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Home » Don’t Find a Job, Find a Mission: Celeste Headlee (Full Transcript)

Don’t Find a Job, Find a Mission: Celeste Headlee (Full Transcript)

Celeste Headlee

Full transcript of journalist and author Celeste Headlee’s TEDx Talk: Don’t Find a Job, Find a Mission @ TEDxAugusta conference. This event occurred on January 30, 2015. To learn more about the speaker, read the bio here.


Listen to the MP3 Audio: Don’t find a job, find a mission by Celeste Headlee @ TEDxAugusta


Celeste Headlee – Journalist and Author

Grab whatever paper you have next to you, whether it’s the program or not and — think serious, I really want you to do this. Grab a writing utensil and I want you to answer a question for me and write the answer down.

Do you like your job? It’s number one.

And number two: do you think you’ll still like doing that job in 20 or 30 years?

So write that down for me. And then set it — if you’re laughing already — set it aside we’re going to come back to that later.

So the most common question that I get asked whenever I’m speaking in public is how did you get where you are and generally I say by accident; I stumbled into it.

But I will admit something to you today. I have been lying about that for a very long time. I didn’t actually stumble into it. It was a very carefully executed plan that I wasn’t aware of until a long time later.

So if you don’t know who I am, I am a host on public radio. I hosted a show called The Takeaway for a number of years. I’ve hosted Tell Me More for NPR, Talk of the Nation, Weekend Edition, many others. I anchored presidential coverage for PBS World.

I’ve spoken to movie stars and presidents and Pulitzer Prize winners and Nobel Peace Prize winners. But I have never studied journalism in school. I’m a professional opera singer and radio is my day job.

I have a master’s degree in music. So you might be thinking that I am not using my music degree and my job as a broadcast journalist. But you would be really really wrong.

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Yes, radio show host and professional opera singer are two very different jobs. But in fact, the core mission of both of them is exactly the same. In both of those jobs, I’m reaching out to people, I’m communicating with people, I’m inspiring people, I’m moving people using only the power of my voice.

So now if I’m asked, how I got where I am, I say I found my mission. And I forgot about the job title. Let me say that again, because that’s the whole point of this entire talk.

I found my mission and I completely ignored what the job title was. The fact of the matter is most people in the world do not like their work. So I want you all to take a look around you and count out ten people, okay, surrounding you somewhere.

Using global statistics nine of those people do not like what they do. But this is the U.S., so let’s use American statistics. Count out your ten people again, take a look at them, one of them really likes what they do. To that person congratulations. Six of them think it’s not killing me, and three of them really hate their work, really hate it.

Job dissatisfaction costs this country up to $550 billion a year in lost productivity. That is billion with a B. Worldwide, nearly 90% of people don’t like their work, and that statistic really doesn’t tell us very much. Maybe human beings don’t like to work. Maybe we have universally horrible bosses.

But let me tell you what I think that statistic means. I think it means we are terrible at choosing the right job.

What things do we consider when we’re looking for work? And I’m not talking about the “I’m unemployed; I’ll take anything situation”, I’m talking about the “I don’t like what I do, I want to try something new”, what do we think?

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We think about salary, obviously. No-brainer. We think about location. Americans have shown themselves to be very reluctant to move and in fact, we don’t even like to move very far to get to our work. The average commute time is about 20 to 25 minutes and that has stayed the same for more than a decade.

What else? Benefits: vacation time, healthcare, retirement, sick days, and believe me that is all really really important.

But researchers at Harvard Business Review wondered if those things also made you happy, so they studied it and the answer was: No.

Of all the many many things that go into happiness on the job, the highest single impact is purpose. People who think there’s significance and meaning to the work that they do are more than three times as likely to stay in their job and they also have higher jobs job satisfaction and they’re also more engaged.

And listen, I can almost hear your thoughts coming at me. I know you’ve heard it before. Find your dream job, right? You’ve probably heard it from some lifestyle guru who’s selling millions of books telling you to look deep within yourself.

But I would never tell you to go looking for your dream job and here’s why. It doesn’t exist. Okay, there’s no such thing as a dream job. The best minds doing the best research into what makes you happy at work have found that it’s generally your co-workers, your boss, and your sense of purpose, not anything that you would find in your job description.

So let me just make sure we’re all on the same page. Dream jobs do not exist.

There was a young woman named Ashley Stahl. She spent her whole young life yearning for a career in national security. She got a master’s degree in international relations. She spoke fluent Arabic. She went to DC and spent six weeks there, going to 90 events, schmoozing with anyone and everyone she could find. And it totally paid off.

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