Dear Penelope,
I am the new syndicated columnist for Careers Now from Tronc (Chicago Tribune and LA Times online content agency). I found your website and would like to get your input on a question that I have to answer for my next installment of the column. The only catch is that I will need your input by the end of the day this Friday. The answer doesn’t have to be long–I only have room for about 300-400 words

THE QUESTION:

How do I go about making a career change from corporate America to something meaningful?

–Kathleen Furor

18 replies
  1. Penelope Trunk
    Penelope Trunk says:

    Dear Kathleen,
    People don’t get paid to do things that are meaningful. It’s troubling that someone would need to get paid to do things that are meaningful when those tasks afford you an intrinsic reward. And why would anyone spend their time at jobs that are not meaningful if they could get paid to do things that are meaningful?

    People who think there are jobs that are meaningful misunderstand the jobs they are seeing. At at a nonprofit you get paid to do the work that no volunteer will do — because it’s a pain. And in companies that seem to do meaningful things, there are almost 100% jobs that are focused on money. That’s why it’s a company. And people who are saving the world now took huge risks earlier in their career that had nothing to do with saving the world.

    Here’s one example of how the world works: Doctors Without Borders has volunteers who risk their lives, and there are paid staff who spend their days raising money. Raising money means playing golf with people you don’t like and telling people who have terrible clothes that you love their clothes.

    If you want to do something meaningful then you have to do it on your own time. If you need to be paid to do something that’s intrinsically meaningful then you have a problem.

    Penelope

    • Carmen
      Carmen says:

      Penelope, she’s asking you how do you transition out of a job that is killing you mentally and, ultimately, physically, into something that feels more worth that sacrifice.

      That’s what everyone wants to know. That’s why I called you all those years back. We’re still waiting for that answer.

      I’d be happy to be your question interpreter for free. You would be more effective with that help.

  2. Victoria
    Victoria says:

    This woman did not ask if her choice was worthy in your eyes. She asked how to change careers. Speaking as an INFJ working in the nonprofit sector, any job has bad days, but I find the bad days less crushing knowing my work is contributing to something meaningful that will help someone, somehow (which many businesses do too, by the way). Someone with writing skills can use that in the corporate world, or apply those same skills in nonprofits in communications, marketing, or grantwriting (fundraising is broader than golf!). Someone with data analysis skills can use that skill to drive profit, or use the same skill to find crime prevention strategies, or track ways to eradicate lead poisoning. Look at what transferrable skills you have, do some volunteer work, take a workshop at your community’s Nonprofit Center, and apply for positions. (Or apply at a meaningful corporation.)

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      The only people who ask about changing careers to do something more meaningful are INFJs. Other people think it makes sense that we get paid to do things we wouldn’t do for free. And INFJs are never happy in their jobs because no job is consistent with an INFJs values.

      If I look at a resume and someone has a string of management jobs and they do not like their career, I know it’s an INFJ. Everyone else who is in management likes their career, because the other personality types that end up in management are people who generally like what the work world has to offer. INFJs always think the work world should offer more. So they are unhappy.

      There are no other F’s who think they should get fulfillment from work. There are no other F’s who think the amount of money they earn is a reflection of how much people respect them. So you can tell an INFJ immediately because they want a lot from work but they want meaning as well. Everyone else who wants meaning does not care that much about work.

      Penelope

      • Victoria
        Victoria says:

        That’s why I identified myself as INFJ, because I knew I was being very INFJ in my response. I don’t dispute your analysis of our outlook and, like others, I’ve learned from you. So what? Maybe the original question asker is INFJ. My response says, essentially, “Even when I’m unhappy, the unhappiness is mitigated by the meaning I find in my work.” Maybe you don’t find the work meaningful. Maybe you don’t find value in the meaning. But I was speaking for myself.

  3. CS
    CS says:

    Actually, Kathleen Furor already has the answer to her reader’s question. She’s having Penelope to do her own job for free so she can pursue other meaningful activities while still getting paid. I wonder if she outsources all the answers for her column. If so, she’s a genius!

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      All reporters outsource research. Sometimes reporters send emails directly to an expert. Sometimes reporters put out a mass email to a place like profnet. A lot of times publicists answer questions from reporters, in order to get the publicist’s client in the news. You’d be surprised how much of every newspaper has been written by publicists. I used to answer tons of these questions when I was promoting my startup. For years — always a new startup. Now I don’t need to be quoted in newspapers in order to have a good career, so I don’t feel the need to be useful.

      Penelope

  4. Blandy Fisher
    Blandy Fisher says:

    There is also a difference between doing something that isn’t particularly meaningful to you but it is valued, and not having your work valued. I liked my corporate job, but after two large projects were thrown in the trash (18 months of work) because one was caught in a political fight and the other was designed to fail, I quit. I’ll work for money but my work needs to have some value, somewhere.

  5. Julie
    Julie says:

    There’s meaningful work and there are ways to find meaning in your work. Intrinsic meaning, extrinsic meaning.
    Sometimes people do get paid for meaningful work. Somebody has to value it or you won’t get paid.

    If meaning is a meaningful question, though, carve out an evening or two for 80000hours.org – and the journalist who wrote to you should, too. It’s a lot faster than reading dozens of books. Here’s a starting point. https://80000hours.org/career-guide/ Everything can be read online without signing up.

    Here are four approaches to “how” – earning to give, advocacy, research, and direct work. https://80000hours.org/career-guide/high-impact-jobs/

    They have guides for “what” – as in what world problems to work on – too. As well as what job satisfaction looks like, and why it’s worth doing things where you can be top 10%.

  6. Penelope Trunk
    Penelope Trunk says:

    I’m torn here, because I’m so happy to see Pirate Jo again — I don’t think I’ve seen you comment for a while. But also, I can’t stand Mr. Money Mustache.

    He is so full of shit I don’t even know where to start. He says he is retired and he is a master of being rich and not working hard and blah blah. He is dumpster-diving Tim Ferriss. But worse than that, Mr Money Mustache has pretty much an identical business model to me. Except he has a wife and only one kid. So it’s pretty easy for me to see how much work he does to show you he’s living the great life, and he’s doing a shit ton of work.

    Additionally, he’s constantly justifying not providing his kid with wide opportunities (read: somethign that costs money to do) because Mr Money Mustache wants to have a lot of money.

    Which brings me to the core of why I hate him: he writes all about money. His whole goal is having money. There is no reason he has to stockpile money to have the life he wants. He just uses it to keep score. And what he sells is the idea that money is for keeping score and you can be a sneaky pants and win even though your job doesn’t pay a big salary.

    Blech. So dishonest. I am always surprised when he comes up in comments. (Maybe once or twice a year).

    Okay. End of rant.

    Penelope

    • Minami
      Minami says:

      I wonder if Money Mustache is an INTJ. “There is no reason he has to stockpile money to have the life he wants. He just uses it to keep score.” – This reminds me of something Melissa said in one of your webinars, that as an INTJ she likes to make and save money not for any particular reason, she just wants to have it in her account “just to look at it”. I think stockpiling money in their caves like dragons made of Microsoft Excel spreadsheets is just an INTJ hobby.

      Also, “dumpster-diving Tim Ferriss” is maybe my favorite description of anyone I’ve heard all week.

      • May
        May says:

        To INTJ, money is a cushion against their otherwise costly personalities and the freedom to throw it at things they think are entertaining to them without worrying about if they can afford food. Then they can “work” on whatever interesting thing they want without it having to pay well (but in the end it does? that’s the thing about having money, once you have zero stress from it, it flows in even faster).

        It also sounds like his son may be on the spectrum and I’m not sure what “wide opportunities” Penelope thinks he’s holding his son back from since it appears his son is learning a lot and has a generous spirit on top of it.

        Everything in this post is hilarious or interesting to me and pretty.. .. I wanna say INTJ (that he echoes a lot of Penelope’s sentiments yet is more organized is also nice):
        http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/2015/05/20/what-im-teaching-my-son-about-money/

        Look! Even a spreadsheet appears UNDER ITS OWN HEADING! Truly the INTJ’s animal avatar so it will be no wonder that he attracts a lot of INTJ followers.

        • jessica
          jessica says:

          Wait, I clicked that link. He has a spreadsheet for his 9 year olds’ allowance and interest? He wants to manage his kids’ petty pocket cash?
          He is competitively stockpiling his son’s corner store cash so his son can pay his own college education, while justifying his son’s potential future by saying his son won’t have to compete for elite money status because he will already be elite due to his dad’s philosophy/money hoarding/system/higher level thinking about money/potentially inherited assets (he values lots of assets). Talk about pressure he is putting on the kid. He doesn’t need to do any of that.

          Then he goes onto some rant that life is not a competition. That you don’t learn about life and hard work until after you have X millions.
          His behavior contradicts his own projected ideals in that post.

          There are many families that have so much money their offspring do not need to work. They have teams of financial investment managers working for them. Private office. I imagine this is where this man wants to end up. I think he’d be surprised to find that regardless of large wealth those offspring do work and aren’t hobby dabblers. The advantages they do have IS elite education (which he seems to disdain), elite social circles (which lends to the best deals), and family that doesn’t expect their offspring to reinvent the wheel (as he does his son). He’s heading in this direction. Eventually he will change his tune unless he is limited in his thinking, which is writing currently projects.

    • Pirate Jo
      Pirate Jo says:

      This blog about early retirement is one I like better:

      https://livingafi.com/sample-page/

      This guy seems like he is writing from inside my own head – my experiences with work have been very similar to his.

      Sorry kids, but for the most part work just sucks. That’s why we get paid to do it. Only 11% of people enjoy their work, and I’ll best most of the people in that group don’t earn much money – they are probably being bankrolled by a family member.

      If you enjoy your work and earn enough to live on doing it, you are a rare bird. Most people either hate work or merely tolerate it. This is not a reflection upon all those people – it’s a reflection upon work. Your best course of action is to get out as soon as you can.

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