How To Find a Job You Love
Or: Advice for my unemployed friend trying to find his passion
Comedian Mitch Hedberg had a joke that went like this:
“At a radio interview the DJ’s first question was ‘Who are you?’ I had to think. Is this guy really deep? Or did I drive to the wrong station?”
It’s a funny joke, but if someone asked you the same question, what would you say? Your name? Your job title?
Who you are isn’t what you do, it’s deeper than that. It’s who are you despite what you do.
Ideally, you want the “who” and the “what” to be as closely aligned as possible. In terms of a Venn diagram, the closer you are to a full circle, the better.
It stands to reason your passion can only express itself if you listen to it and follow its call, that’s how you become the circle.
Sounds simple, right? But you and I both know it isn’t. So does my friend. He’s just finished working in the same office for 15 years. Like me and many others the pandemic dissolved his job, he was made redundant and now he’s staring into the abyss wondering who he is.
We had a chat on the phone and he asked me if I had any answers.
I do because I’ve been there too. I’m still there, swimming in the uncertainty of self-employment. Here was my advice to him. And now, to you also.
1) Take time to do nothing
Finding out who you are is continuous work. I knew I hated the corporate world but it took two months of doing almost nothing during lockdown for it to hit home.
When it did, I cried like a baby. It blindsided me, the emotion poured out like an uncorked champagne bottle. I never cry. At that moment a rubicon was crossed, I knew I could never go back to traditional corporate work.
The epiphany wouldn't have come without the mental space from the hustle and bustle of normal life.
I told my friend the covid lockdown was a gift he needs to embrace. Like cream sprayed from a can, he needs to expand into his new shape, free from the corporate mould. It takes time to work out who you are, to settle into your new form and think “Oh, so this is me.”
If you’re soul searching, please use this unusual respite to do nothing, at least for a while. In that stillness, that mundanity, you will begin to hear your call.
“You have to allow a certain amount of time in which you are doing nothing in order to have things occur to you, to let your mind think.” – Mortimer Adler
2) Think back to what you wanted to do when you were 17 years old
I believe we are all born with a calling, though I can’t articulate why. I could cite examples of people who knew what they wanted to do from an early age and went out and did it, but that would be ignoring all the people who feel lost and confused for most of their careers.
This is why the do nothing stage is important, it helps provide an objectively clear view of your life. But if you don’t have that privilege, thinking about your dreams as a teenager can be just as effective.
You might want to dismiss your 17-year-old whims and fantasies, but these dreams were the real you before mortgages, bills and responsibility corrupted your mind.
People are meant to change but it’s good to revisit your roots because within them are clues to your future.
You might not want to be a pro-skateboarder or a heavy metal guitarist anymore, but hidden in those fantasy careers are kernels of truth about who you really are; a thrill-seeker, an artist, a showman.
Dig for instruction in your young heart to find out where to go next.
Instructions are the dreams and ideas that scare you the most. Follow the fear, it’s telling you something.
“I have dealt with many people who say that to me ‘I am 35. I’m 40. I don’t know what it is that I was meant to do. I really have no idea.’ OK, let’s go back and look at your childhood. Let’s look at the things that excited you… You’re reconnecting to what I call a voice inside of you that you had when you were a kid, that drew you to certain activities that you have lost touch with.” – Robert Greene
3) Shed everything in life that isn’t you
Life, especially when you feel lost and confused, is full of activities and identities that aren’t you. Commuting to work (does anyone do this anymore?), paying bills and putting the bins out are not you. That’s admin.
Equally, you are not your job, you are not the alcohol you drink, the music you listen to or the sports teams you follow.
In the words of Chuck Palahniuk in his novel Fight Club “You are not your f**king khakis.”
You’re not even your friends or family.
Those are all external definitions of you. They are not your values, morals, strengths or weaknesses.
“You” can be boiled down to what you think about, dream about, what you say and what you do.
Take stock of these four pillars of you and identify what feels like a good fit and what feels like gears grinding in an old gearbox.
Is salacious gossip you? Is abusing celebrities on Twitter you? Is pornography, drinking, fighting or treating your body poorly you? Is letting yourself down you Or are these symptoms, habits, addictions? Are you coming from love or fear?
Is turning up to work in a suit you, or are you playing a part?
To paraphrase spiritual author Geoff Thompson, “We might not know who we are but we can start by identifying what we’re not.”
Ask yourself in all circumstances, is this me or is this autopilot? Am I playing a role? Playing out an addiction? Projecting a fear?
This isn’t easy. It takes attention, reflection and effort. In spiritual terms, this is the process of “kenosis” – the emptying of oneself. Strip away everything that isn’t you to find your true self.
The more you simplify your life the clearer your mind will become.
The more things you identify as not you, the easy it will be to rediscover who you really are. It is in the process of unbecoming when we find ourselves.
“If you feel the tension, between who you are and what you do, give yourself the space and time to listen to what you are feeling, and understand it.” – Neil Crofts ‘Authentic: How to Make a Living by Being Yourself’
They say at the centre of every human is chaos, so trying to find a real you is like trying to punch smoke. It’s ever-changing.
But as a counter to that, Friedrich Nietzsche wrote:
“One must still have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star.”
This is a wonderful way of saying embrace the uncertainty and ride your wild passions when you find them.
Most people in life aren’t happy, they’re anaesthetised. If you’re searching for answers, if you’re restless with your place in the world, take heed you’re on a path to progress.
The 3 mental exercises outlined above will help clarify your passions and next steps. Admittedly, they won’t give you solid answers, only best guesses, as life itself isn’t solid (ask “why” enough and everyone comes up clueless) but this is a way of sweeping away the bullshit of others to hear your calling, whatever that may be.
Does that sound whacky? I agree it does, but life is a leap of faith, faith in meaning, faith in the value of living, faith in intuition as a guide.
So, leap. Develop some faith. Listen to your soul. Stop trying to control everything. Great things come from letting go.
An early draft of this article wss originally posted on Medium.com