If you’re going to stay in the world of day jobs instead of launching out on your own, that means accepting certain realities about your career path. That’s not good or bad; it’s just a fact. Being independent carries its own set of realities, and defining success in your working life means finding the formula that works for you, regardless of which path you choose.
It’s better to make good decisions based on reality, and not find yourself trapped in disappointment by career myths that most people carry around in their head. See if any of these common career myths describe you.
Hard Work and Honesty Always Pay Off
To a greater or lesser extent we all carry around the hope of a Hollywood happy ending, where with enough pluck and principle the hero always comes out on top. The reality in the workplace is, unfortunately, quite different. The most qualified people don’t always get the promotion, no matter how much an office thinks they’re devoted to objectivity. Politics, likeability, and nepotism will frequently conspire to see promotions handed out to the best connected rather than the best qualified. Thinking that management will always see and value hard work and honesty is a fatal career flaw. Keep track of every success and victory, and learn how to translate those successes into actual bottom line numbers. “Because of me this department runs 30% more efficiently and you made your numbers the last five quarters in a row.” Now that’s a statement that gives you power in the workplace, and value to upper management. If you can pull that off by hanging upside down from the rafters like a bat and not lifting a finger to do work all day, that’s what you do.
Making More Money Will Make You Happier
That statement is true — if you’re poor. Making more money will make you happier; but it’s deceptive because that only works up to a certain income level. Because of that initial positive reinforcement, money becomes cemented as a goal for a lot of people. Yet, as income rises, the net effect on happiness flattens out.
There Is One Perfect Job
The perfect job is a moving target. Your perfect job in your 20s is going to be different than your perfect job in your 30s, and the definition will continue to change your entire working career. The perfect job when you’re younger may be one that’s within bike commuting distance. As you get older that consideration may become secondary to a job that pays more and, as you get still older, a job that requires less travel may be more appealing. You’d think of any job class that doctors would have good reason to be happy with their careers, yet fewer than half are really satisfied with what they’re doing.
Career Assessments Are Good Guides for Choosing a Job
Career assessments are great tools for pinpointing what you’re good at, but not what will make you happy. I took many of those tests in college, that told me that I’d be good at biology and physics — and I tried for years to make that work. Certainly I was good in those fields of study, a fact reflected in my grades; but the actual work was miserable. Keep in mind that most of the data about aptitude tests and career assessments is published by companies selling aptitude tests and career assessments.
You Can Do a Job You Hate for a Little While
This is the biggest career myth people want to believe — and the one most likely to stick you in a dead-end job. The money’s good; I can put up with it for a little while. What tends to happen is you become dependent on that additional income and trapped in that job you hate. If the job you hate is a means to a definite end, that’s different — but it’s also rare that people have plans that specific. A crappy job is more likely to turn into a tar pit, and trap you in a terrible situation or terrible location. The one good thing about a hated job is that it’s easier to find a job when you already have a job. So the hated job in that regard is marginally better than no job. The only way you can keep your sanity is to use the hated job as a stepping stone to something better, and to keep your focus far forward of your current situation. And keep a tight rein on expenses and debt.
If you’re not counting on your job to make you happy, but looking at it as a tool to help shape a better life, you’ll have a better perspective and a more positive overall experience. Understanding the reality behind your job will be far more satisfying than trying to live the myth.