Are You Chasing Career Happiness?
By Liz Brown, Assistant Professor of Law, Taxation and Financial Planning, Bentley University
People change jobs regularly. Why?
They’re chasing happiness. They’re looking for fulfillment in what they do. But they’re not finding it. They’re using the wrong criteria to choose a career.
Seven years ago, I was a partner in an international law firm. I had a big title. I had a large salary. I was at the top of my game. And I was miserable. So, I sought out people who had left the law for other careers. I found former lawyers who were management consultants and editors and rabbis and psychotherapists, and I asked them to tell me their stories of changing careers (which I later compiled in my book Life After Law: Finding Work You Love with the J.D. You Have).
I soon realized they all had something in common: in their new careers, they were using the same skills they had in law, but in more fulfilling ways. As a result, they were much, much happier.
Too many people choose jobs based on money, what other people in their majors do, who they know, what corporate cultures sound fun, etc. But to find a career you love, start with what you love being good at—that is what you should build your career on.
To narrow down your choices even more, ask these three questions:
Question 1: What do I do in my spare time that other people find valuable?
Think about the things you liking doing, but don’t have to. What do you enjoy being good at? One of my former law school classmates, Valerie, landed a dream job working for an international law firm in Paris. She was making a lot of money and had a flexible schedule. But she hated her job. She found solace in pastry shops, visiting them, getting to know their owners and learning how to make good chocolate. Fast forward a few years: Valerie was living in Chicago, working for another law firm. She hated that one, too. So she left to become a Mary Kay saleswoman and learned how to run a business. She used that experience to start a new company, Chicago Chocolate Tours, which took people on walking tours of chocolate shops. She had dozens of employees, offered tours in three cities, ran her business the way she learned to at Mary Kay and used the negotiation skills she learned in law school.
Question 2: What do you think I am good at?
Ask this of family and friends; it sometimes takes another person to point out what’s right in front of us. This is what happened to Lisa, another former lawyer who disliked her job. What she really enjoyed was organizing—her friends frequently asked for help arranging their homes. One evening, she was telling a friend how much she hated the idea of going to work the next day. Her friend’s reply: “It’s a shame you can’t get paid for organizing things.” A light bulb went off. Soon after, Lisa was a certified professional organizers with her own business that she eventually developed into a life-coaching practice, going from sorting out people’s closets to sorting out their lives.
Question 3: What is the easiest part of my day?
Think about your to-do list. Which items are you dreading and which are you looking forward to? One of my interviewees, Will, used this kind of self-searching to find a career he loved. A mergers and acquisitions lawyer, he spent most days in a windowless room, which was torture for him. After a false re-start at Barnes & Noble (he loved books) Will decided to get a graduate degree in psychotherapy. He’s an excellent listener and the kind of guy everyone turns to when they had a problem, Will started his own practice, has complete control over when and where he works—and makes more money as a therapist than he did as a lawyer.
It’s time to stop chasing happiness and actually find a job you enjoy. To get started, think about the paths where what you enjoy intersects with what you’re good at. When you tap into a genuine passion, you’ll be amazed at how much more successful your career will be. And how much happier you’ll be.
For more career advice, check out PreparedU from Bentley University.