The Perfect Life?
Imagine a 42-year-old man named Sam. When he was a kid, his father, an insurance salesman, would take him out for vanilla ice cream. He was very good at math in high school, and in his senior year he met his sweetheart, Karen. On their very first date, he took her out for vanilla ice cream.
Sam went on to college, and as soon as he graduated, he followed in his father’s footsteps and took a job in insurance, and married Karen soon after. Sam and Karen have now been married 20 years, he’s still at the same company, and every year on their anniversary, they go out for vanilla ice cream.
It sounds like a perfect life, right? And in many ways, and for many people, it is.
But it’s also… how can I say this… a bit vanilla.
While Sam and Karen might be perfectly happy, the story lacks excitement… it lacks adventure… it lacks variety… it lacks a challenge.
These qualities are also some of the words people use to describe their dead-end job, when they’re looking to make a change. They might not necessarily be unhappy in their job, but there’s no excitement or challenge.
Or maybe when you think of your job, you use another dreaded description:
See, when you LOVE your job, that’s a good thing. You’re excited to get up in the morning, work doesn’t feel like work, and you’re making a difference.
When you HATE your job, you’re usually motivated to get out. You have your eyes open for something new, and you’re ready to pounce on any opportunity to get out from your boring life or horrible boss.
But what if you’re COMFORTABLE in your job?
The people you work with are friendly and nice. Your boss is usually pretty cool. You’re pretty good at what you do, and even get paid a decent salary to do it.
But you’re not excited. You’re not truly happy. You’re comfortable.
And when you’re comfortable, it’s easy to just do nothing. The days fly by, and then it’s weeks and months, and then you’ve been at your desk another year.
This weekend I took a fantastic class at NYU called Career Planning and Development Throughout Working Life, taught by an amazing teacher, Amy Bandolik.
In our first session together, Amy went around the room and asked everyone to describe themselves and say why they were there, and then she threw in what seemed like a bonus question.
What is your favorite ice cream flavor?
I figured it was just a typical icebreaker, such as your favorite color or favorite football team. But Amy was digging for something else.
After everyone had introduced themselves, she talked about some of the ways we can help people find their dream jobs… what they were truly meant to do.
So she asked us…
WHY was the flavor we picked our favorite flavor?
She asked me directly… “Why did you choose chocolate?”
I didn’t really have a great answer. I said I’ve tried lots of other flavors… sometimes I’ll get Oreo… sometimes I’ll go for cookie dough… I know I don’t like varieties with too much stuff in it like almonds and chips and caramel and marshmallow all mixed in. But all things being equal, I always go back to chocolate. I couldn’t really explain it.
Then she talked about dating. Why do you date the type of people you do? For example, why do some women always date artist types? Well, it’s probably because they’ve sampled a lot of different types of guys and dated athletes and bookworms and banker-types and they found they got along best with artists.
But when it came down to marrying someone or entering a long-term relationship, the list of things that might appear on an OK Cupid profile (height, income, job, hair color, religion, neighborhood) really didn’t matter. You know the person is right for you, you light up when you see them, and nothing else matters.
And so let’s bring this back around to careers.
If we ask Sam how his life was going, there’s a pretty decent chance that he wouldn’t be too excited. Why? He didn’t sample any other jobs before launching into a career, and he didn’t test the dating waters before launching into his marriage.
Whether you’re just graduating college and have no idea what you’d like to do, or you’re comfortable in your job and are ready to try something else but don’t know where to turn, try the two lessons from love and ice cream to get the process going.
I know I love chocolate because I’ve tried Rocky Road and Green Tea Sorbet and Chunky Monkey. You might know you love energetic cheerleader-type women because you’ve dated artists and drama queens and introverts.
But in order to find your dream job, you have to take lots of samples. This doesn’t mean that you need to spend 2 years working at 5 different jobs, although sometimes it can help. Sometimes it’s volunteering in the industry for a few months. Sometimes it’s doing a few weekends of research around the companies that you think you might want to work for. Sometimes it’s just simply TALKING to someone that is doing the job you think you want to do.
For example, a lot of people love food. They love to cook, they love to bake, they have a food blog, they love to throw dinner parties. And maybe they can whip up a fantastic pecan encrusted salmon for 6, and dream of opening up their own restaurant.
But does that mean they should quit their job and spend $10,000 going back to culinary school? Perhaps. But a better move would be to, oh, I don’t know… WORK IN A RESTAURANT for a year? Or how about talking to a restaurant owner, where you’ll probably hear about the stress of paying rent, buying equipment, navigating health codes, creating menus, ordering food, and hiring and motivating employees. You might not even get to the cooking part in the first hour.
2) You’ll know when you know
You don’t have to make a spreadsheet of every ice cream flavor in order to answer the question of which one is your favorite, any more than a logical term paper would explain the reasons why a couple decided to get married.
When you ask someone about their job… do they light up in excitement, or are their answers, well, kind of vanilla.
Check out my free online salary negotiation course, “How to Negotiate Salary: The Negotiation Mindset.”
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