“Love Your Work” is a Trap

I was raised to believe there was one true career for me, one thing i could do for work that would make me fulfilled and happy, as well as prosperous. All I had to do was find it.

Every career-finding book I read, every counselor I talked to, gave me the same advice. I needed to answer three questions to find the right career for me: What was I good at? What would I do for free? What was fun?

It’s a trap. Work isn’t fun. Work is hard. Work can be rewarding, and it can make us wealthy, or it can just get us by. But it usually doesn’t do all three at once. By trying to find that “one thing” that hit all my buttons, I’ve switched careers multiple times. I would have been better served by picking one and sticking with it.

Much of the reward we get from work comes from achieving mastery. Mastery lets us feel the glow of success, of a job well done. Mastery of a skill that’s in demand gives us job security, and a steady income to keep us clothed and fed. As our mastery increases, we get more control over the jobs we take on, and over how we perform each job.

It’s hard to achieve mastery, though, when you’re always just 1 or 2 years into a new field. I ended up chasing happiness from career to career, searching for something that i could only find by staying put.

My last career jump was to programming, which turned out well for me. Programmers are in demand everywhere, so I’ve had a good choice of companies to work for and a great salary. But landing my current job, which lets me work from home in my favorite programming language with brilliant people, took five years. Putting in the work gave me the mastery I needed to get the autonomy i wanted.

Don’t make my mistake. Don’t get trapped thinking that if you don’t love your job all day, every day, you’re in the wrong field. Find something you have an aptitude for – writing, plumbing, cooking – that other people will pay you to do, and then stay with it long enough to master it.

It’s the only way out of the trap.

Why the Perfectible Job Beats the Perfect Job

I’ve changed jobs a lot over the past few years. I knew it would raise eyebrows each time I applied for a new position – they’d ask themselves how long I’d stay with them – but I told myself it was because I was looking for the perfect job, so it was ok.

I’ve realized the perfect job just isn’t out there.

There’s something wrong with every job. The dress code is too formal. The boss won’t let me work from home. They’re not using my favorite language. They’re not promoting me. They don’t give enough vacation hours. The codebase is old and crufty. Etc.

The trick is to find a perfectible job, not a perfect one. A job with a boss and a team that’s flexible enough so that you can improve the job over time.

After all, my interests will shift over time. Even if I found the perfect job for what I want to do now, I’ll grow out of it in a few years. And then where would I be? Leaving the perfect job, and torturing myself over it.

Better to find a job with a few rough edges that I can smooth out over time. As long as I go in with my eyes open, I won’t be disappointed.

Because perfecting your job is just a different type of engineering.