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To find your dream job, give up. Now

This is the first guest post on Your Work is Your Life. The first of many, hopefully – how terribly exciting!

I receive a lot of emails from readers who are miserable in their job and either don’t know how to make the transition into their dream job, or don’t even know what their dream job is.

My friend and blogger Vishnu knows a thing or two about this and has written an awesome post on this very topic. Cool!

Take it away, V……


“My client never had a sip of that wine before she got behind the wheel of the car. Bad driving isn’t drunk driving” I argued to a skeptical jury.  

“As a matter of fact, the only person who I believe is drunk here is the prosecutor for wasting your time trying to prosecute my hard-working, God-fearing client,” I quipped, in hope that the jury would find my client not guilty of drunk driving.

My life as a criminal defence attorney was thrilling; defending the wrongly accused (well, most of the time they were completely innocent) speaking up for justice and well on my way to earning a comfortable income.

In fact, the week before I quit my legal job, I was told to expect a significant $20,000.00 raise.

What did I do when I heard this good news? Figure out which dream car I was going to buy? Explore which Caribbean island I would vacation at? Book an around-the-world trip to see the ancient wonders of the world?


I submitted my resignation to take an entirely new job where I’d net half the salary I was earning, work more hours and start using an entirely different skill set.

As a community organizer to-be, my job would now be to empower people to take on large powerful corporations, big banks, powerful and moneyed interests.

Whenever money, prestige or stability has confronted me in my career, I’ve passed on those opportunities, in pursuit of my life’s work.

What was life’s work, you ask?

Well, it was pursuing my passion, my dream in the making. I didn’t quite know what my destination was but I kept on the journey, sacrificing wearing 3-piece suits, lunches on the golf course with fellow-attorneys and cigar-filled discussions with judges on the weekends.

How do you crawl out of the trappings of comfort and financial stability to find your life’s work?

Here are 6 strategies to do just that:

1)    Don’t let careers or jobs define you. You may have gone to school for 18 years to become that swanky doctor you are today; saving the lives of your patients and living every minute of your life in the hospital to pay for the ritzy condo you own.

If the job you’ve invested a lifetime into isn’t for you, you don’t have to stick with it. You can build upon this career with your next job. You will always, and I mean ALWAYS, be able to use your skills and experiences in a different capacity in your next job.

If you were a physician before, you’d be able to use your medical knowledge to coach people to better health or eat more nutritiously. If you were a marketer, you’d be able to put your skills to immediate use in hawking your own brand and line of products.

2)    Don’t dock the boat, keep on sailing towards your life’s work. If you’re unsatisfied, unhappy or unfulfilled, continue moving towards work that makes you want to jump out of bed and go to work.
Look for opportunities that makes you look forward to Mondays.  

Don’t get comfortable where you are. Don’t let the money, corner offices or titles hoodwink you into living and working a job that leaves you as fulfilled as a can of diet beer or an episode of Jersey Shore.

3)    Have a plan. To make small or large career hops, you’ve got do the research first. What career do you want to transition to and what are the requirements, classes, or plan to transition into that career?

Are you able to get the skills you need at the local community college? Or online classes?

Do you have mentors in your network you can talk about the new profession or trade?

Can you start a savings account or a freedom fund to fund your new venture?

Lay the groundwork for your life’s work before making the leap. Use your after-work hours and weekends to research and plan your next move.

4)    Get skilled. Use internships, volunteer work and freelancing to build up your resume. If you’re not sure if your next career leap is right for you, start experimenting by taking small steps.

You can use unpaid or paid internships for a few hours a week to see if the work you’re interested in is right for you. There are a lot of companies, non-profits and freelancers who would love the free help. In return, you grow your skills and are able to strengthen your resume.

You can even start offering your freelance services to your family. How about that?

Again, you’ll get the benefit of experimenting with your life’s work and be able to build up your resume, get testimonials and appreciative clients who might sing your laurels.

5)    Find out what you love by figuring out what you hate.  
Let’s say you have no idea what your life’s work or dream job is. Then, start doing something, anything, on your path to find your life’s work.

The ‘elimination strategy’ is one way to narrow down and identify your life’s work; simply gain experiences in as many fields as you can to determine what you hate doing. Then, transition out of that line of work.

I was not impressed with law practice or the adversarial nature of the work so began a slow and steady process out of it. I had to do legal work to realize it wasn’t for me.

6)    Trust the process. You may be filled with uncertainty and doubt as you journey through your career. You may have no idea what you want to ultimately do in your life. But the exciting and adventurous part is discovering just that.

The best way I’ve found to uncovering your life’s work is to forge ahead, discover new experiences and be willing to take risks.

If you’re already in a mountain of school debt, family obligations and supporting a family, you too can make the change although it may take a little longer. It’s a matter of being more creative in experimenting outside of the day job that pays the bills. You may have to shift your priorities, values and spending habits to make a change to the work you want to do.

The only mistake you can make is not starting on the journey to doing your life’s work.


Have you started on your journey to discover your life’s work? If not, what’s stopping you? 
Vishnu blogs for his community of world changers at www.vishnusvirtues.com. If you’re seeking enlightenment, therapy or a good laugh, sign up for his weekly updates at www.vishnusvirtues.com.


  • Melissa says:

    I agree that sometimes we’ve grown comfortable with the way things were going that thinking of leaving or giving up such ‘fine’ careers would leave as beggars…

    I did #3, and wrote all my skills on a piece of paper. Then I wrote which job would best suit me. While waiting, I hopped to #4 and enrolled on a 6-month Caregiving class. Nobody wanted to hire me because my rate was for an RN and paying less (they thought) would be ‘insulting.’ I got myself an IVT course in preparation for work in the dialysis center but then I gave the opportunity to a younger nurse. I thought I was making up all the excuses not to get a nursing job so I looked at the piece of paper I wrote earlier. It got me into a job related to scientific research.

    I was struck by what Vishnu wrote on the last part, “It’s a matter of being more creative in experimenting outside of the day job that pays the bills.”

    I thought, geez, at my age, I was getting only half of the salary I was earning before. My colleagues were already deans of colleges and supervisors. Then I thought, there must be a bigger purpose for the less stressful work I chose because I could do things that make me happy (ier).

    The change, finding one’s passion, ‘Ci mette sempre in cammino’ I’m glad I took that challenge.

    • Vishnu says:

      hey Melissa – thanks for sharing your story here. Yes, that’s always the fear that we’ll do something that will leave us unemployed and as paupers:)

      You definitely did your research and planning as you transitioned to work that matters for you. And seem to continually be evaluating what your bigger purpose, life goals are. As I point out in the article and as you know, it’s all about the journey to finding one’s purpose. You seem well on your way there!

      And you also bring up a great point Melissa – forging ahead without looking to see what everyone else is doing. SOmetimes we look at friends and colleagues and think we should be doing so much more. But we each have our own lives and our own goals to achieve so why not stop looking over our shoulder and doing what we were meant to do.

    • Melissa says:

      *excuse for the typos…

      leave us beggars…

  • Razwana says:

    Vishnu, you did a very brave thing, moving from a financially comfortable job to one that gives you something other than money. Had you always planned to do this, or was it an iterative process?

    It seems it’s ok to chop and change jobs/careers in your 20’s, but becomes more difficult as we get older. As Melissa has touched on, taking a pay cut or not being paid as much as peers is difficult when you start comparing. But she raises a really valid point – it’s part of a bigger purpose. How awesome.

    You’ll be helping a lot of readers with this post – thank you so much for writing it !

    – Razwana

    • Vishnu says:

      hey Razwana – I don’t think I was thinking, hey I need to get paid less. haha I just thought I needed to do something that suited my soul more and fit my purpose more in life. So I transitioned a few times before doing organizing and advocacy work.

      It does become difficult as we become older but I think once we reach on our purpose, we are destined to do great things and find unlimited success. You don’t have to do dramatic actions, quitting jobs, losing homes, etc but I think it’s all small steps. And if we can’t do our life’s work in our day job, we can always do it in the evenings too. If we are to inspire children, we can mentor them in the evenings. If we are to coach others, we can do that in the weekends or even in our day jobs.

      I think building our skills and continuing to move towards our life’s work is key. Settling for a job that pays well and is prestigious doesn’t sound too fulfilling but hey, being able to take care of your family, pay the rent and send your kids to college may be quite fulfilling to many. Ultimately, it’s an individual decision for each person to make with their own life.

  • This is wonderful, practical advice for anyone looking for their life’s passion. I’m so glad I found mine in writing!
    Blessings, Vishnu!

  • Jammie says:

    Great post, V. Solid points and tips that I have employed in my own life as I pursue my life’s work. I am still on that journey, although I really did love my previous job, too (long story, best left for another time).

    I thought Melissa and Razwana’s comments brought up a very good point: Comparing yourself to others can be a huge block to pursuing your dream job, but funnily enough, the debilitating influence of comparing yourself to others can still hit even when you are doing what you love! My husband and I are on the trip of a lifetime, traveling the world for a year. Recently, we met another couple who are also traveling the world for a year. So of course, I privately began comparing trips. It got so bad I began wondering if we were doing things wrong — a totally crazy line of thinking as each couple was traveling for different reasons and one of the primary reasons we are on this trip is to forge our own path.

    I would like to hear more on how people deal with “keeping up with the Joneses.” I don’t think the answer is to not care about what other people think as sometimes, people do have helpful tips and suggestions for you, and/or you can use what they say as personal motivation. Thinking of the larger picture is good, but I find myself still doing comparisons, (e.g. I may not have X, but I am happier/more fulfilled than A,B,C, etc.). Any thoughts?

    • Vishnu says:

      J – don’t care about what other people think.


      • Vishnu says:

        Jammie – Really curious to find out more about your previous job and why you left – oh yeah, to travel the world! But please do fill me in – oh I don’t know, maybe in the form of a guest post:)

        I think I could write a whole post on what you asked here but I’ll just make two quick points. As you point out, it was your thinking that made you feel bad about the trip and started your comparisons with others – you might have to re-frame your thought process about the differences, meaning and value of your trip to you.

        And secondly, I think (seriously) gratitude can save the day. Once you realize you’re traveling with the person you love AROUND THE WORLD AND NOT WORKING IN AN OFFICE, you’ll jump up and down and think why the other 99.9 percent of the people you know are not doing this. And how great your life really is. And all the many many things you’re thankful for.

        I have a couple more thoughts but don’t want to get carried away here, including why Asians may be more prone to being compared and self-comparing (oh I don’t know – could it be our Moms LOL) Future post to come, Jammie!

        • Razwana says:

          Gratitude is a winner. Especially writing it down. That works for me, anyway.

          To add to Vishnu’s comments, Jammie, I’d ask you what it is that is driving you to compare yourself to others. When you write ‘I may not have X, but I am happier/more fulfilled than A,B,C’, what trigger can you identify that leads you to make this comparison? This is the start to moving away from comparison – the reason why is really important.

          I’m more than happy to chat to you on email (raz@yourworkisyourlife.com) if you wish. It’s a deep topic !

          I bet those Jones’ are probably comparing themselves to us as we speak. Vicious circle, anyone?

          • Jammie says:

            I find that the comparisons start innocently enough. This round-the-world trip for my husband and I is more than just a vacation; we’re really looking to find ways to lead an international life of service that is financially sustainable. So of course, when I meet other world travelers, I ask them questions about what they’re doing and how they’re doing it, in search of the best practices.

            Consequently, though, I find the comparisons invite doubt — e.g. Should we have planned the trip this way? Should we have saved more money? Are we not doing enough?

            But talking about this issue has clarified my thoughts and I think I know what the real culprit is: my pride. The doubt and comparisons come because I don’t want to be seen as doing things “wrong.” When I ask my questions, they should be done in the true spirit of learning, with humbleness; taking the good and leaving the bad. I do need to reframe how I think and you guys are right — gratitude is key.

            Thanks for a great (and badly needed) discussion!

  • Hiten says:

    Hi Vishnu,

    I loved your post because it was so inspirational and Razwana, it’s good to meet you!

    Vishnu, I could relate to what you wrote about giving up the legal world to pursue your life’s work. I used to be extremely ambitious, and once had visions of climbing up the corporate ladder. However, as I’ve got older and particular after getting into meditation, huge ambitions about succeeding don’t interest me as much. I would rather be happy making less money in a job where I knew the work I was doing had meaning, as opposed to a highly paid one where I know I would never be truly happy.

    Thanks for this post. It has made my week, for sure.

    • Razwana says:

      Hiten – lovely to meet you also 🙂

      May I ask – what is it that makes you happy and what made you decide to take a different course to the corporate ladder?

      • Vishnu says:

        Thanks for your comments Hiten and yes, do let us know, what brings you happiness in your work today. Work that is meaningful is definitely an ingredient for being happy.

        Also, I think you still have ambition but in a different context right? You’re not trying to get to the corner office or get a big promotion but do you have goals for yourself you’re trying to achieve. You probably have more freedom and can achieve your goals and dreams today on your own terms?

        Glad you made it by here and thanks for keeping the conversation going:)

  • Galen Pearl says:

    Willing to take risks–that is a big one. My career was (I’m retired now) a story of leaping at an opportunity that presented itself. I have to say that I didn’t always plan it. In fact, the best jobs I ever had came along when I was planning to take a very different direction. I let go of what I was planning to take a job that ended up being so much better than what I had in mind.

    Also, I have to admit that I wasn’t always prepared in terms of skills. I grabbed at the chance and learned fast!

    I should also disclose that some of my riskier choices were possible because I had a financial cushion at the time. Otherwise, I would have been more conservative. We have to balance risk with responsibility if we have children, a mortgage, etc. That doesn’t mean we can’t have our dream job, but it does mean following more closely the steps you have laid out, which are bold and reasoned at the same time.

    You have proposed a great blueprint for identifying and achieving your professional dream.

    • Vishnu says:

      Thanks Galen for joining me here on Razwana’s blog. I know you’ve had a fascinating career doing a lot of fun work – each that suited your personality particularly well. I’m sure when you started your career, you didn’t quite know the direction it would take you in but from what I know, you definitely made an impact in each of the jobs that you did. You kept moving forward, taking risks and opportunities along the way. Starting is the key, right?

      And you’re absolutely right – following your dream sometimes requires certain circumstances to make it happen. If you have a young family and mortgage payments, you can’t quite quit your job and open a business overnight if that’s your primary source of income.

      I think there’s a path for everyone based on their experiences, life, circumstances and insight about what they want to do with their life. If you have no idea, my general advice is try and fail, and keep moving forward until you discover your purpose or life’s work. Sometimes you’re not journeying to your purpose, the journey is your purpose 🙂

  • Evelyn Lim says:

    Vishnu, I am awed that you took on the step to change course and giving up a fat salary increase in the process. It is similar to what I went through – though less dramatic. I bet if I stay on in my banking career, I could be on track to owning a luxury car on top of the nice salary. As you are probably aware, cars are very expensive here in Singapore.

    Your tip #5 is a great one. I believe that many of us missed out on seeing that it’s the things that we don’t like that lead us to what we do love. The period when we are doing work that we do hate is an important part of our journey, no doubt.

    Yes, I am on my life’s work. I am constantly defining and redefining what it is, with greater and greater authenticity.

    • Vishnu says:

      HI Evelyn, yes, you would have been living the life of a wealthy banker and driving a fancy sports car:) I know all about cars in Singapore (that’s probably the one reason they have the best public transport system in the world!! 🙂 When you make it so expensive to drive (and park!!!) who can afford to drive:) Glad you too followed your life’s work and didn’t ‘settle’ for a high-paying job or the fancy vehicle:)

      #5 is key – going on the journey so we can weed out what we don’t like and what to stay away from. We’re not going to know what we really enjoy until we experiment and eliminate those duties, skills we don’t. You had to be a banker to realize

      Thanks again for your comment and living your own authentic life – inspiring others to also live authentic and abundant lives.

  • Kaylin Lydia says:

    What an interesting post! I feel privileged that my husband and I not only enjoy our professions but that they enable us to contribute positively society and gives meaning to our lives. I was once an assistant store manager at a big box retailer- I was making “a lot” of money and there was promise of promotion and even doubling my salary! But I was commuting three hours a day, working fifty hours a week on a rotating shift and so miserable. I felt so lost – I had no clue where I wanted to take my life but I knew it had to change, I refused to live my life miserably. I enjoyed art but did not feel like making a career from it was an option – I started noticing the things I enjoyed; like volunteering, doing nonprofit work, and helping making my employees work lives better in anyway I could. I also knew I never wanted to feel at the whim of a corporations desires or the fickle job market (job searching in a recession will do that to you!). Somehow, I came to the conclusion that I should pursue advanced education through a Master’s in Social Worker (MSW) or doctorate (Psy.D). I applied to both programs and starting researching both professions (I even talked to professionals within these fields) – I still felt lost so I started to rely on the only thing that was giving me any sense of direction, which was my intuition and paying attention to the “signs” around me. It is hard to explain but life then arranged itself in such a way that pursuing an MSW became the most obvious option for me. I then spent two years pursuing my MSW and am now working as a hospice social worker. This is one of the best decisions I have ever made – I often reflect back on that time when I felt so lost and how I relied on my intuition (which felt so crazy at the time!) and it landed up leading me in the best possible direction.

    • Vishnu says:

      Kaylin – Not only is this story a true one but it’s truly awesome:)

      Sounds like you went from being very lost to discovering your exact life’s purpose. It took, among several things, trying out differing things, knowing what you didn’t want to do, knowing what you liked and didn’t like about the jobs you had, learning from your circumstances, researching your next steps, doing some planning, testing the waters and moving forward!!

      You didn’t sit back and let the field you’re in fall in your lap. You’re doing what you should be doing and you did that by moving in closer and closer on your life’s work. You were following your intuition all along and it brought you to exactly where you are – a field no doubt you’ll find success and happiness in.

      Thanks for sharing your story to inspire others on their journey:)

      • Kaylin Lydia says:

        Thanks for sharing your story Vishnu! It is so hard to put your self out there like you have. Work is a major part of our lives – I think its so important to find something you feel “usually good” about. But of course getting to that point is always easier said than done. : )

  • As someone who has tried to follow her heart too, it always makes me glad to read stories and materials urging people to go after their passions. You’re a brave soul to do that, Vishnu and I’m so your decision is paying you a hundred-fold with treasures too big to be measured by money. I also believe that money – enough for our needs – makes its way to us when we follow our heart!

    • Vishnu says:

      Thanks for your comments and encouragement, Corinne. Glad we’re traveling on the same path:)

      Yes, completely agree with you – success (financial and other types) materializes when we materialize our dreams! So, let’s not focus on the bottom line but instead what fulfills and satisfies us.

  • janet says:

    awesome, Vishnu!! I didn’t realize you took pay cuts in pursuit of your life’s work. This is an inspiring post and gives me good things to think about while I try tackling a “life purpose” post. I’m very good with #5 too. Figuring out what you hate, process of elimination, is what works for me!

    • Vishnu says:

      Glad to hear the elimination process works for you J!

      I know I made these big changes and leaps, took the pay cuts etc but you took it to a whole different level J – to the point of even moving countries, giving up everything and starting over. I’m glad we’re both traveling on our paths to realize our purpose:)

  • Lisa M. says:

    This is a great post Vishnu! And, as someone who is currently in career transition, I appreciate the sentiment of being on the journey without knowing what the destination is. I think sometimes we get stuck on the idea that we need a certain amount of income, and the thought of giving up that income to purse a different path is scary. It is true that we need a certain level of income, but I think in reality it is a lot less that what people think they need. I admire you for the changes that you have made in your life because it isn’t easy to give up good salary, and take a different path. It takes courage to take the path that you have gone down, and I am sure that you have inspired a lot of other people in the process!

    • Vishnu says:

      Thanks for your comments here Lisa. Nope, not so easy to give up a good salary, benefits, stability, prestige, comfortable life…haha wait a minute here…that’s beginning to sound pretty good 🙂 Actually, it does take little bit of courage but more than that, it takes you making a choice. And if the choice is between living a life of sleep-walking and the other life will help you achieve your dreams and unleash your potential, I say go with the latter!!

      I know you too are on your journey and we’re all looking forward to seeing where it takes you next.

  • I love the advice on finding out what you love by what you hate. In some ways it reminds me of how you can find out where to take your ‘career’/life path next by finding a solution (which is what you love) from what you are currently frustrated by (what you hate). There are some ‘lucky’ ones who already know what they love and are doing it. But you are right, you need to experience something in order to decide for yourself.

    • Vishnu says:

      Thanks Sarah for your comment.

      Yes, experimenting is the way I’ve found to lead me to my life’s work. So, even in the worst jobs, the most boring and un-interesting jobs, we can still discover a little about ourselves in the process. Some people get to this realization sooner than others but if we keep pushing forward on our journey, I’m certain our life’s purpose and work will manifest right in front of us.

  • Steve says:

    What great tips! I think finding your dream job is doable, but it isn’t easy. Good jobs that people love to go to can be hard to find. Even if you find the type of job you like to do, you might not like where you’re working simply because your employer isn’t good to work with.

    I think it’s very important to not let your jobs define you. I know too many people who think of themselves in terms of what job they have. It’s their identity. I always ask them why they think that way and they don’t really have a good answer to that. It’s just what they do and they see themselves that way. I can see why people get attached to a job, but it seems rather limiting. You can do so much more if you wanted to.

    Overall, I think it’s about taking risks. If you want to change careers, you need to make a leap from where you are now to where you want to be. That’s a scary thing to do sometimes. It’s good to have that risk-taking mindset to get you to the other side.

    • Vishnu says:

      Thanks Steve – you’re right. People get defined by jobs and careers so they limit themselves from doing more or moving onto work that suits them better.

      And there is a certain amount of risk-taking, a mentality as you describe, to move along one’s career path or take the journey to uncover your life’s work. I think it ultimately comes to a choice – stay and do work that you’re not best suited for or keep going until you find your life’s purpose. Sometimes, as I mention above, folks may stick it out in a job because paying the bills and sending kids to college is fulfilling 🙂

  • Keith says:

    Hey Vishnu,

    Very good article. Trust has to be the biggest one or the fears will get you. I am getting ready to do something similar and yes it is scary. However, as sometimes a bigger fear will outrun a smaller one, so I just keep asking myself how I will feel after 20 or 30 more years of doing something that doesn’t fulfil me for the sake of a salary. Now this fear is definitely bigger. Also, we are very adaptable as human beings and we always manage somehow to live within our means. And if we are doing something that inspires us and makes us happier, we have more energy and creativity to make things work. Well done on making the leap and showing the rest of us that it can be done.

    • Vishnu says:

      Keith – there are some legitimate fears like not having a home or food. But probably most of our fears are not reality-based! Also, our greatness shines when we confront fear and take it on. That’s when we shine best, no?

      Yes, I’m so much more fulfilled doing work that matters to me now. I can’t wait to see what you’re upto and your journey and next steps. Glad to see you over here on Razwana’s blog.

  • Dan Black says:

    Great post Vishnu! I have learned sometimes working in areas of passion and enjoyment is more important than the financial gain. I know several people who make a lot of money but hate what they do. I also know other people who love what they do and don’t make a lot of money doing it. I guess a balance is important, if possible doing something we enjoy while making enough money to live a substantiate life.

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