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Looking for Your Dream Job? Go Ahead-Get Your Hopes Up

Do you love your job? Really love it? If you don’t, you have lots of company. It’s estimated four out of five people dislike what they do for a living, and many hate it. I think that’s a shame. That’s why I do a radio program called The Career Clinic and wrote the book The Career Clinic: Eight Simple Rules for Finding Work You Love (AMACOM, 2008), which helps people find work they’re passionate about—by passing along stories of those who’ve done just that.

Here’s some advice from successful career changers:
No regrets.
If you’re contemplating a job change, give yourself a present: a clean slate. Let’s say you’ve spent the first 10 or 20 years of your career doing the so-called wrong thing. You can stick with that and have a bad time for the next twenty or thirty years, or you can be thankful for everything you’ve learned so far…and use it to find happiness after all.

To me the word “regret” is a function of time. It’s what you feel after something goes wrong: “Ooh. I wish I wouldn’t have done that!”—but before you realize: “Oh! I am so glad I learned that lesson.”

Successful career changers approach life as an adventure. They dive into each new experience, perfect job or no, with a light touch. “I’ll have fun,” they say, “and I’ll learn a lot.” They frame mistakes as directions, which make it easier for them to get it right the next time.

Talk to yourself.
Quit thinking in terms of whether your plans make sense to other people. It’s not their lives we’re talking about. Pay attention to that little voice inside that knows going after still another corporate job is wrong. Sure, some careers command more interest at a cocktail party or will pay for fancier vacations. But if you hate what you do for 40 or 50 or 60 hours a week, you’ll probably want to spend more time at cocktail parties…or on vacation.

I once read a story about a man who loved his job so much he was embarrassed to get paid for it. What would you love doing so much you’re embarrassed to get paid? Think that’s impossible, that you shouldn’t get your hopes up? Not according to my sources.
Who decided you shouldn’t get your hopes up, by the way? A few people who did, and were disappointed? That’s their story, not yours. Do yourself a favor. Go after a job you’re so excited about it won’t matter so much what you put on your resume or wear to the interview. Passion for the work is one thing employers consistently tell me is irresistible.

Stop.
Does this sound familiar? You weren’t really crazy about a career in sales but everyone told you that you’re great with people and the next thing you know you have 20 years with the company. Your family’s used to the income and between juggling a two-career marriage and kids and everything that comes with them you feel lucky if you get an hour to yourself at the gym on a weekend, let alone time to contemplate what makes you happy.

That’s one reason people who get fired so often look back on the experience as the best thing that ever happened. It gave them time to stop and consider other choices, something they’d never taken before. Why wait? Isn’t your entire working life worth a week away from the grind to take a good hard look at the grind? If you’re a chunker, set aside time in the early morning or late evening to look out a picture window at the stars…and make a few wishes. Corny? You bet. Effective? Try it and see.

Ask for directions when you get lost.
If you want to be happy, hang around someone who is—and take notes. The more successful people are, in my experience anyway, the more they love to tell you how they became that way. Sure, you can hire a career counselor—I know a lot of good ones! —or go to a workshop or retreat. But a lot of great advice is yours, simply for the asking. Don’t be shy. Do be a good listener—it’s the best gift, and a sweet way to make someone glad he or she is investing time in you.

Accept free samples.
Have you ever browsed a street fair and made your food purchases based on the treats you sampled? What about clothing—do you try that on before you buy it? When’s the last time you bought a car without taking it for a test drive? So when the stakes are higher—a job, or a career—why isn’t testing it out standard? You don’t have to intern, although grownups as well as students can do that. Volunteer to do a job for free. Help a friend whose career intrigues you, on the weekends. Ask someone if you can tag along for a day. Anything to get a feel for what the work you’re considering is actually like. You won’t be sorry.

Say yes.
You’ve probably heard the cliché—it will be the things you didn’t do that you will most regret. So do yourself another favor. Say yes to more of what you’ve always wanted. Make the list, start picking things off, add bigger dreams to the list. Be the person at Thanksgiving dinner with the most stories because you’ve done the most living. You don’t have to say anything at all—the sparkle in your eyes will make a great contribution to the festivities.

Have fun.
My first radio job was with the Minnesota News Network in St. Paul. When I was out with friends and they started talking about their work my first thought was always, “I don’t work. I go to MNN.” When those friends waxed dreamy about what they’d do if they won the lottery, I thought, “I’d still go to MNN.” Back then my title was “intern” and my salary was “nothing.” But I knew I was headed somewhere fun because I was already having fun. I imagined myself on an airplane, wearing a suit, and sitting next to someone wearing a suit too. “What’s your business?” that person would ask me. I’d flash the biggest smile and say, “Stories.”

Try something new when you stop having fun. It really is that simple. Have fun, and learn a lot.

Adapted from The Career Clinic: Eight Simple Rules for Finding Work You Love, (AMACOM Books, a division of American Management Association, 2008). Visit www.amanet.org for additional information.