I am sitting across from Marcus in one of my favorite restaurants. He is barely touching his beef curry as I am slowly working through my plate of pad Thai actively listening to a familiar story. He spends the next 45 minutes giving me a rundown of his frustrations at work and career aspirations. Marcus is likeable, talented, well-educated and miserable. The heart of what Marcus is unloading is the feeling that his current job falls short of being truly meaningful and is not what he set out to do with his life.
But the conversation stops abruptly after I ask him a simple question, “What do you care most about?”
For the first time since we got here, Marcus is silent.
Marcus is a perfect picture of the Millennial generation, also known as Gen Y. Like Marcus and I, you might be one of the 37.9 million Millennials in the U.S. workforce trying to find our way. It’s no secret that we are facing an uphill battle in our current economy, yet despite this, 41% of us expect to move rapidly up the corporate ladder.
We are unique in today’s workforce as we are predominately driven by our core values, our entrepreneurial spirit and a natural curiosity for innovating in our work environments. We are often described as the young digital natives. We are passionate, intelligent and in a hurry which can be potentially damaging in an environment where our Baby-Boomer bosses believe positions are earned over time, and the Gen X executives in our companies are still calling the shots. The real world of corporate America can be frustrating to navigate, and if we are not careful, we can derail our careers before we’ve even started. But there are a few ways we can start out on the right track.
1) Define the Problem
Albert Einstein once said, “If I had an hour to save the world I would spend 59 minutes defining the problem and one minute finding solutions.” The problem is multifaceted for our generation. For some of us, job dissatisfaction is a simple case of a square peg in a round hole, but like Marcus, most of us lack the self-awareness and emotional intelligence that is needed in order to find satisfaction in organizations run by our Baby-Boomer bosses and Gen X executives. Our generation is the most educated, nurtured, tech-savvy generation in history and it is estimated that we will have 20 jobs and 5 careers in our lifetime. We show up day one with a sense of entitlement eager to prove that we have what it takes with lots of ideas and little real world experience. If we fail to learn how to connect with and learn from the generations who have come before us, we risk carrying unrealistic expectations into our next job and we probably will not stay long enough to realize our full potential.
2) Find Your Calling
Differentiating between a job and a career is the first step for Millennials in discovering our calling. A job is the grouping of tasks that an individual is hired to perform in any given organization or company. A career is a series of jobs in a particular field or industry. A vocation is something quite different, and in my opinion, is the destiny that we Millennials are truly searching for. “Vocation” comes from the Latin word “to call” or literally, “calling.” Vocation taps into the innate gifts, passions and strengths of an individual. Like Marcus, we long to work in an environment where our personal values are a part of the organizational culture that we work in. Unlike our Baby-Boomer bosses, who will put their heads down and push through for the sake of job security, we are driven by causes that we believe are of personal, global and eternal significance. We also differ from our Gen X executives who are more pessimistic and independent; we are an optimistic bunch and long for a sense of community in the work place. We want every aspect of our jobs to have meaning.
3) Find Your Values
To help us discover our calling, we need to clarify and verbalize what we care most about. Our core values are the non-negotiable beliefs that inform and shape our personal worldview. Core values can be defined with simple words or phrases such as generosity, opportunity, or desire for adventure. With core values in place, we have a filter for engaging our world and specifically our workplace in a more meaningful way. Our level of passion for our work determines our performance. Defining our core values is an invaluable tool as job satisfaction is directly linked to whether or not our personal values align with the organization in which we work. Greater organizational alignment with our personal values equals a deeper commitment to our job and the company in which we work.
4) Find Your Strengths
As Millennials we must also understand what we are good at if we hope to have any sense of direction and longevity in pursuing our vocation. All too often we end up blaming our bosses or the corporate environment without taking the necessary time to see if we were a good fit to do the job we signed up to do in the first place. Identifying our strengths is a simple process. We can start by seeking honest feedback from people we trust in naming these natural abilities. There are various online resources that can aide us in this discovery. Employee engagement is highest for our generation when we are working in a job that empowers us to do what they we are created to do. This is a deal-breaker for us if our current 9 to 5 is not congruent with how we are wired.
5) Find a Mentor
Mentoring is all about giving and taking, and can help us find a job where we’ll want to stay for years. It is important for us to seek out mature colleagues in our organizations who we personally resonate with and have characteristics we admire. Our Baby-Boomer bosses, who genuinely trust authority and rarely question chain of command, generally make the best mentors for us if they are open to learning this type of relationship. Our Gen X executives, who are typically skeptical of authority, sometimes struggle to take on a mentoring role. With Gen X employees, mentoring can take on a question and debate quality that can be fun if mutual trust has been established. By approaching potential mentors in our workplace, we can gain a different generational perspective and the wisdom that we desperately need in order to grow and make our greatest contribution in the early years of our careers.
Putting It All Together
By clarifying our core values, identifying our strengths and connecting with a mentor we can begin the journey of discovering our true calling. It takes courage and practice to follow our calling, and we might have to leave a good job that’s not a good fit. We might have to pause our job search while we figure out what we really care about. We might have to take a risk or make sacrifices in our salary expectations. But if you ask Marcus today if it was worth pursuing a second career to find a job that is more closely aligned to his strengths and values, he will tell you it was.
Steve Knox is the founder and lead consultant of orbitingnormal.org, an organization whose mission is to develop and unleash people to become all they were created to be. He lives in the northern beaches of Sydney, Australia with his wife Meg.