During my 40-year career teaching college, I regularly encounter students who believe in, and are searching anxiously, for that perfect job and career.
When it comes to careers and romantic relationships, we appear to hold to a singular myth: We believe that there is that one perfect job/career or that there is one “right” person who will lead to a “happily ever after.” However, in both cases, this is a myth.
Oftentimes, we think we are in the perfect job, or perfect relationship, only to find out that it wasn’t what we had expected, and we move on, still searching for the perfect result. In the end, many of us are never satisfied.
In many cases, we have it backward. Rather than looking for perfection in a job (or a relationship) we need to explore opportunities of different kinds first, and then see how it plays out.
Why do it this way?
When it comes to sizing up potential jobs (or partners) there are systematic biases and errors in perception that come into play. In both jobs and romantic relationships, we are influenced by how we process information and this affects how we view particular jobs and our entire careers.
Snap judgments. We are biased by our first impressions. We tend to make overall judgments of an experience, a person, or a job based on very little information. So, a new job has an initial appeal, but it is based on little information (it seems great, so we take the job). If we learn something very negative about a prospective job — for example, that we have to work in a cramped, windowless cubicle — this can color our entire view of the job and we might turn it down.
Confirmation Bias. Once we’ve made up our minds based on our snap judgment, we tend to search for information that is consistent with our initial impression and discount contrary evidence. So, if we are unhappy with a job initially, we are inclined to confirm that the job wasn’t all that great and look for other negatives associated with it.
The Grass Is Greener Phenomenon. I worked a job for several summers and an employee there was always talking about how much better a competitor company treated its employees. So, he left to work there. The next summer he was back at the old company, realizing that his impression was wrong (he actually left again for a different company, but returned for the third time!). If we give in to this “grass is greener” attitude, we will never feel satisfied, nor will we be motivated to make things better in our current job.
What’s the alternative?
Take control! Try to make your current job work for you. What would need to change for it to be better? How can you make those needed changes? If there is no flexibility to improve things, then it is time to move on, but only after you’ve tried to make it better and failed.
Weigh costs/benefits. Rather than taking a job based on limited information (and being victimized by perception biases), take an objective approach and do a cost-benefit analysis. What are the positives and the negatives, and can you change those negatives?
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