People seeking career counseling, like people coming in for therapy, present with a range of concerns, but one common trait is guilt. The idea of trying to do something that makes us feel good, and being recognized for what we do well, makes us feel guilty. Why? Is it early-childhood trauma? Calvinism? The remnants of a strict Catholic upbringing? I don’t know if this kind of guilt has a universal source within our culture, but it might be a good dissertation topic, for those who like that kind of thing.
Here’s why finding something that makes you happy is the responsible thing to do:
- Lowering your stress level reduces medical expenses. Whenever I attend a public event, I bring the American Psychological Association’s handout on the effects of stress. When asked, “What does stress do?” I say, “Nothing good.” Stress has been linked to a range of problems, from relatively minor complaints like indigestion and headaches to sudden death.
- You may be a better problem solver without unnecessary stress. If the health consequences of stress don’t deter you from pushing on in the rat race, it’s worth noting that if the bad days at work outnumber the good, you’re not thinking outside the box as much as you could. Doing something you’re happy doing would make you a great employee for someone else and relieve your previous employer from the “burden” of employing someone who isn’t fully engaged. How can you say that’s not noble?
- Share your natural talents! Personality tests don’t tell people what they can do. Most of us can adapt to just about anything and do it competently, especially with years of practice. However, it takes real interest and dedication to practice something enough to become extraordinary. (Note to overachievers: Malcolm Gladwell refers to the “10,000-hour rule”—as in, to become an expert in something, it takes 10,000 hours of practice. I interpret that as an awful lot of practice to master something you hate and a clear indicator of dedication and intrinsic motivation if it’s something you love.) We need a workforce with a diverse blend of talents and contributions.
- Even if you think your job is boring and annoying, there’s someone out there who would love to do it. We’re all different. Most of us acknowledge this and understand it on an intellectual level, but when it comes to applying the idea to our lives, things fall apart. It’s true, though. For example, data entry and precision work bore me to tears and drive me crazy. I’m very good at both, but I hate dealing with detail-oriented, repetitive tasks. My accountant and insurance biller love stuff like that.
Moving on to something that’s a better fit for you really is the most responsible move you can make. If you are not satisfied in what you’re doing, you’re less motivated to do your job well, you’re less creative, and you are almost certainly more stressed. When work is stressful, it’s a big problem. Most of us spend at least 40 hours a week, over 50 weeks per year, at our jobs. Our “free” hours get sucked up by chores, errands, and other responsibilities. Caring for your family, house, and community are good and rewarding activities, but they don’t offer much rejuvenation when you feel like life is being sucked out of you for most of the week.
By pursuing a career based on fit, you are taking a proactive step toward increasing your health and happiness and promoting satisfaction and productivity in the people around you. Making a career change takes a lot of time, effort, and reflection, so it’s hardly the easy way out of dissatisfying work.
Go forth and find something you love. It’s the generous thing to do.
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