Refuse To Settle For Mediocrity

A few years ago, every time his alarm went off in the morning, Adam Smiley Poswolsky would feel a pain shoot up and down his back that he eventually nicknamed his “Morning Edition.”

That’s because it coincided with NPR’s “Morning Edition” broadcast. Unlike the effect of the golden-voiced public radio broadcasters, though, Poswolsky’s version would nag at him as he tied his tie, left the house and rode the bus to work. He’d feel it on the elevator ride in his office building, during meetings and whenever his Blackberry would buzz after getting an email outside of office hours.

Annoying as it was, the emotional pain was worse. Turns out, he was one of the millions of millennials with jobs that look perfect on paper but still leave that nagging feeling in their souls.

You know the one.

“There’s got to be more than this.”

Poswolsky was working at the Peace Corps headquarters in Washington D.C. as special assistant to the director of global operations. He eventually got promoted to program specialist. In a new book he’s published about his passion for finding meaningful work and helping others to do the same, he writes, “I got to sit in on senior staff meetings, draft important memos and sometimes write remarks for the director of the Peace Corps. Once, I traveled to Botswana and worked with the Secret Service to help plan Michelle Obama’s visit with Peace Corps volunteers.”

The job had everything. It paid well. It had great benefits. His co-workers were happy with him.

But it didn’t have the most important thing: a meaningful sense of accomplishment.

It’s not an unreasonable aspiration. A recent study of college students commissioned by McGraw-Hill Education titled “The Grad Gap: College Millennials’ Career Aspirations and Readiness,” found that about 70 percent of college students consider it important to find a job that lets them do what they love. And only 20 percent are insistent that the job pays well.

With all this in mind, Poswolsky has been on a mission for more than a year to spur more people to reconsider “settling” and to pursue whatever they’re passionate about. His book “The Quarter-Life Breakthrough” has been an Amazon best-seller, and he contributed an op-ed earlier this month to The Washington Post on the same topic.

“Two years ago I was stuck in job I hated but everyone else around me seemed to admire,” he says. “I wrote this book to prove it's okay to want something different than you did two years ago. It's okay to leave a job everyone else thinks is awesome, and it's okay not to know exactly what it is you want at the age of 22, or 25 or 30 or at any point. I wrote the book I wish I had during my own quarter-life crisis.”

Among the things he’s busied himself with since embarking on his journey toward meaningful work:

He mentored at Dell’s Summer Social Innovation Lab. He’s directed a leadership development program for young professionals called The Bold Academy. He interviewed more than 100 millennials, listening to their stories of similar frustration and professional emptiness.

And he wrote his book, of course, to show there’s another path.

“I think the key to pursuing a fulfilling life that matters is aligning your work with your purpose,” he says. “As many as 70 percent of Americans are disengaged with their work. People reach their potential when they find work that makes them come alive and allows them to make a positive difference in the world. To find alignment, try to find a job or opportunity that allows you to share your unique gifts, make the impact you want to have on the world, and life your desired quality of life.”

His work, in a way, harkens back to Steve Job’s famous commencement speech at Stanford in 2005. There’s a part in the speech where the Apple co-founder talked about a philosophy similar to Poswolsky’s:

“Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it.”

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