Review: I Don’t Know What I Want, But I Know It’s Not This

Each Sunday, The Simple Dollar reviews a personal productivity, personal development, or business/entrepreneurship book of interest.

I Don't Know What I Want, But I Know It's Not ThisI’m lucky in that I’ve never been truly dissatisfied with my job. I’ve yearned for different challenges before, and I’ve also wished for more flexibility in my schedule, but neither of those actually led me to dislike what I was doing.

But all I have to do is look around me a little bit to find people who are deeply dissatisfied with their jobs. One friend of mine is a father of three who has a job with the state that he deeply loathes in every way. He comes home each day physically and emotionally spent, often ready to simply drop into bed for several hours. He avoids talking about his job at all and when it does come up, you can obviously see that he loathes every little bit of it.

That’s where I Don’t Know What I Want, But I Know It’s Not This (by Julie Jansen) steps in – it’s pretty much the perfect book for him. The subtitle pretty much sums it up: A Step-by-Step Guide to Finding Gratifying Work. But does the book itself work? Let’s find out.

Chapter 1 – Why Do You Want or Need to Change Your Work?
Negativity and inflexibility. Those are the two biggest problems in any workplace, according to Jansen. You can track almost any significant workplace problem back to one of these two general areas. Negativity is brought in by people doing tasks they don’t like or having conflicting personalities or other conflicts that aren’t properly handled. Inflexibility occurs when people are pushed into schedules that don’t match the other aspects of their life, creating work-life difficulties – their life is making them accept a job situation they may not like, usually because they need money. Many jobs, like a night shift at a factory, can bring about both problems.

Chapter 2 – What Is Your Work Situation?
Here, Jansen provides a lengthy self-test (lots of true-false questions) for you to take to chisel down to the exact problems you’re having with your job. She identifies six categories of job dissatisfaction (discussed individually in chapters five through ten); the test helps you identify which of the six you’re in. For me, though, the test was unnecessary – skimming chapters five through ten made it pretty clear which ones were relevant.

Chapter 3 – Values, Attitudes, and Change Readiness
Another series of short self-tests comes here, mostly clarifying what aspects of your personal and professional life you value the most, your attitude towards your current career and changing careers, and your readiness to make deep changes. Introspection is the key here – what attributes do you have that open the door to actually making the changes you’re dreaming about?

Chapter 4 – Personality Preferences, Interests, and Favorite Skills
Similar to the first two chapters, this one serves to hone in on your personality, skills, and interests. In other words, what do you enjoy doing that you’re also skillful at? I found this set of questions to be by far the most useful of the three question-oriented chapters, as this material largely pushes you towards the right kind of work for you. It came off much like a very brief nutshell version of What Color Is Your Parachute?, which is unquestionably the best “find the right career” guide I’ve ever read.

Chapter 5 – Where’s the Meaning?
What should you do if you feel like your job has no real meaning? While a job is a job, it can eventually become soul-numbing if you go to work day-in and day-out without believing in what you’re doing or knowing that you’re actually making any sort of positive change in the world. Jansen suggests spending some time focusing solely on what sort of meaning you’re seeking. Is it merely a sense of working for yourself? Or are you seeking work that makes the world a better place or provides social change? I think of this kind of journey as being much like using a tuning fork – when you find the right place, it will vibrate strongly inside of you. Just wait until you find the thing that makes your heart sing out.

Chapter 6 – Been There, Done That, but Still Need to Earn
The challenge of a new career is appealing, but your current job is tolerable and provides a nice steady income, so you’re hesitant to switch. Should you make that leap? Jansen addresses that question here and suggests that you plan what you might do otherwise down to the littlest detail. Once you’ve done that, consider the plan carefully and implement as many of the little details as you can before you make the leap.

Chapter 7 – Bruised and Gun-shy
If you’ve leapt for success in the past only to be knocked down again a few times, you’re probably a bit bruised and gun-shy and thus you’re strongly hesitant to make another leap. I felt this way about my own writing many times. I wrote a lot of short stories in college, but faced rejection letter after rejection letter. Even the two times I received a significant nibble, nothing ever came of it, and I had largely become rather gun-shy about writing. Jansen’s suggestions mostly revolve around training yourself in the basic skills you’ll need in your spare time – for example, if you’re like me, a blog updated on a regular schedule might be a strong move.

Chapter 8 – Bored and Plateaued
Perhaps your job used to be exciting, but has gradually changed over time into something that bores you. You just go through the motions, because there’s really no big goal any more – it’s all repetition and the same old thing. Jansen suggests thinking back to situations where you weren’t bored with what you’re doing and try to figure out what’s different between then and now. That difference is likely the key to what you should be doing, so seek out every opportunity to stretch those muscles in your current workplace.

Chapter 9 – Yearning to Be on Your Own
Some people simply have that entrepreneurial bent within them. They want to strike out on their own, achieving success by their own rules, and being “stuck” as a mere cog in a larger machine doesn’t satisfy them. The solution here is simple – start a side business and throw your heart and soul into making it click. If you have any interest in entrepreneurship at all, regardless of your situation, trying to start a side business will not only open that door for you, but it will show you what it takes to make things succeed.

Chapter 10 – One Toe in the Retirement Pond
You’re near the end of your career and you don’t want to rock the boat, but you’re terribly unhappy at work. What do you do? Jansen finds the answer here in careful financial planning – cut back on the spending hard, start socking away the money big time, and pull retirement closer and closer with every dollar saved.

Chapter 11 – The Ten Keys to Success
Making this kind of big switch requires a lot from you, and Jansen boils it down to ten primary keys: curiosity, decisiveness, perseverance, empathy, flexibility, follow-through, humor, intelligence, optimism, and respect. All of those tools are key when you’re stepping up to the plate to make a career change. Jansen tackles each one with quite a bit of detail and thought. I was particularly intrigued by the “humor” one – I’ve found that time and time again, laughing things off and taking them with a grain of salt has made things work for me.

Chapter 12 – Job Search – the Nuts and Bolts
The closing chapter focuses on the mechanics of an actual job search. In other words, how do you find this new job that meets your needs? This chapter actually pairs very well with chapters three and four, as together they provide the basic introspection and tools you need to find the right job for you. Still, if I were looking simply at a career-hunting guide, I’d stick with What Color Is Your Parachute?.

Some Thoughts on I Don’t Know What I Want, But I Know It’s Not This
This book has a strong workbook feel. Roughly a third of the book is done in workbook format, encouraging you to actually write your thoughts on the internal pages. If you get into this book, buying a used copy somewhere (preferably one without any writing in it) would be quite useful. At the very least, get some paper and a pen ready before you start digging in.

How intense would one’s job dissatisfaction have to be before this book becomes appealing? I picked it up mostly because I thought of my aforementioned friend. I think most people do feel some level of unhappiness with their work, but I can’t help but wonder what percentage of people truly want to do something completely different from what they’re doing. I know such people are out there – but how many?

I really like that each chapter has a few suggested books to expand upon the specific topics covered there. Recommended additional reading is always something I like in books, so that I know where to go if a particular topic really tweaks my interest. It’s surprisingly rare in books like this, but I really value it when I find it.

Is I Don’t Know What I Want, But I Know It’s Not This Worth Reading?
The title alone should tell you if I Don’t Know What I Want, But I Know It’s Not This is right for you. Does the title sound like a good description of the way you feel about your current job? Does one of the above chapters (particularly chapters five through ten) really sum up where you find yourself? If so, I Don’t Know What I Want, But I Know It’s Not This is definitely worth a read.

That being said, this book is really only useful if you’re seriously pondering a drastic career change. If you’re just thinking about hopping to a new job, this book doesn’t help much with that. Instead, it focuses on people who are caught in a career that they’ve found does not work for them. Jansen’s advice is spot-on and it focuses heavily on introspection – figuring out what’s exactly wrong in your own personal situation and figuring out where you need to go from here.

I’d happily give a copy of this to my friend if I thought he’d read it, but he’s not much for reading books. Instead, I’ll try to reflect on what this book says and see if I can guide his thinking a bit when I can.

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