FOURTEEN INCORRECT BELIEFS ABOUT HOW EMPLOYMENT WORKS
If you wanna fly, you got to give up the shit that weighs you down.
At several hundred points over the course of my career, I have made poor decisions based on assumptions that I took as facts. We all have such strong opinions about employment, don’t we? I overhear these kinds of strong opinions all the time: somebody ranting about how things work in some industry they’ve never worked in, somebody else moaning about how they would never have a chance at getting hired for a job they’ve yet to apply for, and so on, and so forth.
Because of how rapidly the world keeps changing on us—employment-wise and just in general, frankly—I try to identify and challenge my own assumptions whenever I can. Throughout this book, I’m often going to ask you to challenge yours, too. To start us off with a bang, I have assembled this list of fourteen incorrect beliefs I used to hold about employment—and all the things I now know to be true instead.
Incorrect Belief #1: I SHOULD CAST THE WIDEST NET POSSIBLE WITH MY JOB SEARCH SO THAT I DON’T MISS AN OPPORTUNITY
Let me tell you about a situation I run into often with recent graduates, with high school dropouts, with experienced talent, with pretty much everybody:
ACQUAINTANCE: I’m looking for a marketing job!
ME: Nice. What sort of job are you looking for?
ACQUAINTANCE: Any sort of marketing position. Or operations.
ME: Oh. Uhh, okay, so … Paid social? Analytics or content? Which industry?
ACQUAINTANCE: I want to work in marketing! Or maybe management.
ME: *exits stage right*
“I want to work in marketing” gives me exactly nothing to go on. I cannot help you. Here’s what’s rolling around in my head during that kind of conversation:
Do you prefer B2B or B2C marketing? Do you have any experience with AdWords? Are you more interested in community management? If so, have you analyzed organic engagement data before? What do you know about SEO? More specifically, what do you know about how code needs to be organized in order to implement SEO? Have you worked with a CMS before? How experienced are you with email marketing automation? Could you write the content, too? Do you know WordPress? Are you a good writer? How quickly could you create content? Could you write your own editorial calendar? Are you connected to journalists in any specific industry? Do you know what you’re talking about?
The instinct to be vague makes a ton of sense. You could be great at a lot of things! You don’t want to say anything that will get you crossed off the list before you’ve even had a chance to prove yourself! In Step 1, I am going to get all the way up on my soapbox and give you my big speech on the powers of specialization and how asking for exactly the kind of job you want will actually accelerate your career growth—not hinder it.
I know, I know. You don’t want to get “stuck” on the wrong path. To illustrate where we’re headed, I can only offer real help to one of these two people:
PERSON 1: “I’m looking for a job in marketing.”
PERSON 2: “I’m looking for an entry-level marketing role. I know that a lot of marketing is math and data these days, which I think is really interesting. From what I know of different marketing job descriptions I’ve seen online, I think I would like SEO and SEM. Getting it right seems like a strategy game. I also read this crazy article about … is it called real-time bidding? I had no idea how those social media ads worked! It makes so much sense! I also think it would be really cool to work in an industry that I already know a little bit about, so I want to find a job that deals with sports somehow. Maybe a surf brand?”
With a few extra sentences, Person 2 is able to quickly explain that he or she actually knows what a marketing department really does. I know what industry interests this person. And, crucially, I have enough information to know whether or not I can help.
Incorrect Belief #2: I JUST DON’T WANT TO PIGEONHOLE MYSELF INTO THE WRONG PATH BEFORE I KNOW WHAT I WANT
Career paths don’t follow straight lines anymore. That ladder you were supposed to climb has become a 4-D monster, constantly shifting and decaying and moving and sprouting new heads. At the rate at which the global economy and technology are changing, you could not possibly predict where your career will take you. It’s almost impossible to pigeonhole yourself, because the modern economy will ask you to keep adapting again and again. You get to want something today, and you get to want something else five years from now.
You’ve probably been on a hike, right? You know how you have to choose a route at the beginning, but then trails merge and separate, and sometimes you can jump from one trail onto another?
In order to ever get anywhere, whether that’s to go on a Saturday morning hike or build a career, you have to choose a starting point. It doesn’t have to be the obvious trail that goes straight up from the parking lot, but you have to start walking. Choose. Yes, it will change the course of your life. It may change the course of history, in fact. But just keep reminding yourself that you literally cannot get anywhere unless you start walking.
Incorrect Belief #3: IT’S REALLY HARD TO BREAK INTO X INDUSTRY
I sometimes find that the best thing I can do as a career coach is to give you the permission you refuse to give yourself. So, here it goes:
We hold ourselves back from applying to the jobs we want. We hear that it’s a “tough industry to get into” and we never bother trying. We don’t even look into how we would figure it out, because we believe what we were told. We assume we would fail. Hundreds of thousands of people are employed in all those dream jobs that someone deemed too silly to chase after, and all those cool industries are multi-billion-dollar behemoths that require a giant workforce. You are allowed to step up to the plate, if you’d like. No matter who you are. You are allowed to take your shot.
Do your research. Go see for yourself. Do not tell me how hard it is if you haven’t tried.
Incorrect Belief #4: I HAVE TO CHOOSE BETWEEN AN INTERESTING JOB AND A HIGH-PAYING JOB
I spent the early moments of my own career chasing—not money, necessarily, but safety. I thought that the big corporations would be safe. I thought that people with analyst-type jobs were less likely to get fired. Armed with a boatload of assumptions based on who-knows-what, I made up all kinds of stories in my head about which career paths might be riskier than others. Importantly, I never bothered to actually ask anybody any questions about whether or not my assumptions were true.
Here’s what I can tell you: There are some career paths where you get paid a lot of money right off the bat. There are some career paths where you make very little money for a long time and then—if you stay the course—you can wind up making a ton of money. There are some career paths that we associate with prestige or a certain social class that actually make less money than we think they do. There are a lot of electricians, for example, who make more money than the office worker down the street. Moreover, there are a ton of factors beyond salary and passion that you will want to consider over the course of your career. The hours, the team, the benefits, the vacation time, the opportunity for growth, the on-site childcare, the flexibility to work from home, the team dynamics, the office snacks, and many more.
If you’re convinced that you need to make a binary decision, you most likely just don’t know what all your options are yet. I certainly don’t. I’m a career coach, and there’s no way I could write down a comprehensive list of every job that exists in the world, and I certainly couldn’t guess the salary range for each of those positions.
Incorrect Belief #5: I DON’T NEED TO ENJOY MY JOB; JOBS ARE JUST SUPPOSED TO BE JOBS
Too many of us were taught that career fulfillment was an out-of-reach indulgence. A few lucky people might get to like their job, sure, but the rest of us are just meant to suffer. If this belief is present in your family or your marriage or your community, I want you to question it fiercely. You don’t owe it to anybody else to suffer. You get to look for—at least look for—a career you will enjoy.
Listen, working a job you love is still hard work—but working a job you hate is still so much harder. There are so many interesting puzzles to solve in this world. When you find a job solving the kind of puzzles that light you up, you will be amazed at how your outlook will change. My hope is for everyone to experience that kind of intellectual stimulation on a daily basis.
Before accepting, blindly, that your fate in life is to grin and bear it for the next forty years: Give yourself permission to do a little research about something—anything—that catches your curiosity. Go see what’s out there. After all, unless you believe in reincarnation, you only get this one life on earth.
Incorrect Belief #6: I AM A COLLEGE GRADUATE; A NONDESCRIPT JOB OF SOME KIND IS BEING HELD FOR ME OUT THERE SOMEWHERE BECAUSE, LIKE I SAID, I AM A COLLEGE GRADUATE
At least once a week, an email just like this one lands in my inbox:
Hi, Alexa! I’m starting to get really frustrated about not finding a job that shows off my potential. I graduated with honors, and I won an award for the best undergraduate student of all time. I speak French. I’m a world-renowned macramé champion. I volunteer on Christmas. I am ready to start my career. What am I missing?
Congratulations on all your wonderful accomplishments. Genuinely. If this is you, I want to tell you that you’ve done an incredible job at taking advantage of all that life has offered up until this point. I want to commend you for studying hard and for pushing yourself. Your efforts do not deserve to go unnoticed. But the thing is …
*pauses, opens mouth, shuts mouth*
*exhales and continues*
Copyright © 2020 by Alexa Shoen