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Advice / Career Paths / Exploring Careers

Throw This Old Advice About Work Out the Window for Good

Like many new grads, I had a rocky adjustment to one of my first “real” jobs. The work was uninspiring, the hours were merciless, and the management was difficult at best. At lunch with my father one day, I began regaling him with my frustrations.

After listening to me for a bit, nodding sympathetically here and there, a smile crept over his lips. “Well, you know,” he said, “work is work—if it was fun, they wouldn’t pay you for it.”

You could call it the classic Millennial-Baby Boomer debate: I wanted to work on something that I was passionate about, that fulfilled me, and that perhaps I even found a bit fun, while many of a different generation would argue that a job was something one did 40 or so hours a week to pay the bills.

But looking back, we’re both right.

When my father’s career was getting started, the norm was to choose a career path that you thought might be interesting or well-paying or good enough when you were 23, to hop on, and to stay the course for 30 or so years, whether or not you still found it fulfilling.

Since then, the world’s changed. (Career expert Lily Zhang offers a great summary of the evolution of careers—describing the shift from the 19th century to the industrial era to the post-WWII dawn of the corporation to where we are today.) Many in the Boomer generation spent 25 years at one company, while now one in two employees have been at the same place five years or less. Changing jobs used to be rare—now, in many cases, it’s a crucial part of advancing your career. The relationship between companies and employees is no longer loyal and lifelong; it’s more transactional, based on the needs and goals of each party. What starts to rise to the forefront in many employees’ minds is less about a specific job and more about the overall ebb and flow of their career.

We’re in the midst of the next seismic shift in how we approach our careers, and I think it’s an amazing thing. When we’re not tied to one career, we’re free to seek work that engages us, that means something to us, that fulfills us. We’re free to shift gears, to try new paths, to pursue new interests. We now have a career full of choices—choices that previous generations rarely had.

And while, yes, these choices can be overwhelming, there are also more tools and resources than ever before—like The Muse, like LinkedIn, like continuing education and online degree programs—that can help you figure it out.

I was right not to spend 25 years at that first job and to pursue alternative work I was passionate about, that fulfilled me, and that perhaps I even found a bit fun. It was that work that eventually led me to found The Muse. Work is work, certainly, and no one will ever pay me to sit on a beach with a mojito all day (will they?). But I also don’t believe it’s necessary to stay in a job that deadens my soul for 10 years because, well, “work is work.” I believe that you can and should have more, too.

The career shift we’re embarking on is one that offers us so much more than just a job—it offers us the chance to have careers that fulfill, excite, and inspire us. So, if you’re still thinking of work as “that painful thing you do from 9 to 5,” I challenge you to consider what you’d rather be doing instead. There’s no better time to pursue it than now.

Disclosure: This post was written as part of the University of Phoenix Versus Program. I’m a compensated contributor, but the thoughts and ideas are my own.

Photo of woman on phone courtesy of Shutterstock.