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How To Thrive In a “Not My First Choice”​ Career

It may be hard to believe, most people aren’t currently living and working in a professional field that was their first choice. This of course can be for several reasons beyond the control of each individual. And the reasons vary from the number of available opportunities on the market, to accepting the first offered position due to personal or financial reasons. A 2013 Gallup poll surveyed 230,000 full-time and part-time workers in 142 countries and found that fully 63% were not engaged in their work. And not much has changed today.

The trouble comes when days turn into weeks and weeks turn into years and we’ve all but given up on the dream career opportunity we’ve fantasized about since leaving school and entering the work force. Its true, there’s nothing stopping us from leaving a job we don’t like and setting of a new path whether it be with another company or starting our own. And while these “grass is greener” and “fear of missing out” options look like immediate attractive resolutions to our daily grind, making an emotional decision can end up being premature in nature, leading to more problems.

Striving for greener pastures isn’t inherently wrong, but not embracing opportunities each day has to offer right now can have an affect on your person/professional growth and overall holistic mental well being. From a practical perspective there are a few approaches we can take to help cope with the day to day grind. 

The first is attempting to connect the dots between your passion and your present. With your ideal profession in mind, think about what type of work you are truly passionate about. Is there a way to incorporate those skills in your work today that will help you meet your current role’s objectives? Before you immediately say its not possible, understand the goal isn’t to gain 100% alignment between the two points. 

For example if your working in analytics but your ultimate goal is to be a software developer, you probably won’t be offered the opportunity to create analytic software from the ground up. However, based on your coding and programing expertise, you could request to be a part of the committee that selects the software to purchase and even be a part of the implementation team. In his book The Spark and the Grind, well-known author and motivational speaker Erik Wahl insists that if we look hard enough, the can be open doors for us to explore our passions in our current work. “Within your current context lies more creative opportunities than you probably ever realized. There are no dead end streets for the truly creative.”

Another approach you can take is to unlock a personal deeper purpose within the organization. Aside from a pay cheque, personal purpose is the other motivating factor that pushes us out of bed each day. The distance between just surviving through our work and thriving in it is located in the dimensions of our personal purpose. And real, soul changing purpose is in most cases connected to the action of service to something or someone above and beyond ourselves. According to, an organization dedicated to the science of positive psychology for the last 15 years, when we give, there’s a positive psychological response internally. We get a boost of ‘feel good’ endorphins-the same ones associated with runners high. Oxytocin floods our body, lowering our stress and making us feel more connected to others. Our brain’s pleasure centers light up as if we were the recipient of the good deed, when in reality we were the giver. Within any given organization, there are opportunities to serve in different capacities. Some are clear, like volunteering your time for community work your company is already involved in. Or you may have to step up and lead company initiatives yourself. On a smaller scale you might choose to offer your time to train new employees on the systems and culture of the company. Ultimately seeing your daily job function as an act of service to others rather than just an act of work can dramatically change the way you see your work.

While it can be challenging to do, you need to be honest about the need your job is meeting in your life right now. Let me be clear: There’s no shame in keeping a job that wasn’t your first choice for a period of time in order to provide for yourself and your family and keep the lights on. When we’re honest with ourselves about the need for the role currently, it frees us up to uncover creative and purposeful fulfilment in other areas of our lives. Certain elements of your job may be overly dry and not too exciting, but it happens to be located 15 mins from home. Minimal commute time is time that can be used for other passions in life. From a financial perspective, your current salary and benefits compensation might not only help your family, but give you the extra capital needed to make an entrepreneurial move in the near future. Shark Tank mainstay Daymond John famously lived by this principle by keeping his job at Red Lobster while he built his first multimillion dollar business on the side. Not only did he provide for himself and save capital to start his venture, he also took several business principles he learned from the way Red Lobster operated their business on a financial level. In short: when you can be honest with yourself on the current benefits of your job, it makes it easier to contend with some of the more mundane moments of daily work.

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Finally, do some homework and research stories about others who have either endured a long road to professional fulfilment or surprised themselves by thriving in a role they never thought they would. It would be crazy to assume that the people who feel the most fulfilled travelled a perfectly liner road to professional success. But we buy into that very idea in our social media culture that’s saturated with perfectionism content (To a degree, we’re all a little guilty of fueling this online). Deep down we all know that’s not reality, but we align our beliefs with the images and ideals we see the most. That’s why we must be diligent and intentional about finding and reading about what others endured over the the long journey to professional happiness.

The story of Jo Green exemplifies this. Currently in his 4th career, he’s worked in relocation, market research, fundraising for charities, and now is (naturally) a career change coach. “I felt like a square peg in a round hole in my previous roles and realized that I needed to take some time to understand more about myself, my interests, motivation and skills before moving into my next role. [Through the process] I realized I learned a lot through changing careers. I’m really interested in psychology and what makes people tick, and that I’d love to help other people to have a less stressful time than I did in finding meaningful work (quote from“ When you uncover more stories like Jo’s, not only will you be inspired, but you’ll begin to realize there’s value in what you’re experiencing at your job right now. 

All the points above work best when founded on the principle of building relationships at work. Psychologically speaking we are wired for human connection. And the right type of relationships with our managers and coworkers can make even the most not so ideal career situations seem like the best job we’ve ever had. In his book The Accidental Creative, Todd Henry devotes an entire chapter to the concept of relationships. “Investing in healthy , thriving relationships yields long-term benefits for everyone involved and can be especially beneficial in allowing you to see the world from a new perspective , exposing you to unexpected creative insights and helping you stay inspired.” Its a two-fold benefit. Relationships at work give us the human social connection we need daily for personal mental well-ness and they can open doors to career opportunities we would never be aware of or think about. 

Thriving where we are right now is best initiated outside of isolation, and connecting with those we work with daily. This will then lead us to: Connect the dots between our passion and our present, Unlock a personal deeper purpose within the organization, Be honest about the need our current job is meeting in our life right now and Research stories about others who have either endured a long road to professional fulfilment. 

You got this! Jump in and begin to thrive where you are right now!

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