Okay, so Danica Patrick still has not won a race, and now that the Indy 500 is over, a new round of complaining has started. There is truth the complaining. Patrick does have very good equipment in a sport where equipment matters a lot. And she does have more sponsors in a sport where other competitors have had to win a lot of races to get sponsors.

But instead of pointing out all the factors that make Patrick an anomaly, look at how she is like you: She is looking to do something she loves, and she is figuring out a way to make it work. She sees an opening — selling herself to the media as the only woman driver — and she takes it. This is not unfair. In fact, Jamie Birch reminds us that having a unique selling proposition is integral to good business and we all need one.

So as you’re doing your job, keep an eye open for what will make you pull ahead of the crowd, and don’t be discouraged in a field of fast drivers. You don’t need to win a race to have the best selling proposition.

You do, however, need to have a good understanding of what you offer. Be realistic of why someone is coming back to you. Patrick wishes people loved her because she wins races, but they love her because she’s the first woman. Don’t be so picky about why people love you — just leverage that affection to do the work you want to do.

You do not need to have an intellectually challenging job in order to be happy in your job. You need to feel like you are meeting a core need by being at your job.

I interviewed Sonja Lyubomirsky, assistant professor of psychology at University of California at Riverside, who studies what makes people happy. She stressed to me that research shows that a wide range of jobs make people happy.

For example, in one study, a janitor was happy in his work because he knew he was helping people by keeping his building clean. He had a core need to help. “People have important goals that come from inside themselves – for example, personal growth, community, or relationships,” says Lyubomirsky. “Jobs that allow you to meet intrinsic goals will lead to more happiness.”

When I was playing professional beach volleyball, I trained at the beach and the gym for eight hours a day. In the evenings, my job was to shelve books at a bookstore. It was pretty mindless, but what I needed during that time was contact with other people, and a chance to slow down. So I loved the job because it filled those needs.

Newsweek’s My Turn is by Kathy Kallenbach Clark, a woman who is at home with her kids all day, and although she has a master’s degree, she chooses to deliver pizzas at night. I love this essay because it challenges our snobby views of what kinds of jobs we should look for. (Though I have to add that the headline is sophomoric and irrelevant and borders on insulting the writer.)

I can totally understand why Clark wants to deliver pizzas after spending a day with kids. I spend a good portion of my days with my young sons, and there is no time to think. Kids require constant, low-level brain power and there is no chance to do any deep thinking. A pizza job is glorious thinking time to a mom who has very little otherwise.

When you are trying to figure out what kind of job to look for, think about what need you are really looking to fill. Be honest with yourself. Put your job snob away, and address your core needs.

The reason you should do what you love is because you won’t work hard at it if you don’t love it. And hard work is, in fact, more important in success than raw talent. The guys who wrote Freakonomics also write a column in the New York Times magazine, and this topic is the focus of their most recent column:

“When it comes to choosing a life path, you should do what you love “? because if you don’t love it, you are unlikely to work hard enough to get very good. Most people naturally don’t like to do things they aren’t “good” at. So they often give up, telling themselves they simply don’t possess the talent for math or skiing or the violin. But what they really lack is the desire to be good and to undertake the deliberate practice that would make them better.”

Of course, the difficult part is to figure out what you love. Maybe a better standard, though, is to figure out what you love to practice. That seems to eliminate a lot more possibilities right off the bat.

Salary.com and Money magazine just released a list of the top fifty jobs.

Here’s how they did the rankings:

Things that are bad are less than $50,000 average salary, dangerous, and small field with little room for advancement.

Things that are good are a growing field, low stress, flexibility in hours and working environment, creativity, and easy advancement.

Here are the top ten:

1. Software engineer

2. College professor

3. Financial advisor

4. Human resource advisor

5. Physician assistant

6. Market research analyst

7. Computer/IT analyst

8. Real estate appraiser

9. Pharmacist

10. Psychologist

I dove for this list as soon as I saw it, but the rankings are not as useful as you might imagine. However it made me happy to see that psychologist is up there at the top — it’s hard enough to go to a therapist, so I at least want to know that while I’m talking she is enjoying herself.

People would be a lot happier with the job they had if they were happier with themselves outside of their job. We have seen steady decline in job satisfaction, no matter if the employment rate is very high or very low, and even when most people have control over their time and their workload, they still report that they are unhappy in their jobs, according to the Harvard Business Review.

People do not like work because they don’t like their personal life. And the key to being happy at work is not so much finding the perfect career as it is finding yourself. The more self-knowledge you have the happier you will be. So stop looking at your job to solve your problems and instead look inside yourself. Make friends with yourself and with other people, and your job, whatever it is, might start looking better because you’re not asking so much from it.

If you are looking to your job for the meaning of life, forget it. Even people who feed starving children with the Peace Corps have crisis of meaning. (For example, What is the point of feeding one child when six will die?) The meaning of life is elusive and you must put in a lot of time and energy to find meaning in your life.

The job hunt is separate. The job is something you have to do to support yourself. Since you’re going to be doing it for a good portion of your life, you should look for some basics: People who respect you and your personal life. A company that is honest. A job that uses your skills and experience. A job that challenges your abilities without overwhelming you.

Work does not need to give your life a grand purpose in order to be a good experience. The most pleasurable work provides a perfect balance between too much and too little — in terms of both amount and difficulty, according to Diane Fassel, the chief executive of workplace survey firm Newmeasures and author of the book Working Ourselves to Death.

A career is like a mate. The relationship is limited by what you bring to the table. If you are not happy with yourself, you won’t be happy with the match-up. Here’s an analogy a friend once told me: You have to have the cake, and then the relationship is the icing. It doesn’t matter how good the icing is if there’s no cake to put it on. Who eats icing by itself? Gross.

The part about you is the most important. What do you do when you’re alone? How do you feel about yourself? What are your core values and do you lead your life according to them each day? Do you numb yourself with food or TV or alcohol? It’s very hard to be honest about this stuff. Yet amazingly, people spend lots of time on locating a job and a mate and very little time locating themselves.

“Employees should not demand that companies imbue their lives with meaning,” writes E.L. Kersten in the Harvard Business Review. “Employers and employees have something the other needs. One of the keys to a mutually beneficial relationship is a realistic understanding of what that something is.” A job is not a life.

In fact, online dating is not a bad model for evaluating a job. For one thing, you should never write that you want a mate to make you feel fulfilled — that’s asking much too much from a single person. Yet we complain all the time that our jobs are not fulfilling.

Dating services ask that you be as specific as possible in your desires. So try that for a job. Here’s what I would ask for in a job, and it’s the same thing I looked for in a spouse:





Consistent with my values

Leaves space for the other parts of my life

And here’s another thing about those lists: You are probably going to have to be your list to get your list. That’s why interesting people are at interesting companies. So be who you want to be instead of looking for a mate or a company to make you who you wish you were.

If you're out of work, or your job is so annoying that you wish you were out of work, then it's time to take an adventure. Some might say that an adventures is an expensive, childish way to avoid reality. This is partly true. But who cares?

The reality of adulthood is hard. There are no teachers stroking your ego with A's, there are no parents making sure you're doing fun and challenging activities every afternoon. So it is no surprise that putting off adulthood looks appealing. In fact, taking an adventure to see how other people do their lives is a good first step into adulthood because there is no better way to choose your life than to see how other people live.

There are some great things you can accomplish while you're adventuring:

You can use an adventure as a way out of a bad job. It's very hard to quit a job when you have nothing else lined up. But it's very hard to line up a new job while you're working at your current job. So a good way to ease yourself out of your job is to go on an adventure. You can tell yourself that you must quit now — now is the time for adventure.

You can sort out personal problems. A lot of career issues are actually personal issues. Do I want to be a doctor or do I want to please my parents? Do I want to settle down or do I feel pressure from my boyfriend? These are issues that dictate your career choices, but cannot be solved by changing jobs or rewriting your resume. Putting yourself in a new situation, away from the outside influencers you are used to — is will help you get a more clear perspective.

You can learn what you don't want. When I worked on a family chicken farm in rural France, one day, when we spent three hours looking for mushrooms in the forest, I said, “Why do we have to keep looking? It's taking so long and it's only mushrooms. Let's go home.” And the father said, “But how will we have wild mushrooms for salad?” I couldn't believe it. I wanted to have my mom buy some at the grocery store and send them via airmail. This is when I knew that although living close to the land looks appealing from the outside, but to me it felt monotonous and intellectually dissatisfying.

There are a few ways to get the money to travel. The most obvious is that you should alter your lifestyle And prolific travel blogger Ali Watters has a few suggestions: Don't get a car or a mortgage unless you absolutely need one Give up smoking or expensive trips to coffee shops — it wastes money each day. Stay away from material possessions. Before each purchase ask yourself what you'll do with it while you're traveling.

Ali also recommends that you go somewhere cheap; a month in Europe will cost you three times as much as a month in South East Asia.

If Ali's advice is too hard to swallow, you might try lining up a job that's an adventure. If you are under thirty years old you might be able to benefit from reciprocal work agreements with the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand.

Adventure is a good choice for a lot of people. It will give you perspective on a career that's stuck, and if you don't even have a career, there's little difference between a good entry level job and an adventure. Both are about learning, trying new things, and making sure you don't starve. So when you are looking at your job choices, put travel right up there on top with everything else. It's good for your resume and good for your life.

Whether you're thinking of a top-tier MBA or a PhD in anthropology, there is a right way and a wrong way to approach graduate school. You need to understand your dreams, and what is required to achieve them. Also, you need to understand the marketplace, and what it values.

If you dream of climbing ladders in the Fortune 500, get an MBA. The degree a VIP ticket to corporate life and a prerequisite for the top ranks. And if you have the luck of being in your 20s, don't wait, get the degree now, when it can get you a better starting job after you graduate. If you've already made headway in your career, you'll still need that MBA, but when you're older it's more like a career lubricant than a jump start: The degree has little impact on where you are now, but prevents you from getting stuck later.

Think twice before cashing in your chips for less respected school. The top five or ten business schools have a much, much higher value in the business world than all the other business schools. If you attend the third tier school, do it at night because the cost to your checkbook and your career growth while you're in school do not outweigh the benefits of the degree you'll earn.

For some people, though, graduate school is not so much a way to fulfill a dream as a way to put off finding one. Thomas Benton, a pseudonym for an assistant professor who writes a column for the Chronicle of Higher Education, blames much of the flight to graduate school on grade inflation and fragile egos: “Humanities majors are used praised from professors. Many recent grads return to school when they discover that not everyone thinks they are as great as their humanities teachers did. Humanities don't have the objective standards of business. Going back to grad school allows people to reestablish their ego. But it is short lived because they have to face the same market when they get out.”

So be honest with yourself. If you're going back to school because you're nostalgic for the days when you could get a good grade and a pat on the back. If you're looking for grad school to give you breathing room from the realities of adult life, you probably need a social worker more than you need another degree.

Besides, breathing time in grad school only delays future feelings of suffocation. For example, MFA programs do not make you more creative, they make you more qualified to teach. And the academic job market is a nightmare. One out of five people who enter English literature PhD programs will get a job in that field. The rest will find themselves back at square one, waiting tables, albeit with improved literary banter, and looking for a career.

Lost humanities students with an eye for cash and stability often enter law school because other professional schools require too much math or science. Yet the land of lost lawyers is full, too, which confirms that if you don't have a passion for what you are going to learn in graduate school, you shouldn't go.

If you still think you might be best off at grad school, then here's a checklist of things you should do before you apply:

1. Try other jobs first. The people who do best in graduate school are those who don't use it to escape their terrible job life. So find decent alternatives to going back to school, and if you still want to go back to school then you should.

2. Determine if an advanced degree is necessary. Talk to people who are where you want to be in five years to ten years. If those people got there without a degree, then you probably can, too.

3. Take the passion test. Are you reading about your proposed graduate topic now, before you are in school? If you're not passionate enough about the subject matter to read about it on your own, then you should find something to pursue that excites you more.

In the list of what’s hot and what’s not, blowing all your money on an overpriced apartment is out and sleeping on the twin bed at your parents’ house is in. Bobby Jackson is a senior at Williams College who will graduate this June. He will load up a moving container, head back to Washington, D.C. after graduation, and look for a public relations job from the comfort of his parents’ home. Jackson typifies the remarkable shift of inter-generational attitudes when he declares, “I love hanging out with my parents.”

According to market research company Twentysomething Inc., 65% of college seniors expect to live with their parents after graduation. The job web site MonsterTRAK reports that 50% of the class of 2003 continues to live at home. “Boomerangers” is what analysts call the twentysomethings moving back home, and the consensus among researchers (who grew up in an era when moving back was a sign of failure) is that being a boomeranger is a strategically sound way to head toward an independent life.

Neil Howe, author of Millennials Rising: The Next Great Generation says that moving back with parents is a way to avoid wasting a lot of time. According to Howe, when it comes to careers, “Boomerangers want to get it right the first time.” If you don’t have to worry about paying rent, you have more flexibility to wait for the right job and to take a job that feels very right but pays very poorly. The rise of the prestigious but unpaid internship intersects perfectly with the rise of the boomeranger.

Today it’s almost impossible to become self-sufficient on an entry-level salary, especially in coastal cities like Boston, where rents are skyrocketing. Barbara Mitchell, professor of sociology at Simon Fraser University and author of the upcoming book, The Boomerang Age: Transition to Adulthood, says, “Most entry-level jobs won’t be permanent or stable,” so saving money is difficult. Twentysomethings have to manage the costs of rent, college loans and insurance premiums all of which are rising faster than wages.

With these economic factors, it’s hard for a boomeranger to leave again, and according to Mitchell, many underestimate the amount of time they’ll be staying. Jackson, for example, estimates that, “Most entry level jobs pay thirty thousand dollars, so I’ll stay at home for six months and save ten to fifteen thousand.” This plan would work only if he didn’t buy work clothes, go out with friends, or pay taxes — at least not with his own money.

And this is where the problems start. Boomerangers who think their time with mom and dad will last fewer than seven months are statistically delusional, and setting themselves up for emotional crisis. The typical stay is so long that researchers don’t even count someone as a boomeranger until they’ve been home four months.

Elina Furman knows this problem first hand: She ended up living with her family until she was twenty-nine, and she does not describe the time as a constant joy ride. In fact, she says, after the initial thrill of college graduation and the return of home-cooked meals, boomerangers find themselves in the midst of crisis — usually financial or relationship-oriented — and suffering from feelings of isolation and loss of self-esteem.

As a veteran of boomerang life, Furman supplies methods for success in her book, Boomerang Nation: How to Survive Living with Your Parents…the Second Time Around. She recommends making changes to your bedroom so it reflects who you are now. Otherwise, it becomes a “permanent purgatory” of high school trophies and reminders that you are not where you want to be. Also, “Do your own laundry and cook for yourself” because it’s more empowering than reverting to living like a seventeen-year-old. Chapters on financial planning and exit strategies belie other dangerous pitfalls of boomerang life.

And Furman warns, “The stigma is more than people realize.” (Which explains why the only people willing to be interviewed for this column are people who are just starting or have made it out of the house again.) Older generations are often stuck in outdated attitudes about the transition to adulthood, and they ask grating questions like, “You live where? At your age? What’s wrong with you?”

But in fact, moving back home is probably the first step in the post-boomer revolution of the workplace. Expectations for work are higher than ever — it should be fulfilling, fun, and accommodating to a substantial personal life. The logical way to meet such revolutionary expectations is to start out on a revolutionary path. So hold your head high as a boomeranger, but don’t leave your dirty dishes in the sink.

Everyone should plan for a change in career. Statistically, you are likely to wish you could change. Financially, you are likely to be too scared to take action, unless you plan for change early, before you want to make a leap.

Today people start working when they are 22 and don't stop until they are 65 or older. It makes sense that the career you pick when you are a 22 will not be appropriate when you are 44. People change. Thank goodness, or else we would get bored being ourselves.

Many people are already aware of this problem: According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 67% of American workers don't like their jobs. One look at the Amazon.com business books bestsellers list reveals the biggest career problem — at least for people who buy business books: Fear of changing careers. People get to a certain point in their life, somewhere between 35 and 55, and they want to switch careers, but it's too scary.

No one is immune from the desire to change career — even people who love their job. Maybe your heath will dictate change, maybe relocating for a spouse will. If you're still feeling smug that you will never stop loving your job, remember that the divorce rate is 50% and those people felt love at first, too.

So part of everyone's planning should entail leaving doors open for career change. And the biggest barrier to career change is money.

When you have worked in one field for a while, you become an expert, and your salary reflects that. When you want to change careers, you will likely take a cut in salary. Fine for someone who is in their twenties. But for a 35-year-old, who has kids and a mortgage, almost any salary cut is terrifying.

You need to do something to ensure that you are not terrified. Otherwise, career change will be out of the question. For most people this preparation means living way below your earning power starting immediately.

Phyllis Moen, professor of Sociology at the University of Minnesota, says that one of the most common barriers to changing career paths is having to pay a hefty mortgage. She says, “The one thing that people seem to equate with adulthood is buying a house. This is true for single people, too. In the past – for Boomer generation especially — advice was to buy the best house you can afford. But now it's an albatross.”

Another career trap is a job that entails very bad conditions for what people tell you will be only a limited period of time — associates at law firms, medical residents, consultants who travel nonstop are all examples of this sort of position. Be careful planning for the future by telling yourself you're “paying dues” now for more fulfillment down the road. If you pay dues for too long then switching careers means, in a way, paying dues for nothing, which is a large psychic cost to come to terms with.

Many people in very lucrative fields say: “I am going to earn so much money that I can save enough to switch careers.” This may be true, if you don't want to switch careers too early, and if you are realistic about how much money you have to save. However this level of self-discipline is rare; Richard Easterlin, professor of Economics at University of Southern California finds in his research that people are hard-wired to always want more money. For most people, saying, “I could live on a lot less money and be fine,” is like saying, “I could stop drinking any time I want.” Theoretically it should be easy, but in practice, it's not. So start doing it immediately to make sure you can.

The Baby Boomers had midlife crises because they were so frequently trapped in careers that felt wrong. The next generation has a chance to be visionaries with their careers so as to not repeat the Boomers' mistakes. Hopefully, twenty years from now, the bestsellers list on Amazon.om will be filled with books about a new career problem — one we could not have foreseen.

Happiness in your career is not as elusive as it might seem. In fact, there is plenty of research to tell you exactly how to find happiness, yet most people ignore the advice. Most people think they are the exception to the rule, but the truth is, you are no different than everyone else, and the research does apply to you.

Here is a short list of things people should do to find happiness in a career, which people generally do not do. This advice is backed by years of research and it is not particularly controversial among the researchers.

1. Observe people. Find the people who look happy to you and do what they do. Don't ask people if they are happy in their career. Most people will tell you they are happy because they have a vested interest in validating their own choices. So decide for yourself who is happy. This means getting to know a bunch of people. Interview them about what their life is like. Watch them at work. Trust your instinct.

2. Put passion before money. Research shows that once you can feed yourself and keep your electricity turned on, more money will not make your happier; no matter how much money someone makes they think they need 20% more to be happy. On top of that, research shows that people who choose careers they are passionate about make more money than people who choose a career for money. So stay away from jobs that won't pay enough for you to eat. But beyond that, choosing a career based on how much money you'll earn is one of the worst decisions you can make.

3. Go to the gym. You will do better in your career if you workout. It's a fact. Maybe it's that working out clears your head for thinking. Maybe it's that if you workout you look better and good looking people make more money. Or maybe it's that people who work out have a lot of self-discipline and that is what it takes to succeed at work, also. Whatever the reason, you are better off spending the last hour of your day at the gym than the office.

4. Have consistent sex. When it comes to happiness, personal relationships have significantly more impact than your job does. The best way to measure if you are maximizing your happiness from social relationships is by looking at your sex life. Research shows that sex once a week with a regular, committed partner will increase your happiness. Consider this research when deciding to move 500 miles away from your partner for a high paying job.

These four pieces of advice are not particularly difficult to follow. You don't have to be a genius. You don't need to live in a particular city. You don't need to have a good body or a good track record. So why are people so unhappy in their jobs? Because they don't follow the advice. Everyone thinks they are special, the exception to the rule, the complicated one for whom statistical research does not apply.

This is where Daniel Gilbert's research becomes important. He is a psychology professor at Harvard who studies happiness and he's noticed that no one takes the advice that research supports. He found that the reason people do not take steps that will make them happy is that they think they do not fit the mold. But he is adamant that people are not exceptional. When it comes to research about how to find happiness, humans are basically the same.

First, it's a logical impossibility that most people are the exception to the rule, yet most people believe they are. Ninety percent of drivers think they are better than average. Most football players think they are better than average. Most people believe they are worse at juggling than the average person. Statistically speaking, almost all these people have to be wrong.

Our perception of peoples' differences is exaggerated because we spend our lives finding differences between people to choose teachers, band mates and spouses. Gilbert recommends you think of grapes: “If you spend seven years studying the differences between grapes, no two will look the same to you, but really a grape is a grape.”

So, the truth is, the odds are overwhelming that you are average, and the things that set you apart are negligible when it comes to research about career happiness. So start running your life according to what people have already discovered works for the average person. Otherwise, the real barrier to your career happiness is you.