Don’t quit, don’t actively look for jobs, and don’t be a freelancer—but really.
We’re good at the diagnosis: “My job is making me miserable.”
We’re bad at the prognosis—accurately predicting the course of our career: “What the hell is going to happen to me?”
Our lack of long-term vision can incite short-sighted, brash moves that slow our progress toward a career we love. And, if I’ve learned anything writing on the psychology of millennials at work for some of the nation’s largest publications, it’s that my generation wants careers we love.
But how do we get them?
Unfortunately, I’m instant-remedy-less. My medicine is preventative and progressive. Below are three things not to do if you’re twenty-something and hate your job:
1. Don’t quit.
I always want to tell people to up and quit; life’s too short for stuff you hate!
At least, that’s what I wanted to tell myself when I was stuck in rainy Vancouver as a receptionist right after I graduated college. I wanted to quit and write on an island somewhere. Worst case I would be a starving artist in a Pinterest-y apartment, right?
In truth, quitting without a viable, tested plan in place is creative, financial and credibility suicide.
Ramit Sethi and Marie Forleo have both observed that there’s nothing worse than a life coach who can’t pay the bills. Likewise, Elizabeth Gilbert argues in Big Magic that quitting in the name of a “creative calling” is unwise because having to obey money rather than inspiration compromises our creativity.
Moreover, in all likelihood, quitting your job to pursue anything before it’s fully formed and monetized will ultimately require taking a new job you hate. Quitting before you’re ready leads to job hopping: a euphemism for starting entry level positions over and over again and hating all of them.
In short, unless you really know what you want to do and how, quitting your job or getting a new one is a superficial fix.
Instead, commit to your present job for now.
When we hate our jobs, it’s tempting to disengage. But this makes the job even less bearable. Before, we had defined responsibility, accountability, progress, people who liked us. When we disengage, we twiddle our thumbs, avoid eye contact and dwell on how unhappy we are.
Even crappy jobs are an opportunity. James Franco, Elizabeth Gilbert, Marie Forleo, Harper Lee and countless others worked regular day jobs for years (and in some cases decades), building up their dreams on the side before pursuing them full-time.
Whatever we’re doing right now, even if we want out, can be practice and inspiration if we commit to it wholeheartedly. “You have to train yourself,” Marie Forleo told Lewis Howes on his School of Greatness podcast: “I’m going to master this, I’m going to bring my A-game, I’m meant to be here, this is my party.”
Our dream career is the result of our choice to master everything we attempt—even the stuff that sucks.
2. Don’t actively look for jobs.
Not hunting down jobs feels lazy. And it might look lazy, too. If you’ve told lots of people you’re unhappy at work, they may even be wondering why you haven’t just gotten a new job already.
But a recent survey found that HR professionals actually prefer passive job seekers—those who are employed but open to new opportunities—over active ones because “they have more experience, they possess valuable skills and they take their careers seriously”. A whopping 80% of HR people believe that passive job seekers become the most effective employees.
Millennial expert Dan Schawbel explained, “I always urge my generation to become passive job seekers so they can gain leverage and power over their career prospects.”
The benefits of passively job seeking extend beyond employment prospects. As I’ve written previously, part of what makes finding a fulfilling career so hard is there’s so many options to pick from. Staying in your current job and observing other careers from the sidelines generates less pressure to pick The One immediately.
Passive job searching can also be a great way to “try on” different careers without risk. When I was in Vancouver, I learned what careers in stone carving, massage therapy, naturopathy, academia, law and supply chain management looked like through classes, research, podcasts and/or talking to people. I acquired a well-rounded understanding of potential career directions without abandoning my consistent source of income.
3. Don’t be a freelancer.
I’m a full-time freelance writer. But I don’t really see myself that way. Instead, though I don’t own a business that could exist outside and beyond me (which is how Seth Godin defines entrepreneurship), I view myself as an entrepreneur.
Bestselling author Chris Guillebeau believes that we should all think like entrepreneurs in the modern world. Job stability is history; what we need now is self-sufficiency.
We could argue about what each of these terms actually means but, to me, the distinction between freelancing and entrepreneurship represents this mindset shift:
• Freelancing is dabbling. Entrepreneurship is both feet in.
• Freelancing is day-to-day, paying the bills. Entrepreneurship is your vision for your lifelong career and purpose.
• Freelancing is answering to clients. Entrepreneurship is answering to yourself first.
• Freelancing is task oriented. Entrepreneurship is goal oriented.
• Freelancing is what you do. Entrepreneurship is who you are.
To be clear, you don’t have to own a business, be self-employed or manage people to be an entrepreneur—at least according to Chris’ definition. Being an entrepreneur means taking charge of your career path and strategically envisioning and executing your goals. Being an entrepreneur means acknowledging that you hate your job, and then looking yourself in the mirror and asking, “How can I solve this problem? How can I create a better situation?”
There are just as many ways to figure it out as there are people in the world or businesses on the internet. This creativity is an essential component of being an entrepreneur. Once you realize that you own the business of your life, you’re free to run it any way you want.
These methods worked for me, and I’ve seen them work for many others. Here’s the prescription:
If, when and how you fill it is up to you.