prestigious and having worked here will make it easier to get other jobs in the future.
  • The job comes with nice perks, such as a company car.

It’s great if our work has these qualities, all else being equal. But if our work doesn’t feel good, none of these qualities matter.

Okay—so how do you find out what feels good? You experiment. You pick a line of work that seems cool and you try it. If you like it, that’s great! If you don’t like it, note why you don’t like it and then try something else as soon as possible.

One of my readers did this well. He started working for the same consulting firm as I did straight out of college. His desk was directly across from mine. Within a few weeks—or maybe a month or two; I forget exactly, but it was fast—he determined that this job was not for him. So he quit and he applied for other jobs. That’s how you make progress! By not staying stuck in a job you don’t like.

Put differently, you should reason from first principles.

First principles thinking is the act of boiling a process down to the fundamental parts that you know are true and building up from there.

James Clear, “First Principles: Elon Musk on the Power of Thinking for Yourself”

When you’re figuring out what your perfect job looks like, what are the fundamental parts that we know are true? If we’ve collected enough self-knowledge, we know what makes us happy. In other words, we know what makes us feel good.

Start by requiring that any job you take includes elements that make you happy and does not include too many element that make you unhappy. Only then figure out practicalities such as pay, career prospects, etc. For example: I require that I am in charge of my day’s schedule. I want to be able to choose when and where I work, so that I can pace myself and engage in self-care whenever I feel that it would help me.

Finally, remember that your perfect work might not come in the form of a job. As a matter of fact, there are excellent reasons to never take another job. Do consider them.

Yours,

— Peter

P.S. Need help finding your perfect job? I currently have two coaching spots available at a reduced price. Sign up for your free 30-minute introductory call now—if we’re a good fit, you’ll be eligible for the reduced price.

Is your job good on paper or in reality?

A woman, wearing a dress and heels, on the phone in an office with a view of a city.

Some jobs look great on paper. If you’re a lawyer, a banker, or a consultant, perhaps your job:

  • Pays well
  • Comes with an office with a fancy view
  • Looks good on your resume
  • Puts you around lots of smart people

These can all be good things. Certainly, ceteris paribus, you’d want these things in a job. But these characteristics don’t make a job good in reality.

A job that is good in reality, and not only on paper, will:

  • Give you plenty of time off
  • Not be massively stressful
  • Have you helping others in a meaningful way
  • Make you feel proud of your work

These things determine how your job feels. And it is more important that your work feels good than that it looks good on paper.

Does your work feel good?

Yours,

— Peter

P.S. Is your answer “no”? Not sure why? Not sure what to do about it? Let’s work together to figure it out. 

This test will tell you whether you’re doing the right work

A doctor's hands, putting a blood pressure meter around someone else's arm.

Picture this: you inherit €5 million. This is plenty of money to never have to work again. You take a break from your job and you start spending your time doing things you enjoy.

How long before you want to do some of your current work again?

If the answer is “never”, then you’re in the wrong line of work. 

If the answer is a certain number of months or years, that’s encouraging! It means you’re doing work that is meaningful to you. 

But even if you are in the right line of work, you might lack motivation to do the work, because you don’t have enough time and money to fulfill your other needs and wants.

If that’s the case, you might take a mini-retirement—which does not require receiving a large inheritance—to satisfy those other needs. Or you might change your lifestyle so you can structurally have more time to do things you enjoy outside of work. 

What I’m trying to say is: you know you’re in the right line of work if you would still want to do it even if you had plenty of time and money to pursue your other interests in life.

Yours,

— Peter

P.S. Need help figuring out whether you’re in the right line of work? We can work through it together in my coaching program. If you’re interested, reply to this email and we’ll get on the phone to see whether we’re a good fit.

Figure out what you like by leaning into action

A motorbike racer leaning sideways while he takes a corner.

Many people do not particularly enjoy their work, but don’t know of a better way to make a living either.

If you’re not sure which money-generating activities you might like better than your current job, the best way to find out is to:

Try different things.

Let’s say you’re a lawyer and you’ve realized that you don’t want to spend the rest of your life practicing law. Now, one of your hobbies is scuba diving. You could arrange for a two-month leave of absence, move to a tropical island, and take a dive master course. (A dive master course allows you to guide other people on dives.)

Maybe you’ll find out that you absolutely love being a dive master and it’s a no-brainer to quit your job in law entirely. Alternatively, you might realize that, while you enjoy diving, you don’t enjoy babysitting other divers. Either way, you’ve learned something valuable!

Experimentation is key. Take action. By contrast, it does not work to sit at your desk, staring out the window, while you try to imagine what it would be like to do something else for a living. You don’t know what something is like until you actually try it. And you’ve got to try things for a while, too—not just for a few days or a week.

Your change doesn’t have to be as dramatic as moving to a tropical island, either. You could simply apply for some other jobs that seem interesting to you, while you keep your current job. If you apply somewhere and you get a job offer, you don’t have to take it. Simply applying, visiting other companies’ offices, and chatting with the people there would give you a great deal of information about what it would be like to work there.

Let me give you another example. Maybe you are a consultant and you don’t like the number of hours that you work. You don’t have enough time to do other things you enjoy, such as playing soccer and going on weekend trips. You find your work interesting, but you’re starting to resent the company for gobbling up your free time. You think the problem is just the number of hours, but you’re not sure. Maybe the true problem is that you  don’t actually care about the work?

In this case, your experiment might be a two-month period of working the same job, but working it part time. That will help you determine whether the problem truly is the number of hours, or whether there is a deeper reason why you’re not happy with your job.

You need data on what you do and don’t like. To collect the data, you need to take action.

Are you having trouble figuring out what you’d like to do instead of your current work? If so, what’s stopping you from trying something new?

Yours,

— Peter