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By Erin Beesley


Could getting to know our real talents help us find  more fulfilling work? Erin explores School of Life’s theory on the working world.

We all want a job we love. We want to wake up in the morning aching to be at our desk, contributing something to people’s lives and making the world a more beautiful and informed place. It also feels like this is now a requirement in today’s culture if we are to declare ourselves perfectly fulfilled. However, this has not been the norm throughout history. For the majority of time, work has been synonymous with hard grind; a fate decided by our parents, for whom satisfaction lay outside office hours. Finding that truly fulfilling job can be a tricky task, so the School of Life’s A Job to Love aims to give us a better understanding of ourselves in order to find our life’s calling.

So, where to start?

One of the most important things is admitting we don’t know our own talents or what to do with them.

We need to develop a clearer picture of ourselves, through examining and interpreting our experiences. It can take many months to collect the evidence; one tip is to keep a notebook handy or use the notes section in your phone so you can “trap a feeling” or experience and add it to your library.  

A Job to Love views childhood as “a storehouse of incidental career insights”.

What we enjoyed as a child free from inhibitions can hint at major tendencies that may have been clouded by life. Consider what you enjoyed as a child, and why you loved doing it. Did you love Lego? And did you line up all the houses? Perhaps this is a clue? Not necessarily an indication that you should become a builder, but more that you enjoy creativity and order? Maybe it was the colours that attracted you. If not Lego, was there a make-believe game in which you were always the one in charge? Dwelling on childhood pastimes and the reasons for our choices can be hugely illuminating about aspects of our personality.

School of Life suggests that rushing to conclusions about a profession too quickly should be avoided.

Instead, for as long as possible find the “pleasure points” that a job contains. The book identifies 12 factors that can help explain what people mean when they say they “love their job”. Forgetting about salary or technical prerequisites, if we rank how receptive we are to these pleasure points we can identify what we want to find in our working lives.

You might take pleasure in making money; not for itself but because you see a business waiting to happen or profits as a confirmation of correct judgement. Maybe you take pleasure in beauty and can enjoy a film for its interior shorts, overlooking the uninspired plot and terrible script.  Or are you one of those people whose love of order drives them to arrange colouring pencils according to the spectrum? Perhaps as a child you pestered your parents with nonsensical questions, driven by a desire to understand the detailed reasons why things are the way they are. Perhaps your creativity led you to imagine sequels to your favourite books. Or is work more meaningful when you are helping people?

Other pleasure points identified in the book are using technology, love of nature, teaching, being independent and self-expression. These pleasures don’t point to a certain line of work, but from them we can write out an ideal job advertisement that suits our skills and interests, and then compare it with existing job specifications.  

Are you currently fixated on a particular job?

This book’s analytical tools can help uncover whether the fixation is your vocation or a tunnel you have accidentally driven into. Have you wanted to do the same thing since you were five? Is it the most obvious example of where your pleasure points merge? Or maybe it’s what your parents wanted you to do, or a teacher told you that it was a natural progression from your favourite subject at school?

For most of history our work was predestined for us by the preceding generation, but in the early twentieth century romantic ideology informed society and parents began to relinquish their power over their children’s life choices. But many parents, wittingly or unwittingly, hand on unfulfilled dreams or expectations. Similarly, a lack of connections and structural barriers can stunt our access to some more exclusive fields. It is easier to imagine yourself practising the same profession as a family member? Equally does a job you are intrigued by seem unattainable because you don’t know anyone doing it? Has your family experience or circumstances been a help or a hindrance?

Career aspirations are often based on the perceived careers of the most disproportionately successful.

This “perfectionism trap” is unsurprising given the modern media habit of “positive curation”: editing people’s lives so that only their career highs are pasted into our newsfeeds. We are shown anomalies: the one per cent. But failure is legitimate and important. As is the hard slog. We need to dig out the trajectories and early lives of those we admire and discover what errors they made and how they learnt from them; we need to discover the lowlights, not just the Instagram and Twitter highlights.

We live in a youth-obsessed culture, spending billions on skincare and Botox, often forgetting that most people’s careers reach their high point in their 50s. So, as quarterlifers, we are only at the beginning of our journey; it is a marathon not a sprint. And the joy is actually in the ride, because there IS no endpoint, or mountain-top. To find a job we love it’s best to start with some modest moves: volunteering, weekly night classes, or using holiday on an internship.

There is no rush to find the jobs we love. It takes time, like writing an essay. There is research, followed by a terrible first draft (maybe an awful bar job), a couple more drafts (some internships, getting fired, being horribly bored), then 20 drafts later, after lots of crossings-out and re-evaluations, we might finally land on what we’ve been trying to articulate. And until we can articulate our specific point, we can just keep drafting away.

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