“Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” ~Confucius
I once worked for a big international consultancy firm (okay, it’s McKinsey, don’t tell anyone) and hated it.
Everyone told me how lucky I was to have that job. They went on and on about how prestigious it was, how I got to travel the world, work with executives on the big topics, and hang out with brilliant colleagues.
As much as all of that is true, I still hated the job. Not because of McKinsey, but because of me.
It might be a dream job for a lot of people, but it surely wasn’t for me. It was a nightmare, and in the end I couldn’t sleep anymore (at which point a nightmare in the literal meaning of the word started to seem very attractive to me).
Have you ever gone without sleep for days? If you have, then you know that it’s not sustainable for very long. After four days I was a zombie, and a miserable one at that.
I was on the verge of a breakdown, and I knew that something needed to change. In hindsight, it was so obvious what that “something” was—but back then, twelve years ago, I had totally lost my way.
Fortunately, I finally gathered up enough courage (or desperation) to pick up the phone and call my HR manager. I quit, and then I went to bed and slept like a baby for twenty hours straight.
Two months later I had landed a job that I genuinely could love, and two years later I was running my own company.
Since then my co-founders and I have grown our company to 200 employees, with offices in London, Berlin, and Copenhagen. More importantly, I am able to have fun, learn at a fast pace, and maintain a great work/life balance even from day one.
From these two contrasting experiences I have learned five lessons that I use to keep myself on the right track, and that might be useful for you too:
1. Don’t settle.
It’s so easy to fall victim to the idea that we should be grateful just to have a job, especially in times where the economy is bad. As much as I am a fan of gratitude, if your job is not making you happy then it’s not the right thing for you to be spending 50 percent or more of your waking hours doing. Period.
Of course, we can all have moments of doubt and bad days—congratulations for being human! But if you dread going to work often than not, then it’s time to connect to your inner strength and creativity to move on to a new mission.
2. Be courageous.
I recently came across a happiness study that showed a positive correlation between courage and happiness.
At first that seemed a bit odd to me. But then I understood: brave people get more out of their lives because they dare to break out, let go of their past, and embrace the unknown. They grow more, learn more, and live more intensely. Thus, they are happier.
Since this realization, every time I get fearful, I ask myself, is this a happiness enhancer in disguise?
Of course, sometimes courage comes in the form of non-action. Staying where you are even if it is difficult is also courageous. Only you can distinguish the difference between growing and fleeing.
Statistically, most of us are biased toward the non-action end of the spectrum, so it makes sense to contemplate if we are staying put (in a job, in a relationship, in a city) because we are brave or because we are afraid.
3. Follow the “One-Year Rule.”
Let’s say that you have realized that you need to move on in your life, and that you are courageous enough to act on it. Good for you! However, sometimes you will find that you are actually stuck.
Maybe you really need your paycheck at the end of each month. You may even have children to provide for. What do you do then?
The One-Year Rule goes like this: make a plan and a firm commitment to yourself that one year from now, you will have sorted out your problems and be in a much better place. With planning, creativity, and patience, most things are possible.
4. Live your priorities.
More than once, you have probably listened to someone go on about how their children are their number one priority, or how they value good health. Then you wondered if their actions were really in line with these beliefs. Worse yet, sometimes we have been that person.
When we say that our daughter or son means everything to us, then that statement needs to be backed by recognizable action. This could mean picking up your child early from kindergarten and being present while you play with Legos together.
Maybe your priorities are very different from mine, and that’s fine too. The point is that we each need to be clear on what’s important to us and then live according to that blueprint. Otherwise, we end up with regret and low self-respect.
For me, working at McKinsey wasn’t the right thing to do because that required me to be an always-on type of guy. I needed a job where I had much more freedom—that was my priority.
5. Don’t believe the naysayers.
It’s amazing how many well-intended friends, family members, and colleagues are more than willing to tell us when our ideas, visions, or plans are unrealistic. They tell us that we should rather be grateful for what we have, whether it’s a job, a spouse, or something else.
Our parents can especially be a strong source of our self-doubt; parents are inherently risk-averse on behalf of their children. That’s fine, but we, their children, shouldn’t pay too much attention to that.
My dad thought it was the silliest thing that I wanted to write a book. “There are so many books out there already,” he said. “Shouldn’t you rather focus on your business?” I didn’t listen and I am happy about that. What advice from your friends and family should you make sure to avoid?
Here’s a tip: the next time someone is projecting their own fears and limitations on you, imagine a huge trash bin between you—and visualize all their words slipping into that bin, before they even reach you.
Don’t be upset with other people; they are allowed to have their own beliefs and opinions. Just remember it has nothing to do with you, even when they claim it does.
If you follow these five simple rules, I believe that work can become much more of a gift in your life rather than an obligation.
It certainly worked for me, and I am by no means unique (or we all are). You deserve a job you truly love—and if you haven’t found it already, it’s probably out there looking for you.