Your dream job — and the curse of competency

By Scot Herrick | Job Search

Oct 18

Dream jobs are the holy grail of work. Find one and you experience the nirvana of the work world. Pundits, including this one, will tell you to determine what you love to do at work, build your job skills to match up with your dream job, and work to find the people to connect you to your dream job.

But there is this dirty little secret…well, maybe it isn’t so secret. Maybe, instead, it is why so many people don’t believe they can get their dream job. That no matter what they do and no matter how much they desire and plan and work to get their dream job, the dream job just won’t happen.

Why? The curse of competency.

We’re very good at what we do, like it or not

Most of us started off in a job because it was offered to us. Hopefully, out of college or out of work, the job offered got close to what we like to do. But the truth of the matter is that many, if not most, jobs in companies today have to do with products we have no interest in. Think about it. How many people graduated from college with a management degree and thought their dream job was doing actuarial work for some insurance company? Or graduated thinking that derivatives were the cool thing to do in finance?

Passion for derivatives? Passion in working with actuarial tables? Naw. It is a job to do and we do it because it was offered to us.

Then, we get really good at it because we want to do well. We get very competent at the very job that we landed — but didn’t love.

We develop great skill sets at what we do, like it or not

In order to get good, we develop great skills at our work. We get really good at doing the thing we do, whether we like it or not. After all, you need to excel at your work to show how your work adds value to the company. You want to do well because you are always told that you need to be in the top percentage of workers to hold on to the job. You get really good, even if you don’t love what you do.

We get a business network that supports what we do, like it or not

When we work well and promote our career, we seek out like minded people to connect with. We join professional organizations to learn more about our work and be with other people because we are told those people will help us stay employed by knowing what openings are happening in our area of work. We network with the people that can add to our competency, even if we don’t like what we do.

What’s the answer?

We get really good at what we do, we develop deep — and desireable — job skills to fulfill a job need, and we build a professional network that supports our work. And we hate what we do.

To change your career? The longer you go, the worse the curse of competency. The more you want to break out, the harder it becomes to give up the income to move away.

It really is a curse. I don’t have the answers to this one. I just know a lot of people who are incredibly competent in their work — and hate what they do.

How do you overcome the curse of competency?

  • Pros says:

    Well maybe what you love to do can be done part time outside of work. You can do the work you got good and competent at during business hours and as a reward do the other job or business outside of work.

    This can also motivate you in the job you may not enjoy, the reward is time to work on the work you love. Eventually you can move your way to that dream work. Or the balance of doing the work you love in your off time can be the perfect balance. Don’t you think?

    • Scot Herrick says:

      Many people do this. I have issues with it. First, I should be able to do my dream job, not one with the curse of competency I don’t like (call me idealistic…). Second, the job you don’t like is 8-10 hours a day, five days a week. Part time is 10-20 hours a week. Not a good balance in like/not like. Third, that part time job you love takes you away from other things you love — like your family, watching your children grow, spending time with friends. That will cause some conflicts as well.

      No easy answer. Like I said, I know many people who do exactly what you describe.

  • Grooving2music says:

    This article describes my situation to a T. I don’t know if I’ll break out. When request training for the area I want, I’m told it’s not relevant to the job I have now. Just ducky. I’ve made it very clear to the right people what I want to do. Let’s see how it works.

  • Rick Saia says:

    Many people wind up being “stuck” in roles they perform well. For a while, those roles suit them just fine, but after some time, they become routine. After that, they become uninspiring, and they want something that will pique their interest and stretch their imaginations.

    If you don’t recognize that in yourself, then the next best thing is to work at a company that takes an interest in what you’re doing and what you might like to do in the future. And hopefully that company offers you training and other professional development opportunities that match your desires. There are companies that fit this description, but you really need to perform an occasional “gut check” on your likes and dislikes about work, then adjust your goals.

    • Scot Herrick says:

      It is one of the reasons I advocate for people to consistently determine when their job will end — either the company ends it or it becomes so boring as to be bad. Unless you determine this and start looking for new work when you think your job will end, you’ll end up hoping the company will help you out — a dangerous assumption and position to be in. Gut checks needed (nice to see you here, Rick!).

  • Rohan Dutta says:

    Very true that we get offered a job even though we don’t love it, but eventually we get good at it because we have to survive in that company. We are sometimes afraid of leaving the job we are currently pursuing and not jump into a career change. The reason being, am I ready to give up a portion of my salary that might occur due to a career shift? We learn to adapt to our environment even though we like it or not. It kind of evolution right? We keep adapting and changing ourselves to fit to the work space even though we don’t love it.

    • Scot Herrick says:

      An easy trap to fall into. While salary is one reason not to make a job, another part to this is that when you get really good at something you don’t like, you think about how long it would take to get really good at something you do like — and that is scary as well. “But I have no skills!” for what you like. It’s a tough racket with no easy answers.

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