Why you will choose the wrong job

2021-04-30 | BY Michelle Pencer | IN Free Resources, Work Life

Why you will choose the wrong job

Big life decisions often make us feel powerless. Not because we don’t have the power of choice – that power, unfortunately, is all ours – but because we don’t have the power of knowledge. No matter how hard we try, we can’t know with certainty which decision is right. 

We want to know which option will make us happier, will reduce our stress, will improve our quality of life. Which decision will bring us closer to our goals. We’re desperate for knowledge, confidence, foresight – but we’re instead riddled with stress, fearful of making a choice that will lead us down the wrong path.

It’s a feeling of despair that, depending on the significance of the decision, can be almost paralyzing. I’m experiencing this firsthand; my husband has gone back and forth so many times about a certain career decision that he is currently considering calling back his recruiter, having already accepted the offer, and telling them he changed his mind. Again.

But here’s the good news – making the wrong choice isn’t actually so bad. 

All choices are good and bad, simultaneously

Alain de Botton’s 2018 New York Times piece “Why you will marry the wrong person” was the most-read article of that year – from it sprang a book, a podcast, and a Google Zeitgeist Talk, all based on the idea that the entire standard of right and wrong is flawed. He argues that whatever choice we make, it’ll likely come with a similar ratio of good and bad times.  

The same can be said of work. If you expect the ‘right job’ to check all your boxes, to always be good, to not disappoint you – then you’ll never find the right job. It doesn’t exist. No amount of experience or awards or networking will get you to this imagined perfect workplace.

We can only hope for varying degrees of success in different areas – from earnings, to work-life balance, to relationship quality.

Shifting the paradigm

Proven Recruiting regularly hosts workshops to help professionals accelerate their job search. Originally we focused the curriculum on resumes, interviews, negotiations – the basics. We ran through interview strategies, spent 30 minutes cleaning up everyone’s LinkedIn pages, and reviewed individual resumes. 

Turns out, that kind of information isn’t really what people are looking for when seeking career advice. It’s necessary, sure, but it doesn’t address the core issue.

What people – myself included – most often want is direction. We want someone to look at our background and tell us with some degree of certainty what we should do. We crave the knowledge to make the next right decision.

But according to Alain de Botton, we needn’t fear moving in the wrong direction. Every job – or relationship, for that matter – comes with its fair share of baggage. And that’s okay, it’s inevitable. 

It’s a game of tradeoffs, not perfection. What will you give up to get where you want to go?

You’re not making the wrong choices; you’re asking the wrong questions

Since childhood, we’ve been taught to value certain questions above others. These questions address the “What?” and  “How?” of important decisions but not the “Why?” and “At what cost?”

  • What do you want to be when you grow up?
  • How will you get a job at X company?
  • What’s your passion? How will you monetize it?

Having a clear answer to these types of questions has always been equated with having a bright future for ourselves. We desperately want to establish what we’ll be doing, with who, and in what timeframe. Without that information we feel lost. 

The problem is, we’re chasing the wrong questions. These questions are too narrow, too limiting. They only allow for single answers, as if this were a yes/no, right/wrong kind of test. Most importantly, they don’t take tradeoffs into account. 

Here’s a good way of putting things into perspective: think about someone you admire professionally, be it your boss, your mother, or that person you went to school with years ago. Let’s say you aspire to have their job one day. You then have to ask yourself if you want everything that job necessitates – the stress, responsibility, busyness, administrative tasks, office politics, missing time with family, changing schedule, curtailed freedom, etc.? If you answered yes – great! The tradeoffs are worth it to you. But if you answered no, you just learned something important about yourself and your priorities.

With that in mind, the questions might be something like –

  • What do I want my life to look like, and what will I give up to get there? Why this path vs. another one? 
  • How can I help this company grow? What will it involve on my end? Am I satisfied with this tradeoff? Will the company be satisfied?
  • What does passion even mean? Do I have one? Do I need one to be happy? (*We have a whole article on this topic!)

Essentially, this mindset shift takes the pressure off choosing the right decision and places it on considering all options, benefits, and tradeoffs.

If you’re struggling, you can use our Opportunity Chart to help clarify which factors are essential to your fulfillment, and which factors you wouldn’t mind trading away. 

Still, all the tools in the world won’t make a big career decision completely painless, and that’s because there is no perfect job out there waiting to be discovered. Even the happiest people doing the most fascinating, fulfilling work, occasionally dread waking up on Mondays. So yes, you’ll invariably choose the wrong job – some of the time. What’s important is that it’s the right job most of the time, and that the tradeoffs you’re making are intentional and worthwhile. 

Get in touch to join one of our workshops or for more targeted career advice. 

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