This week my wife and I attended a graduation exercise. I’d rate it just below running naked through an apiary. Don’t get me wrong, the music was lovely. The student speakers were refreshing and on point. But the adult speakers . . . whew. It’s hard enough to listen to hundreds of names of total strangers being read aloud—by other total strangers—but to throw in speeches that were positively sleep-inducing—it wasn’t fair. And I wasn’t the only one who grew bored. Two minutes into the first non-student speech and, I’m ashamed to say, hundreds of crass audience members turned to their phones for entertainment. They merrily played games as the speakers plowed on. It was embarrassing. It was rude. I racked up my highest Tetris score ever.
I mentioned my frustration with graduation speeches to a former university president and he explained that speakers who are brought in from the outside are rarely selected for
their elocution chops. “It’s political,” he explained—plus there’re always the “intangibles.” (What?) Apparently, speaking ability doesn’t count for much when it comes to selecting . . . speakers. I, for one, would like to see this change.
In addition to finding more engaging speakers, commencement organizers may want to redouble their efforts to select orators who offer helpful advice. Speakers, of course, try to be helpful, but most aren’t career experts and end up stringing together a list of feel-good homilies that warm the heart but inform no real action. Graduates, be warned. Right now someone is standing at a podium and saying: “Find a job you enjoy doing, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” This old saw sounds clever enough, but it’s really nothing more than a useless tautology. It simply suggests that job-searching graduates need to find a job they like doing and then, when they actually do the job, they’ll like doing it. A fat lot of good that does anyone.
According to recent surveys, seventy percent of American employees don’t secure a job they like. In fact, they find a job they dislike. Plus, if graduates happen to land a job they enjoy, it needs to pay a livable wage. A lot don’t.
The most common advice speakers give on how to actually find an enjoyable and well-paying job is contained in the oft-spoken expression, “Relentlessly pursue your passion.” This maxim suggests that in order to succeed in your quest for a dream job, you need to throw yourself completely into your vocational passion, stop worrying about the job market, work hard, become the best in your field, and take comfort in knowing that a job will be waiting for you. People believe this because it happens. My neighbor, pursued his passion—oil painting. He became a master, loves what he does, and now lives in the nicest house on the block. He would be the first to tell you to pursue your passion.
Following this same advice, a different neighbor spent five years pursuing his PhD passion. When he finally graduated, he learned that there were only two tenure-track jobs available in his particular field—in the world. Worse still, dozens of scholars were gunning for those two positions and they all secretively believed that they would be among the two who would grab a brass ring. All but two were wrong.
In the end, tens of thousands of individuals who relentlessly pursue their passion don’t secure a paying job in their chosen field. In some cases, their passion becomes a lifelong hobby. That’s nice. As the years pass, others find a way to tolerate their job, so not all is lost. Plus, joy can come from a host of sources outside of work. However, in the spirit of full disclosure, most dreamers end up making a living by joining the unfulfilled seventy-percent. If you catch them during a truthful moment, many lament that they haven’t been able to become the marine biologist or the art critic they spent so many years preparing to become.
Fortunately, there are steps you can take that increase your chances of securing a job you enjoy. Allow me to share seven research-based tips that I’ve prepared for recent college grads.
First, it’s okay to relentlessly pursue your passion. However, as you chase your dream, keep an eye on the job market. Check job statistics on the internet and regularly talk to seniors in your major (who are either finding or not finding jobs.)
Second, learn to enjoy performing a host of different tasks. Take your cue from college administrators who require students to take a wide range of courses during their first two years. As you sample classes from a vocational pu pu platter, stacked high with degrees and specialties, study each topic with an open mind. Don’t confuse uninspired teaching with a subject being boring. Most importantly, don’t dismiss all of the arts or all of the sciences with a single wave of your hand. Instead, work at shaping yourself into a Renaissance person. Become an individual who loves and masters several fields of study. Remember, the more activities you enjoy (at both work and at play), the easier it will be for you to find enjoyment.
Third, prepare yourself for the fact that all jobs—no matter how cool sounding—require you to perform some tasks that aren’t exactly enjoyable. Be satisfied with being mostly satisfied. Rock stars sleep in buses. Park rangers deal with drunk tourists. You get the point.
Fourth, search for a job where you can relate to the organization’s mission. You may find little enjoyment in laying bricks all day long, but if the crew you work with is building an architectural masterpiece, you can find joy in your combined results.
Fifth, find satisfaction in your work by doing it well. From repeated and well-guided practice comes proficiency. From proficiency comes enjoyment. One day you’ll look down at what you just produced and think to yourself, “Look what I did!” Pride in one’s work inevitably ripens into joy.
Sixth, land a position where you relish working with the people around you. The vast majority of the thirty-percent who say they like their work, when asked to be more specific, explain that they like the people they work with. Don’t be afraid to switch jobs if members of the team you hire into don’t get along. Don’t consider camaraderie a luxury—make it a necessity.
Seventh, since camaraderie matters, be a good teammate. Make decisions with others’ best interest in mind. Carry your fair share of the work load. Pitch in when others fall behind. Stand up for your colleagues. Speak kindly to others. Willingly do tough jobs. Give others the benefit of the doubt. Deliver on your promises. Master your craft. Be the person you’d like others to be.
Here’s my wish to the soon-to-be, and recently, graduated. May your commencement exercises be both exciting and informative. For those of you who desire to land an enjoyable job, search for recommendations that you can easily put into actions, and then take action. If you really want to boost your chances of landing work you enjoy, be a genuine teammate. That is, be the person who makes everyone else’s job more enjoyable. In this you’ll find true joy.