How to find the perfect job, part II

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.

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