The more I think about it, the less I think that there is a 'dream job' out there for the taking.
I hadn't thought of it like this until today, but just like there isn't one Mr. or Ms. Right out there for you (and oh do I know that is a completely different topic), there isn't one "Right" job out there. Sure, maybe there is work out there that you aren't compatible with. Work that would not be good to pursue. I just think that there also isn't one perfect job that will make you immediately happy.
You have to work at it.
To compare it to marriage, and love, which is perhaps a dangerous thing to do, you have to work at loving someone. Relationships don't just magically work, they take work by both parties to actively show love to one another. You have to lay down yourself for the other person in order to have a lasting and wonderful relationship. It's not about you anymore. That's just how it works. Everything else is the stuff of fairy tales.
Your career is the same way, sort of. You most likely won't instantly love your job. Your job most likely won't make you immediately happy in the way that you think it should. It takes some work. You have to put your time in, gain the experience, and after all of that time and effort you put into growing and becoming truly good at what you do, you might be surprised that your job fulfills you in ways you never thought it would.
I confess that I am not in the position to say that I really love and feel fulfilled by my job. I have often fallen into the trap of thinking I would find something else that would bring me more satisfaction. I should clarify that as instant satisfaction. All I do know is that I am more satisfied by my job now than I was when I started, and I can only assume that trend will continue. It's easy to imagine (or maybe a little hard, I'm not quite sure) that in several years, after a lot of hard work and effort, I will absolutely love my job.
I guess this is just something that I am coming to grips with. I have spent too much time focusing on the little details and too little time focusing on the value that I bring to the world through what I do.
Seriously, how selfish is it of me to expect that the world owes me a good job that fulfills me immediately, without any time or effort on my end? Sure I might think I'm special, but really I'm just like everyone else. I have to prove my worth. Enjoyable, fulfilling work comes after I put my time in.
No more looking at my job and wondering what I am getting out of it. Instead, I am looking at my job and wondering what else I can put into it. What value can I bring? How can I be even better than I was yesterday? How can I improve myself? These are the questions I need to start asking myself.
You have to practice to become better at something. We all know this. "Practice makes perfect" is often thrown around. That's all well and good for music, writing, athletics, etc. but what about knowledge work? How do you practice that? Not just practice, mind you, but deliberate practice. Intentionality is a key word here.
That is the question, and there is no straight-forward answer. If it was easy, everyone would be an indispensable asset, and that is why this is so exciting. If you can figure out what deliberate practice looks like in your profession, and intentionally carry that practice out, you will shoot far and beyond your peers. Sure, it's not your "passion" or your "dream job" yet, but do you see how it could be? Maybe we need to look a bit further into the future, and be willing to put in the effort up front to end up where we want to be.
Perhaps the key to meaningful work is control. Autonomy. The ability to call the shots, to do what you want, to work on what you think is right, good, fun, exciting. To be in control of your destiny, not worrying about what tomorrow might bring, because you know what's happening (to an extent). This has to be earned, and cannot be taken too quickly. If you jump out on your own, without building up lots of experience and demand for your work, without cutting out your own niche, or specialization, you are destined to fail. There are too many examples of this, people acting before they were truly ready and falling on their face.
I guess, in the end, I'm saying something rather simple and intuitive. I'm sure this is all relatively obvious to you, but the material has been blowing my mind for the past week. Maybe it's because I'm at this point in my life. I want more than I am ready for. What I really need to do is look honestly at where I am in my career, and focus on moving that forward. When I have clear value, when I have built up so much experience and proven performance that my current employer feels just a little bit afraid to lose me, that will be my cue to make a bid for more control in my career. Above all else, this requires some serious and deliberate practice on my end. I am a craftsman. I must adopt this mindset.
This is really all just a summary of my thoughts on something else that I read. Someone much smarter than me came up with all of this stuff, and deserves a lot of credit for getting it out in an excellent book. The book is So Good They Can't Ignore You by Cal Newport. Also, for more reading on the subject, here is a link to Cal Newport's thoughts on being a Career Craftsman.