In a speech peppered with quotable quotes, two words stood out in Steve Jobs’ fabled address to Stanford graduates: “Don’t settle.”
They have since become a guidepost for people at a crossroads in their careers, a map, if you may, toward self-realisation in 11 characters. But is idealism really a non-negotiable in the face of mounting bills? At the same time, are you willing to bypass your dream career for short-term gains?
Let’s weigh both sides of the struggle.
Recent research tells us that workers tend to settle for relatively uninteresting jobs if they find out that their seemingly interesting counterparts offer the same pay. Researchers from the Duke University – Fuqua School of Business named this phenomenon “effort aversion.” To them, this could justify many workers’ willingness to put up with occupations beneath their qualifications.
Then again, keeping options open for a long time can drive workers mad. In matters of employment as in business, it’s all about the opportunity cost, or as some economists term it, “option value.” Settling could very well mean loss of option value, unfurling either feelings of regret or contentment down the road. Contentment is no doubt the higher ground, but it only compounds stress and anxiety if the occupation is inherently bad.
All too often, people settle on jobs because they don’t know their career goals yet. Less than 20 percent take time to write their goals down, which could have shed some light on their true calling.
When not to settle
When looking for a job, it’s important for your decision not to hinge on the size of the wage. Before anything, see if the situation on offer is a good fit in your values, talents and goals, and if it dangles opportunities for skills growth.
Making a conscious decision not to settle can be tricky though, especially if you always get an earful from friends, parents and relatives. “You are too idealistic.” “You should be grateful for any job in this economy.” These could be well-meaning comments, but it’s essential to shut them out and follow your arrow. At least don’t use the economy as a pretext to blindly accepting a job.
Think of jobs as stepping stones toward your employment goal. In interviews, employers will nitpick on your job choices. If you accepted a job for the sake of it, your motive is not going to sit well with a prospective employer. Pressed for explanation, you may end up badmouthing and laying the blame on your previous employer, all because you did not like the job from the get-go.
Feeling that you’re just making do with a job sets a vicious cycle into motion. If you’re grappling with feelings of victimisation, you will at some point give up, prematurely. Chances are, you will not have lined up a job, which means you will have to scrape by on your savings in the interim. That’s when you will feel tempted to get another wearisome job, and the cycle goes on.
What if a dream job turns out to be only outwardly interesting? You can suss the bad apples out during the interview portion. If for some reason the interview leaves a bad taste, e.g. HR is caustic to you, the workers appear lethargic, etc., then don’t try to be a hero. Move on to the next prospect. You can’t change an entire organisation by your lonesome.
Likewise, bail out from an existing situation if superiors and colleagues are bullying you. Yes, you need to acknowledge that bullying happens in the adult world as it does in high school. Depression arising from workplace bullying has been a notorious suicide trigger. In fact, hit the road if your depression is tied to an integral aspect of your job. It’s better to be jobless than dead meat, so to speak.
There is no perfect job but that is often the rallying cry of the mediocre. There has to be a job out there somewhere that fits you to a T. If this means hopping from one job to another in search of that, then do so. If anything, your prospective employer will appreciate your versatility.
When to settle
Steve was one to talk though. In this eye-opening feature, the Apple founder is depicted as one whose primary goals in life involved teaching and alternative medicine. He didn’t really seek out his hallowed place in information technology, but rather saw himself just getting by with jobs in this field. As we all know by now, he ended up holding court in it.
In this light, settling is not so bad after all. It causes you to make out career paths you may have never considered before. Many times it’s not really an issue of settling than using a job as a means to an end. A prospect may be below your qualifications, but look closer: It might help you hone in-demand skills. Or it can be a source of income decent enough to pay for your college expenses. If a less-than-ideal position can put you on track in the long run, then by all means take it.
Settling on a job can also be a matter of life and death. If you’re starving, if you don’t have rent to pay, if you direly need money for the bare necessities, then of course it’s time to lower your bar. You don’t have to be penniless to uphold your ideals.
Don’t stand still
But be careful not to settle on a job ‘temporarily,’ only to find yourself in the same post 28 years later. A stepping stone is just that: a way to cross over to the other side. Don’t stand still, lest you’ll get swept away with the tide.
These stones will not always be in a straight line though. Sometimes you may think you’re derailed, but looking back, you’ll see that it’s the path your talents and passions have compelled you to take.
Choosing the right job entails lots of tenacity as well as the willingness to be honest with yourself. You will need the wisdom to know when to hold on and when to give up with grace.
Either way, just move forward.
This is a guest article by Sharon Freeman, a freelance writer from Andrew May, a performance coaching site. She lives in Australia and has been a passionate writer and blogger. Feel free to contact her at shfreeman 89 @ gmail.com.
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