Finding the “right" job is hard. It’s such a subjective topic that it’s hard to find any generally applicable advice out there that is actually useful (For example, “Look for something in a position or industry you love!” is not helpful. It’s cliche at best and a waste of our time as a species. Please stop blogging about it). Admittedly, job-seeking isn't a topic that I have given much thought to of late, as I haven’t been on the true job hunt in years. However, during the closing luncheon of a recent workshop I facilitated, I had a conversation on this topic with a man from Egypt, which got me thinking about it once again.
The man told me about his two most recent jobs and organizations (his current employer and his previous employer), and the stark differences between them. He first described his previous role, which was quite coveted in his home region. It was at a massive multinational organization, it paid very well, and it looked great on a resumé. He hated it. As he described the culture even I began to hate it (which sucked for me to hear because I love their products). He talked about a workplace that wasn’t completely unfamiliar- it was ultra-competitive, completely numbers/performance-driven, and fostered zero loyalty and trust from and among its employees. He illustrated this with a poignant story about a successful leader within the organization who had built a brand new division and grown it—over the course of 19 years—to one of the most profitable in the company. In year twenty, the man had a statistically “rough” stretch (partly due to a political/social uprising that impacted the entire region). The man was promptly let go due to “performance.”
He then described the stark contrast between that experience and the feeling at his new job. At his current organization was a sense of pride in the products AND the people, to the point that both the current and likely-next CEOs would often hand-deliver samples to potential vendors, rather than having an intern/front-line employee simply mail them out. He told me stories about how coworkers drove hours out of their way to pick him up and show him around on his first couple of days with the company. He even recounted how the founder/CEO himself noticed that he’d been walking uncomfortably due to back issues during a company function, and the CEO promptly walked out to bring back pain relief medication for the man, and when that didn’t work he drove him to his personal doctor. Mind you, this is one of the first times they’d ever met.
When I heard him recount these drastically different experiences, I asked him the natural next question: “Why did you decide to work at that first company, and why did you stay so long once you found out what it was like?”
He thought for a moment, and said, “Initially, the first company looked great on paper. I’d heard some sketchy stories about it, but I wasn’t sure that would be my experience since the people I heard from had slightly different attitudes towards work than myself. I stayed so long because I kept waiting for that “breakthrough” moment. I thought that I would eventually get promoted to the point where I wouldn’t have to deal with as much of the negatives at work. Plus, it seemed better than my alternatives. Once that 20-year leader got let go, however, I knew that I needed to leave. I would never be safe.”
Hearing his experience reminded me of another element of everyday life- Dating and relationships. We all have that friend who hops from unsuccessful relationship to unsuccessful relationship, and probably another friend who has stayed in a bad relationship for far too long (If you have neither of those friends, you’re probably are that friend. Sorry). In this context, I do have one piece of advice that is generally useful and applicable to both relationships and job-hunting:
Don’t make your choice based on potential. Make your decision based on how things are right now.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve given this advice to friends who, “just can’t seem to find the right guy/girl.” I frequently see that at the outset of a potential relationship, they're so hopeful that things will work out that they focus only on the positives they see, subconsciously convincing themselves that the less attractive or downright annoying traits of a potential partner either aren’t that big of a deal, or even worse, that they can “fix” those things down the road. So many of us approach our jobs the same way. We look online and see a hip company, a good salary range, a nicely worded job req, and a beautiful campus, and we’re willing to overlook that scathing Glassdoor review, or we downplay the importance of the missing information online- like what’s the culture like? What’s progression like? How do they support my personal growth? What about work-life balance? When we do this, both in work and relationships, we set ourselves up for failure.
The same is true for people staying too long at a job/in a relationship that isn’t good for them. And on this topic, I think it’s important that we use the same criteria for both here because we often change it between these scenarios. In relationships, we look for something healthy or meaningful. With jobs, however, we often look something fun or something that I like. A good job should be held to a standard of healthy or meaningful, just like a relationship. It has just as much, if not more potential to impact our emotional, mental, and physical states than a relationship, so why should we lower our standards to something so superficial as “liking it” or a place that “seems fun.” In this context, most of us stay too long in jobs that aren’t good for us because we might like some of the aspects of it. The company pays for my daycare. We have great insurance! I have two or three good friends that make work bearable. And so on, and so on… Sound familiar? I’m sure you can begin to draw some parallels between this mentality and how this manifests in unhealthy personal relationships as well.
We all can look at these scenarios objectively (especially when it’s observing a friend or acquaintance) and make recommendations easily. However, we rarely hold ourselves to a similar standard. The thing is, in both scenarios listed above the only person who ultimately pays the price is you. You are the one who is emotionally, mentally, and physically drained. You’re the one who’s constantly stressed out. You are the one who consistently feels less-than-enough. So, it is up to you to break the cycle. Others will not break it for you. Do like my friend from Egypt did, and take your happiness into your own hands and stop waiting for that right moment. Stop pinning your hopes on potential and put your faith in what’s before you. Don’t expect people or organizations to change- that only breeds resentment on both sides. Fall in love with what it is right now. If you can do that, then you'll find real contentment. If you can’t, then take control of your life and go find the fulfillment you deserve!