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What To Do With My Life?  This is the feared question–poking at the backs of our brains, causing lost sleep, nibbled nails, much contemplation, option-weighing and stressing…

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And it’s a question that is rarely answered, because it’s an unfair question to ask ourselves. It’s far too broad, as it assumes that we can know the future.  It assumes that satisfaction in life comes from finding the “dream job,” and once we find this mythical creature, our search for meaning and happiness will be fulfilled once and for all.

In reality, there are no dream jobs. Well, let me step back and clarify: there are no perfect jobs. Those who’d call their job a “dream job” create their sense of satisfaction for themselves, as opposed to searching passively for a perfect fit. Every job has its drawbacks and annoyances, yet every job also has potential to be satisfying. It’s all about how you look at it.

So, how do we find a rewarding, challenging, fulfilling job when this daunting question seems so large and unanswerable?

Ask a new question: What can I do today that satisfies my needs and desires?

Claremount Graduate University psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi introduces a new term to the discussion, “flow,” to describe the phenomenon of people losing themselves in the moment while doing activities they enjoy:

People in flow may be sewing up a storm, doing brain surgery, playing a musical instrument or working a hard puzzle with their child. The impact is the same: A life of many activities in flow is likely to be a life of great satisfaction, Csikszentmihalyi says. And you don’t have to be a hotshot to get there.

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Ostensibly, flow happens during any activity, the key being that it allows us to turn off the brain and exist within the moment. We can all think of examples in lives that demonstrate “flow.” Whether it’s cooking, cleaning, writing reports or doing roadside construction, we’ve all had the experience of being so immersed in a task that we’d lost track of time, or suddenly realized that we hadn’t given a second thought to daily life stresses. Applying this concept to the “dream job” question offers a few insights:

Refocusing your search to the small, seemingly “inconsequential” tasks that you enjoy will reap big rewards. When flow kicks in, we don’t worry over what the future holds or how we compare to the next guy. Instead, we focus on the task at hand and are rewarded by the immediacy of the experience. In this way, you should pursue jobs that emphasize actions that you tend to get lost in. Be it art, business, education or horseshoeing, don’t be afraid to chase after the things that allow you to lose track of the time.

If you’re in the career you love, but have experienced feelings of disillusionment or boredom, remember: any job has aspects that you can make your own. If you are a salesperson, make a point to become as invested in your customers as you can be. If you are a computer programmer, do everything in your power to make the most efficient, elegant program. Whatever it is, don’t let boredom or routine distract you from the great gift you have.

If you are unemployed now, don’t let perceived “failures” to land a job detract from the other great opportunities life offers. You are just as capable as any other person to experience life’s beauty. Keep looking for work, and don’t let rejection take hold of your principles. At the same time, use the time you have to get lost in other great tasks. This can be difficult, I know. It is hard to enjoy things in the moment when you constantly worry about making payments or supporting a family. Even so, if you keep trying and putting forth your best self, chances are you’ll land back on your feet eventually.  And when you are, you’ll look back on your time of unemployment as a time of reflection and re-positioning. And you’ll be better because of it.

Remember: life isn’t tomorrow, it’s right now. Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert agrees, stating: “If you knew exactly what the future held, you still wouldn’t know how much you would like it when you got there.” Thus, live in flow today!

USA Today. “Psychologists now know what makes people happy.” Last modified December 10, 2002. Accessed October 9, 2012. http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/health/2002-12-8-happy-main_x.htm
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