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The five things you should never do in your career

The five things you should never do in your career. Workers should know job opportunities will keep occurring and they will experience 20 "workquakes" in their lives.

America is at a once-in-a-generation turning point around work: 70% of us are unhappy with what we do; three-quarters of us say we plan to look for new work this year. Altogether, 100 million Americans will sit down with someone they love this year and say, "I’m not happy with what I’m doing and want to do work that makes me happy." 

The problem: Most of the advice we receive around work is outdated, misguided or flat wrong.

I’ve spent the last six years crisscrossing the country collecting hundreds of stories of Americans who made enormous changes in their work lives. I then coded these stories, looking for patterns and takeaways that could help the rest of us make our work lives happier. My new book, "The Search: Finding Meaningful Work in a Post-Career World," offers a toolkit for writing your own work story.


Here, based on fresh data, are five things you should never do in your career:

The most suffocating piece of career advice is the idea that you have a career to begin with. Sure, some people set a goal and achieve it. But far more of us change our minds, our paths or our occupations.

My data shows that the average worker goes through 20 "workquakes" in the course of their lives — that’s one every two-and-a-half years. A workquake is a moment of disruption, reevaluation, or reinvention. Women go through these moments more frequently than men; each generation more than the prior one.

While this pace of change might seem overwhelming, for workers it’s a gift: You’re not forced to make a decision at 22 and remain in that field the rest of your life. You can change course whenever you want, for whatever reason you want, even for something as simple as you want to.

Surely the most hallowed piece of wisdom about work over the last generation has been follow your passion. Decide what brings you joy, then go for it with single-minded determination. 

The problem: this advice applies to almost no one who is happy at work and helps almost no one who wants to be. In my conversations, I asked everyone I spoke to whether followed their passion, discovered their passion, or made their passion. A mere one in 10 people in my conversations said they followed their bliss. The rest said they took another route entirely. And yet, they still ended up happy. 

So how did they end up happy? That leads to the next piece of bad advice. 

The next piece of advice that everyone agrees on these days is to set strict boundaries between work and life. But the happiest people do the reverse: they understand that their lives are inseparable from their work, including their lives before they started working.

For centuries, Americans have said that success is all about climbing: rags to riches, up by your bootstraps, bigger office, higher floor, larger salary, better view. But the signature finding of my conversations is that the people who are most fulfilled at work don’t just climb, they also dig. They perform what I call a "meaning audit," using personal archeology to uncover the lessons about work they learned from their families and unearth the story of work they’ve been trying to tell for decades. 

Two simple questions can help: What are the upsides and downsides of work you learned from your parents? And Other than family, who were your role models as a child? Your role model is especially important because it’s your first work decision. For clues as to what you would prefer to be doing today, start with what you wanted to be doing when you were a child. 

Every day is take your childhood to work day. 

An absurd convention has taken over the world of work: Don’t trust yourself. In order to find work you love, you need a career counselor, or an aptitude test, or a personality code.

The truth couldn’t be more different. The answer is already inside you. All you need to do is uncover it.

I asked everyone in my conversations: What advice did they find most helpful in their biggest work transition. Three-quarters said the advice from others they found most constructive was to continue in the direction they were already heading. They didn’t need a punch in the gut; they needed a pat on the back. 


They needed to hear, "Trust yourself."

So, if want to know what you should do next, ask yourself this question: The best advice I have for myself right now is _______________. 

The final bad piece of advice to ignore is that you have to suppress what you want. Work is supposed to be miserable. But the changing norms of work today means that you don’t always have to compromise. You can write your own story. The best way to do that is to decide what you want out of work today. Not 10 months ago or 10 years ago. Today. 

To do that, ask this last question: My purpose right now is _______________. 

When you answer that question, you’re on your way to finding the work you want, the happiness you crave, and the success you deserve.


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