I am waging a battle within myself. My current job in IT provides a good, steady paycheck, the ability to work from home, a flexible boss, and great benefits. I am currently going to school for Landscape Design, and every week I am introduced to people out in nature making a difference.
Some days the grass is looking A LOT greener in the landscape industry compared to my IT job (pun intended). Almost daily, and especially after a bad day at work, I ask myself, when is the right time to make a move? Of course after a bad day the answer is NOW. On good days it seems more plausible to get more education and experience before considering a transition.
In addition to my IT job, and the potential of a new one in landscape design, I have my own Reiki business, and have been dabbling in making natural wellness products. This “job” brings me immense joy. The results are immediate–people come in anxious and stressed and after their treatment feel relaxed and at a peace. It is wonderful! Making wellness products like salves, salt scrubs, and flower essences allows me to express my creativity and make something that can directly benefit an individual. It is so easy for me to love this “job”, but it is just beginning, so I am unable to rely on it for steady income.
How can I come to love my IT job when I have all these other possibilities out there? Find meaning.
This first came up after a particularly bad day at work. I was talking to my life coach, Lauralee Alben, and she suggested that I reflect on my IT job to find meaning. If I could not find one, then the answer was pretty obvious. I could think of a few ways my current job was meaningful, but I needed more help. I found some guidance in an article titled, Finding the Meaning in Your Work (pretty easy, right?). It discusses “five dimensions of meaning” as it relates to your career. I list them below, along with how I related it to my IT job. Perhaps it will help you if you are in the same boat.
Money. Ever since the recession, money has been the primary driver of articles about “best careers.” Best career choices (not to mention college majors) are reduced to which fields will pay the most—”engineering good, social work bad” goes the common wisdom. This is not an illogical thinking process: one should consider future income when thinking about how much college debt to take on, for instance. But, at the same time, reducing career decisions simply to earning power can cause one to lose the broader perspective. How much income do you want/need? Are you setting your own monetary goals or complying with someone else’s? What is a comfortable living, and what careers might fulfill that? What career fields might suit you in other ways from which you could also earn a reasonable (from your perspective) salary? (See my earlier post on should we all become engineers.)
My thoughts: My current job pays me a good wage. That wage allows me to pay for my schooling out of pocket. It also allows me to pay for the supplies I need to make my wellness products and let my Reiki business grow organically. Staying debt free, enjoying my hobby, and less stress from my own business are three things that have a lot of meaning to me.
Status. How does status or respect fit into your definition of meaningful work? I like to think of this as a form of pride: do you take pride in what you do each day? Pride is subjective—you can be proud that you simply show up every day and do your job despite obstacles. There is honor in that. There is also honor in teaching children, building a bridge, designing a building, writing a novel, or making a hamburger in a restaurant. Status as defined by others is compelling yet seductive—at what point did you select your current career to please someone else or meet someone else’s definition of status or success? How concerned are you with others’ definitions? As with money, it would be a mistake to rely solely on others’ perspectives: take some time to determine your proudest moments at work and in life. That may give you some perspective of what constitutes “status” to you. Does your current position provide you with the sense of pride and status you desire?
My thoughts: Status used to be a driver for me, but after I climbed the ladder it felt really lonely, and not for me. As I reflect on my current job, I realized I am the “go-to” person for the systems I handle, and I like that. I can be reached easily and reply quickly. I am organized and follow-up to make sure things get done for our clients. I don’t need a fancy title to have status, I just want to be respected and appreciated for what I do. My boss does an excellent job of making me feel appreciated, and the majority of the time I feel respected by the people I work with. We all have those special “teachers” in our life that test us on occasion, and I have to work at not letting them overshadow the majority.
Making a difference is often relegated to the background in those “Top Ten Career” listings. And yet this is a common desire in job-seekers. Treated sometimes as a naïve or youthful pipe-dream, making a difference, is in fact, an extremely important component of a job. What is your definition of “making a difference”? Making a difference isn’t always about saving the whales or other large humanitarian projects; you can also make a difference when you compile the payroll for your company. Teachers make a difference every day– but the results aren’t always seen immediately. What does “making a difference” mean to you? Are you perhaps underplaying the difference you make in your current job—or would a different job provide more fulfillment for you in this area? Is making a difference important to you—or do other factors trump this desire? Only you can decide.
My thoughts: At first, this one was tough for me. When I think of making a difference, I think about my Reiki business or planting a beautiful herb garden. What kind of difference am I making in IT? If I help my clients do less work behind their computer and spend more time in front of their clients, that makes me feel good. A strong, trusting relationship can only exist with quality interaction time. I believe in the financial services industry this is even more critical. If my clients have more time with their clients, they can help them plan better, live happily in retirement, and maybe even leave a charitable legacy.
Following your passions is a long-running and oft-derided theme in career decision-making. The image that comes to mind is that of a musician or artist off “following their passions” but unable to pay for dinner that evening. (See my post on Can You Really Do What You Love These Days?) Like many things, the truth often lies in the middle. How important are your passions and interests? Have you investigated the variety of careers where your interests could be used? How have other people made a reasonable income out of their passions? Must you be a starving artist or are there other, perhaps better, models to follow? Once again, there are no hard and fast answers here.
My thoughts: I have some passion for IT–I like working in databases and helping people be more efficient with technology. But I am IN LOVE with nature, natural healing, natural products, plants, trees, well, you get the picture. I find meaning in my IT job here as it provides me time to pursue what I am truly passionate about. I am a planner, not a last minute person. Now I can carefully plan and prepare for my next career step, as opposed to making a stressful transition or doing so when I’m not ready. I have time to manifest a job that I am passionate about that also supports me monetarily. And I have time to indulge in my passions through my hobbies and my own business.
Using your talents is closely related to following passions. Presumably many passions are also talents. But here’s where you look behind the passion to find the talents/skills that lie behind it. For instance, you might be passionate about raising orchids, but careers directly related to that passion might be limited. So what talents are behind that passion? Could it be your patience? Or attention to detail? Or the researching skills needed to learn how best to care for the orchids? Or your appreciation of beauty/aesthetics? Consider your top 5 skills or talents. When you are at your all-time best, what are you doing? And how can you find a job that lets you do more of that?
My thoughts: Many of my skills are put to use in my current job–organization, writing, people skills, prioritization, etc. But remember those “teachers” I talked about earlier? The people you interact with that are never happy, always complaining, negative, etc? In my job I get taught A LOT. I love to learn, and while it may be utterly frustrating in the moment, I always come away with lessons learned. Therefore in my IT job my skills are being put to use, improved, and ultimately expanding.
If you are contemplating a career change, or maybe even a job change within your current company, take some time to reflect on the five items as I have. I think it will make your decision a little easier, and it will definitely shed light on the job you have. You may be surprised at how much meaning you find in what you are doing right now.
Footnote: This week at work featured one of my latest teachers, and it left me drained and weary. I thought my interactions with him were meaningless. Come to find out, he was singing my praises to my boss and has even implemented some of my suggestions! That is how the universe works–it shows you the meaning when you least expect it, but it always shows you.