Karl Pillemer of Cornell University interviewed nearly 1500 people age 70 to 100+ for his book “30 Lessons for Living: Tried and True Advice from the Wisest Americans.” He asked them what life lessons they’d pass on.
What piece of advice were they more adamant about than any other? More adamant about than lessons regarding marriage, children and happiness?
Do not stay in a job you dislike.
You know those nightmares where you are shouting a warning but no sound comes out? Well, that’s the intensity with which the experts wanted to tell younger people that spending years in a job you dislike is a recipe for regret and a tragic mistake. There was no issue about which the experts were more adamant and forceful. Over and over they prefaced their comments with, “If there’s one thing I want your readers to know it’s . . .” From the vantage point of looking back over long experience, wasting around two thousand hours of irretrievable lifetime each year is pure idiocy.
What other important life lessons did they have for your career?
Here’s the refrigerator list:
1. Choose a career for the intrinsic rewards, not the financial ones. The biggest career mistake people make is selecting a profession based only on potential earnings. A sense of purpose and passion for one’s work beats a bigger paycheck any day.
2. Don’t give up on looking for a job that makes you happy. According to the experts, persistence is the key to finding a job you love. Don’t give up easily.
3. Make the most of a bad job. If you find yourself in a less-than-ideal work situation, don’t waste the experience; many experts learned invaluable lessons from bad jobs.
4. Emotional intelligence trumps every other kind. Develop your interpersonal skills if you want to succeed in the workplace. Even people in the most technical professions have their careers torpedoed if they lack emotional intelligence.
5. Everyone needs autonomy. Career satisfaction is often dependent on how much autonomy you have on the job. Look for the freedom to make decisions and move in directions that interest you, without too much control from the top.
Another point worth making is advice the older folks consistently did not give:
No one— not a single person out of a thousand— said that to be happy you should try to work as hard as you can to make money to buy the things you want.
No one— not a single person— said it’s important to be at least as wealthy as the people around you, and if you have more than they do it’s real success.
No one— not a single person— said you should choose your work based on your desired future earning power.
Now it may sound absurdly obvious when worded in this way. But this is in fact how many people operate on a day-to-day basis. The experts did not say these things; indeed almost no one said anything remotely like them. Instead they consistently urged finding a way to earn enough to live on without condemning yourself to a job you dislike.
This might be a lot to remember and ask yourself on a daily basis. What’s a quick litmus test to determine if you’re on the path to happiness or regret?
You should ask yourself this: do I wake up in the morning looking forward to work?
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