In 1914, Henry Ford enticed thousands of automobile workers to stay in soul-sapping jobs with the promise of $5 a day. The numbers may have changed since then, but the golden hand¬cuffs haven’t lost their luster. We write code, sell insurance, and frame houses for decent pay. And only half of us actually like what we do. Just 53 percent of people surveyed in 2011 by the Society for Human Resource Management said that enjoying the work is the most important part of job satisfaction. Most Americans want security instead. But if you’re vaguely unsatisfied in your early thirties, you’re going to be really unsatisfied in a decade. By then it may be too late to make a radical change. So consider it now—but do it right. Here’s how. —Tim Neville
1. Quit Your Job
Resist the urge to make like former JetBlue flight attendant Steven Slater, who cursed out a planeful of passengers, grabbed two beers, and slid down the emergency exit into cult-hero infamy in 2010. You want to design your future, not flee your past. “People think more about what they like and want instead of what they are,” says Nicholas Lore, author of The Pathfinder and a career coach at the Rockport Institute in Maryland. “Put a lion in a lake and it would not be a very successful lion.” You may want to open a fishing lodge—fine, but first figure out if running a service business is the right fit for your personality.
2. Diagnose Yourself
Personality tests like the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator can offer insight into whether you’re more of a thinker or a feeler. The people who do best in outdoor jobs tend to be analytical problem solvers who thrive in the here and now and don’t have a bajillion ideas racing around in their skulls at once. “The last thing you want is a climbing guide dreaming about tomorrow when he’s rigging a belay,” Lore says. “Dreamers should probably live someplace beautiful and just keep the hobbies they have.” The Myers and Briggs Foundation can set you up to take the test with a certified consultant.
3. Think It Through
It’s tough to know whether you’d actually like being, say, a full-time bush pilot without being a full-time bush pilot. Find the specific title of the job you’d like, at which company, and then buy the manager a cup of coffee and suss out the gritty details. “If you think the grass is greener, go make sure it’s greener,” says Rob Adams, an entrepreneurship professor and author of A Good Kick in the Ass. And PayScale.com can help you figure out what you need to earn to enjoy your current lifestyle in other parts of the country.
4. Take a Risk
Taking a risk doesn’t have to mean living in your car and building a drone—sometimes you just need to make your hobby your life. Christene Kieffer, an archaeologist by degree, was 32 when she quit a stressful biotech job to start her own travel agency, specializing in trips to Italy. She got the idea while on a volunteer dig at the Roman Forum. “I didn’t want to leave my old job feeling like a failure,” she says. “Now I don’t miss that stress at all.”