Going to the Hardware Store for Milk

milkOne day many years ago, I was complaining about my work to a wise friend of mine.   I wanted the corporation I worked for to care more about people than profits.  “Why won’t they step up?”, I pondered in self-righteous irritation.   She replied with a very wise and simple comment – “It sounds like you are going to the hardware store for milk.”

I was hoping for sympathy, or a brilliant idea that would change the organization into what I wanted it to be.  Instead I got a powerful observation that changed the course of my career.  I wanted to work for a non-profit but I worked in a corporation.

Of course it’s OK to want something to be different.  And it’s OK to try and change things where you are.  It’s also true that sometimes it is just not possible.

If I were to go into a hardware store, ask for milk and get the response that they don’t sell it – do I really have the right to complain? Does it make sense to keep coming back, expecting they will have milk?

They have clearly advertised who they are and the kinds of things they sell.  If I want milk, I ought to use my energy walking myself to the grocery store/co-op/farmer’s market or buy a cow or a goat.  I’ve got lots of choices to get my needs met.

In my case, I gave myself a year to find the right place to buy milk.  During that time, I committed to my current work, framing it as perfecting skills I would bring to my non-profit career.

Are you going to the hardware store for milk in your career?  If so, here are a couple of choices – you can use one, or both at the same time:

  • Decide to commit to where you areI’m in the hardware store, so I’m going to make the most of my experience here.  Is there something I need that can be found here?
  • Find a new jobI really want milk, more than anything else. No milk here.  Looks like it is time to investigate where else I might find what I need.

You can have the work you want!  Know what it is, shop the right places. Enjoy your refreshing glass of milk at the end of your journey.


Aubrie De Clerck, CPC

Aubrie is a Career Development and Transition Coach, with her own private practice in Portland. Her career history spans corporate, non-profit and self employment, giving her wide perspective on the world of work. Aubrie is known for being highly inspirational and deeply practical, and loves bringing these qualities to sessions with groups and individuals. Most of all, she is passionate about helping people of all ages and phases of life get the most out of their work life.

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