Seriously - Does the Fun-Forever Job Really Exist?

Since my book, In Search of the Fun-Forever Job, was published last year, I've received reviews and comments from readers who thought the title meant the book was going to inspire readers to find that elusive “fun-forever job.” Actually, the title was meant to be somewhat ironic.  

Why I Chose that Title
The title came from my daughter who, at age eight, wrote and illustrated a “book” called “When I Am Grownup.” I’m not sure most eight-year-olds would be concerned about professional choices or involved in much self-reflection, but she was the daughter of a career consultant and a psychoanalyst and could hardly avoid this type of thinking. It was genetically predetermined.

In her book, Hannah ruminated about her possibilities. She felt she’d want an “unushowoll” job “that I can do most anything I want in, something like the fun-forever job.” She worried such a job might not be available and considered other options (a headshrinker or a headhunter) but continued to feel concern about even those jobs working out.

The Wish
What was particularly striking to me was that so many of my clients and students have expressed a similar wish for a totally fulfilling career, as if they hoped to discover their perfect, passionate calling out there somewhere. 

The concept of a “fun-forever job” seems funny to me because most people—including, perhaps, Hannah at age eight—knows it’s probably unobtainable. This does not appear to prevent people from wanting it anyway.

Of course there are a few lucky people who seem to have found that fun-forever job, but the number of such people is most likely very small. I’ve only met a few over the years.  After all, a job means work, meaning on a daily basis, on most days of the week. Seeking consistent passion puts a heavy emphasis on something that is rarely achieved and often leads to disappointment and discontent at work. 

The Reality
Of course, it’s possible to love a job or be passionate about a career, but forever? Every day? That’s like looking for a lifetime soul mate who’s great-looking, rich, witty, sexy, and sensitive—someone you’ll feel excited about all the time for the entire relationship. I know too many people who think that way about relationships. Definitely not a fun-forever situation, either.    

To some degree, the search for the fun-forever job has continued for Hannah, as it has for many of my clients, although they refer to it in different terms. Sometimes, it’ll be “something totally exciting” or the frequent “all I need is challenge,” and other times it’s as basic as “something I won’t dread every day,” or “any job that won’t make me feel sick on Sunday evening.”  

What It Takes to Find a Job that Suits You
I believe career development should be a process that includes figuring out what works and doesn’t work, clarifying personal values, understanding personal style, and leveraging that knowledge moving forward. It doesn’t have to be a lifetime or permanent decision.  Do you hear that, recent graduates?  (Take a look at last week’s blog.)  

Sometimes it may mean that your job only needs to be reasonably good if it supports you and provides you with a salary, security, and benefits, and you can gain the passion part from what you do outside your job. Or you might turn your full-time job into a part-time one and work on several different activities and interests outside of your core job. 

There are many other permutations; the key is to not put the pressure of the Big Decision on yourself too early and to realize it may take some time to develop a career that works for you.  My core philosophy of career development is that you should focus on making the career fit your life, not the other way around.  

My own career path, as I explain early in the book, is a good example of the many twists and turns you may need to take to reach that point where you feel pretty good about your career choices. I’ve written about my own experience in the hope that others who find the career development process complicated or painful may understand better that it often involves a series of realizations and changes—sometimes even circling back to what you knew in the first place.


For a quick course on networking, pick up my Ebook, Networking: How to Make the Connections You Need

If you're looking for more in-depth advice on your job search, In Search of the Fun-Forever Job: Career Strategies that Work is available in paperback and Ebook. 

Should New Graduates Have a Career Path?

While I’ve talked to students on many different occasions throughout the academic year, I’ve never been invited to give a commencement address. That hasn’t stopped me from thinking about what I would like to say, if asked. (I’d even be happy to wear a cap and gown.)

The Graduation Address I’d Like to Give if Only Someone Would Ask

What I want to say to you today is what I wish someone had said to me at my graduation. (Never mind that I didn’t attend. That’s another story.) 

Commencement season is much more than students protesting speakers and speakers telling graduates about the impact they can make on society.

It’s a time for celebration, yes. But underneath all the excitement, there’s a profound level of anxiety. Anxiety about what kind of job you should be looking for. Anxiety about whether you can afford to live on your own or will be moving back home. (My apologies to the parents for bringing this up, but I’ve seen statistics claiming anywhere from 53-85% of college graduates move back home.) Anxiety because now is the moment when you really have to decide what you want to be when you grow up.

But my question is this: should you really be asked to make a decision for life at 22?

I’ve been a career consultant for more than 25 years so I know that some of you will make bad career decisions just to avoid the anxiety of not making a decision at all. Sometimes that means law school, sometimes medical school, sometimes another professional graduate program. Or just any graduate school, in order to avoid any decisions and stay in a relatively safe place.  

I frequently joke to my graduate students--who carefully made their very expensive decision to go to business school after at least six or seven years in the workforce--I am grateful for all those who chose to go to law school right after graduation, because they will form a strong base of referrals for my private practice later on.  

Why? Because their decisions were usually based on all the wrong factors. Choosing a profession for life at 22 because of a need to make a decision, any decision, is a bad idea. 

Where bad decisions will take you

While I like getting the business from all those unhappy attorneys, at the same time I’m very sorry to see so many clients who are miserable in their careers as a result of faulty decision-making. And too often, they stick with those bad decisions for far too long.  

Why do they stick with those decisions? Because they worry about not knowing what they really want to do. A kind of infinite loop.  

I then end up working with many 40-45-year-old attorneys who will claim that they hated law school at orientation, but could never figure out how to extricate themselves from the security of a steady job and a good paycheck--the “golden handcuffs.” 

Or I work with the many doctors who have enrolled in the Executive MBA program, where I consult, because they’d never liked clinical work much, were not that interested in medicine to begin with, and wanted to do something much more business-oriented.  

Or I speak with information technology professionals from abroad who chose their careers because they saw those careers as the best possible shot at upward mobility in their countries, and then later realized that they were far more interested in the business end of things.  

When I meet students, like you, about to graduate from college who are thinking about the law school thing, I’ll ask them why. Their first inclination is to think of law as a safe, secure choice. Funny thing about that. It isn’t, anymore. 

But if they don’t have a substantive answer to why they’ve chosen law school, I will suggest that they try clerical or paralegal work in a law firm or other legal area for a year. Otherwise, they have no real idea whether or not the field is interesting. 

What kind of decision should you be making? 

First, let’s take the pressure off. It is not necessary to make a lifetime decision right after college graduation. Let’s take that even further. I’m a career advisor who doesn’t believe in long-term career planning. Yes, there are some who do have a vision; some of my students, at age 31, know exactly where they want to be in 30 years. Most don’t. 

I’ve never been able to figure out why making a lifetime decision is so important to so many people, and why it’s a normal expectation. Maybe it’s the result of so many parents and friends asking, “So what are you going to do? What’s your career goal?” I think that the 20’s are the perfect time for exploration and figuring things out. Lifetime planning for most of you is not feasible. More than that, it’s probably the cause of so many bad decisions.  

But what should a graduate do? If we’re talking about someone who, like the vast majority of graduates, doesn’t have a clue about what he or she wants in the long term, let’s start as I already said by taking the pressure off. 

The decision about that first job should be based on – 

  • What do you find interesting? 
  • What have you enjoyed doing to this point?  
  • And what is important to you in terms of your personal values?  
  • Then I’d ask you to think about what are the upsides of a first job?   

I suggest including the upsides to help you understand that this initial decision isn’t one that can never be altered. Or that if you make a mistake it’s a career killer (ridiculous). At your age, no job should be thought of as make or break. What this initial job should be is a skill builder, and an exploration.  

Let me give you an example.

A recent college graduate client was determined to get into advertising. He was a talented writer, and had a serious creative gift. But entry-level jobs in advertising are hard to find these days, in a seriously contracting and quickly evolving field. Thanks to his skill at building networks, he managed to find a job with a firm he soon realized was not a good fit for him. To put it mildly, he despised the people and the culture. But he stuck it out to gain experience. He left for an unpaid internship, which helped him clarify his interest in the creative end and helped him develop a strategy. The internship recently ended.  

He’s on search once again now, and is still angry about his initial experience. I pointed out the upsides-- both the first bad experience and the non-paying experience not only gave him skills to describe to prospective employers, but also helped him discover exactly what it was that he wanted to do in advertising. I also pointed out that everyone has terrible jobs, maybe a few of them, and it was just unlucky that his first one was such an unpleasant experience. But at 24, he now has a much better grasp on what he wants to do and the steps he’ll need to take.  

Most careers are not linear. What’s important to keep in mind is that you can make mistakes, you can choose wrong paths, you can be downsized or terminated, and you can still have a successful career.  

And when you start thinking about careers as an evolutionary process you begin to understand that there is no absolute decision to be made at a set time. I know lots of very successful people who made their defining career decisions in their 40s . . . or even 50s. 

Assess your interests and values
Once you understand that it’s not imperative to make the Big Decision at age 22, figuring out what your first steps should be is critical. Do a self-assessment of your interests, clarify your personal values, and research potential job markets--those are the key elements in starting. Learning as much as possible about the field you’ve chosen will help you become an insider even before you’ve landed a job. And it will set you apart from other job candidates.  

You don’t need to make a life decision, but you do need to have an initial target. As I point out in In Search of the Fun-Forever Job: Career Strategies That Work, targets are the first objective in any job search or career transition. You can’t just “cast the wide net,” and hope that something will just happen by chance. A targeted search, with a carefully crafted marketing plan will get things going.  

But before you begin, you need to take the pressure off. Aim for the first job, not the total career. Eliminating the anxiety will help the process immeasurably.  

By the way, congratulations on your graduation! 

For a quick course on networking, pick up my Ebook, Networking: How to Make the Connections You Need

If you're looking for more in-depth advice on your job search, In Search of the Fun-Forever Job: Career Strategies that Work is available in paperback and Ebook. 

iStock/© CareyHope

Is it time to leave?

Malaise at Work 
Having a bad week at work is usually transitory. Everyone goes through that. When the bad week extends into several and becomes chronic, or what I call "the feeling sick on Sunday night syndrome," it may mean it’s time for some sort of change.  

It takes, however, some careful thinking to separate out a bad career decision from a bad work environment. Too often I've seen clients and students insist on making a change, either within a field or maybe something more radical. But with a little time and perspective, they realize that the problem may be the work setting, not the career choice.

Write it down
One way to figure out the difference is simply to draw up a list of personal values, i.e., what's important to you at work, and then match it with the attributes of the current job. Is there a strong correlation? That should help you understand whether it's the place or the profession. Or both. What would the change actually look like? Writing it down often provides some perspective and clarity.  

Escape from reality is not a career path
Do you frequently think about another specific profession? That, too, can be a clue. (Please note I’m not talking about your dream of opening a B&B in New Hampshire or a bait and tackle shop in Tahiti. Those are called “escapes.” Often from reality. The truth is that kind of work is TOUGH, and not nearly the idyll that most people fantasize.)  

Get another perspective
You may need some help figuring out this conundrum. It may take some personal assessment, perhaps some formal assessment tools, or some conversations with a trusted friend or colleague. Maybe a professional career advisor can help you get a better perspective.  

When should I think about leaving?
Here are some signs that it may be time to move:

  • If you feel completely stuck, it is probably time to consider either an internal move or a move out.

Of course, there are some who enjoy certainty and repetition and are comfortable with that. For most, though, "stuck" is not a good place to be. Unfortunately, it can also lead to inertia--you start to feel paralyzed. If that happens, then you definitely need to at least take a look at some other options. This doesn't mean a commitment; it just means an exploration.   

  • Constant complaining about work may mean it’s time to consider alternatives. It could also be a personality trait--you’ll have to be honest with yourself here.   
  • A difficult relationship with a boss may signal the need to move. Unless it reflects your own issues, too.  

It's important to understand that work environments almost always have some kind of significance in terms of family background. Early childhood patterns tend to repeat throughout life. You're always playing out parts of childhood at work and in other life arenas, whether it's a sibling issue (competitiveness?), parental (problems with authority figures?), or parenting (difficulty with subordinates?). 

On the other hand, it can be purely about a difficult boss. For example, a narcissistic boss can be extremely difficult to work with, because, characteristic of that disorder, the narcissist is almost never satisfied. He/she requires inordinate amounts of attention to prop up a fragile personality. That's a tough work situation, and probably a motivation to make a change.  

  • ·The prospects for advancement in your field look grim.

If you do make a decision based on this, you need to be careful before coming to conclusions about industries in decline. 

Sometimes it's cyclical (real estate), and sometimes it's a radical change in direction (publishing, music). Be sure to do considerable research to make that determination and be careful about naysayers, who will offer negatives about any profession at any time.  

I remember clients hearing negatives (no jobs out there anymore!) about technology during the dotcom boom of the late '90's, which was ridiculous. Of course, those negatives did become real in the early 2000's--but turned out to be part of another, newer, cycle.  

  •   The balance between work and life is way off.  

If you value your time off, and you find you're working regularly on weekends, maybe it's time to think about a change. Is it part of the industry culture (investment banking and law)? Or is it cyclical (accounting)? Be sure to research whether it's industry-wide, or whether it's just your organization.

What does a change entail?
Now that you know it’s time to leave, you need to know that a career change should involve a heavy due diligence before implementing a search. This turns the common sequence around a bit. Instead of making an arbitrary decision because something sounds interesting, as most people do at the beginning of their careers, I strongly urge research and informational networking in perhaps two or three different targets.  

This will help to determine whether or not you 
(1) like what you find out, 
(2) find that there is an actual market out there, and 
(3) determine whether your skills and experience are appropriate for the target.  

What you want is a critical mass of opinion--meaning more than one or two people-- so that you can make your decision, and then begin the mechanics of a search. By mechanics, I mean the development of marketing materials (resume, pitch, written communications) and then building relationships which will get you to decision makers.  

Please note that I'm not emphasizing ads or recruiters here, which, while sometimes useful, are low-odds resources for most job seekers.  

Making the final decision
It is difficult, if not impossible, to make blanket generalizations about entire fields, in terms of what's hot at the moment. For example, current consensus says that healthcare is a growing market segment for now and for the future. This is generally true, but does that refer to doctors or nurses or physical therapists or pharmacists or all the other healthcare professions? Obviously, one statement can’t cover them all.  

Finding out what it means requires the due diligence mentioned above, plus research and reading about the industries you're interested in. Intelligent career transition requires a great deal of preparation, not just a quick, sometimes arbitrary decision.

I feel strongly that any career decision should involve the notion that the career should fit you--and not the other way around. It's important to understand your own personal style and values, and figure out whether any career decision suits who you are. Too many decisions are made out of expediency or as the result of not enough reflection. It’s never easy, but isn't it worth the effort to do it right?  

To find answers to your questions on job search and career transition, get your copy of In Search of the Fun-Forever Job: Career Strategies that Work