In his day, Henry David Thoreau observed, “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” How much more fitting a description of our day, when so many are unfulfilled in their work.
Into that longing Roman Krznaric’s book, How to Find Fulfilling Work (Picador, 2012), offers a not a compass, but a toe-hold. A compass implies a singular heading to finding fulfilling work. Instead, Krznaric rightly observes that there are many facets of our own personalities and interests and therefore many possible avenues for meaningful work.
“The desire for fulfilling work—a job that provides a deep sense of purpose, and reflects our values, passions and personalities—is a modern invention,” he points out. Not long ago professions were both limited in scope and, more or less, assigned by one’s parents. Now, the range of options is limited only by your courage to choose among countless defined positions or your imagination to create one of your own.
Options can breed both anxiety and hesitancy, however. How do you choose among them? Krznaric suggests three steps to finding a fulfilling career:
- Understand your fears of leaving a job and starting a new one. Knowing what keeps you from moving forward is essential to overcoming your resistance to do so. That may simply be the sunk cost of having spent so much time doing what you’re doing. “This sense that we might be squandering everything we have struggled to achieve is one of the greatest psychological barriers facing those contemplating career change,” writes Krznaric.
- Reject the myth of a single, perfect job. None of us have a singular talent, skill, or interest. So, why should we expect to find that perfect job? Instead, there’s a range of meaningful career options that could suit our character and we should remain open to exploring them; either as a ‘Renaissance generalist’ or a ‘serial specialist.’
- Act first, reflect later. Krznaric argues that experimentation trumps testing and career contemplation. He suggests three forms of experimentation: ‘radical sabbaticals’—short term breaks from your current job to explore new roles; ‘branching projects’—temporary assignments volunteering, teaching, and/or shadowing others; and, ‘conversational research’—getting outside your normal social structure to meet people in roles you may be contemplating.
While the author’s last name may not be easily readable, Krznaric’s book, certainly is. If you’re contemplating a career change, his book may help you break free from a life of quiet desperation.
What do you find most fulfilling about your work?
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