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Advice / Career Paths / Exploring Careers

What to Do When Everyone (and Their Mom) Has the Perfect Job—Except You

Why is the perfect job so elusive? You think you’re going to love a job, then your new boss drives you crazy. You accept an exciting new opportunity, then end up with a host of responsibilities you weren’t expecting. You thought your new company had a welcoming, team-oriented culture, but you don’t get along with—or even like—your new co-workers.

Is the perfect gig a pipe dream? Well, yes and no.

The truth is, there is no perfect job. But if that’s true, why does it seem like some people have career perfection, while you’re stuck in career purgatory?

Your friends, family members, neighbors, friends-of-friends, and those people you meet at networking events don’t have perfect jobs like you think they do. What they do have is a mindset that allows them to make their job as perfect as possible—and you can do the same with these tips.

Don’t Believe Everything You See and Hear

First, maintain perspective when comparing yourself or your circumstances to others. What you see on social media and hear in conversations about your friends’ careers is an edited version of their lives. Most people don’t brag about being chewed up and spit out by their boss for something they did wrong at work. They don’t volunteer stories about the huge financial mistake they made or the time they lashed out at a client, who then reported it to their supervisor.

You only hear what your friends want you to hear—which usually includes only the stories of raises, promotions, praise, and success. So, stop comparing yourself.

Instead, do what your friends and colleagues are already doing—promote the things you do well and the things you’re enjoying in your career. What went right for you this week? Tell someone about it! Embrace the positive rather than wallowing in envy.

Overcome Challenges Like a Boss

People who are happy in their careers are no less prone to hurdles and setbacks than anyone else. What’s different is their beliefs about themselves and the challenges they face.

Martin Seligman, whose research focuses on positive psychology and optimism, found that less-optimistic people tend to believe setbacks are caused by inner shortcomings—such as “I’m not good enough” or “I didn’t work hard enough.”

Optimistic people, on the other hand, believe outside factors influence their setbacks. They don’t see themselves as perfect, but they believe they are capable of adaptation. They may think, for example, “I could have done some things differently; I’ll read that leadership book so I can improve my skills” or “The economy is at least partly to blame for my layoff. I’ll use online resources to keep building my skills and I’ll network until I find a new opportunity.”

According to Carol Dweck’s research of fixed versus growth mindsets, a person’s belief about his or her abilities influences the way that person approaches challenges. A person with a fixed mindset believes he or she is born with a finite supply of intelligence and talent, and when faced with a challenging situation, he or she may feel overwhelmed and incapable of overcoming the challenge. A person with a growth mindset believes she or he is capable of—you guessed it—growth. When faced with a challenge, a person with this mindset is more likely to dive in and figure out a way to overcome the challenge.

If you want a job you love, you can’t view the inevitable pitfalls of the job as insurmountable obstacles or yourself as helplessly flawed. Realize that the world is a vastly imperfect place that will throw you curve balls, but you can use your creativity and intelligence to figure out how to keep going. Dig in and knock those challenges out of your way. You’ll build your confidence and your resume.

Hang Out With the Good Guys

People with “perfect” jobs surround themselves with positive people. I know, I know—there are toxic people at your workplace, and you can’t avoid them. But do you think people who are happy in their jobs work in jerk-free environments? Unlikely. What they do is strategically align themselves with the optimistic and uplifting folks in the company and minimize time with the office jerk-wads.

Let’s say you get assigned to a project with Crotchety McJackwagon. Yes, you have to figure out how to make it work. But you don’t have to go straight to Crotchety’s desk for an 8 AM complaint-fest, then have a lunch of negativity on sourdough with him, then hit grumpy hour after work with him, too. Do what you have to do to complete your assignment with Crotchety—but spend as much of your time as possible collaborating, networking with, and befriending the people who have good attitudes and passion for their work.

Their optimism will likely rub off on you—and that will give you an entirely new perspective of your job.

Take Control

Think about a position in your company that has been held by at least two people during your tenure. Did those two people do the job in the exact same way? Of course not. We all bring different strengths, weaknesses, interests, and beliefs to our jobs. Unless you have the world’s most intense micromanager, you have the ability to craft and modify your job to some extent.

For example, when it comes to those “extra duties as assigned,” such as committees, task forces, or community outreach, be as selective as possible. If you get appointed to a task, focus on the tasks within that role that you most enjoy. Or if you’re appointed to a committee, select a subcommittee that is a good fit for the role and that you enjoy working with. Take control where you can.

Also, don’t assume you’re limited to the duties you’re assigned. Do you see an opportunity to do something you would enjoy—something that would also help your company? Develop a proposal and pitch it your boss. Maybe no one else has considered that option or has expressed an interest in it.

One of my colleagues, originally hired as an English faculty member, was interested in technology at a time when, as he says, “the primary technology in the classroom was a piece of chalk.” So, he jumped on an opportunity to write a technology grant. From there, he pursued integrating technology into the English curriculum. He led the development of the technical writing program at the university and also serves as a manager for the university’s Center for Instructional Innovation. There was no mention of technology in his original job description, but he used his interests to develop new opportunities.

You don’t have to keep searching for the perfect job. Instead, look for ways to make your job as perfect as possible. That doesn’t mean you have to spend the next decade in your position or pretend you love everything about it. You just have to take the reins to direct your career.

When you do, you’ll be happier, more productive, and more willing to contribute above and beyond your role—which will open doors for you. And before you know it, you’ll be moving up in your career and landing opportunities you couldn’t have imagined when you were busy spending all your time being envious.

Photo of lonely man courtesy of Shutterstock.