In 2009, I moved from Canberra (possibly the dullest capital city on earth) to Sydney. Sydney was the polar opposite of Canberra. It has a vibrant, exciting and cosmopolitan culture, with a never-ending amount of sights to see and things to do. I was really excited about starting my new life in Sydney.
I arrived to a new role in recruitment. Within only days, I realised that it was not a job for me, so I started to furiously send out applications for other job opportunities. I applied for jobs where I had experience and could perform confidently.
After a couple of weeks, I secured an interview for a role in payroll. Unlike most interviews I had attended, I found that I was not particularly motivated prior to the meeting and had undertaken almost zero preparation.
The interview got underway and I started to answer the questions but again, I was struggling. I didn’t have that nervous energy that I almost always have in interviews. My answers were satisfactory but flat.
After 20 minutes, it seemed the interviewer was sensing that, while I was responding reasonably well, I just wasn’t into it. He paused, then asked ‘Why did you apply for this role?’. I normally have a formulated response that demonstrates my interest in the role, the opportunities it provides, how it utilises my skills…blah, blah, all that sort of stuff. This time, I hesitated, then blurted out ‘I need a new job and I have experience in payroll work’.
After such a response, I am surprised I wasn’t escorted out the door with a kick up the ass for wasting his time. However, he reflected for a moment and said ‘What sort of work do you want to do?’. I looked back with blank eyes and said ‘I don’t know’. Was that important??
His next comment was simple advice but completely changed the way I have looked at work from then on. ‘Look at your CV and every job you have ever done. Work out what is the one thing about every job that you enjoyed. Find that and follow it.’
I left the interview feeling confused. I had always applied for jobs where I had the experience and capabilities that met the advertised role. I had never applied for a job where the main criteria was, do what you enjoy.
That night, I reviewed my CV, which had developed into the size of a small phone book with the number of jobs I had accumulated. I looked at every job. What did I enjoy about each job. It didn’t actually take long for me to realise that what I enjoyed was providing customer service. Customer service where I genuinely helped people with no benefit to me to be exact.
I started my job search with a new purpose. I sought out jobs where I could help people. Roles were somewhat limited as a lot of customer service roles had a sales component that didn’t appeal to me. However, I did eventually find one role that provided services to people with dust diseases (I will explain this another day). I was excited! This was the feeling I wanted. I researched the role, the company, the relevant diseases and drafted up an application for the role and sent it off to the company.
Shortly after, I was made redundant from my job at the recruitment company. After a couple of hours of feeling miserable as I hadn’t lost a job since I was 15, I felt great! The job was unhealthy for me and I could now focus on looking for a positive job. I had a few thousand dollars saved and could access unemployment benefits, so I calculated I could survive a few months without finding myself out on the street.
I picked up a couple of casual hours of work here and there over the next few weeks until I received a call asking me in for an interview for the dust diseases job. Over the next week, I started furiously studying everything I could and creating hypothetical questions they may ask.
The interview day came. What a difference from the payroll job. I was excited, confident and enthusiastic. I answered each questions with detail and great examples. When they asked me the same question about why I applied for the job, I responded with an answer that was honest. The short message being, I wanted to help people. I walked out confident I had the job. Luckily I didn’t know at the time that 160 people had applied for the job or my confidence may have wavered.
Over the following weeks (and months it turned out), I barely even looked at other jobs. I was so sure I had secured the dust diseases job and just had to wait. I waited so long that my unemployment benefits were going to be withdrawn but I was barely concerned. I would get the job.
And I did. My first pay arrived literally days before I was totally broke.
I loved the job. Every day I coordinated services for people with terminal diseases to provide quality of life up to their death. Depressing for some, rewarding for me. I stayed with the role for 5 years and other than management going in a new direction with the role, I would still be there today.
The pay wasn’t great to be honest but I was doing what I enjoyed. I didn’t struggle to get out of bed to work each day. I worked hard every day but rarely felt drained. I usually left for the day thinking about how many people I could help the next day and how I could do my job better.
That advice I received (from an unlikely source) has led me in the roles I seek out now. Do what you enjoy. Money is necessary but surely being happy about what you are doing is at least as important.