How to Know if You Have the “Right” Job in Your 20s

It might seem silly to think about whether or not you’re in the “right” or “wrong” job. I mean, hey, when we’re unhappy at work, we know it. Yet, if you’re in your 20s, there will probably be times when you’ll be unhappy with your current company or position but still be in the “right” job. Huh? Let me explain.

First let’s backtrack a bit and talk about how you “know you’re in the right job.” If you Google the phrase “how to know if I have the right job,” there are lots of good lists out there that can help you discover the signs of being happy or unhappy at your present position. Here are some that I found.

You know you’re in the right job because:

  • You don’t get anxious or depressed on Sunday nights
  • You don’t mind putting in extra effort and want to perform well for your company
  • You can afford the things you want
  • You agree with the values/beliefs of your company
  • You would recommend your company to a friend
  • You rarely get sick or feel tired at work

If you agree with these statements then most likely you’re pretty happy at work, which is great. These are always good things to keep in mind when you’re evaluating your job. But what if you disagreed with every one of these statements?

Well then I would ask you, are you in your 20s? And if you say, yes, I would say, “wait a minute – you need a different list.”

The twenty-something years are a very unique time in a person’s life and twenty-somethings need to evaluate what is the right or wrong job for them a bit differently than someone older and father along in their career.

These years are a transitional time and your career path is not always going to be lined with jobs or companies that you absolutely love and see yourself working at for the next 30 years.

The twenty-something years are about figuring out who you are and what you want. It’s about determining what you like and what you don’t like. It’s a time to gain experience, fall down (a lot) and ultimately learn valuable career lessons.

So if you are currently in your 20s and you look at this list above and you realize that you’re feeling pretty anxious every Sunday night or you can’t always afford the things you want, then it doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to up and quit your job.

Since these are transitional years, twenty-somethings need to focus on the experience they’re gaining, what they’re learning about themselves and ultimately how will that help them in the future.

Twenty-somethings need to be focusing on developing skills or a set of skills that are “so good they can’t ignore you” according to Cal Newport from his book of the same name, “So Good They Can’t Ignore You.”

Newport discovered from his research that, “motivation in the workplace or elsewhere, requires that you fulfill three basic psychological needs-factors: 1) autonomy – the feeling that you have control over your day, and that your actions are important 2) competence – the feeling that you are good at what you do and 3) relatedness – the feeling of connection to other people.”

In order to achieve the first two things: autonomy and competence, you have to gain experience and determine what you like and don’t like. Then once you find the things you like, you then have to do them over and over again… a lot.

I think Newport says it best so I’ll just quote him, “if you want a great job you need something of great value to offer in return. The key is to force yourself through the work, force the skills to come; that’s the hardest phase. You need to develop skills that are too valuable to be ignored.”

As a twenty-something just starting out in your career, there will be many times when you’ll have to take a job or stay at a job, even though you don’t love it, because it’s giving you that valuable experience you need.

The job you’re in now may be low-paying and high-stress, and that’s okay. If you are getting volumes of experience learning a skill that will help you achieve autonomy and develop competence, then you need to rethink your attitude about the job.

Rather than focusing on this as the “forever” job for you, ask yourself, “what am I learning right now that will help me in the future?” You may find that you don’t love your current job but it may be the “right” job for you “right” now.

How to know if you're in the right career when you're in your twenties.


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