If you’re looking for a “dream job” that’s meaningful and satisfying, what should you actually look for? What is a fulfilling career?
To find a fulfilling career, do what contributes to the world.
When asked to imagine their dream job, people often think of work that’s well paid, easy, and involves their interests.
Weighing up what research says about job satisfaction, these are the key factors to look for are:
1. Work you’re good at
2. Work that helps others
3. Engaging work that lets you enter a state of flow
4. Colleagues you get on with
5. A job that meets your basic needs, like fair pay and reasonable hours.
6. A job that fits with the rest of your life.
7. Is it sedentary, physical, mental sedentary, mentally active, and what kind of person are you?
I sum this up with my motto for a fulfilling career: do what contributes.
If you’re looking for a “dream job” that’s meaningful and satisfying, what should you actually look for? What kind of career should you aim for over the coming years?
The usual way to answer this question is just picture yourself in different jobs, and think about how fulfilling they seem.
“A Doctor? A Waitress? A Teacher? A Sport Coach?
Think back on times when you’ve been especially fulfilled, then try to figure out what those times had in common.
Two overrated goals for a fulfilling career. People often imagine their dream job is well paid and easy.
This is the common list for most people looking for a career:
1. Is it highly paid?
2. Is it going to be highly paid in the future? (Outlook)
3. Is it not stressful?
4. Is the working environment not unpleasant?
Money makes you happier, but only a little...
It’s a cliché that “you can’t buy happiness”, but at the same time, financial security is among most people’s top career priorities.
When people are asked what would most improve the quality of their lives, the most common answer is more money.
Research has shown that money does make you happy, but only a little.
DON'T AIM FOR LOW STRESS
Lots of people say they want to “find something that’s not too stressful.” And it’s true that in the past, it was widely thought that stress was clearly bad.
Some research shows that leaders show lower levels of stress: a study of high ranking government and military leaders found they had lower levels of stress hormones and less anxiety, despite sleeping fewer hours, managing more people and having higher demands.
One widely supported explanation is that their greater sense of control protects them against the greater demands of the position.
Having no or few demands placed on you is bad – that’s boring. Having lots of demands placed on you is bad if you don’t have the power to deal with them: that causes harmful stress.
The best place to be is where the demands placed on you match your abilities – that’s a fulfilling challenge and that is me right there. I am a workaholic and place high demands on myself and feel exhilarated when I complete each task and see the results. I must say however, I do realise that I must start to change my pace, before my pace changes me.
The message of all this is that seeking out an “easy” job is not what to focus on. Instead, seek out these supportive conditions, then challenge yourself.
What should you aim for in a fulfilling job?
I believe the key ingredients of wellbeing (The Primary Foods) are:
• Relationships – supportive friends and family - Positive emotion – feeling happy day-to-day.
• Spirituality – Meaningful for you – having a purpose higher than yourself.
• Career – that you love - achievement – being good at what you do - Engagement – having challenging, absorbing tasks.
• Physical Activity – feeling strong, energized - healthy
I’ve applied these factors to my analysis of what to look for in a job, and combined them with the research that focuses especially on job satisfaction, to come up with six key elements for fulfilling work.
1. Work that’s engaging
Engaging work is work that draws you in, holds your attention, and gives you a sense of flow.
It breaks down into these four factors:
1. Freedom to decide how the work is done.
2. Clear tasks, with a clearly defined start and end
3. Variety, work that involves many different types of task.
4. Feedback, so you know how well you’re doing.
They’re also important if you have “high growth needs”
2. Work that helps others. A fulfilling career needs work that is meaningful as well as engaging.
These jobs, however, are seen as meaningful by almost everyone who does them:
• Fire service officer
• Nurse midwife
• Addiction counselor
• Medical Missionary
• Massage Therapist – to name a few
There’s a growing body of evidence that helping others is a key ingredient of having a satisfying life, whether it’s through your work, charity, volunteering, or helping your family and friends.
3. Work that you’re good at
Being good at your work gives you a sense of achievement, one of the five ingredients of life satisfaction mentioned above.
It also gives you the power to negotiate for the other components of a fulfilling job, such as the ability to work on meaningful projects and undertake engaging tasks. If people value your contribution, you can ask for these conditions in return.
4. Work with people you like
Good relationships are another ingredient of life satisfaction, and it seems pretty obvious that if you hate your colleagues and you work with a difficult boss, you’re not going to be satisfied.
So this last factor is a reminder to consider how your career fits with the rest of your life. The aim is to have a fulfilling life, and your career is only one part of that.
CUSTOMISING THE LIST
If you want to find fulfilling work, these six factors are where we recommend you start. However, what’s most important will vary from person to person, and there may be other factors that are especially important to you, so we also recommend making a personalised list.
To do this, think back on times when you’ve been most fulfilled in the past.
• What do those times have in common?
• Are there some extra ingredients you should add to the list?
• Can you make any of the factors more specific?
• What types of people do you best get on with?
• In which activities do you get most absorbed?
Should you just follow your passion?
Besides being highly paid and easy, people often imagine a dream job should involve their passion – their greatest interest.
For instance, if you love basketball, then the ideal job would be something that involves basketball, whether as a player, a coach, a promoter or something else.
“Follow your passion” has become one of the defining pieces of career advice of our time.
A Simple Exercise
1. Write down a couple of jobs you think you’d find especially fulfilling.
2. Rate them from one to five on each of the six factors.
3. Did you change your mind about which is best?
4. Make your own personalised list of factors for fulfilling work.
Here are some prompts:
a. When have you been most fulfilled in the past?
b. What did these times have in common?
c. Imagine you found out you'll die in exactly ten years.
d. What would you do?