When you think about what the perfect career looks like for you, what comes to mind? What does the perfect career look like?
What can you start to do now, in order to set yourself on the career path that is perfect…for you?
For many of us, those questions are constantly on our minds. We’re conditioned to think about those kinds of questions from the very first career day. The very first time a firefighter or a police officer came in to talk about what they did.
The question we would always hear is “What do you want to be when you grow up?”
As you get older, go through high school and then possibly to post-secondary school, the ultimate question always seems to be something along the lines of:
What are you going to do when you grow up?
But the answer to that question isn’t as straight-forward as the people asking you that question might think.
The question itself has nothing to do with who you are right now. It’s focused on the big choices, not the small ones. But it’s in the small ones that we’ll eventually find the answer to that big question: What are you going to be?
What does it mean to have the perfect career?
To some people, it might mean having a great paying job, lots of perks and 5 weeks vacation. To others, it might mean having flexible hours and time to spend with your family.
The most important question is: What does it mean to you?
We’re heard from incredible people today who are on incredible career paths. It’s clear that their days are filled with passion, potential and purpose.
And what if that’s the answer that we’re really looking for? What if the question isn’t “how do I find the perfect career” but “how do I fill my days with passion, live up to my potential, and do something that provides me with purpose every day?”
Those are the questions you need to start living.
I was 24 years old when I landed what I thought was the perfect job for me; The start of the perfect career.
I was 25 when I lost it.
I sat in my car, parked in a grocery store parking lot, crying.
Just one hour before that moment, I’d just lost my first job - The job that I was so proud to have gotten. Because, uncharacteristic and non-stereotypical the insert statistic other Gen Y’s out there right now, I landed a job right out of University that wasn’t as a barista, server, or bartender.
“Matt, this isn’t going to be a good conversation”. That’s how the conversation started when I returned back from Christmas holidays on January 2nd, 2007. I sat down in my office with the Executive Director and President of the board:
“Over the holidays, the HR committee met and we’ve decided that we’re going to phase out your position. So you have two options: you can resign and we’ll give you a month’s severance and positive letter of reference. Or you can be laid off and we’ll give you two weeks’ pay.
You have 10 minutes to decide.”
11 months earlier when I got the call that I’d just landed my first job out of University, I remember saying to myself (clearly) “This is it! This is exactly the job I wanted, in the field that I want to be working in.
This. Is. Perfect.
But I soon realized that it wasn’t.
Three months into the job I started to feel really anxious and confused. I started to feel like I wasn’t being myself. There was something inside me telling me that there was more to my life than just work and a paycheck.
For 8 months I waged this internal battle on myself, analyzing the past 5 years of my life, I came to a really start ling realization:
I wasn’t happy.
I wasn’t happy because I didn’t feel as though I was making a difference in the world with the work that I was doing. I wasn’t happy because I couldn’t understand why anyone would choose to work a job just for a paycheck.
My entire life leading up to this moment, I’d been lead to believe that the most important thing was to get an education and then get a job. Start your career.
But nobody told me what that really meant. Nobody explained to me that having a career was so much more than getting a paycheck. Because, at that point, everyone who I was talking to was at least a generation ahead of me. With good intention, they told me what their parents had probably told them. With good intention, they gave me the advice that they wish they had been given. With good intention, they forgot to ask me what I wanted.
So it didn’t make any sense. When I looked at it…when I really tried to make sense of it all, I would get dizzy.
Here I was, 25 years old, having just graduated from University with the average amount of student debt, only to land a job in the city so that I could start pay off that debt.
So, at that point, my life looked like this:
Go to University to get a job to pay for the car I needed to get to that job to pay off student debt so that I would be happy.
That didn't make any sense.
So in November of 2006 I asked a question that changed my life. It’s was a straight forward and simple question:
Am I happy?
It took me a bit of time to really think about this. I knew in that moment that I wasn’t happy. But if I looked into the future, did I really see myself enjoying my life? The answer was no. So I asked another question:
What do I need to be happy?
NI already knew that I was feeling overwhelmed and anxious. I know now that I was stressed out because I wasn’t just looking for a job, I was looking a meaningful career. A purposeful way of life.
So I took this question and I thought long and hard about it. I thought about it when I woke up in the morning, I thought about it before I went to bed at night. I talked to other people about it. I asked other people what they needed in their life to be happy.
After getting all kinds of answers and finding myself even more confused with all the answers I was getting from other people, I decided that the only person I really needed to ask this question to…the only person who could really answer it…was myself.
When I was reflecting on my life up until that point, I didn’t have a lot of worldly experiences. I’d never travelled anywhere further than Alberta. I’d never helped children stricken by poverty oversees. My summers hadn’t been spent travelling; they’d been spent working. In my eyes, I’d never done anything exceptional.
The only real goal I’d had in my life up until that point was to graduate from University. Now that I’d done that, I was lost.
I knew I wanted to be happy. I knew that I wanted a meaningful career. I just didn’t really understand what that meant.
So I looked back on those experiences I did have in my life at that point and I asked myself
“When was I the most happy?”
When I really thought about it. When I really sat down with myself and wrote it out. It came down to these three things:
1. I wanted to work with youth (as a young person) – the times that I was most happy was when I was working as a camp counselor or when I was helping other young people as a peer tutor, peer mentor or youth support worker.
2. I wanted to be a role model – this was something that was more for me than for other people I think. I knew that by being a positive role model for other young people, I also kept myself accountable. It forced me to look at the things I was saying and doing.
3. I wanted purpose and meaning in my life – I had realized pretty fast that unless the job I had was something that I could give myself to – to make it part of my life instead of separate from it – I wasn’t going to be happy.
And so I, in November of 2006, I wrote down this goal:
“I will be out of my current job and doing something that makes me happy by March or 2007.”
A month and a half later of making this commitment to myself, I’m sitting in my car not thinking about how my promise just came true. I’m not thinking about how this is probably the best thing that could have happened to me or how maybe if this hadn’t happened, I’d still be in that job or one like it.
I was thinking about how I was going to pay my bills. I was thinking about what I was going to tell my family. I was thinking about how, maybe, I wasn’t good enough.
It took me almost two months of odd-jobs, and soul searching before I made any kind of decision on how my life was going to unfold.
I didn’t know it at the time, but I know it now. This was the event that put me on my path. This is the experience that showed me my way to the perfect career.
So how do your find your way?
How you find this, may not be how I found it. How I found it, may not be how others will find it. The big questions; the questions you truly need to start living are:
What do I care about?
What do I have the ability of becoming?
How do I want to live my life?
LIve the questions,
Matt Tod is an international speaker, leadership facilitator, writer and lover of all things Zombie-related.