Tuesday, November 11, 2008

An Unexpected Path to Career Contentment

A guy who recently graduated from Michigan State in liberal arts spent six months back at his parents house, doing nothing: sleeping late, hanging out. 

He had seen a career counselor but nothing turned him on enough to seriously look for a job.

At Christmas dinner, one of his relatives who worked for a tractor manufacturer said that the company was in hiring mode. His family pressured him to seek out a job there and reluctantly he did. 

He got a job installing dashboards in the tractors. He was not exactly thrilled, but it gave him money to take his girlfriend out. 

But he was smarter than the average assembly-line worker and when he couldn't get a question answered by a co-worker, he'd go home and google it. So, pretty soon, he became kind of a go-to guy on the factory floor--he'd come to knew a lot about stuff like mitering and glue.

Soon he got promoted and learned more and more about tractor manufacture, and before he knew it, this liberal-arts type felt passionate about, of all things, tractor manufacture.

Fact is, career passion rarely comes from being in a "cool" career.  Because so many people would kill for a career in such fields as entertainment, fashion, and nonprofit work, the pay generally stinks and the boss doesn't treat you especially well because he knows he can easily find a replacement for you. 

In contrast, in a field such as tractor manufacture, employers are more likely to treat their  good employees well because there usually isn't a line of quality people ready to take the job.  

Career passion most often comes from being an expert in a field in which few others are expert, and having boss and coworkers appreciate you and provide the attendant job security and a reliable, decent paycheck.  And you're more likely to get those in a non-cool career. Ironically, status and coolness are enemies of contentment.


Cornhusker said...

I agree with your overall message. However, I would be deeply concerned that the tractor manufacturing job would be offshored!

jeffgarton said...

If by working as a tractor manufacturer this Michigan State grad has truly recognized his career contentment, it’s not because his employer treats him better because nobody else wants his job. This is comparable to saying this guy doesn't have an opinion regarding his own career choices. Your story points out that he has apparently found what he loves doing most, or he would be doing something else.

Status and coolness are relative terms. A person can be completely content being a taxi driver, retail clerk, or tractor manufacturer, and still think their job is cool, and may even think their job has a certain status about it, from their point of view. And career contentment is feasible without being dependent on others for their appreciation, and without high pay, job security or opportunities to learn. If this were the case, people with careers in education, health care, clergy, government, law enforcement or the military might not ever have career contentment. The fact is, people in these areas of occupation have highly fulfilled careers and couldn’t imagine doing anything else, regardless if their pay is lower or if others think their job is un-cool.

Don’t confuse career contentment with job satisfaction. Job satisfaction is not optional. It’s a feeling or condition like health, wealth or hunger which is dependent and conditional on people we don’t control and things we can’t always have. We can’t have job satisfaction, intrinsic or extrinsic, without the job which is controlled by employers. Nor can we have health or wealth by simply thinking we do.

Career contentment might be experienced as a feeling, but it’s an emotion which can be experienced independently of our external conditions. We can choose to be content with our work even if not made entirely satisfied by our work conditions. In fact, we can choose to experience any emotion (contentment, joy, optimism, excitement, enthusiasm, gratitude, etc.) in any situation, and regardless of our conditions. This is the source of our resilience and self-motivation – not what employers give us, and can later be reduced or taken away.
Jeff Garton, www.careercontentment-thebook.com

Cornhusker said...

Sorry, Jeff. Your comments sound very similar to those echoed by psychotherapists. "Your happiness should not be determined by outside factors." If this was true, why do those same therapists advise individuals to leave an abusive spouse? I have also witnessed psychotherapists who could not practice what they preach. When they encountered job losses or divorce, some had nervous breakdowns or needed medication. When I asked them about this, they admitted they could not follow their own advice! As for myself, I usually find contentment on the job when I am intellectually stimulated. (Which is rare.) For me, intellectual stimulation is the best anti-depressant. I am the most stimulated when studying history and biography, however, neither area leads to a good salary!

Anonymous said...

I appreciate the story and I am happy for the dude in question, but I am exactly the opposite story: I am a "liberal-arts type" who had a good, well-paying job as an underwriter in one of the really big national insurance companies. Job security, good salary, and a comfortable place to sit. I could have ridden the job out to an easy retirement. I hated it. I was absolutely miserable. I left that job to get a master's and now I am making lousy money as a director of a writer lab at a small college in the middle of nowhere. I love it. I don't make nearly as much money but I am much, much happier. In other words, this scenario goes both ways, Marty, and you should probably take that into account when you write your posts.

Good luck to all.

Marty Nemko said...

Unfortunately, Anonymous, for every liberal arts types who manages to land a good job running a writing center, there are five or ten who are trying to get a job, for example, "Saving the environment," who unable to find employment at a sustainable wage or who are treated poorly by management because that worker is easily replaceable.

Cornhusker said...

For the third time, Cornhusker must weigh in. Ironically, I am a technical writer for the federal government who wanted to be a world famous foreign correspondent. However, the law of supply and demand won. Marty is correct when he talks about workers being treated poorly by management because they are easily replaceable. This was true when I was an IT technical writer in the private sector and now in government where there are too many writers vying for too few openings.

Anonymous said...

Hi all, just checking back - Marty and Cornhusker, be objective and be real. The way the blog and posts are worded one would believe that anybody who goes for a job that's not blue-collar and specialized is "replaceable." Trust me, you do not need to expendable to be abused - I've been in plenty of jobs which took skill and brains and was still disrespected and beaten up regularly. And being "replaceable" is, frankly, a hall-mark of being blue collar - not fair, but that is the breaks; I know from experience. And I wonder, Marty, do you have numbers on "liberal arts types" who have failed because they set their sights too high, or is this just conjecture. Just wondering. Cheers.

Marty Nemko said...

Anonymous, my point is not that blue collar workers are abused less.

My points:

Over the 2900 career counseling/coaching clients I've worked with, plus in my informal discussions about work over these last three decades, I've concluded that:
1. That people are more likely to be abused in so-called "dream careers" than in mundane ones.

2. That liberal arts graduates who choose to be in fields in which they are bright stars among lesser lights, normally are treated better than if they pursued careers filled with liberal arts graduates.

As I wrote in the summation of my post: Status is often an enemy of contentment.

Anonymous, no one can be purely objective, but I promise you that I'm trying to be fair and what I've described is what I believe to be real.


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