Finding satisfying work
June 9, 2004 11:32 AM   Subscribe

CareerFilter: What do I want to be when I grow up? (more--->)

I'm at a point where I'm ready to go back to college and start this new chapter. What a great opportunity to survey Mefite experience and wisdom! What college degrees have served you best? What jobs have you loved? What is worthwhile, and what is a soul-sucking trap?

A little about me: I'm 29, an excellent student, with a very high IQ and tested well in career aptitude in every field. Self-employment suits me well, but I've occasionally enjoyed regular employ. I want to find a career that I can really enjoy -- something I can look back on and say "yes, this was really good." Money could be an issue, and of course I'm aware that often the most satisfying jobs come with the smallest paychecks. So I'm looking for your sweet spots. Has life been good to you? Please share the love!

I don't want to skew your wisdom with too much personal information. I'll answer any questions you may have for me, though.
posted by Jonasio to Work & Money (21 answers total)
I know a lot of people will say "do what you love". May I offer my two cents on that? A few years ago I left a job that I was very good at (didn't love it, but I liked it well enough and I was good at it) to start my own business. Basically I turned my hobby into a business.

Long story short, for various reasons I am not meant to work on my own. What I want to share, though, is my experience working at my hobby. This did not work well for me at all. Reason being that at the end of a crappy day, I didn't want to do my hobby to relax, because I'd been doing that all day, and I didn't really have anything else that I felt passionate about to fall back on for relaxation and to get my mind off of how badly the business was doing.

So, my suggestion now is to do something that you like relatively well, something you have a decent apptitude for, but don't take something you do to take your mind off of work, and turn it into your work. Just my personal experience.
posted by vignettist at 11:47 AM on June 9, 2004

Jonasio, perhaps you have left the topic a little too open? Could you perhaps list some general interests, fields that you think you might like to get into?
posted by orange swan at 11:48 AM on June 9, 2004

Response by poster: I'll answer your question shortly, Orange Swan. Right now there's a major storm and my power is flickering.
posted by Jonasio at 12:03 PM on June 9, 2004

Jonasio, there is no one job that is universally crap or universally satisfying. I would rather pound nails into my eyes than be, say, a lawyer, but I know a few who love what they do. I'm a teacher, which I love despite its frustrations, and I know people who thought they would like it and ended up leaving the profession. If you are in a financial position to really make a life change and pursue something you love doing through school, then put a lot of thought into it. I like the above advice about being careful of making a hobby into a career. There is a sort of cliche and earthy crunchy book called What Color is My Parachute, but it actually did help me sort through some of your similar issues and it can give you some perspective. In regards to money, my experience has been that if you pursue what you love and contribute to the world in a positive way, the universe will meet you halfway and the money will be there.
posted by archimago at 12:37 PM on June 9, 2004

Bear in mind, too, that while the job itself can be enjoyable, the conditions surrounding it may not be at times.

I love being a professional musician, for example, but there are times when the evening rehearsals and travel arrangements get on my nerves. The having to practice all the time is also a major caveat for me - I can never truly take a vacation away from my instrument & it eats horrendously into my freetime. Overall, my job as a musician is at once the most difficult, annoying, frustrating, and yet emotionally satisfying thing I could do. That's probably true for a lot of people who are passionate about their work.

If you can't find a field that interests you right off the bat, look instead what working dynamics you like.

Do you want a job you can leave everyday at 5pm, five days a week? Or do you want to work in blocks with free time littered here and there? What are your thoughts on travel? Are you supporting (or plan to support) a family, or can you just throw yourself to the winds and take whatever work may come your way? Do you like to lead/be in the spotlight? Or do you enjoy architecturing things from the sidelines?

My advice is to compile a list of what interests you - both job lifestyles and career fields. Then maybe we can give you some suggestions.
posted by Sangre Azul at 1:02 PM on June 9, 2004

I agree with everything so far. I would compile a list of talents. What are you really good at that most people hate or have to work hard at? What comes naturally? Of those things which do you like the most? Can you combine a few talents and see careers that would fit?

I also think the most important thing about job satisfaction is less about what you do and more about where/who you do it for/with. If, in your job search, you find a company who is dynamic, supportive, positive, has great people, good benefits, decent pay, and they go the extra mile to ensure happy people, you have a gold mine no matter what your job.
posted by jopreacher at 1:25 PM on June 9, 2004

Response by poster: Thanks for your excellent thoughts so far. Perhaps I miscommunicated my original idea, so I'll try to clarify. I'm hoping to hear from MeFites who love what they do, or want to say "This career niche has always been interesting to me."

I've done lots of reading and research on this issue, and I'm fully prepared to do more. I recently enjoyed an 8-year career in IT, but want to move on to the next thing. My greatest satisfaction (and stress) has come from consulting, in situations where I control the project. My next greatest satisfaction has come from working as part of a team where respect is mutual and I am able to contribute significantly.

People don't like to talk about their jobs very much. Not everybody can be a drug dealer, so I figure the reason for this is that we don't like being judged by what we do. I hope to pierce the veil, if it is possible, so I'll go first.

I greatly enjoy my present work, which is contract disaster inspection, and I'll continue in it for as long as I can. It's not a job for everyone. It requires traveling at a day's notice to far-away disaster areas, paying my own expenses, staying in the field for weeks at a time, dealing with distressed disaster victims and people who are trying to cheat the government, making quick friends, solving problems and working without rest to see the job get done. It's unsteady work, though, and I wouldn't recommend it to anyone who needed an ounce of stability. But for myself, I love it. I love the adventure. I love working with people who like this kind of work. I would never have found this amazing work if a friend hadn't told me about it.

I know that sooner or later I'm going to not want to do this any more. If one good job is out there, there must be others: work that stands out for one reason or other as interesting, satisfying, rewarding. I'd love to hear what you good people do.

Also, thank you for the advice on how to focus my search. Admittedly, it's been a few years since I tried making a list of my hardest-won talents, and I confess I never did get around to reading the parachute book. My father was a career counselor for the Texas Employment Commission for some years, so I've had an abundance of well-intentioned gentle guidance, but I've never quite been able to say "this is the one." Hence, practical advice like Sangre Azul's is brilliant.
posted by Jonasio at 2:05 PM on June 9, 2004

Yes, I appreciate this thread as well.. I dropped out of college due to anxiety and depression, and life interferred and I never ended up going back. Now I'm having a one-third-life crisis and I want to go back and get a career- not a job -but I don't know what to do... None of my interested are particularly lucrative: photography, history, journalism, anthropology..... I'm a smart SOB, I was on the Dean's List my last semester before I left, and I can do whatever I put my mind to. I just need to figure out what that is.
posted by keswick at 2:29 PM on June 9, 2004

In all honesty, NOT a public school teacher.
posted by BrodieShadeTree at 2:44 PM on June 9, 2004

I don't think teaching is that bad of a career. One must consider the time off to enjoy stress relieving hobbies. Every weekend, a week here, a week there, and summers. It is great to be able to spend that much time with your family. You have the opportunity to choose from a variety of subjects to teach, hopefully you would choose one you enjoy. You are given the opportunity to learn each day with the kids.
posted by busboy789 at 3:27 PM on June 9, 2004

I would think really broadly at first, and then see what's involved in the field that goes with it. For instance, "I like writing/talking/sharing information/whatever" = media/communications/pr/whatever.

I'm in magazines, and really like it, but it's not my be-all and end-all. I find it satisfying and I like the concrete result each month, and that it helps/informs/entertains people. I also have found that the people i've worked with are, by-and-large, interesting, intelligent and curious about the world, which makes work more interesting and fun. I go home and make art for true satisfaction.
posted by amberglow at 4:01 PM on June 9, 2004

Butcher, baker, candle stick maker . . .
posted by caddis at 5:07 PM on June 9, 2004

teaching is a noble profession (says the teacher!) but not really for everyone. I teach college, and I honestly cannot say that I would be able to teach public school again.
posted by archimago at 6:02 PM on June 9, 2004

It is surprisingly fun to be a cog in the corporate machine. Particularly if you don't take it seriously.

Possible alternative: soylent green factory manager.
posted by Kwantsar at 6:45 PM on June 9, 2004

Take a look at urban planning. One gets a lot of exposure to many different ideas and situations. Lots to do and v. interesting. Is adjacent to my field of study, and if I were'nt so into musuems, I would definitely be in planning.
posted by jmgorman at 7:55 PM on June 9, 2004

If you want to hear more about peoples jobs, I recommend the book Gig: Americans Talk About Their Jobs.

I found it wonderful. Covers everything from drug dealers to movie produces, to truck drivers to porn stars.
posted by jopreacher at 8:05 PM on June 9, 2004

Or What Should I Do with My Life?
posted by sad_otter at 8:40 PM on June 9, 2004

The problem, Jonasio, is that you're asking a question similar to "what is the best move in chess?" There is no answer to it; it depends on the specific situation in the specific game. I don't know, really, what your game or situation is.

I know what you're going through; I struggled a bit before becoming an elementary school teacher, which, in the very early stages, I enjoy with reservations.

But really, when people say you have to narrow down your interests and inclinations, the tendencies of your personalities and the things you need from life -- and that you have to do this heavy lifting yourself -- they're directing you towards insights that are approximately 11,000 times more valuable than, "well, I'm a claims adjuster and I love my job."

One career counselor told me that I was hoping to walk up to the rack and pick out a job to wear. It won't work that way, no matter how many job anecdotes you hear.

Sorry to be a drag.
posted by argybarg at 11:26 PM on June 9, 2004

do people still read that "what color is your parachute?" stuff? Maybe that would help too.

And i think you shouldn't be a teacher, or think of it as a fallback position, unless you really want to and will devote the enormous time and energy needed--we've all had more bad teachers than good ones in our lifetimes, i think.
posted by amberglow at 9:57 AM on June 10, 2004

Response by poster: Thanks, all. I know this was an unusually difficult question to answer, and your thoughts are valuable and appreciated.
posted by Jonasio at 10:30 PM on June 10, 2004

I'd talk to a good career counselor. (E-mail for the name of one.)
posted by Vidiot at 5:55 PM on June 13, 2004

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