Day-to-day experiences during the pandemic were very similar for workers in the knowledge economy — and very boring. Many people took to Twitter to share their “quarantine routines” with unabashed honesty. One of my favorite tweets listed a schedule of what one worker did with her computer at different times of the day: eat lunch, hang out, go to sleep, etc. Another offered a simple one-step path to success: Stare at your phone from 9 a.m. to 2 a.m.
Those two employees could have had very different jobs with very different titles, but both of their days looked remarkably similar (i.e., lots of screen time and not much else). Unsurprisingly, people have had enough, and labor shortages now threaten almost every industry. CNN recently reported that a record 4 million people quit their jobs in April 2021. Despite the economic uncertainty of a (somewhat) post-pandemic world, people are no longer willing to work a conventional 9-to-5 job.
What Sparks Joy?
A modern career is an intersection of what you like to do, what you’re good at, and what the marketplace values. You might be fantastic at painting ponies (like my 5-year-old daughter), but that can’t pay the bills. You have to strike a balance between all three areas to make your career sustainable.
Can a 9-to-5 job check all the right boxes? Sure, but it doesn’t happen by default. That’s why some people prefer to leave conventional jobs behind. If your current job doesn’t bring you joy, you might need to pursue a different path.
To be clear, there’s a difference between joy and happiness. Happiness is how you feel when doing something (like when eating ice cream), and joy is what you feel after an activity is done (like after working out). Your career should ultimately be based on a skill set that brings you joy. Perhaps being a marketing manager makes you happy, but helping and coaching others brings you joy.
Unconventional Is OK
It wasn’t too long ago that I paid Sarah Cooper the standard market rate to write our brand a blog post. Now she has a Netflix special and doesn’t text me back for three days. Sarah’s side hustle blogging on The Cooper Review turned into a meteoric career that fits her skill set and aspirations. Meanwhile, some people with similar abilities might find joy working for Yahoo or BuzzFeed.
Even if you’re sure you want to try something else, it can be difficult to break the status quo and leave your 9-to-5 job. Just remember that there are advantages to pursuing an unconventional career path:
1. Maximize your strengths.
At a traditional job, you’ll likely need to do what you’re told — even if it’s not part of your skill set. But if you pick an unconventional career, you can focus entirely on your strengths. The key is taking your hobby and making it public.
Personally, I’m good at putting words to paper. If I were to journal, I wouldn’t make much money because I’m the only one using my work. But if I were to start writing posts on social media, I would be able to capitalize on that strength.
2. Work from wherever.
About 50% of Americans were working remotely during the height of the pandemic, and most want to continue doing so at least part of the time. Unfortunately, not all companies are instituting permanent remote workforce policies like Dropbox and Twitter. Most organizations want to “return to normal” as quickly as possible. When you ditch your 9-to-5 job, you can also say goodbye to offices and long commutes.
3. Gain career mobility.
Between the ages of 18 and 52, the average person will change jobs 12 times. Job titles and positions aren’t transferable, but nontraditional career paths teach transferable skills that are applicable no matter what you’re doing. By managing sales representatives, for example, I’ve learned how to be a leader. I can take that skill with me whether I pivot to a new career tomorrow or in 20 years.
Generally, people take 9-to-5 jobs to fill a need. Whether they want money, security, respect, or responsibility, employees take what they need and end up compromising their joy, work-life integration, time, and so many other things. Pursuing an unconventional career is a better fit for individuals who are looking for something different.