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Career Passion Requires Foreplay

By Marty Nemko

Few people expect to have an orgasm just by looking at someone. They know that foreplay is required. Yet career seekers somehow expect that, immediately upon considering an appropriate career, they’ll feel “Eureka, I have found it”: “Oh, dentist. That’s it.! Perfect! I know I’ll love it.”

For most people who end up passionate about their career, that’s not how it works. As with sex, foreplay is usually required before passion erupts.

Here are the four steps in career foreplay:

Step 1: Choose a career. After a reasonable amount of career exploration, choose something, even if you’re not passionate about it.

Step 2: Become expert at the career. Get solid training. That doesn’t necessarily require a prestigious university. In fact, many less prestigious institutions provide more practical career training.

More important to your training is that you make the most of the program: choosing courses and professors most likely to teach practical skills, asking career-related questions in class and during professors’ office hours, selecting term paper topics most likely to make you proficient, and choosing fieldwork and internship assignments with master practitioners.

Becoming expert usually also requires on-the job training: asking a good supervisor or coworkers to observe or review your work and answer your questions, attending workshops from your professional association, reading professional magazines, Web articles, and books written by master practitioners.

Step 3: Customize the career to fit you. A career is like an off-the-shelf suit: it won’t fit well unless you tailor it. So, for example, let’s say you’re a manager in a dashboard manufacturing plant. If you’re naturally good with your hands, try to spend as much time as possible fixing problems on the factory floor. If you’re more of a people person, maximize the time you spend on helping your employees to be productive. If you love investigation, spend time researching new ideas. If you’re more of a word person, focus on writing and verbally presenting plans and reports. If you’re more entrepreneurial, work on creating collaborations across divisions or with other firms. If you’re more of a detail person, focus on creating and evaluating budgets, surveys, and other quantitative data.

Step 4: Find people who value what you do. After you’ve become expert at your career and tailored it to maximize your strengths and preferences, your current employer and customers will probably praise you and pay you well. If not, find another employer who will, or become self-employed.

After the four steps of career foreplay, many people can expect to experience career passion, even in a field as unsexy as dashboard manufacture.

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