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Should You Only Seek Careers You Love or Is That a Fairy Tale?

written by: •edited by: Wendy Finn•updated: 8/2/2013

Is it possible to find the exact job you want—something you love so that when you go to work each day it doesn’t feel like work? Or, should you stop dreaming and settle for just any old career? There are those who say you must love what you do, but is that always possible?

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    A Lot of Time is Spent Working

    Steve Jobs said never settle As a youngster fresh out of college, my father said to me, “You have to find a career you love because we all spend the majority of our days working." Was he right? Everyone at least tries to choose a major in college or a career path that interests them and then looks for matching jobs. But, if you delve deeper into finding the right job, is it possible to find an absolute dream job—do they even exist?

    Celebrities and those full of fame and fortune love to offer up career advice. Before his death, Steve Jobs of Apple fame, gave a rousing speech to Stanford students on why you should never settle for a job you don’t like. Actually, Jobs said:

    “I’m convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You’ve got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle."

    In a story by Frederick Allen of Forbes Magazine, “Steve Jobs’ Bad Career Advice" he disagrees with Jobs’ offerings. Why does Allen disagree? There are simply too many jobs people really don’t want but they are essential to society. I mean are there really people who want to drive around state parks emptying portable potties? Is that a career choice or a job someone takes because they need the money?

    I agree with Allen, the advice offered by Jobs and so many others who made it big that urge the freshly graduated to only pursue careers they love isn’t smart advice. Society offers all sorts of jobs and if everyone only picked the jobs they “loved" there would be an even higher unemployment rate with many waiting in line to get the job they love someone else got before them.

    But, does that mean you have to settle?

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    Career Choices

    The Steel Mills of Pittsburgh One of Bright Hub’s career writers, Linda Richter, wrote a great piece about career development plans and how to use them. The advice found in this article is geared more toward making a firm plan by outlining personal likes, dislikes, values and goals—not about doing what you love and only doing what you love. What you can do with a career plan is narrow down your options to career paths you’d be willing to take. Of course if you have studied to become a doctor, lawyer or university professor, you probably will want to find jobs in these fields—otherwise you’ve got a lot of student loans to pay back when all you’re doing is asking folks if “they’d like fries with that." So there are exceptions to the career path rules.

    Sometimes we do indeed have to “settle" -- sorry Steve Jobs, but we are not all ready to break into careers where only the chosen few are invited. Some of types of careers are often based on an athletic skill—either you have it or you don’t—and who wouldn’t want to get paid money to play a professional sport? Other careers are based on skillsets. If you were trained as a nurse, would you want to settle for inputting data all day long or selling cars? Probably not.

    In reality, and I mean this in a kind way, I’m sure my father would have loved doing something beyond working in the Steel Mills of Pittsburgh Pennsylvania but that’s where his career path took him once he got out of the Army. His brothers worked at the steel mill—his cousins—his friends—so eventually, so did he. His path was a predestined path so to speak and many of us fall into this category. There are law enforcement families where it’s traditional to follow in your mother or father’s footsteps. Military families also fall in this group and so do trade workers such as plumbers and electricians. Ever notice how many of those trade workers firms are called “So and So and Sons?" It’s because sons and daughters often do what their parents did and that’s not doing what you love, it’s a predetermined path.

    Do career experts really want to be career advice givers or would they rather be rocket scientists?

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    What You Can Do

    Did F Scott ever have writer's block As I writer, I tremendously enjoy what I do, but it doesn’t define me or my goals in life. There are days when I can’t think of one word to write and then there are days I am assigned something I have no desire to write about—but I must anyway or my job would be in jeopardy. The same is true for any job and often it depends on how you go about finding a job you love.

    There are two pieces of career advice I would offer here: advice for the fresh out of college grad and those already in the workforce looking to change careers.

    For the newly graduated, you may have to settle for a job that’s not your dream job—your parent’s money won’t last forever and you can only backpack through Europe for so long. Instead, seek out jobs that interest you—they don’t have to be your dream job but you need some sort of career while you’re determining the right career path. Who knows, the job you end up taking may indeed lead to a career that you do find rewarding—maybe not what you love, but still not a career where you feel you are just “settling." Your first career path helps you get your foot in the door of the workforce and you can’t just ponder your life away or become a professional student.

    Who knows what awaits if you narrow down choices by likes and dislikes? You may have wanted to be a mechanical engineer, but what if a top construction company is so impressed with your collegiate efforts they want you on one of their teams as a construction manager? You may end loving that job. What I’m saying is opportunities bring other opportunities so if you’re waiting for your dream job and will only settle for that one job—you’ll be broke—and fast.

    For those looking to make a career change, you need to be even more realistic. You can’t just decide to switch to an industry where you have absolutely no knowledge. You can’t decide to be a hospital administrator if you’re currently working as a fireman, for example—although you could definitely try—I don’t want to hold anyone back. Who knows the hospital may want an experienced fireman to run their hospital?

    What I mean by being realistic is to evaluate your career. What jobs have you had during your career and what job do you have now? What elements of your jobs did you like or dislike? Are the hours you work acceptable? Do you need more family time? Do you need a better work/life balance? What are you qualified to do? Once you answer the tough questions visit the Bureau of Labor Statistics and research what job fields are on the rise and which are sinking.

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    Career Realities

    Mick says you can't always get what you want Some readers may shoot me in the foot here, but I know so many college grads that have degrees in psychology and are in jobs that have nothing to do with the field. But, a psych major is a popular major I suppose and a college major doesn’t mean that should be your career path.

    Those already in the workforce may want to do a SWOT analysis to help them determine optional career paths. A SWOT analysis which shows strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats is often the best way to find out what sort of careers will interest you and also ones you are qualified to apply for.

    In the end, do you have to settle? The answer is no, but if you follow the advice of Steve Jobs and only seek out jobs you love, you aren’t on a realistic job hunt. What you are doing is narrowing your chances to slim to none.

    My suggestions are to develop a career plan if you’re new to the workforce and if you’re already working, determine what you need differently in your life to guide you to the right career.

    Remember, your job shouldn’t define what you love. I love football, but as a woman I’ll never play in the NFL; but I can dream I’m a coach while I’m watching games on TV! Finding the right job is often a reality check—and to quote a famous celebrity, Rolling Stones singer Mick Jagger—“You can’t always get what you want. And, if you try sometime, you find, you get what you need." Good advice if you think about it. What tools will you take to find your dream job? Remember, a dream job isn’t always finding a job you love but a job you enjoy or one that offers creativity and daily satisfaction.

    On an end note here, I was dismayed my MS Word spellchecker didn’t recognize “Jagger." Now there’s a dream job—working for Microsoft and being in charge of which words spellchecker likes and dislikes. Hmm. I wonder if they have any job openings?