(plus some tips for work satisfaction)

The topics of jobs and work satisfaction fascinate me (What do you do for work? How did you get into it? What do you like about it? What do you dislike?).

It’s a good thing I fell into recruiting ~ I get to talk about jobs and work a lot. It also means I’ve had the good fortune to talk with people who inspire me with their career choices. Laura Frank is one of them.

Why? Because she has had the audacity to follow her own inclinations, creating a body of work that both satisfies AND pays her well. She didn’t just go out and look for a job that fit. She created one for herself.

Laura, who studied physics and theatre in college (more theatre, she says), wanted to get into theatre lighting. Her story of custom-designing a career by following her curiosity is fascinating. Today, she’s lighting huge, high-profile events like the Latin Grammy Awards, concerts (Madonna and David Bowie, to name a couple), films and the Olympics.

Early in her career, she deliberately chose gigs that would allow her to pick up the skills she wanted, even when they didn’t pay well or the hours were sucky. Later on in her career, she took that arsenal of skills and reinvented her work. She found new ways to use her experience. She created (and continues to create) her own job.

Now, maybe in corporate America there isn’t quite as much freedom to craft one’s own job (though I have one friend who’s done just that because she is clever and business-savvy as well as being highly entrepreneurial and a fabulous communicator).

Here are some highlights from my conversation with Laura (but you’re gonna want to watch the interview ~ it’s only 18 minutes long ~ because I purposely left some out):

  • Be authentic: follow your shiny objects.
  • Have the willingness and the expertise to let your career expand naturally. Your job or career doesn’t have to look like anyone else’s.
  • Apply for jobs for which you’re not 100% qualified70% + some chutzpah will do nicely.
  • Stay challenged. If you start to feel like you’re doing things in your sleep, let that itch to keep learning pull you out of your comfort zone.
  • Keep 6 months’ of living expenses in the bank. Think of it not as money, but as buying yourself time. Need a respite? Need to stop and learn a new skill? This ‘time’ will support you through it.

Even if you’re mid-career and can’t couch-surf through New York following your curiosity, there are plenty of things you can do right now to move in a direction that’s more YOU.

What can I do? you ask.

  • Observe yourself. What draws you? Can you take one of your interests a step farther? For example, a couple of IT directors I know have started on-the-side businesses that feed their entrepreneurial inclinations. Take a class, challenge yourself to create something (write, paint, mentor, program, volunteer), jump the tracks and invest some energy in the direction of your own ‘shiny objects’.
  • Take back some of your time so you can do this. Be honest with yourself if you’re hearing the ‘but how will I find time?’ track in your head. Even 30-60 minutes a day spent following your own path adds up. Get up earlier. Leave the TV off. Say ‘no’ to should’s. Be lovingly firm and insistent with yourself. This is important.
  • Are you in a soul-sucking job? Can you change things about it? Even little tweaks go a long way when you stand up for what you need. If you don’t ask, the answer will always be NO.
  • Realize that, like a friendship or a marriage, unless you’re Elon Musk or Steve Jobs, no job is going be your everything. Don’t expect 100% fulfillment (hope for it, but don’t put the burden of your expectations on it). Find pockets of delight in other places to balance the less-than-delightful aspects.
  • When you try something new and it isn’t what you’d expected, you must still call it a success. You have new information, you took a chance, and that’s a win.

What I’m saying (to myself as much as to you) is, since we need to work, let your work honor your creative abilities. Do your best to find work that you enjoy. Let it be something that pays well enough so you don’t have to do it ALL of your waking hours. Choose to regard your work as a craft. Learn new skills, add new tools, and experiment along the way. Don’t sleepwalk through or clench your teeth and endure your work.

As much as I would’ve liked to be an heiress or a trust fund baby, my work has given me at least as much as I’ve given it. Way, way more than just the pay.

How do you think about your job? Do you think of it as your craft? Or is it just a means to an end?

In the end, I think work happiness begins inside. And that’s whether we’re solopreneurs, contractors, or fully employed. I think it’s a decision. Choose your work.

And enjoy the interview.