I grew up going to Mass every Sunday. My mother was a devout Catholic. She found comfort in the rituals steeped in centuries of tradition. She wanted her kids to be raised with those rituals so every Sunday she would dress my brother and me like miniature John Travoltas and haul our Saturday Night Fever to Sunday Morning Fervor.
Unlike her mother, who lamented the Vatican’s abandonment of the traditional recitations in Latin, my mom enjoyed some of the more modern changes of her time. In particular she liked the replacement of chants with music. She always said she wanted to buy a proper organ for the tiny country church we attended when I was in middle school. When we arrived at the appointed, “insert song here” part of the service, my mother and her friend Ms. Judy would raise their voices in praise…and it was hideous!
See, though my mom loved music and loved to sing even more, she couldn’t carry a tune in a basket. She would have lost the audition to be a backup singer for a backup singer. She was so bad she could have left Simon Cowell speechless. But every Sunday my brother and I decked out in silk shirts and poly bell bottoms had to stand in the pews while she committed melodic atrocities. I was an altar boy for a while and I used to say I chose to serve Mass so I could sit somewhere else. Truth is, I could still hear her up there. But the best part was, I could still see her.
Singing the familiar hymns gave her comfort, joy, and a sense of connection to her faith. She loved it and I loved her for it. It’s cool to watch people enjoying something they love. Even if they aren’t very good at it, their enthusiasm is intoxicating. Unless, of course, that thing they are doing is their job and they work for you! In that case, though we may not have an engagement issue, we probably have a performance issue!
Happiness and fulfillment in your career is a lot like singing. It’s a struggle between what we enjoy doing, and what we are able to do. In other words, we try to strike a balance between joy and competence. If we try to do work that we don’t find interesting and motivating we feel trapped. Our lack of interest ultimately will lead to disengagement; that we are just working for a paycheck. On the other hand, if we choose a job that we just can’t do well, our performance suffers and even though we like the activity, we can risk being fired for failing to meet the requirements of a job.
Since everything in business can be boiled down to a four quadrant matrix, I would like to introduce my “Career Motivation Matrix” for your consideration:
Certain Failure: Things you don’t like doing, and can’t do well
This is the easiest quadrant to avoid. Seriously, who is going to pick something they can’t do, especially if they don’t like it? Um, happens all the time! I’m in line at Chick-fil-a and overhear a student on the phone with a friend. “I dunno, I just went down the list and clicked Apply on all of them. We’ll see what happens.” This idiot is so disengaged in his job search that he almost deserves to get a job that he dislikes and will later be fired from. This type of employee will almost always make it out to be the fault of the employer when they fail, and to a degree it is. They slip through as a result of sloppy hiring. Lazy people applying for the wrong job with lazy employers…
Drudgery: Things you don’t like doing, but can do well
Everyone has talents that they don’t really know why they have. They have the skills and ability to do the basic functions, they just don’t enjoy the applications of those activities. Better said, they don’t have an interest in the job. One of my early jobs was selling office furniture. I had the basic skills to do the job, and do it well. I just didn’t particularly like it. To avoid drudgery, do your homework on the position. Talk to people who work in that job. What do they enjoy and why do they enjoy it? What challenges do they face? How did they get to that position? We call interactions like these “informational interviews” and they are invaluable to your career research. Job seekers should also keep in mind that the position they can do but don’t particularly care for can lead to a better position that they will like. This is a common dilemma faced by my students in entry-level jobs.
Broken Dreams: Things you like to do, but can’t do well
An interest that you take to with enthusiasm and regularity is called a hobby. Hobbies are good. They keep us active and engaged. Hobbies with followings can even get you networking with others who share your interest. Hobbies, though, are not careers. Let’s say you enjoy cooking (or singing!) You read cookbooks and watch FoodTV. You practice complex techniques. You can make a flawless hollandaise, you don’t burn your burre blanc, and you never overcook your chicken. What you don’t know how to do is work as a chef in a restaurant. You can’t replicate a recipe consistently, much less perform all the other duties that come with cooking in a production kitchen. To avoid broken dreams, research the knowledge, skills, and abilities required for a job. Job Descriptions include qualifications. Just because you like accounting doesn’t mean you are qualified to be an accountant. Accountant positions will require a certain GPA. Employers will want expert level proficiency in Excel. You’ll have to pass the CPA exam. If you don’t have that GPA or those skills and have not been able to develop them, you need to accept that you will not be able to do that job. Your performance will suffer. You will get fired. Job postings on Indeed.com and job descriptions on O*NET are a great place to start researching the performance standards of a position.
True Calling: Things you like to do, and can do well
This is where we want to end up, in a position that we not only love, but can excel in. Why do we watch sports? Because professional athletes are a great example of people who have found their true calling. Same thing with professional musicians. These are both fields that draw people with passion. Additionally, they will naturally cull underperformers from the herd. If you don’t score enough goals, make enough tackles, or sell enough records, you won’t make it. This is where the people who just like to do things, like my mom, are separated from the people who also do them well.
Seth Godin told my students they need to be artists and I believe that. Artists have passion, they do what they love to do. But to survive an artist also has to be able to produce. Spend time doing the research I described above. Read job descriptions and look at the duties. Look at the qualifications. Be honest with yourself when choosing career paths. A recent study said consumers will spend more time researching car and refrigerator purchases than the doctor they see when they’re sick. They spend even less time researching the career they will choose.
Ultimately, when looking for job opportunities it is OUR responsibility, not the employer’s, to know what we want to do and what we are capable of doing.