You probably have one or two awkward date stories.
Here's one of mine - and how I used it to figure out what I really wanted.
I was sitting on the patio of one of my favorite brewpubs, wondering how long it could possibly take before our server brought the check. It was a beautiful fall day, but the atmosphere between my date and me was bordering on frosty. I thought about taking one more stab at conversation, but I didn't feel like having my opinions mocked yet again.
It turned out shortly after we'd sat down that Dude was a recreational arguer. Not only did he have an opinion about everything, he also had a list of reasons as to why all of mine were wrong. I swear, I think we got into an argument about whether smooth or crunchy peanut butter was better.
The low point had come when I thought we'd finally found a common point of interest and I recommended a great running shoe store I'd been to. When he found out where it was, he went on a multi-minute tirade about how awful that area was and maintained he never crossed the state line unless he absolutely had to. "There is absolutely nothing good about Kansas," he finished smugly.
"Well, I lived there for fifteen years, and I think I turned out okay, so."
And now we were waiting for the check.
Before, this would have discouraged me. (Okay, it still did.) But I had a reason to believe the afternoon wasn't a total waste. I was going to use this experience to help me get clearer on what I wanted.
Turning shit into fertilizer
When I got home, I pulled out my journal. I opened it to a list titled "What I Want in a Partner." At the bottom of the list, I wrote, "Listens to and respects my opinions. Desires connection."
(I could have put down, "Doesn't think opinions are a substitute for personality," but I was trying to keep it positive.)
Each date I went on during that year gave me similarly valuable information. At the beginning of my re-immersion in the dating pool, I really didn't know what I wanted. "Smart, kind, and funny, with some similar interests" was as far as I'd gotten when I first filled out my online profile. Months later, despite not really clicking with anyone, I had a much better picture of what I needed from a relationship.
What does this have to do with finding your dream job?
We've all spent time in jobs we dislike. I'm betting you've spent a decent amount of time daydreaming about something better - but what does "better" look like?
When I was feeling restless and dissatisfied with my job, one of my main anxiety loops was that I didn't know what to do instead. I had literally no idea. I had a lot of interests and a history of not sticking with any of them long-term, so I was nervous about committing to any one thing. All I knew was that I wanted something different.
Then I remembered the list from my online dating days (now, thankfully, behind me). What would it be like, I wondered, to take the same approach with my job?
Instead of trying to guess how this mystery dream job might look, I started with the things I liked and disliked about my current one. I looked at things like environment, commute, coworkers, work pace and type, and the skills I utilized. Slowly, a picture came into focus.
This was what I wrote.
I will use my whole self - every bit of my intelligence, compassion, resourcefulness, independence, and creativity - to both nourish myself and increase my right people’s well-being and happiness. Through my work, I will inspire others to do their best work, to rekindle their imaginations and engage with the world in a new way.
I will feel successful when:
- I am working in a beautiful, supportive environment with/for intelligent, compassionate, engaged people.
- I can see the positive difference that my work is making.
- I have a schedule that works with my natural rhythms, instead of in spite of or against them.
- I feel the satisfaction of overcoming challenges in a role that grows and changes with me.
- I have the financial stability to meet my obligations, as well as fund some meaningful luxuries and adventures.
- I can start and end the day by spending time with my husband.
It was still incredibly vague in some aspects, but it was a start.
The power of knowing what you want
As it happened, I didn't meet my husband during my months of online dating. He was someone I'd known for a decade - we'd even gone to the same high school. He wasn't anyone I'd thought about romantically before, but I impulsively asked him out on a date a few months after he'd broken up with his long-term girlfriend. It became very clear, very quickly that we were extremely compatible and we got engaged a scant five months later.
To be honest, I'd forgotten completely about my "what I want in a partner" list by then. It wasn't until we were getting ready to move in together that I found it while packing up my apartment. Frankly, it was eerie how perfectly it described him. I said a little prayer of thanks to the universe as I packed the journal away.
After my coaching practice had been active for about a year, I found the above list of desired job attributes. I read through them slowly, feeling a growing sense of gratitude and astonishment. I'd written it three years previously, hoping desperately that I wasn't asking for something impossible. As it turns out, I wasn't. Every single word of that document has come true.
Knowing what you want - being clear - has power. Otherwise, how will you know it when you find it?
Sometimes to find out what you want, you need to look at where you are now. What would you change? What are you tolerating? What feels like a struggle? What fills you with irritation, resignation, or despair?
I believe these feelings are here to do more than make you feel crappy; they are guiding you towards happiness, if you let them. It might not happen overnight - it took me three years to find that perfect job situation! - but how much easier is it to accept them and be curious about their messages if you believe they have something valuable to tell you?
Want to take this further?
This is hard work to do alone, which is why I created the coaching program Finding Your Fit. In this three-month program, you'll get one-on-one support as you get in touch with your deeper purpose, discover your own version of success and learn the tools to get you there. Check it out here.