Cadence Design Systems, Inc.
I am always a bit gun-shy about giving advice to friends or peers on matters that could significantly affect their personal life. When it comes to giving guidance on specific career moves or the next logical step to get a promotion, I do an instant brain squirm. Why would someone ask me? I am not even sure how I got to where I am. Being in this position, that of the person lost souls seek out for direction, I find it extremely unnerving and even a bit sad.
Tempted to go the easy route, I am often reminded of Joseph Campbell and his famous “follow your bliss” statement. It sounds like good advice on the surface, even if a bit idealistic. Besides, if I give advice like that, my sage license would be immediately revoked.
I can hear the response now. “Follow your bliss? That’s it? What if my ‘bliss’ job does not pay as much as my ‘non-bliss’ job? I cannot survive on sheer blissfulness, you know.” That would most likely lead to trite conversations about just being happy in your job or a discussion about finding balance in your life. Meaningless, calling-it-in feedback.
I now find myself at a point where I cannot, in good conscience, attempt to offer anyone a solution to their career crisis. I made this decision recently after asking others about my own future. None of it was helpful. “Work for yourself.” “Go for a VP position.” “Be happy you have a job.”
I like the last one the best. After an hour of indigestion and yet another conversation on outsourcing and the demise of my profession, interrupted only by the waiter asking if I would like more house wine, my advisor made me feel I should be content with breathing.
I guess we all really know what we want even if we are not clear on how to get it. Maybe we seek reassurance. Maybe we want someone to enlighten us or to find flaws in our plans before we take the next big leap. Being overly cautious is definitely a trait I see in many of us. But, from workaholics to those who want to retire early, we know what makes us happy.
Growing up in my family, I knew that my parents were always very proud of the achievements we children made. The funny thing is, my parents never knew what we achieved. Blind faith in the belief that we were doing something we liked to do and that we did it well was their source of pride. A friend of the family once confided in me that my father was very proud of our successes. When I replied, “that’s nice but he really does not know what I do”, the friend said it did not matter. My father saw his sons doing something they enjoyed. A nice sentiment except for one thing; I was an engineer at the time and I hated my job. I was in the wrong profession. Not what I would call a blissful situation.
I had to follow my own bliss. I define bliss as doing a job that is as much fun as a hobby. So, while I love what I do, by this definition, I cannot call it blissful. There are days when I race to work to get a jump on an interesting innovation that will cure the world of all its documentation ills. There are also days when I awake and look up through the skylight and think, “Boy, is this bliss or what?”
If I wanted to be completely blissful, on Monday I would do what I am presently doing; on Tuesday I would perform in a rock group; Wednesday I would be racing through winding curves on a deserted stretch of road, up-shifting and down-shifting; Thursday I would spend the day eating fried clams; Friday I would play a pick-up game of baseball; Saturday I would work in the yard; and Sunday I would do something for those less fortunate. I know…what about my family? They are a source of bliss throughout the entire week (just in case they’re reading this).
So if you ask me for advice, I offer the following. If you want to be a CEO, then you certainly do not need my advice; you should know the path to take. If you want to manage more people, all you have to do is look around at how much fun those with large staffs are having. If you need to be on your own, you probably will not be successful if you need to rely on the opinions of others. And, if your identity is based purely on what you do in the 40-plus hour workweek, then you are either the luckiest person alive, or you need to reevaluate your life.
There is no perfect job, nor perfect consultation as to what it should be. I guess the best advice I can give to those seeking the next move is simple: Get a job that you can love more than hate. Semi-bliss is better than no bliss at all.