What would you do if you could be paid to be yourself?

“I wish I could just be paid to be myself,” a friend who’s looking for work said recently.

“Don’t we all,” I concurred, thinking, in truth, that it was kind of a strange statement, bordering on egotistical.

For some reason, though, I was still mulling it over a day later.  In fact, I was  actually starting to think she had a  point.

Why shouldn’t we all try to get paid for being ourselves, since that’s essentially what we do best anyway?  Anyone who’s  read career classics like What Color is Your Parachute? and Do What You Love and the Money Will Follow? , or their more recent successors, Do What You Are or The Purpose Driven Life knows that these books make a veritable mantra out of following your passion.

And yet, when I  ask my students to talk about their interests, or what they really love to do, they’re often a little reticent. It’s as if they believe hoping someone will actually hire you for what you do best is asking too much.

It’s gotten even worse with this economy.  So many of us feel we can’t be too picky with jobs in short supply.  It can also be difficult to square this advice with what ex-offenders are typically told.  That is, to take a job, any job, just to get work, since finding employment has been proven to reduce recidivism.

But I don’t think anyone should give up on the dream of being hired to use their best skills.  Letting your gifts go to waste isn’t good for the psyche.  You’re more likely to get down on yourself, or start feeling resentment.    And you know where that leads.

If you’re willing to do some soul-searching and apply a bit of creativity, however, you can learn to let the best you shine through even at a job that’s less than ideal.  Here’s how:

1.  Know what your best qualities are. You can’t sell what you don’t know.  Assess your interests and talents.  What do people compliment you on again and again?  When do people ask for your help?  What tasks do you enjoy so much that they make you lose track of time?   Are you the one who heads projects? The motivator? The salesperson?   The trouble-shooter?  The idea generator? The technical guru?  The artist?  The peacemaker? The person who gets things done?  Organizations always need to fill these roles.

2. Apply for jobs that require that talent or ability. If you’re frustrated about not being able to find work doing what you love, perhaps you need to broaden your search.  The very useful ONET online, an occupational information site developed by the U.S. Department of Labor, offers details on requirements for different jobs.  You can also look for jobs that might need your talents.   On this page , for example, you can check off the boxes next to skills you possess, and ONET will generate an entire list  of occupations requiring these abilities.  Some may require additional training or education, but others may be a perfect fit and something you might not have thought of otherwise.

3.  Find a way to use your greatest talent on the job, anyway. Back when I worked as an  accountant, I made sure my bosses knew my true love was writing by making my audit reports as good as I could.  I also volunteered for any other writing projects that came up.   If you’re a sanitation engineer who dreams of being a salesmen, you can start by developing a good relationship with all the families on your route.  If you work  in a restaurant kitchen, but your dream is to create recipes of your own, what’s stopping you from making suggestions, or getting the cooks to try out your specialty after hours?   Sometimes the very act of using your favorite skills will show a side of you that your employer hasn’t’ seen.  Who knows where that might lead?

If you feel you simply can’t  exercise your abilities on the job, perhaps it is time to look for something better.   But that doesn’t mean you can’t put your talents to use on a volunteer basis somewhere else.   Maybe your church needs a good organizer/people person to put together a potluck dinner or Spring Fair.  Or you can’t find an IT job, but your neighbors would love to have someone show them how to keep in touch with their families via a computer they just can’t seem to get working.

The key is realizing that even if what you do best doesn’t seem to be paying off right  now, it could  pay off in the future.  But if you don’t keep exercising and building on these skills you’ll never know.  As Benjamin Franklin once said, ” Hide not your talents, they for use were made. What’s a sun-dial in the shade?

He had a point, I think.

How about you?   Have you had success getting paid to do something you love?

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Filed under employment ex-offenders, ex-offender psychology, goal-setting, hope for ex-offenders, recession ex-offenders, skills, talents

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