Your Quest for the Perfect Job Might Be Holding Back Your Career

How to stop living for the perfect job and start making the most of the job you have now
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How to stop living for the perfect job and start making the most of the job you have now
Photo Credit: Emilie Iggiotti

Photo Credit: Emilie Iggiotti

Have you ever fantasized about quitting your job? Maybe you’ve even gone so far as to plan it all out: You’d say something deep and profound, followed by a dramatic exit to the sound of roaring applause. But what would happen after that?

Unfortunately, there’s a distinct possibility that you might find yourself in yet another job that still isn’t your dream job.

As millennials, we’ve grown up hearing the message that we can be whatever we want to be. You want to be a nuclear engineer but bombed organic chemistry? No problem! You can still make that dream happen. Or maybe you thought that being a lawyer was the perfect job for you. After a few years in the field, it wasn’t as fulfilling as you’d hoped. That dream job starts to feel less and less attainable, more like a pipe dream than a pipeline goal. You might even be asking yourself, “Is the perfect job for me even out there?”

It might be tempting to start jumping from job to job looking for your perfect fit (à la Goldilocks and the Three Bears). But perhaps it’s time to face the uncomfortable truth that the perfect job might not exist. We could learn a thing or two from Goldilocks. Rather than running around the woods looking for the elusive perfect porridge, take a look at the options in front of you. Might one of them be pretty darn good—even “just right”?

Lest you think this article is headed down a glass-half-empty path, consider that you might be asking yourself the wrong question. Instead of asking if the perfect job exists, ask yourself, “How can I make the most of the job I have right now?” Your quest for the perfect job might be preventing you from making the most of your current job.

01. Change your mindset.

What’s so special about identifying what’s great about my current job, and how I can improve? Why shouldn’t my dream job be my goal? It has to do with mindset and how it affects your sense of fulfillment on the job.

Carol Dweck, a professor at Stanford University and author of the book Mindset, has conducted extensive research on the implications that different mentalities can have on a person’s growth and performance. Dweck identified two mindsets: fixed and growth. Individuals with a fixed mindset believe that their talents, skill acquisitions, and opportunities for success are limited. They believe that there’s only so much they can achieve before they plateau. A fixed mindset focuses on the outcome (landing the perfect job) and tends not to focus on the career process (embracing the journey of improving your skill set).

Individuals with a growth mindset believe that they can continue to grow. They embrace challenges as opportunities to develop new skills. A growth mindset focuses more on the process rather than the bottom line. A person with a growth mindset in the same job sees the job (whatever it is) as a challenge and a chance to grow. A growth mindset sees opportunity whereas a fixed mindset only sees barriers.

Labeling your current job as “not my dream job” could lead to a fixed mindset, where you may feel tempted to give up. After all, if there’s no hope that this job might morph into your dream job, why bother embracing the challenge and trying to improve it? But if you approach your current job with a growth mindset, you will see that you have the opportunity to thrive within your current position. For example, instead of thinking that the lack of communication between your boss and your team is fixed and unchanging, think of the radio silence as an opportunity to help make positive changes within your organization. Rather than wallowing in your problems, focus on finding solutions. They’re out there!

02. Identify what you like about your current job.

The first step to embrace the growth mindset is to identify what you do like about your current job. Besides compensation, a 2013 Society for Human Resource Management survey linked job satisfaction to job security, the ability to use desired skills, and the quality of the relationship with the immediate supervisor.

What factors into your job satisfaction? Is the corporate culture ideal or the level of independence something you value? Maybe you have some amazing coworkers. Make a list of all the things you like about your current job. Keep it handy when you feel your spirits slumping. Focusing on the positive in your current job will help you stay motivated.

03. Identify what you would like to change.

The next step is to identify what you don’t like about your current job in concrete ways. What aspects are keeping you from achieving dream-job status? Try to be as specific as possible about what is not so good about your current job. Is there no room for moving up within the organization? Or maybe your boss is difficult to work with. Being specific about what you would like to change will help direct your actions to improving your job and your attitude toward it.

04. Create a career plan.

Now’s your chance to create a master plan for how you would like to enact change in your current job. Can you talk to your boss about adding more (and possibly complex) responsibilities? Can you change your working style to align more with your boss’s to reduce conflict? Break your goals down into small steps that are more achievable and measurable.

It’s also helpful to identify what’s essential for your long-term career plan. Focus on the skills you would like to acquire or develop when identifying where you want your career to go rather than focusing on the “perfect” job. If you are having trouble creating your career plan, a mentor might be able to provide a helpful outside perspective.

When you start making changes to your current job, you embrace the growth mindset. And you’re taking ownership of your role in the company you work for (go you!). Dan Ariely, a behavioral economist, describes how his research on motivation found that individuals are more satisfied with the work that they do when they have a sense of purpose and can track their progress. When you identify the changes you want to make, you are able to track your progress in solid ways. Having these firm goals will give you a sense of purpose when you go to work each day. And having ownership over your role can help you feel better about the work you are doing even if it isn’t the perfect role for you.

Letting go of your quest for the ultimate job not only frees you to focus on the positives in your current role, but it also allows you to enjoy the challenge and learning process of growth. Sure, your current occupation isn’t the dream come true that society promised you when you were younger. But with a bit of structured soul-searching, you’ll discover ways to make the most of your experience. And that will take you much closer to your ideal career in the future than any dashed fixed mindset can.