What’s a job? A job is a set of problems. Problems need to be interesting and vital both to the survival of the company and the survival of the individual attempting to solve the problems. Otherwise, no one’s going to solve the problems. The modern job is a modern continuation of what our ancestors did for centuries: solve problems.
Okay, so if problems are interesting to us, then why do people get bored of their jobs? Why do people get bored of solving problems?
One reason is that they’ve solved all the problems. The only problem left at that point is to avoid going insane trying to solve problems they already know the answers to. This is the grocery clerk who knows the PLU of every item in the store. This is the barista whose made every variation of every item on the menu for every customer. Arriving at this point brings about the ‘same old, same old’ attitude we hear from people who say they’re stuck.
Another reason people get bored of their jobs is that they stop looking for problems to solve. They adopt a defeatist attitude, throw up their hands to pronounce, “this is all there is to life. This is all I’ll ever amount to.” Or, they might be good enough at their job that becoming a manager – a manager of managers – is highly likely. They may be good at talking to customers. They may show up on time, all the time. They may be really good employees, but to them, climbing the corporate ladder is the same as climbing Mt. Everest without an air supply. This is the grocery clerk who, for whatever reason, keeps trying to solve grocery store problems although they know – deep down inside – that they’re capable of solving different problems. Better problems. Better not for the sake of humanity – because that’s unfair to jobs that do need to be solved (getting food to people) – but better for them.
Is it selfish to go after your dream problems? No. Everyone has a right to find their dream problems. But it is selfish to think that your dream job is ‘above’ being a grocery clerk or a barista. You’re not ‘above’ a minimum wage worker just because you’re working in AI or digital marketing or being an influencer. Working with the public is more emotionally draining – more existentially draining – than being a knowledge worker. There are virtually zero dopamine hits in minimum wage work compared to the work of an influencer who gets to post stuff online to the praise of thousands of people everyday.
The result of a job, I think, should be to make a positive impact on as many people as possible. So if your intention is to make a positive impact on as many people as possible, then of course you shouldn’t limit yourself to a job that’s limiting you. Though it isn’t necessarily the job’s fault. Starbucks or In’N’Out Burger or wherever you work isn’t designed to keep your potential locked away. If you wake up with a nagging sense of, “oh my God I’m about to waste another day of my life,” it’s your narrow values, your limiting beliefs that are locking your potential in a maximum security prison.
So don’t go setting yourself up for disappointment, thinking your dream job will be all roses and daisies. Sure, it’s exhilarating to solve interesting problems everyday. But again, the key word here is problem. Jobs are problems.
So how do you find your dream problem?
You build a skillset that allows you to solve problems that are interesting to you. Problems that only you can solve. This is the antidote to the ‘same old, same old’ attitude. This is the antidote to the nagging sense that you’re wasting your life.
You build this skillset by practicing. Because it isn’t enough to say to the universe, I WANT MY DREAM PROBLEM! The universe doesn’t care until you prove to the universe that you’ve earned the right to work on those problems. You can’t be all talk and no show. You need to show the world that you’re responsible, reliable, ethical, capable – able to do the damn work you keep dreaming of doing as you drive home from work every Thursday evening. You need to put in the work. Not by writing up a resume full of buzzwords. You put in the work by putting in the work.
A job is a set of problems. Interesting jobs are made out of interesting problems.
Interesting problems make for an interesting life.