If young me knew what older me knows, I never would have tried to pull off white jeans or a pink knit tie. I also would have made some different career decisions.
Of course, it's easy to look back and see what you did wrong (and sometimes friends post examples on social media). What's harder is avoiding the mistake in the first place.
One way to do that is to examine what other people did on their way to career success. The three Motley Fool contributing writers below have all found their way to meaningful work they enjoy and they have gained a little wisdom they want to share.
The job matters
Maurie Backman: When I first graduated college and was looking for a job, I had lots of people giving me advice. My parents, for example, encouraged me not to despair, while my friends who had graduated a year or two prior kept reminding me that finding the right role takes time.
I appreciated those various pep talks and the advice that came with them. But one piece of advice I refused to follow then, and refuse to follow now, is something a headhunter said to me about two months into my search: Any job is better than no job at all.
As someone who's had her share of bad jobs, I strongly disagree. Yes, having an income is important, but if you take a job that's the wrong fit and wind up miserable, you're not going to be doing yourself any favors in the long run. You're better off taking the time to find a good fit than saying yes to a job for the sake of having a job.
Of course, you can't keep searching indefinitely. There comes a point where you can only tap your savings for so long before you risk depleting them. Incidentally, that's what I did during those first few post-college months of searching -- lived cheaply and relied on my (limited) savings until I found a job I thought would work out. But I'm glad I didn't just take the first offer that came my way because had I done so, I would've been unhappy from the get-go.
Try to design your perfect job
Selena Maranjian: As you start thinking about what job or career to pursue, you may be assuming that the perfect job for you doesn't really exist and that you shouldn't bother looking for it. There's some truth to that because it's hard for any job to be perfect in any way. But you may be able to get closer to perfect than you think.
Consider my job history. I ended up writing for The Motley Fool almost by accident. I had been a big fan of the company back in its early days, and I read most of the articles on the site each day. I'm not sure why, but I didn't think of applying to work at the company until a friend suggested it and put me in touch with the co-founders.
Once I was in the job, I realized how perfect it was for me, combining my interests in business, investing, teaching, and writing. Then I realized that had I been more proactively thinking about what kinds of jobs combined interests such as those, I might have found and landed the job even earlier.
Think about what you like to do and what you're good at. Then think about what kinds of jobs combine some of those skills and interests. Think outside the box, too. For example, you might love cultural anthropology and the business world but be assuming that you have to either teach anthropology or work in management somewhere.
Instead, you might find a position as a corporate anthropologist. This is a field that actually exists! You might, as a consultant or employee, apply cultural observational skills to help a company see how it might better serve its customers, potential customers, and/or workforce.
With some thinking and investigating, you might find a pretty perfect job for yourself. If you're really resourceful and effective, you might even invent and create the job!
Happiness is worth more than money
Daniel B. Kline: Back in the late 1990s, I worked on major websites in what would now be considered the first internet boom. I made good money doing enjoyable work. That was a first given that my previous career had been working in magazines where I liked the work, but the money was terrible.
As the internet bust happened I was eager to hold onto the high salary that I had become somewhat used to making. To do that I took a succession of jobs where the fit wasn't right and the work wasn't fun.
In one case I worked for a well-known internet pioneer who had funding and intelligence, but no real idea for a business model. He hired a high-quality team and started developing a number of ideas. As each one failed to pan out, he panicked as he realized that his own big salary was in jeopardy.
After that, I worked with friends helping them grow their business. It was a job I could do, and they paid me well, but selling was not fun even when you believe in what you're selling.
Eventually, with a lot of detours, I came back to media and took a lot less money to edit the Sunday edition of three daily newspapers. It wasn't lucrative, but it was exciting and made me happy to go to work.
Now, I'm lucky enough to be a full-time contract writer who gets to write pieces like this one. The money is good, but certainly not what I could make in more lucrative fields.
That doesn't matter. No amount of money is worth taking a pass on loving what you do and feeling like you make a difference. If you find work you love with people you value and who value you back, hold onto it. Money can buy a lot of stuff, but it can't buy that.