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5 Ways to Find a Job You Love So It’s Gift, Not an Obligation

Man Working Outside

“Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” ~Confucius

I once worked for a big international consultancy firm (okay, it’s McKinsey, don’t tell anyone) and hated it.

Everyone told me how lucky I was to have that job. They went on and on about how prestigious it was, how I got to travel the world, work with executives on the big topics, and hang out with brilliant colleagues.

As much as all of that is true, I still hated the job. Not because of McKinsey, but because of me.

It might be a dream job for a lot of people, but it surely wasn’t for me. It was a nightmare, and in the end I couldn’t sleep anymore (at which point a nightmare in the literal meaning of the word started to seem very attractive to me).

Have you ever gone without sleep for days? If you have, then you know that it’s not sustainable for very long. After four days I was a zombie, and a miserable one at that.

I was on the verge of a breakdown, and I knew that something needed to change. In hindsight, it was so obvious what that “something” was—but back then, twelve years ago, I had totally lost my way.

Fortunately, I finally gathered up enough courage (or desperation) to pick up the phone and call my HR manager. I quit, and then I went to bed and slept like a baby for twenty hours straight.

Two months later I had landed a job that I genuinely could love, and two years later I was running my own company.

Since then my co-founders and I have grown our company to 200 employees, with offices in London, Berlin, and Copenhagen. More importantly, I am able to have fun, learn at a fast pace, and maintain a great work/life balance even from day one.

From these two contrasting experiences I have learned five lessons that I use to keep myself on the right track, and that might be useful for you too:

1. Don’t settle.

It’s so easy to fall victim to the idea that we should be grateful just to have a job, especially in times where the economy is bad. As much as I am a fan of gratitude, if your job is not making you happy then it’s not the right thing for you to be spending 50 percent or more of your waking hours doing. Period.

Of course, we can all have moments of doubt and bad days—congratulations for being human! But if you dread going to work more often than not, then it’s time to connect to your inner strength and creativity to move on to a new mission.

2. Be courageous.

I recently came across a happiness study that showed a positive correlation between courage and happiness.

At first that seemed a bit odd to me. But then I understood: brave people get more out of their lives because they dare to break out, let go of their past, and embrace the unknown. They grow more, learn more, and live more intensely. Thus, they are happier.

Since this realization, every time I get fearful, I ask myself, is this a happiness enhancer in disguise?

Of course, sometimes courage comes in the form of non-action. Staying where you are even if it is difficult is also courageous. Only you can distinguish the difference between growing and fleeing.

Statistically, most of us are biased toward the non-action end of the spectrum, so it makes sense to contemplate if we are staying put (in a job, in a relationship, in a city) because we are brave or because we are afraid.

3. Follow the “One-Year Rule.”

Let’s say that you have realized that you need to move on in your life, and that you are courageous enough to act on it. Good for you! However, sometimes you will find that you are actually stuck.

Maybe you really need your paycheck at the end of each month. You may even have children to provide for. What do you do then?

The One-Year Rule goes like this: make a plan and a firm commitment to yourself that one year from now, you will have sorted out your problems and be in a much better place. With planning, creativity, and patience, most things are possible.

4. Live your priorities.

More than once, you have probably listened to someone go on about how their children are their number one priority, or how they value good health. Then you wondered if their actions were really in line with these beliefs. Worse yet, sometimes we have been that person.

When we say that our daughter or son means everything to us, then that statement needs to be backed by recognizable action. This could mean picking up your child early from kindergarten and being present while you play with Legos together.

Maybe your priorities are very different from mine, and that’s fine too. The point is that we each need to be clear on what’s important to us and then live according to that blueprint. Otherwise, we end up with regret and low self-respect.

For me, working at McKinsey wasn’t the right thing to do because that required me to be an always-on type of guy. I needed a job where I had much more freedom—that was my priority.

5. Don’t believe the naysayers.

It’s amazing how many well-intended friends, family members, and colleagues are more than willing to tell us when our ideas, visions, or plans are unrealistic. They tell us that we should rather be grateful for what we have, whether it’s a job, a spouse, or something else.

Our parents can especially be a strong source of our self-doubt; parents are inherently risk-averse on behalf of their children. That’s fine, but we, their children, shouldn’t pay too much attention to that.

My dad thought it was the silliest thing that I wanted to write a book. “There are so many books out there already,” he said. “Shouldn’t you rather focus on your business?” I didn’t listen and I am happy about that. What advice from your friends and family should you make sure to avoid?

Here’s a tip: the next time someone is projecting their own fears and limitations on you, imagine a huge trash bin between you—and visualize all their words slipping into that bin, before they even reach you.

Don’t be upset with other people; they are allowed to have their own beliefs and opinions. Just remember it has nothing to do with you, even when they claim it does.

If you follow these five simple rules, I believe that work can become much more of a gift in your life rather than an obligation.

It certainly worked for me, and I am by no means unique (or we all are). You deserve a job you truly love—and if you haven’t found it already, it’s probably out there looking for you.

Man working outside image via Shutterstock

About Martin Bjergegaard

In 2013 Martin co-founded the sustainable Scandinavian self-development book publisher, Pine Tribe, planting a tree for each and every book they sell. He is the author of award winning management and work-life balance book, Winning Without Losing. Stay in touch with Martin and the latest happenings on the Scandinavian self-development scene at PineTribe.com.

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  • Hey Martin,

    Great article, How did you find what you loved? You own a really successful book publisher but how did you end up there from McKinsey? I guess what I mean to ask is how did you follow your own 5 steps. I completely agree with them and would also like to add the importance of knowing who you are as a person. Which is something we all seem to get lost and forget about. To some extent that is what you are said. When you talk about knowing your priorities and living them. The big question for a lot of people is how do you actually find out what are your priorities, Personally I try and track my emotions to understand what actually makes my happy, sad and stressed. It has helped me work out what is actually important. Are there any techniques you used to help you through the transitions?

    Thanks for the great article!

    Ed

  • Great question! I think our hobbies and passion can point the way. If you enjoy an activity enough to dedicate your spare time to it, turning that into a business is sure to make for a fun job. It might take some creative business planning, but its worth exploring

  • Hey Regina,

    Is that how you got into Energy Healing?

    Ed

  • Yes =) I started taking classes on the side for fun and found myself in a full-on accreditation course after I loved it so much =)

  • Thats awesome!!

  • Tori Strudwick

    Such a great article – thanks for posting!

  • Elizabeth

    Wonderful article and very inspiring. I thank you, Martin!

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  • Talya Price

    Thank you for this article.

    I for one hate my job, I hate where I am living and I hate the fact that I am still single. Yes I know hate is a very strong word, but I do not love my current living situation nor means of employment. I have commented on this issue many times. And it begins to sound repetitive. But that is how I feel.

    If I were to stop my day job, I would not have any money to pay my bills. I would love to earn more. But I do not know how. I have been racking my brain for almost a year on how I can earn more so I can leave this place. My Day job is not glamorous nor prestigious. It just is what it is. But your article, Martin, gave me some tips on how I can get out of this rut that I put myself into.

    Thank you.

  • I too use the approach of noticing how I actually feel – and pondering on what makes me happy and what drains my energy – so I surely agree on that one:-) How did I go from McKinsey to being successful with my own companies? I worked for a great Danish entrepreneur for a year and a half after McKinsey, learning everything I could from him. And when I got an idea for my own business that I was really excited about, then I went for it – and luckily it worked out:-)

  • I am happy you liked it Tori:-)

  • Talya, I am really happy to hear that you could use some of the tips. I wish you all the best on your journey – it seems like you are in some ways a bit stuck, but just remember that many before you have felt the same, and later on found ways to achieve great things and be happier. It’s about the future, not the past. Maybe also Google “a mindset of abundance” and see if this concept can be useful. Wish you an awesome 2015!

  • thanks for your kind words Elizabeth:-)

  • Martin,

    Thanks for sharing that! I do have one more question. I checked out your website and there is a photo of you in a green fury onsie type thing… I just had to ask why and where do I get one!

    Ed

  • arad

    “The next time someone is projecting their own fears and limitations on
    you, imagine a huge trash bin between you—and visualize all their words
    slipping into that bin, before they even reach you.”

    What a great visual; and one I will definitely use as well-meaning people try to shove me into jobs that I just don’t fit into- and never want to! I really appreciated this article Martin, thank you 🙂

  • Nikki

    This article really struck a cord with me. I am currently in a job that I hate. I feel sick, anxious, depressed and generally unhappy every day. I am overworked and under valued. I am really trying to change my path but it has been a slow process. I really value your advice and will continue to push for what is right for me. Thank you for your post.

  • Dee

    I’m going to share this with my friends. We could all use this advice. Thank you!! The part about the trash bin was great 🙂

  • TheZenRN.blogspot.com

    Thank you for this lovely article. When you find your passion, getting up for “work” everyday certainly becomes less of a chore and more of a delight.

  • Melisa cole

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  • Arkady Apelchuk

    A lot of my own reasons for changing professions was found in this article. Great post.

  • Martin, This is a powerful article. I like how you wove your own experience into the wisdom you gathered. Everybody deserves to have a career (job or self-employed) that they love. Our life energy is spent either way. Why not focus it on something that gives us joy? My longest record for holding a job was 18 months. It was my last job. Like you, I got everything I could out of it and gave my best to them (which got better thanks to them) during it. Great work. It’s hard for people to admit that they hate their job (or their spouse/partner), you know. Thanks for the thoughtful post!

  • Mario

    Thank you so much Martin,

    I’m not the typical commenter on here as I’m fairly young (20) and currently struggling to find the subject I want to study. 2 years ago I already started studying, the problem was that it wasn’t the subject that I wanted, but the one which my parents and relatives wanted me to do. Now I’m traveling for 9 months to clear my mind and grow as person and I’ve already a pretty good idea what to study when i’m back home. I’ve told my parents and they weren’t supportive at all, so your trick with the trash bin works really good for that 🙂 I kind of realized that they mostly project their own fears and worries on me and I should not pay too much attention to that.
    I do have worries on my own, if it’s truly the right thing for me, but I guess your rule of being courageous comes in handy, as I’m probably only afraid to do something new, move away from home and do something most of my friends and family don’t expect me to do. This is a big step for me, since I always tried to fit in as good as possible and that I don’t raise too much attention on what i’m doing.
    So what I’m trying to say is thank you for your tips and rules as they really helped clearing and organizing my thoughts and mind again.

  • Guest

    Excellent article. I can relate to this. A prestigious firm with long hours may not be for ‘everyone’. Some people can handle the long hours and office politics. Others may not. There is no right or wrong when it comes to jobs as long as we’re not wasting our time chasing other people’s dreams and trying to live someone else’s life. As long as the job is working out for the individual, that’s all that really matters. And there is absolutely no need to seek for approvals from others. Other people’s opinion of you is only an opinion at the end of the day.

  • Keya Dutta

    Nice!

  • Carinne Bird

    Thanks Martin for sharing this inspiring post! This is really a hearty encouragement, a really great advice and I completely agree of these tips. Keep it up! 🙂

  • Ian

    Articles such as this one have been a great benefit & inspiration for me in the past months.
    It’s always a good idea to leave your job if you hate it. It’s an even better idea to have some idea of what you’d rather be doing.
    The second day I started my current job, I knew I was not going to like it. Which is right then & there when I should have left.
    I let my fear make me stay and I’ve been here for another 2 years. Another 2 years I will never get back.
    So last week, I put in my notice. I had been putting in half-hearted attempts to secure another job w/o success….because no one wants to hire someone who is half-hearted about working for them. And the only jobs I was truly qualified for were ones like the one I already have, ones I don’t want.
    So, I needed to make a change and let go of the person I have been in order to become the person I want to be.
    So, yes, I have been taking classes to acquire skills that I need to qualify for jobs that I do want. And now I will be doing it full time at the age of 36. I’ve also let age be my excuse for not change b/c “I’m too old.”
    I already have an undergrad degree that qualifies me for doing nothing, so maybe get one that qualifies me to do something. Or maybe I end up working for the Parks department. I have to at least seek fulfillment instead of settle for drudgery.