How to find a career you can live with

Chapter 1

It's too often the case that a career becomes You vs. Your Career.

Many people suffer terribly from stresses and career environments that are destructive. That's now recognized as a cause of burnout in many talented people, and the recovery process can be long and difficult.

What's worse is that it doesn't need to happen. It's an almost unanimous opinion throughout the career advisory industry that burnout is preventable.

Also preventable are the false starts and dead ends caused by people entering into careers for which some are spectacularly unsuited. The stresses are almost unbelievable, and the wasted effort and money are truly heartbreaking.

The general theory is that personality and career have to mesh, and mesh well, for a successful career.

Myers-Briggs pioneered the original personality tests, back in the 1970s. These are now the gold standard for personality assessments, and much of the work since has confirmed the importance of personality in careers.

The old method of fitting people to jobs is getting replaced with fitting jobs to people, and it's working very well. Research has shown that productivity skyrockets when people are doing work which appeals to them. That appeal is a pure manifestation of personality.

There are such things as types of personality, but it's important not to oversimplify. Personalities can be very complex, and emotional levels and personal values can be final arbiters, with anyone. Many clashes can take place during the course of a career, and when it's the person vs. the career, there can only be one winner.

Most of the assessments of job candidates take into account the working environment. That's critically important, because a job is an environment.

A career, however, is a lifelong environment, and being properly adapted to that environment is an absolute necessity. It really does have to be something you can live with.

So selection criteria have become much more objective, and so have career advisors, regarding a person's suitability for a job or a career.

Believe it or not, not getting a job may be the best thing that has ever happened to some people. You may not get that position because you're not suited to it, and everything you said at the interview proved you weren't. You didn't say anything wrong, but you sent all the signals that say 'I'll hate this job' to the interviewers.

In many cases, that's exactly what happens. Some jobs can be disasters for everyone involved. Job dissatisfaction is chronic, globally, and it's being recognized for the real problem it presents to employers and employees alike.

Career dissatisfaction is worse. It represents a further disaster, an entire career path gone off track. It may also represent decades of work. The career has become the enemy, rather than the way to a great life. With that comes severe disillusionment. For some people that's literally the end, and it doesn't have to be that way.

Social environments

You learn from a very early age where you fit in well, and where you don't. Everybody avoids environments where they feel out of place, if they can possibly do so. At school, at work, socializing, you know so well where's right for you that you don't even have to think about it much.

However- Given a choice of careers, it's a very different ball game. You have to guess what the environment will be like. You don't know the people, because you haven't met them yet. You don't know the causes of clashes, the professional tricks, and the rivalries. It's a bit like playing a high impact contact sport with no idea of the rules.

Professional environments

The career itself imposes an environment. No matter what you do, you'll find yourself working in a complex situation in terms of the actual work. You will also find a string of attached situations, and people. No career exists in isolation. The career brings with it not just one, but several, related environments, and you have to work with those, too.

Aspirations, hopes, dreams, and environments

Many people in sales will tell you that if you don't get up to speed fast, you've got 1000 miles of bad road to travel. Lawyers will explain that they had to find their way through a career in law by finding some specialty where they could enjoy the work, and that made the legal profession bearable. These comments are based on personal experience and preferences. If you try telling them they're in some sort of generic career, they laugh.

No two people are the same, and no two careers are the same.


All professions have a requirement for personal adaption to the career and not running into the multiple career stone walls as a method of survival.

The survivors are the ones who literally don't make crashing into stone walls their life's work. That's how tough career environments can be.

That survival process starts when you analyze your preferences on a personal level, rather than a professional basis.

At the personal level you can really go into your likes and dislikes. At the professional level you have to rationalize. You may dislike something or someone professionally, but it's still based on your personalized environmental preferences.

Think of someone you consider professionally irritating and stupid.

They may well be someone you already had pegged as irritating and stupid, on a personal basis.

As you can see, you can't really get away from your personal opinions and preferences. What's happened is that your professional sense has agreed with your personal views. The tendency to rationalize isn't particularly helpful when judging a career choice.

Consider these basic, common, and usually wrong, rationales:

  • You'd make more money as a salesman,
  • You'd make more money as a lawyer,
  • You'd have more security in a government job

The operative words are money and security. That's what those rationales are actually about. The fact that in any of those jobs you'd have to work your guts out, and slog your way through qualifications, bureaucracy, sales targets, and other joys, doesn't, and can't, get a mention in a rationale.

The whole topic of what you'd like isn't mentioned. You don't even get a chance to say you know you'd hate it.

You also aren't likely to be a great salesman, lawyer, or bureaucrat, if you're loathing every second of your career. You'd also spend every day trying to live with it. Not too appealing, is it?

Kidding yourself isn't an option. Honesty is required, and that's where we start.