Know yourself and follow your bliss

My boss wanted me to help him get a prostitute back to his hotel in Mexico City because he didn’t speak any Spanish. At the office in Charlotte, NC, I noticed he didn’t want to go home in the evenings (he didn’t like his wife). I had just graduated with an MBA and was selling chainsaws and weedeaters to Latin America. My heart wasn’t in it and I’d have sucked at that job had I stayed longer. The chainsaws I sold were used to cut down the tropical forest and the weedeaters were second rate – it just seemed like meaningless work.

we even have one guy who likes his job

If you hate your job, it doesn’t help to know what your boss wants. You’re going to suck at your job anyway when it doesn’t have meaning for you. If you’re faking the passion (or not even trying), you’re headed for a train wreck. Find a job you can do with real passion before your boss decides you suck and fires you.

As your boss, why should I care if you’re following your bliss or not? I care because I want a team whose passion for the job can keep us together for 5 years, 10 years or longer. If you don’t know yourself well or fake the passion, you introduce a lot of risk to our relationship, and it usually doesn’t work out for either of us. So search your soul.

passion for your career or just good friends?When people think about following their passion with their career, often it ends with the money. “Can’t make enough money at that”, we think. And, probably – it’s true. But, before you put the idea to bed, read The Man Who Quit Money – it’s a deeply moving story that changed my thinking.

Why should YOU care whether you’re following your bliss or not? Popular wisdom tells us that who you are is more important than what you do — but what you do can also change who you are. If you don’t find meaningful work, you may end up becoming someone you don’t want to be.

Life is never made unbearable by circumstances, but only by lack of meaning and purpose.

Don’t aim at success. The more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself. Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it.

I want you to listen to what your conscience commands you to do and go on to carry it out to the best of your knowledge. Then you will live to see that in the long-run – in the long-run, I say! – success will follow you precisely because you had forgotten to think about it.

-Viktor E. Frankl

Not sure how to find meaningful work? Answer some tough questions!  First, let’s consider if you are doing meaningful work now:

  • Do you crave work like a show horse or sled dog does?
  • Are you following your inner voice?
  • Does your work feed your soul?
  • Does your work feel like part of your life story?
  • Do you feel like you found your calling or sweet spot?
  • Can you do this for 10 years because your heart is in your work?
  • Can you do your job with passion?
  • Are the headaches of your job tolerable?
  • Are you at peace with your ambition either because you are chasing a dream or have let one go?
  • Are you able to resist the temptations of more power, prestige, or money you might get from less meaningful work?
  • Are your family and other relationships supported by your work?
  • Are you comfortable with the example you are setting for your kids?
  • Are your gifts to the world being revealed?
  • Does your job give you the chance to do something great or be great?
  • Can you hang in like grim death when confronted with obstacles at work?
  • Are you working to impress or please your parents?
  • Are you surprised by your own productive power?
  • Do you take gratification in a job well done?
  • Do you feel nurtured by your work and work environment?

Read What Should I Do with My Life? if you want to go deeper and hear how others have answered these questions.

Second, consider what inspires you:

  • What skills that you already have do you most enjoy using?
  • Do you like working with people, information, or things best?
  • Where would you most like to work (geography, environment, responsibility level, field)?
  • What cause, problem, or values do you want your life to serve?
  • What do you value in a job besides money? This might include adventure, challenge, respect, influence, popularity, fame, power, intellectual stimulation, creativity, helping others, exercising leadership, making decisions, spirituality, etc…
  • Would you like to be primarily remembered for contributions to the world made with your mind or body?

This is just a sample of the questions you’ll be asked when you work through the legendary book What Color Is Your Parachute?

Finally, a few more timeless words from Victor Frankel’s Man’s Search for Meaning:

We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.

A human being is not one thing among others; things determine each other, but man is ultimately self-determining. What he becomes – within the limits of endowment and environment- he has made out of himself. In the concentration camps, for example, in this living laboratory and on this testing ground, we watched and witnessed some of our comrades behave like swine while others behaved like saints. Man has both potentialities within himself; which one is actualized depends on decisions but not on conditions.

Viktor Frankl on Youth in Search of Meaning 1972:

Get the ebook! If you liked what you read here, and think you may want to refer back to this guide later, grab the Kindle version – we’re hoping you’ll thank us with a five-star review on Amazon if you found this material helpful. The ebook also includes our job search guide.

For comprehensive advice on the entire job search process, read our complete guide to landing a job at a great company or visit our career advice hub.

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  • ‘To choose one’s own way,’ is a very powerful statement that serves to encapsulates so wonderfully the message Frankl is sharing. By truly choosing which direction an individual will follow, there is the empowerment, the sense of purpose even if it is the road less traveled, it is by their choice to do so. Granted these concepts are often difficult for many to accept when it comes to an effort that fits in the work category versus the fun or play category.

    Individuals who choose military service as their occupational training often have this lessons associated with work and play efforts more directly taught to them, and do carry the lessons through their lives once out of service. That is when the roads of choice reappear in what occupation does one do now, the fear, uncertainty and anxiety can be overwhelming. This part of Frankl’s words can be a bridge for many to overcome the negative emotions associated with the search for employment by simply choosing to go one owns way.

  • I think it is important that we teach our students to FOSTER their passion rather than follow it. To follow it implies that these students already know what they consider their passion and are willing to take steps to achieve this form of self-actualization. The reality is that not every student has fully experienced the world to harness their curiosity towards something, and not every student will have the same amount of willpower to stay committed to harnessing said curiosity. If you blindfolded a person with a thick cloth and told them they were still capable of seeing a mile away from their current position, would they believe you? Not likely; they would need to take the blindfold off. Similarly, if we tell our peers that they just need to follow their passion to achieve happiness they will feel confused unless they understand what to do.

    I’ll leave an anecdote to emphasize my point. I’m currently pursuing a B.S. in Aerospace Engineering. This major was suggested by my parents, yet most people would dismiss this suggestion as it is believed that your parents do not fully understand your niches. Upon hearing this suggestion I wasn’t too excited with the idea of engineering, so I decided to research my major and learn of its main principles. I slowly began to become more interested as I learned of all the technicalities of my major. I then began studying advanced math and jet engines prior to my freshman year. In college, I learned to program FPGA boards and calculate physical properties, which further fostered my passion. I now can’t stop thinking about my major, and I can’t even make a cup of coffee without wondering about the physics of my instant coffee machine.

    What I’m trying to say is that you have to know something before you can understand it, and just telling people to “follow their passion” will make them listless. Most people agree that anything good in this world must be done with some elbow grease, and as such we need to learn about our world before we can make the decision to devote ourselves to something.

  • I am pursuing a career as a classical musician. Jobs are scarce in general but even for lower level professional orchestras, they want to see a full resume. It’s hard to make it in this industry as is but it’s even harder when you’re starting from the bottom and don’t qualify for the smallest jobs. You just have to practice, be as involved in extra ensembles and competitions as possible, practice some more, and just work your butt off. It will pay off.

  • Growing up my mother always shared stories of all the jobs she juggled when she came to the United States from Sinaloa, Mexico. Raising three children on her own, she was a domestic workers for several years and worked as a waitress at the same time all while having to depend on welfare to get us by. With not even graduating from high school, she felt her only option for a stable job without depending on welfare was to go to beauty school and become a cosmetologist. She always reminded us that she never wanted my siblings or I follow a career based on financial necessity, or to struggle as much as she has. This lesson reminds me deeply of my mothers advice, and she too feels like doing something for the money will not bring you happiness or satisfaction. She believes in having choices, and that is why she instilled the importance of education in my siblings and I.

    I genuinely believe that if your heart is not in your career, you should not be doing it. When I refer to success, I refer to having a career in what you love and what you are passionate about, not in what you hate but makes you money because money is not the key to being happy. Victor E. Frankl’s quote is something everyone should take into consideration when choosing a career path, “Life is never made unbearable by circumstances, but only by lack of meaning and purpose”. A life without meaning is a wasted one, no matter how rich you are or how big your house is or how many cars you have. Personally, I also feel that if your career is not helping others, society, or the environment in any way, it is also a waste. I take this lesson in the most positive way, as my hopeful career as a politician is based off of what I can do to help society, not for a paycheck or being recognized.

  • I never understood how some people are willing to spend their whole life doing work they don’t have love for, just for the money. What’s the point? When we die, none of that money comes with us. We only have a small amount of time in the world and that time and how we spend it is the only thing of real value. Nothing else should matter. Once that time is over, so is everything else materialistic in our lives. At 21 years old, I have come to realize this and it has made me look at my life differently. I have a deeper appreciation for all of my every day experiences and interactions. It made me realize that I see no meaning in my job. I’m working for a multi-billion dollar company selling shoes and handbags and clothes that I don’t even like. Aside from money, what else am I getting out of the 40 hours a week of my life that I spend there? I feel like I’m selling my life; 1 hour of my life in this world for $X, 8 hours a day, 5 days a week. I need a lot more than money. So I quit my job; put in my notice today, actually. This article couldn’t have been more perfect. Now, I’m off to find myself and follow my bliss. Thank you.

  • I feel that nobody knows a person better than yourself. Ever since I was 5 years old I have had the passion to be a sports broadcaster for ESPN and my passion has never been lost and it never will be lost.

    Sure some sacrifices have to be made but I am willing to do that because my passion for sports broadcasting is undeniable. Plus if sacrifices are made, then the rewards you receive will be huge.

    Following your passion will only make you more happy in life. And if you have a passion, chase it, like I am doing right now.

  • I worked a retail job that was not at all fulfilling. Even though it paid the bills and was convenient to have because the hours were good; I unfortunately spent most days dreading clocking in then counting down the hours until I was off. It was a job I stayed at because I was comfortable, met sales goals, and was able to remain level-headed when it came to hot-headed customers. As I read through the questions of “how to find meaningful work” I realized that I was unable to confidently agree with any of the statements in relation to my retail job I previously had. My “gifts to the world” are so much more than being able to sell something that someone probably does not need. Although this job had taught me a level of patience I never knew I could achieve, I don’t believe it added to my grander “life story”.

    Fast forward to a year later, I now work for the Boys & Girls Club and feel as if my “gifts to the world” are truly being shared with students on a daily basis. As I went back and reread all the things that define meaningful work I realized my current job fulfills all of them successfully. I tutor kids in reading and math, and seeing the improvements they make in just days is considerably more rewarding than any sales goal I met. I can confidently say that this job has become a milestone in my life story.

  • I really do feel this article brings a lot to the table, that you should really be invested in your job to do outstanding work at your job. It doesn’t make sense to put so much effort, money, and work into something that you don’t have the energy to wake up in the morning for. Sure, no one never wants to wake up to go to work, but being able to work for a company of your liking in an area you advance in is worth getting out of your comfy bed. Adding to that, because you have that degree the expectations are high and it’s up to you to prove your worth.

    In my first quarter at Savannah College of Art and Design, one of our foundation classes was design. With the luck I had I got one of the toughest design professors the school had. He had strict rules and especially high expectations for the whole class. He knew that because we got accepted to this serious art school, he expected everyones final project to be their best work. At the start of his class I thought he was insane, and as classes went on not only did I understand his views on teaching, my work improved greatly. Our last two projects we got to do the project in our own ways, he asked about what we liked and why we liked it to put in our final project. He set us up for these three months to put our passion and all of our hard work to truly care about the work we give in. I felt that was the most important to truly succeed in the future job I decide to be in.

  • My decision to attend graduate school to become an elementary school educator was at one time hindered by what my definition of success was. Frankl’s words about finding meaning and purpose speak deeply to me. What once was a desire and erroneous passion to want financial success above all – the idea of commuting and working seemingly endless hours, leading to a diminishing, and simply unhappy, unsatisfying lifestyle was one I was willing to endure. I found a love for the field of psychology, and wanted to pursue a doctorate in the field. After a year and a half out of college, I wanted nothing more than the financial reward that mundane, and uninteresting careers would give back to me; then, something changed in me. I began substitute teaching, and spending much time in elementary schools due to the psychology research position I had been working at for months. I came alive when I was in front of the classroom, and naturally connected with children. I had always ruled out the possibility of becoming a teacher, for the difficult to admit fact that it is not a career that is known for its monetary gain. I began an internal, personal, and mentally taxing journey, constantly going back and forth with where I wanted to take my career. My family would comment that they had never seen me so happy as when I was teaching, or around children. I struggled with the decision to follow my true passion, where my true purpose, meaning, and love of life was – in teaching. It was once difficult for me to admit that I had counted out who I was meant to be, and where I was meant to go with my career, simply because of my inadequate and naive definition of success. Now, I find happiness, intellectual satisfaction, and a new level of success that I never knew could be attainable until I started on my teaching journey. Certainly, all of the money in the world could not buy the sheer joy I have found in discovering myself and what my meaning and purpose is in life. Now, I have never been so sure of who I am, where I want to go, and what true success is: it is waking up every single day feeling so happy to be doing what I am about to commence, and not thinking twice about the financial success that may or may not come along with it. I have found my bliss – it has just taken a little bit longer to realize it.

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