I took my eleven-year-old son to Colorado for a paleontology adventure. Digging up shards of tibia bone with a toothbrush is so not what I want to do with my time, but I want to support my son in finding his passion, and he is enthralled with paleontology.
There’s a great program at the Museum of Western Colorado. We drove there. Omaha is a mid point between our house and the dinosaur dig, so we stayed there for a day at a hotel where Warren Buffet, who is known for being a reasonable, down-to-earth guy, drew the line at drinking a Pepsi (he’s on the board of Coke), so the hotel guy had to walk five blocks to get two Cokes.
On our first day of our dig, we go to the edge of a cliff in the badlands near the museum. We look down and the guide says, “That rock down there is about 150 million years old, but we don’t have enough money to know for sure.”
My son can’t look. He already has altitude sickness. At the point where the paleontologist shows us the cliff we will dig on, my son, who has read too many earthquake books, announces that we might die, receives unimpressive reassurance, and then throws up.
This is either a photo of my son doing his perfect dream job, or my son right before he throws up in all over the pleistocene period.
We go back to our hotel.
He told me he could never do a dig. He said next time we should just go to Omaha. “They have such a good zoo,” he said. He was scared he’d never be a paleontologist. I wanted to tell him that he was doing the dig because it cost $1500. But instead I told him that maybe this was a good job for him at the wrong place.
This is a common problem with our work.
1. It’s the skills you use in your job that matters, not the industry you’re in.
My son learned so much from the trip. He learned there’s a high demand for fish experts. “We are in the age of fish,” said the paleontologist who was nice enough to leave the tour and drive us back to our car. “There are more fish right now than any other type of animal, and only fish people study fish.”
My son is fascinated by the idea that because fish skeletons are so varied and so different from mammals, you have to specialize in that to understand it.
My son is also fascinated by the idea that someone needs to organize the excavation trips. He likes managing. Of course: he’s an INTJ. If you know your personality type, and you know your strengths and weaknesses, then all you need is a job that leverages your strengths. An INTJ is great at solving complex problems and managing teams to solve problems. He could do that in technology, in education, or in paleontology.
So I told him he should keep reading those paleontology books he loves. And we are still planning to go on more paleontology trips – just no treacherous digs. Because he’s a lot like a career changer in that he’s invested so many years in reading about environmental science that it seems a shame to focus on a job in another field when he doesn’t necessarily need to.
2. Trends in an industry matter more than whether you like the industry now.
Before you decide if you’re in the right career or not, look at trends. Most of you will need to continue working for at least a decade or two. The jobs that will be around in the next decade are nothing like what we have now.
The types of careers that will open up in the near future—vertical farmer, weather modification police—foreshadow huge shifts in the workplace. The shifts also underline how important it is to position yourself in a growing industry rather than one that is dying. So instead of focusing on how much you like the career you are in – since that is largely a function of the skills you are using anyway – focus on whether the field you’re in is growing or dying.
I recently read that the trend in fossil digging is that it is becoming privatized, because professors don’t want to put in the insanely long amounts of searching time, and universities don’t want to pay the insanely high prices that private collectors will pay for fossils.
So private companies are excavating private land. It’s controversial, sure, but I’m impressed that someone dreamed up the idea of putting fish fossils in kitchens. It’s a great way to change the fish fossil market from lemonade-stand-budget, ten-year-old boys to renovation-budget interior designers.
3. We don’t need a perfect job in order to be happy. We just need to be growing.
So many of us have an unguarded obsession with wanting things to fit perfectly. I look at this page of photos of random things fitting perfectly and I want the page to go on forever—it’s inherently satisfying just to know it’s a good fit.
Yet wanting a perfect fit gets us into so much trouble.
The quarterlife crisis is a new coming-of-age event that describes the emotional turmoil resulting from the gap between baby boomer parents telling kids their job should be a perfect fit for their passions and talents, and Gen Y kids realizing that the work world does not offer that type of job.
Looking for a perfect fit in a relationship also gets us into trouble.
We do not get perfect harmony in a relationship.
Psychology Today describes the best romantic relationship as not necessarily with the partner who has the best traits, but rather the partner who allows you to grow into your best self. Daniel Jones edits the Modern Love column in the New York Times. He says that after reading 50,000 submissions over the course of a decade, he realizes that the best way to be fulfilled in a relationship is to settle for imperfection and focus on being your best self.
The connection between a job and happiness is overrated. And the connection between our romantic life and happiness is overrated. A full 70% of our happiness is determined genetically.
But personal growth is something we have total control over. So get yourself into a job that allows you to do that – but recognize that it rarely requires a change in industry. Usually a change in your job but within your industry will get you where you need to go.