Perhaps the truth depends on a walk around the lake. –Wallace Stevens
Penelope Trunk wrote a recent piece about how to find satisfying work.
She made the important point that in order to find work you love, experimentation is required.
You might have to try your hand at 50 to 100 jobs!
I know that will surprise many people but I remember a stat from about 30 years ago that surprised me: that the average number of jobs a person would have during their lifetimes was 16.
I’d repeat that to people and they’d tell me surely I was wrong.
Interesting stats on this phenomenon are here.
I think nowadays the average number of jobs a person is expected to hold during their lifetimes is around a dozen with the most number of changes occurring early in a person’s lifetime.
I’m not sure why that number has gone down but I suspect it has something to do with education.
This surprised me from that study:
On average, the least-educated men held more jobs than the most-educated men, while the opposite is true among women.
Penelope went on to say something else that caught my attention:
“…satisfying work is the intersection of what you like to do, what you are good at, and what an organization values.”
We all know that, right?
Then why are we so perplexed by putting those three circles together?
Let me tell you how I did it.
I’d spent 22 years of my life doing something I wasn’t well suited to:Real Estate and Small Business Sales.
It was a family business so I suppose I segued into it with the belief that nobody would ever hire me.
More of that in a bit.
I’d started in college at the very early age (back then) of 18. During the summers I’d earn college expenses by selling farms in the hinterlands around Cincinnati.
I’d get up every hot summer day, put on a dress, and drive east of Cincinnati 30-plus miles out into the farming community of Clermont County.
The car wasn’t air-conditioned so I’d get out early.
I’d drive down long dusty driveways and get out of my car and walk to the front doors of farmhouses and knock on them.
Scary stuff, right?
I was scared (and hot) most of the time, driving (uninvited) onto a person’s property and down a gravel lane with dogs weaving around my car (some barking furiously) is no small stunt.
Even more of a stunt was gathering my nerve and walking those few paces to the front (or side) door.
Dogs bit me three times.
That’s a pretty horrifying thing, as you know if a dog has ever bitten you.
No matter: I was driven (by something) inside me that would not stop.
I suppose there was some optimism inside me but maybe it was just the fact that I was stubborn and obtuse.
That’s what my mother called me.
In a way.
She was trying to impress upon me some very important real estate theory that I just couldn’t (or, in her eyes, wouldn’t) seem to get. She was probably right. In exasperation, she blurted out one day that, “Nobody will ever hire you.”
That stung and it stuck.
In a way I am very glad it did.
It gave me the fortitude and the opportunity to work for myself.
In my opinion this is the best type of work.
Your mileage (and opinion) may vary.
At that time I think in the back of my mind, that statement carried import that I had few options, that I’d better get this or woe was I ever having a career.
For whatever reason, I stuck at those endeavors (and others) for 22 years, supporting myself and a growing family and taking on an office with 13 people operating under my brokerage license.
Then something inside me cracked.
I could not do it anymore.
I was 40 years old.
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I advised everyone that I was closing my office and they should place their licenses elsewhere. The shutdown occurred over three or so months but the real shutdown for me lasted much longer.
I went into therapy.
I did not work.
After a year or so I was growing restless and my young children wanted a computer.
I got one and was immediately mesmerized.
I was drawn in — engaged.
I’d sit at it all day while the kids were at school learning its arcane language and ways and many hours into the night after they’d gone to bed.
Pretty soon a man from California asked me in an AOL chat room what I did.
Uncomfortable with the question I typed, “Nothing, really.”
That was the beginning of my phone sourcing career.
He asked me if I’d like to call into high-tech companies and “get names” of people who held specific titles out of specific companies.
He offered to pay me on a per-name basis.
I was kind of bored, and the pay got my attention, so I said, “Sure, why not?”
He faxed over a list of companies (I didn’t know how to upload/download docs!) and off I went.
I cannot tell you the pleasure I felt with the first name I “got” but I can tell you why I think I got that pleasure.
When I was a child, my brother and I would visit a relative’s farm. The relative had a pond or a creek or a lake — I can’t remember exactly, we were so young — with ducks. The ducks would build nests along the water’s edge and my brother and I would look for the nests (they were usually very well-hidden) and find them.
I remembered that feeling of excitement I felt as a kid finding those nests with their eggs and it was exquisite!
Finding names gave me the same flush of pleasure, that same rush of excitement.
I couldn’t believe it. I was in egg heaven, and still am!
I understand that it’s not easy for most people to discover what they love. I believe, sincerely, that doing so requires a tremendous amount of work first on one’s self. That’s the real work. Once you’ve done that, once you’ve come to a place of self-awareness, everything else gets a lot easier.
It may sound kind of dumb to some of you but it makes perfect sense to me.
I’m a kid again when I do what I do — I have so much fun!
Think about something you LOVED to do as a kid. Remember that fun, hope, and joy it raised in you as a child, transfer it to a work activity today and you’ll feel that passion in what John D. Rockefeller III hints at when he said:
“The road to happiness lies in two simple principles: find what it is that interests you and that you can do well, and when you find it, put your whole soul into it — every bit of energy and ambition and natural ability you have.”
I regret only having a very few jobs most of my life.
I wish I had experimented more.
I hope this story encourages you to do so.