Mar 22, 2011

Key to Success: Find the Work You Love

Making the decision to do something different with your life, to make a wholesale change in career can be one of the biggest decisions someone makes (often more than once) on their lifetime. Often, the first question that springs to mind is “What do I really want to do?” Nearly as often, though, this question cannot be answered by a knee-jerk decision. Given that most of us “working stiffs” spend the majority of our lives at work (not to mention thinking about work), truly finding your calling can take a lot of time, introspective work, and patience. There are a few things you can do, though, which will greatly increase the odds of finding the “fit” you have been looking for.

All too often, career changes occur as an eruption of pent-up frustration, sort of an “I am mad as hell, and I am not going to take it anymore” sort of syndrome. However, making a major life change in order to get away from the work you do not want is simply a short-term band-aid for a bigger problem.

Many people simply get so frustrated with their current job that only a nuclear bomb sort of change feels satisfying. Again, though, making choices fed out of desperation will not yield long term satisfaction. Making a choice to do something simply because it is the polar opposite of what you do now is not a terribly clear framework to go on. This is one situation where “The enemy of my enemy is my friend” is not a terribly useful strategy for finding one’s calling.

A far more effective strategy is to calm down a bit, know there really is no rush to change careers, and that trading some time (and patience) to find what you really want always pays off. Time is going to pass anyway, and wouldn’t you rather spend it working towards finding what you want (rather than just hastily jumping into something else and facing a new set of unforeseen challenges)?
When starting the process to ascertain what you really want to do, it is often best to look at your strengths, your weaknesses, and your interests. Typically, people enjoy things they are good at (and vice versa), and if your true ambition is to find a career that does not feel like difficult, hard work all of the time, identifying the work you actually enjoy can be a great first step along your path of self-discovery.
Often, this process leads people to identify a product or service they are really interested in, and set out to start their own business offering it. However, running a new business is far more about the business than it is the product or service. Starting a business because you enjoy the product is sort of like deciding you want to be a plumber because you like water. At best, in any new business, the product is really only about 30%-40% of what the business owner works on. In the beginning, the typical first-time business owner’s job description extends from customer service, sales, operations management, marketing, business management, financial management, etc. Someday, you may be able to have the staff to allow you to focus on the product or service, but for the start-up phase, your job is more about running an effective business than anything else.

When thinking about starting your own business, the most often overlooked and undervalued aspect is experience. It is nearly flabbergasting to me to hear a potential business owner talking about opening a business in an industry they have no experience in. Experience is the MOST valuable and MOST irreplaceable quality any business owner can have. Of course, there are two aspects to experience. The first is experience running a business, the second is experience with the product/industry. Lacking one of these can lead to a really hard ride. Lacking in both can be a death sentence for your business.
If business ownership is truly a path you want to go down, understand that experience is critical, but it is a gap you can span. If you have little or no industry experience, find part-time ways to get it. Perhaps work on a small-scale or freelance basis, or seek additional schooling, or even an internship. Perhaps start a micro-enterprise that you can do in your spare time while you learn the industry. This way, you are really only risking your time (and usually a modest financial investment), rather than betting your livelihood on your new enterprise.

If you need business ownership experience, a lot can be gleaned from talking with resources at your local SCORE ( or SBDC chapter. You may even look into local business associations or small business events to begin to network with your future peers.

The key is to take it slow, learn what you need to learn, then more forward. Again, this is probably not terribly satisfying advice to someone at the end of their rope with their job, but it is the best advice I can give to realistically set you up for the future you want. After all, if it takes you a year or two to find the work you love (and get to do for the next 10-20 years), isn’t that a trade you would make?

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