Career advice is ubiquitous. Unfortunately, too much of this advice is misleading at best. So how do you sift through the noise and find a north star to guide you on your path to finding a job that you truly love? The type that you actively can’t wait to start every day.
This is a topic that has always interested me. We can’t get away from the fact that most of us are going to spend 2/3rds of our lives pursuing a profession. It seems to make sense, therefore, that we would want to maximize our enjoyment of that time – but with so many options available to the modern graduate, it’s not easy to chart a path to this goal.
Career Advice from the Experts
From all I’ve read on this topic, two books stand out as offering the most practical advice, and despite dealing with different career-related topics, the key takeaways match each other perfectly.
The first book, So Good They Can’t Ignore You (Cal Newport), deals exactly with this topic of finding work you love. The key message is that to build a great career you need three things; valuable skills (what Newport calls career capital), control and mission.
In parallel, Dan Pink describes the three essential elements of motivation in his book Drive (and his awesome TED talk). These are mastery, autonomy and purpose.
Not only do both authors advise on the same three elements (career capital = mastery, control = autonomy, mission = purpose), but they even lay them out in the same order of attainment.
I write this article having read both books, and reflecting on my time since graduating with a Business Studies degree from DCU, I have found myself with all 3 in my career (though mission is, by nature, always a work in progress).
There is always an element of chance in how your career unfolds, but as a smart person once said, you make your own luck. I believe with clear focus on these principles, success will follow.
So where to start? As Cal Newport emphasizes, Career Capital (or Mastery) is first and foremost.
Career Capital (Mastery)
This is pretty straightforward – only with well developed skills will you be in a position to enjoy your job. Though simple, it is the foundation that make the other two elements possible. It’s also the most time-consuming of all, especially earlier on in your career – but time invested here will reap dividends in the future.
In short, become the de facto expert in your domain of choice.
Autonomy in your role follows naturally. The better you get at your job, the less need there is to supervise you – which is a win for both you and your company.
Autonomy in your life is a little more difficult. It is a little more uncommon to have complete location or time flexibility in your role – which naturally impinges on when and where you can do the things you want to. If you have full autonomy in both location and time, and your work is graded based on results only, then you have yourself a ROWE – or a Results Only Work Environment.
This is rare, and rarer yet is the ability to handle so much control. You need to be the epitome of the self-starter, like an entrepreneur, but within a company – an intrapteneur.
Usually some degree of autonomy – short of total control – is more than enough to thoroughly enjoy a role.
The last factor, Mission (or Purpose), is most elusive. The number of roles out there that offer a mission that aligns with your own values are in the minority. But they do exist. And in many roles you can shape the work to address issues you care about – once you have achieved the mastery and control to make influential decisions.
In addition, outside of your paying 9-5 you will have the opportunity to devote your skills to the issues you care about. And if you have spent time developing Mastery, then your skills will have much more value to the cause.
Putting This Career Advice Into Practice
I mentioned in the intro that since graduating I have managed to find all three elements in my current role. There is no linear path to this, and I read these books after finding my role even, but after reading them I realized that this was the approach I took, and these are the elements that I was building toward even if I didn’t know it at the time. Very briefly, here is how the three elements have come together for me.
Mastery – After graduating with a general marketing degree, and finding my first graduate role as a general Marketing Executive, I realized I needed to specialize if I wanted to gain a useful skillset. Everything was going digital, and while I had basic digital marketing skills, I could see the need for hardcore digital marketers in the job market – plus it was work I enjoyed.
I spent the next few years developing a broad range of related skills – starting with everything digital – SEO, PPC, Analytics, HTML, CSS etc. and layering this with a Master’s degree in Digital Media, a qualification in graphic design, and an applied MBA. By the time this up-skilling period was coming to a close I had set up a digital marketing agency and was working with multiple clients in the B2B SMB space. This experience set me up perfectly to find my current role. Out of five interviews, I had three job offers. This is the outcome of having career capital that you can leverage.
Control – While consulting, I had tonnes of control. I could work when and where I wanted in most cases. Though when running a business you lose some control as well – your workload isn’t always balanced, you spend time doing admin to keep things organized among other things.
Going back to a traditional job could have meant returning to a point with a severe lack of control – though I avoided this trap. The role I took was with a company with a strong work-from-anywhere ethos, giving me control of where I work. In addition because I am the sole digital marketer I have a lot of autonomy in how to approach the job and deliver results. Finally, there is flexibility on when to work, given that the team are spread across timezones. This is all the control I need.
Purpose – The key thing that attracted me to this role is that the company works in the non-profit human services space. Meaning the work we do has a direct impact on the people who deliver services to those most in need across homelessness, mental health, foster care and developmental disabilities.
This gives me all the motivation I need to give me best every day – the better we do, the more lives are improved. This is a work-in-progress – there are many more things we can do to improve – this is exactly what makes it a mission, and a mission worth pursuing.
In summary, if you are trying to figure out the path between a day-job and a career you truly love, use the three elements of Mastery, Autonomy and Purpose as your guiding light.
You will still need to put in the hard graft of developing your personal brand, becoming an expert, applying for jobs and everything else – but this career advice will keep you going in the right direction.