The 8 Levels of Employment

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It’s been five years since I graduated from college, and I still hear the same complaints:

“The market is a nightmare. I’m competing against hundreds for jobs I don’t want.”

“I keep sending out my résumé, but nobody responds to me. I feel hopeless.”

“How am I supposed to have experience if no one will give me a chance in the first place?”

“I just want a job with decent pay that won’t make me hate my life.”

“I WANT MONEY!!!”

A big part of me truly sympathizes with every one of these sentiments. I’ve been there, and I remember the constant sense of desperation and urgency. When you’re unemployed, every moment feels like wasted time, like your future has been compromised. That mentality is no fun, and I do not miss it.

Fortunately, the days of worrying about those things are largely behind me. And guess what? You don’t have to worry so much either. You just need to know the levels of employment so you can assess where you are and continue making progress. That’s what I’ll be covering in this post.

But first, let’s talk about love…

Work is Love, Love is Work

Finding YOUR CALLING and finding your TRUE LOVE are two of our highest priorities. But given the state of our culture, you’d think they were impossible to achieve! Nearly everyone describes their job as “less than ideal,” and more than a third of American marriages end in divorce.

Why do the tasks of finding OUR CALLING and finding TRUE LOVE feel so clumsy, confusing, and nerve-wracking? Why, in today’s modern society, do so few of us have jobs and relationships that are both fulfilling and sustainable?

Finding YOUR CALLING and finding TRUE LOVE are the exact same process. And once you understand the progression, you can make the right moves, advance through each level, and eventually attain both goals. It won’t be fast or easy, but the path and its results are certain.

# # #

In this post, I’ve compared the two — YOUR CALLING and TRUE LOVE — to show their similarities. We’re all intimately familiar with the world of dating, relationships, and love — we start our learning at an early age. But our careers typically begin when we’re adults, so our development and understanding in this area begin much later in life. When you compare the two side-by-side, you’ll recognize what level you’re currently in, and how you should proceed.

Without further ado, here are “The 8 Levels of Employment” (a.k.a. The 8 Stages of Work and Love):

1. The Beginner

Welcome to the REAL WORLD / DATING SCENE! Take a look around. Exciting, isn’t it? Your possibilities appear to be endless…

After you’ve made a thorough assessment of the terrain, you notice that most of your options don’t seem so great. The most attractive ones are being swarmed by tons of other APPLICANTS / SUITORS. You consider making an attempt for one of them, but statistically you don’t stand a chance.

You work up the energy to APPLY FOR A JOB / START A CONVERSATION, but are disheartened when you don’t get much of a response. Being rejected and overlooked feels humiliating. You restrain your embarrassment and decide to press on, dismissing any who seem immediately interested in HIRING / DATING you. How repulsive- they’re more desperate than you!

You’ll meet others who are struggling, and parrot advice you’ve read on the best strategies for LANDING AN INTERVIEW / GETTING A DATE:

  • Act like you don’t care
  • Have other options
  • Ask about their life, don’t talk about yours
  • Just keep putting yourself out there
  • It’s a numbers game

Your friends are equally insecure, equally inexperienced, and equally incompetent in this area. Yet none of you will admit that you have no idea what you’re talking about. You’re mostly just relieved that you’re not alone.

Now that you have a support group, your happiness and confidence goes back up. You all take cues from each other, and decide that the “shotgun approach” is your best bet. You hop on your laptop, get on a JOB / DATING site, and whip up a fancy RESUME / PROFILE. It feels a bit awkward bragging about yourself. You wonder, “What are they looking for? What do they respond to? What do they want me to be?” You fine-tune your writing so it’s exactly what you think they want. Most of what you wrote is puffed up to make you sound better than you really are, but who cares? Everyone does it.

Now it’s time to spam! You send a COVER LETTER / MESSAGE to every potential EMPLOYER / SINGLE PERSON and await the offers to pour in. Out of the dozens of messages you send, only a few of them respond. Then you never hear from them again. You can’t see it, but they’re being inundated by hundreds of people just like you. You are replaceable.

You notice that some people – who don’t seem to be very different from you — are far more successful. You observe their behavior, and they don’t appear to be trying. You resent them, because you are struggling so much. If only you knew their secrets…

You rationalize their success and excuse your own shortcomings. They have advantages that you don’t – they are better looking, smarter, and know all the right people. You have too much stacked against you.

Finally, you manage to land a JOB INTERVIEW / DATE. You rehearse what you’re going to talk about, and get all dressed up to make a good impression. Then it begins. You try to be cool and on-point, delivering all the answers you think they want to hear. Everything seems to be going well, and then you blow it. It becomes clear that you’re not really interested in fulfilling their needs — you just don’t want to be POOR / LONELY anymore. You get up and say your awkward good-bye.

What comes next? Do you wait three days before you contact them again? Should you say thanks and mention how you really seemed to hit it off? Should you wait for them to message you? What’s the proper etiquette here? Can’t both sides be honest? You’re desperate, they’re desperate — let’s make this happen! Or pretend it never happened… Better move on.

You wonder if you’re just a loser, a poor soul who’s doomed to be UNEMPLOYED / SINGLE for years to come. But how can that be? You’re working hard, you’re smart, and you’ve got so much to offer. You’re such a catch! Why doesn’t anyone recognize that?

If you grow cynical and decide to give up, this will be your final level. Game over.

2. The Amateur

Through some miraculous twist of fate, you’ve managed to find yourself in a FULL-TIME JOB / RELATIONSHIP. Your peers congratulate you, validating your belief that you have won. Of course, this probably wasn’t your first choice, but it certainly beats the alternative…

You’re mostly just relieved to be part of a COMPANY / COUPLE. You try to maintain poise (“just be cool man”), but you’re secretly worried that you’ll screw things up. You’re so worried that you fail to recognize that the other side is just as insecure and nervous as you are.

Eventually, you settle in and learn how to maintain the status quo. You start to think that you might have this whole CAREER / DATING thing figured out.

As time goes by, you begin defining yourself by your JOB / RELATIONSHIP. Your title has given you a sense of significance and purpose. You congratulate yourself for earning this role, and tell everyone how lucky you are to have found the JOB OF YOUR DREAMS / LOVE OF YOUR LIFE.

In reality, you are painfully insecure and terrified of losing. The blood drains from your face whenever you “screw up.” You apologize profusely and promise to never do it again. You’ll change, you swear! There’s no reason to FIRE / DUMP you… Please?

3. The Veteran

The JOB OF YOUR DREAMS / LOVE OF YOUR LIFE is not as great as you once thought. You gained some experience, but the magic has worn off. The excitement is gone. And now all you can focus on are the shortcomings.

Every week feels the same. Every interaction fills you with dread. You sigh and think, “This is it?” Soon, those thoughts turn into “Why am I still doing this?”

You battle temptation on a regular basis. The potential of YOUR CALLING / TRUE LOVE is getting harder to ignore. You feel that you are limiting yourself and compromising your life… but you’re not quite ready to leave. Going through the motions is fine for now. It’s better than the pain and uncertainty that will come with change…

Maybe things will get better. Doesn’t everyone deal with this? You can tolerate the situation for a little while longer. And someday, you’ll make the leap. Someday… but not today.

You grow resentful. It’s not your fault; they’re holding you back! You press their buttons, waiting for them to make a move. They look at you suspiciously, then you have a long talk and promise that everything’s fine — you just haven’t been yourself lately. All the while hoping for the ax, to be set free, to be granted permission to leave…

But it doesn’t happen. Instead, they say they are PROMOTING YOU / IN LOVE WITH YOU. The ultimate trump card has been thrown down. Do you stay, or do you go?

4. The Departed

You’re back where you started: UNEMPLOYED / SINGLE. Your depression and anxiety will kick in soon, along with fleeting bouts of relief and excitement.

If your identity was too wrapped up in your JOB / SIGNIFICANT OTHER, it will feel like the ground has fallen from underneath you. Your sense of purpose and significance has vanished, and you will undergo an internal crisis.

But there’s good news: Your first departure (the death of your former self) is always the toughest. It’s completely necessary for your growth — it gives you the emotional scar tissue that you’ll need when you inevitably go through this again. You’ll build up some resilience, and you’ll be able to recover that much faster next time.

Eventually, you’ll regain your emotional footing. You’ll look back on your old self and laugh. Why did you take everything so seriously? What were you so scared of? You could have left whenever you wanted!

If you’re wise, you’ll pause to assess the mistakes you made. You’ll admit that your old way of operating was flawed, and take steps to change your worst habits.

Then after you’ve recovered, you’ll wonder: “What should I do now?”

5. The Hustler

You’ve been running a fool’s errand, and the results are always the same: disappointment, missed expectations, and failure.

This time, things will be different. This time, you won’t get hurt. This time, you will be the victor.

You understand the game that’s being played. You know which rules can be broken. Only the hustlers and players will come out on top. JOBS / RELATIONSHIPS are for suckers. The only thing people really want is MONEY / SEX. Eliminate all the nonsense and focus on the desired outcome. Why pretend anything else matters?

You learn a new hustle that promises results. You emulate other hustlers, and hope that no one calls you out. And to your astonishment, it actually works! Not all the time, but a fair number of targets fall into your trap. You just had to pretend you were better than you actually were, and people would do exactly what you wanted them to! Who knew it could be this easy?

You get a rush from your new powers. Just run the sequence, reap the rewards, rinse, and repeat. No more failures, no more getting hurt, and no more fear of losing. The days of being a sucker are over. Finally, you’ve got it all figured out…

Then just as quickly as it came, the magic disappears. You’re getting exactly what you thought you wanted, but it’s not fulfilling. You feel empty and dishonest. This isn’t the path to finding YOUR CALLING / TRUE LOVE. It’s just your way of escaping effort and avoiding pain.

You resent everyone who falls for your tricks – how could they be so stupid? But you can’t expose yourself, because then everyone will know you’re a fraud. If you want this show to continue, you’ll need to believe in your own bullshit. You consider it, though you’re not sure if you’ll be able to look yourself in the mirror…

Will this be your last stop, or are you going to keep moving?

6. The Determined

Enough is enough. You can’t keep pretending and playing games. You can’t keep hiding from the world, pulling strings from behind the curtain. If you have to manipulate and cheat to get what you want, you will never receive the fulfillment your heart desires.

If you’re going to find YOUR CALLING / TRUE LOVE, you must commit to the hardest work of all – becoming yourself.

Now is the time to search within. All the advice you’d taken had been flawed in some way or another. You never really gave your own instincts and intuition a real chance.

You will need to be vulnerable and honest, to uproot your defects, and rewire the bad thoughts that have been holding you back.

You accept your journey. There are no shortcuts. You must do the work.

Your path is simple and straightforward. You know exactly what you must do: give the world your greatest WORK / LOVE without expectation. You diligently press forward, politely dismissing every OPPORTUNITY / PERSON that will compromise your task.

At first, it feels difficult. You are not being rewarded. No one is paying attention. It’s just you, doing the work. You place your faith in the process, knowing that these gears grind slow but sure.

Then you run up against a wall. The reward for your efforts seems an awful lot like FAILURE / REJECTION, and you start feeling like a beginner again. You wonder if this whole process is worth it, and reminisce about the old path… How easy it would be to return to your former life… How tempting it is to retreat to the comfort of an old JOB / LOVER…

But you stay the course. You accept that FAILURE / REJECTION are an inevitable part of the process. They bless you with emotional calluses, which are necessary for all who walk this path.

7. The Magnet

One day, you feel different. You don’t really notice it at first, because it happened so gradually, but you’ve changed. Things seem to click into place. You move with purpose. You are electrified with energy.

You’ve discovered the wonders of flow. What once seemed difficult and unnatural now happens automatically. Your WORK / LOVE is second nature, just like breathing. The process becomes the reward, and the reward is to be yourself.

People respond to you in a new way. They’ve noticed the change, as well. You radiate an essence that naturally draws them in, as though your energy is magically rubbing off. Your confidence builds upon itself, you’re more comfortable in your own skin, and EMPLOYERS / MEMBERS OF THE OPPOSITE SEX are far more interested in you.

While you were working, the clouds of POVERTY / LONELINESS disappeared. Your days became playtime, and you learned to enjoy the ride. Everything you touch now turns to gold. Others watch in astonishment, wondering how you’re able to do it. If they only knew how easily they could be doing the same thing!

Your reputation builds as people whisper glowing reviews — how you’re head and shoulders above everyone else. Suddenly, demand for your presence soars, and you’re attracting more OFFERS / DATES than you know what to do with. You are now intimately aware of the paradox of social proof: Everyone wants you because everyone wants you. Eliminating your options brings you more options.

In a world of people who are simply trying to avoid the pain of POVERTY / LONELINESS, you stand out. You are the one who is perfectly content. You are the one who does it for the love of the game. You are the ultimate WORKER / PARTNER who makes the journey fun. It is a privilege to be at your side. You no longer need them; they need you.

And that’s when you realize how wrong you’d been all those years. It was never about résumés or interviews or networking… It was never about pick-up lines or fancy clothes or singles bars…

It was about giving your WORK / LOVE to the world without expectation, simply for the joy of doing it.

It was about determining your own worth, instead of depending on the limitations of others.

It was about letting go of the chase – the constant struggle to live up to other people’s expectations — so you could take control of your own LIVELIHOOD / HAPPINESS.

It was about developing an unshakable belief in the value of YOU, and not letting anyone else diminish it.

You’d always been enough. You only had to work on becoming the best version of yourself. Because you — the real you — was the person everyone wanted to WORK WITH / FALL IN LOVE WITH all along.

8. The Master

It’s no longer an act; you are totally comfortable with who you are. Your existence has purpose. You understand exactly why you get out of bed in the morning.

You do not believe that you have to fit into a mold to land a JOB / SIGNIFICANT OTHER, or that you need to live up to other people’s expectations. You know that you can only be your best by staying true to yourself, and that the people who matter most will love you for it. You have shed your insecurities and manipulative behaviors, and are completely honest and forthright with everyone. You expect the same treatment in return, and have little tolerance for anything less.

You are addicted to sharing your GIFTS / LOVE with others. The more VALUE / LOVE you bring to the world, the more WEALTH / LOVE flows back to you. If you hadn’t been so afraid of being POOR / HURT, you could have started so much earlier!

Word of your cause has spread, and the people who once showed a passing interest in you are now deeply devoted. You no longer worry about losing CUSTOMERS / LOVERS; you know that you have their undying loyalty. Your results remind others what they’re capable of, inspiring them to FOLLOW / OPEN their hearts.

You are the master of your destiny, the sculptor of your world. Your brain is no longer your worst enemy, but your disciplined partner. Your heart is no longer silenced; it is your navigator.

Then one day, when you’re immersed in the moment — lost in flow — and you’ve long since forgotten the struggle of MAKING MONEY / KEEPING LOVE, you see that the path you’d been on this whole time had lead you right back to yourself. There you are.

You are free.

# # #

The stages to finding your TRUE LOVE and YOUR CALLING are one and the same. They both require you to stop your endless rationalizations and excuses, and embrace what you’ve known all along.

In order to walk the path, you must let go of the desire for an outcome. The endless promises of future potential, of more money, of heaven… they are distractions. The process is what matters. It’s all that’s ever mattered. Every single day of your life has been judgment day.

There will never be an ideal place or a perfect time to open your heart and listen to your inner voice. That place has always been right here, and that moment has always been right now.

# # #

If you enjoyed this post… There will be more like it coming soon. Sign up for my newsletter to get early access, along with a free copy of Recession-Proof Graduate (my 30-page guide to landing the work you want).

And if you’re feeling stagnant in your job and struggling with what to do next…  There are two brilliant books that will help get you back on the right track and rejuvenate your motivation…

The first is The Icarus Deception by Seth Godin. This will de-school your brain from everything society told you was “the right way” to do things. It will also show you how much you’ve unknowingly limited your potential, and how to reverse the process.

The second is Mastery by Robert Greene. This book is incredible. It’s like being handed an exact blueprint for reaching your highest potential, mastering whatever field you choose, all while retaining your joy and love for life.

Both books are highly recommended and potentially life-changing. Do yourself a favor: spend the $30 and invest in you. What’s the worst that could happen?

By Charlie Hoehn

23 comments on “The 8 Levels of Employment

  1. I love the parallels you’re drawing between work and love and I think it’s clear that it all stems from that underlying truth of valuing process over goals. Following your heart is the most cliché yet undervalued advice around.

    I’m interested if you think this roundabout path is really necessary, or it’s just what happens most often. In other words, do you think each of these steps is inevitable, or is it possible to jump to sixth step with the right guidance and mental state?

    Thanks for the post. Keep em coming more often.

    • Hi Zach- None of it’s necessary but from what I’ve observed, it’s the path many of us take. We make long stops along the way, or turn around to repeat a level, or sometimes we skip a level entirely.

      I think it’s possible to jump straight into the sixth level if you have a disciplined upbringing that pushes you in that direction. But that’s pretty rare, and most people won’t make it to that level on their own. It will be “too hard” or “too late.”

  2. Great post, it seems like as you get higher, it gets harder to level-up. For example, moving from 3 to 4 is clear-cut: get fired or quit your job. But moving from 5 to 6 seems more emotional / introspective / ambiguous. In your opinion, what are things you can do to accelerate that? For example, one could be taking people a few years ahead of you out for coffee to learn about their experiences.

  3. I like the love and work comparison. A big reason why I think people fail in both is that they are afraid to commit to the moment. Everyone thinks the their current work or love is just temporary and that something better is just around the corner if only they could look a little more. Half ass efforts lead to half ass results. That is the problem with the ‘follow your passion’ fad. People don’t put in the work to excel now, because they think this fantasy dream occupation will present itself someday and all their problems will be solved.

    • I agree. The ‘follow your passion’ fad irked me for some time. Yes, do find the work/play that makes you happy, but passion? Teenagers are passionate about one another, and fickle. Big things require that terrible word, commitment: the giving up of other options to give priority to one thing/person for months and years.

  4. I’m interested in the experiences that leave you with emotional scar tissue. You wrote:
    “Your first departure (the death of your former self) is always the toughest. It’s completely necessary for your growth — it gives you the emotional scar tissue that you’ll need when you inevitably go through this again. You’ll build up some resilience, and you’ll be able to recover that much faster next time.”

    You will inevitably go through this again…if you’re willing to continue to take risks in life. One could almost imagine that Mastery doesn’t involve pain, setbacks or the creation of new scar tissue. But personal growth take that no less, right? I might be at the Magnet stage professionally, but love is a different story. Perhaps because we tend to succumb to rationality at the workplace a give up a part of ourselves. I still feel there are certain standards and rules I need to comply with even if I’m being successful. There is in love as well, but I think it’s naturally to look for something so much more tailormade in that department :-) Less compromise, more feeling of the right thing.

    Thanks for challenging me with your ideas :-)
    Jacqueline

  5. Awesome stuff Charlie. I’ve never realized the paralells between our work / dating self exploration, but this framework makes total sense.

    Do you think there are certain things we can do to accelerate our progression through this process? I.E. Have multiple jobs for a shorter time period to have a better understanding of what our true calling may be?

    • Thanks Scott. Sachit asked this question as well, and my answer is to surround yourself with people who are in the higher levels. You’ll adjust to their standards and routines, and their norm will become your reality much faster than it would have on its own.

  6. Good thinking Charlie ! How did you come up with this association?
    Thats funny because few days ago I thought I was behaving the desperate kind to find a job and it reminded me of my insecurities back in my young days when I started dating :d

    • Hey Alexis- It struck me the other week while hanging out with old friends. Back in high school, one of them was a natural with women and had been so far ahead of everyone else in terms of dating — it left us all dumbfounded. But right now, he’s in the early stages for his career, trying to make sense of the whole working world. That’s how the association of the two realms clicked.

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  8. I dislike this post for a multitude of reasons that take too long to list. It’s about as useful to me as astrology. It some ways, it’s actually harmful.

  9. Ahhh, the great ironies of life, love, and work! Both magnificent and disturbing. Thank you for allowing me to laugh as well as cry with your terrific insights. And for modeling to “remind others what they are capable of, and inspire them to follow”. Awesome!!

  10. Charlie this is fucking great. Haha and comparison to dating is super interesting. Although unlike work, I think dating really is a numbers game.

    For me, it took 2 years just to get to amateur (place where I think is my dream job / dream company) and there are 6 more levels?! damn. Although, I can see a little bit of myself in each of the first 5 levels, especially hustling -> emulating -> and not getting caught.

    When you look at the 8 levels, where do you think most professionals in their 20s are at? What % are beginners, amateurs, etc. based on your experience or observations?

    Also, solid ending to this post.

    • Thanks Joe! I think most people in their 20’s are in the Beginner stage. It is exceptionally rare to encounter a young person who’s beyond the Hustler stage.

  11. I really enjoyed this post i graduated last year had an internship and now job hunting again :/
    But reading this post made we laugh and smile so much. I’m reading it saying yep done that. Definately will apply this to my life.
    Thank you :)

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