How to discover the job and career you will love


I’ve helped over 10,200 individuals find a job or change careers since 1973.  I’m asked, quite often, “Tony, how can I find a job or career that I will love?”

I discovered a few simple, not necessarily easy, but simple principals that these people practice:

  1. They assess and know their aptitudes.

They know what they are strong and what they are weak at. By the time most professional athletes are 18 or 19 years old they know what they have an aptitude for. They’ve measured those aptitudes in competitive sports situations. Business people, however have a little more difficulty. I recommend that people at a young age have their aptitudes tested, and not by some $25 online aptitude test.  I’m talking about places like Johnson O’Connor or AMES testing – people who do elaborate tests and give you an elaborate report about your personal aptitudes.

Many people hate their jobs and hate their careers because they are trying to work in a field they don’t have a natural aptitude for. It leads to a mediocre life. If you’re not good at math, it’s not likely you would make a good accountant.

Most of us fall into what we have an aptitude for quite by accident. We try enough things and then fall into a job or career that might take advantage of our natural abilities, but aptitude testing may quickly reveal most of our strengths and weaknesses. When aptitudes are honed and well-developed, we end up calling them gifts. But those polished gifts didn’t start out that way. They were raw to begin with.

Knowing your aptitudes is the first step. Then…

  1. Expect to begin as a total novice and then work really, really, really hardand discover flow and the zone.

Working really hard means accepting ignorance, then breaking down the basic functions of the job and then doing them over and over until they are mastered. This means an investment of a phenomenal amount of time and effort even when they are exhausted and want to quit.

Working really hard means becoming comfortable with being uncomfortable, as well as being overwhelmed most of the time. It means drinking through a fire hose and being exhilarated by being overwhelmed.

Unless they are fortunate enough at a very early age to be involved in some kind of intense endeavor like sports or music where intense practicing starts early in life, somewhere along the line, the very first time, quite by accident, people who love their career find themselves falling into flow and “the zone.”  For most of us, the first time this experience occurs is in an intimate relationship with someone we love, prayer, meditation or maybe holding a baby. All of a sudden, there is no thinking, just doing. They are conscious of only the very present moment, not the past, not the future, just the moment.  Their work flows out of them effortlessly. It is joyous, fun, playful, even spiritual.  It becomes an art form and the worker becomes the artist. This state doesn’t happen every day but the more often it comes the more often it comes again and the more often it’s desired.

By being a beginner and working harder than anyone else, reaching the zone of flow from time to time…Then…

  1. Seek the intrinsic value in what they do.

They look for their own personal, internal growth and satisfaction as much as they do in perfecting what they do. They practice what they do for the sheer fun and joy of doing it and because it makes them feel good as they are growing, it takes a life of its own.

The momentum of intrinsic growth and getting better and better leads to the fact that:

4 They really love and are passionate about what they do.

Next to their relationship with God and their family, they enjoy what they do more than anything else. They often enjoy it more than they want to eat or sleep. They are so passionate and enthusiastic about it, what they do becomes a part of them and they become a part of what they do. They personally identify with their work and it brings them joy and happiness. They often have to force themselves to step away and refresh.

This doesn’t mean that they like what they do all the time. There is a big part of what they do that involves difficult, excruciating “pain”… not fun or pleasant at all. They do learn to appreciate what they don’t like, recognizing that is part of the pathway to success.

They love what they do so much:

  1. They do it for a purpose or vision greater than they are.

The purpose of doing what they do transcends making a living. They see the purpose of what they do in the light of its impact on others, even all of mankind. It takes on a spiritual dimension that’s greater than the activity. This greater purpose transforms their work and their job into a calling. It is a personal mission to affect the greater world with their work

The greater purpose or vision leads to:

  1. A healthy balance of paranoia, courage and grit.

Everyone who loves their career and their job lives with a permanent amount of paranoia. No matter how accomplished they become they always a little voice inside of them asking themselves, “Are you really that good?  Can I do it again today?”

One of the best metaphors for this healthy paranoia is this thought:  “Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up. It knows it must outrun the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning in Africa, a lion wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the slowest gazelle, or it will starve. It doesn’t matter whether you’re the lion or a gazelle – when the sun comes up, you’d better be running.”

Courage in this metaphor is the faith and the confidence that I can and will run. Courage gives me the confidence to practice running, which gives me more courage to run harder and faster. Courage counterbalances the paranoid and keeps paranoia from simply freezing me from inactivity.

…and grit …It’s the experience in our metaphor of running “until I am totally exhausted, but have the perseverance and passion to get up and keep running.” The tension between paranoia and courage leads to creativity.

A healthy balance of paranoia, courage and grit leads to:

  1. 7. Great clarity and simplicity in explaining what they do.

Their clarity is astounding. They explain what they do in its simplest format. This doesn’t mean that what they do is easy! Just because they can explain it simply doesn’t mean that it is easy. Bench pressing 500 pounds is simple but it’s not easy. In fact, it’s very hard… very hard.

Clarity and simplicity lead to seeing things for what they really are. These people deal with reality… hard-core reality.

Great clarity and simplicity leads to:

  1. They develop a system, a process of doing business and personal rituals and routine for life.

 They focus on the process and they don’t worry about the results. If they focus too much on results, anxiety and fear of failure will result. They focus on the steps in the process because they can control them. They love the process as much as the accomplishment.

Most of the people who love and develop their career live routine lives with lots of rituals. They develop specific patterns for living that allow their cognitive and emotional efforts to focus on their work. They don’t have to expend a lot of emotional or mental energy in deciding which white shirt to wear or which black pair of socks to choose or what time to meditate every day. Rituals and routines alleviate the conscious energy needed to make small inconsequential decisions. Those routine decisions, added together, take a tremendous amount of mental and emotional effort.  Rituals and routines conserve mental and emotional energy so it can be used for the creative aspects of work.

Developing a process with rituals and routines leads to:

  1. The 10,000 hour principal and expecting a phenomenal number of failures and setbacks – reaching unconscious competency.

 Okay, maybe it’s not exactly 10,000 hours exactly when a person becomes totally competent. But people who really learn to love their job and career put a phenomenal amount of time in doing what they do. They practice over and over and over and over when most people would give up. They experience of phenomenal number of failures and setbacks. They love what they do so much they bounce back from those setbacks and that separates them from most people.

They reach unconscious competency. Unconscious competency allows them to think and focus on the parts of their work that need improvement. They do the majority of the work without a conscious effort leaving the mind free to focus on the creative side of the endeavor. They have so many mental models of what can happen or will happen they just plain “know what to do” at the right time. They appear to be geniuses to others, but it is their level of competency that allows them to simply “know.”

Their process of ‘”practice” and expecting a phenomenal number of failures leads to:

  1. Finding mentors and being a constant student, then becoming a mentor.

Some of us are fortunate enough to simply fall into finding good teachers.

Hopefully, the mentors we find are good practitioners and good leaders. But bad leaders can often be great practitioners. We may be able to learn a practice or skill from someone who might be a jerk. The physician who has the habit of smoking might be a great practitioner of medicine, but a lousy mentor of what to do. We can learn from skilled practitioners who might be lousy human beings.  We can learn from bad managers.  Maybe we learn what not to do or how not to be from these people.

People who love their career know that after seeking mentors, becoming a mentor is a tremendously high priority. Teaching others elevates a person’s intellect and mastery of what they do. After all, the teacher always learns more than the student.

Which leads to:

  1. Humility and gratitude

The kind of people we’re speaking of have a tremendous amount of humility. Their accomplishments never seem to go to their head. In fact, most often they don’t think their accomplishments or successes are that big a deal. They don’t compare themselves to other people, they compare themselves to their own perception of their potential. Since they are always striving to be better they gracefully accept what they have accomplished. They have a healthy ego but not a big ego.

There humility leads to a great deal of gratitude. Most of us acknowledge our Creator for the gifts we have received. But even if we aren’t sure of where those attributes and gifts have come from, we are grateful for the opportunity to work…to practice our skills daily.  Even we can’t believe our own accomplishments. We are in awe of the whole thing!

Which leads to:

  1. We reframe stories of our past… And write stories of our future.

When I was 10 years old I wrote a story of myself being Superman. When I learned I couldn’t fly I reframed this story that at least I could become the strongest man on earth. When I imagined a story of myself becoming a doctor when I went to college, I reframed my story when I had to drop out of freshman chemistry right before I failed it. When I imagine the story of getting a PhD in higher education and becoming president of a college in 1973, my beautiful wife Chris reframed that story when I couldn’t find a job by explaining to me that she was pregnant with our first child, I had no job and we’d better get to Texas and go to work.

Being storytellers of our own lives, reframing it and rewriting it we come to the conclusion that:

  1. What they grow to become is more important than what they accomplish.

These kind of people realized that how they grow personally is more important and everlasting than whatever they accomplish. No matter how accomplished they become externally they will always strive to become better internally. They know how they grow internally is permanent and everlasting. Every generation is full of externally successful people who, in the long run, implode. Our newspapers report daily about people who are appear to have it all and because their heart and soul don’t expand to the level of their seemingly external greatness, they self-destruct, often destroying others with them. Their “inside” doesn’t grow to the level of their “outside” and they can’t keep the “outside” façade from crumbling. What they became in the process of getting what they wanted isn’t very great.

People who love their career remember the words of Alexander Solzhenitsyn: The purpose of this life is not prosperity as we know it, but rather the maturing of the human soul.

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