By Bob Etris
We all want a job where we can wake up each day and feel that immediate, energizing pull at the prospect of getting into the office. To look forward to our work and the challenges that lie ahead. For many of us, that feeling is not there nearly as often as we would like. Why is that?
Thinking of the working world as a whole, we can strip out certain parts of the population before we try to answer that question. First, let’s remove the parts of the population that are not afforded the educational or other resources needed to develop the careers they would like, and instead focus on those that have (all things being equal) a real chance to select the career of their choice. Taking it a step further, if we remove ‘exceptional’ circumstances that contribute to career discontent or low morale – a company buyout, layoffs, downsizing, terrible bosses, challenging clients, awful teammates, seasonally-driven workload or stressor events – we are left with some foundational questions that bear exploring.
How do you deconstruct the complex journey of finding a profession you love, into a simple and solvable problem? What goes into creating professional engagement, loyalty, satisfaction, and personal and professional development?
I believe that for any of us to find our space to exercise our professional and personal passions, we need to find an employer that not only allows, but intentionally seeks ways to marry up three distinct attributes. Figure 1 below illustrates how these attributes relate, and what follows explores how you can find yourself in the center as often as possible.
- What you love to do – there is no such thing as work life balance. There is only life, and work is a huge part of it. Your work should be a harmonious and satisfying part of your life. You have to know what you enjoy in your professional realm in order to take purposeful and proactive steps to find an employer that enables you to fully apply those professional interests. Similarly, many of us have meaningful personal interests that align to the missions, values, and strategic plans of one or more organizations. Applying your personal interests – such as giving to the community, mentoring others, contributing to a social good, relaxing with friends, learning new skills, or helping to create new connections – don’t have to be limited to your personal life. Your professional career can and should further enable your ability to do what you love on a more personal level.
- What you excel at – all of us have talents, and successful professionals know how to apply those talents in their jobs. The *most* successful professionals know how to find jobs that require and reward them for successfully applying their skills on work that inherently sets them up for success. For example, if you work best with people, you should not find yourself alone and behind a desk all day. If you are fantastic with numbers, one would wonder if you should spend your time as a writer or editor. It takes a lot of time, reflection, feedback, and personal development to really understand what you excel at. It’s equally important to appreciate that what we think we’re good at and where others see us excel are not always one in the same. Ultimately, taking that time yields a productive investment because we enjoy what we are good at, and only through deliberate exploration of that area will we know how to aim our careers in that direction.
- What your employer can derive value from – we all feel most valuable and useful when we know we are working on something that matters. The framing around what makes it ‘matter’ can vary – it can be to help a colleague, to further a project or organizational outcome, to spur social change, to maximize profit, to achieve professional goals. It can be any number of things. What matters is that what you do must be something your company clearly values in a consistent and materially significant way. That value may be measured differently, but finding it helps you to know that what you do is contributing to something greater than yourself. We all want to know we are making a difference in helping our team and our organization achieve their goals.
How do you find the kind of job that meets these criteria? You start by knowing what you are looking for. I hope this short piece has helped you to think creatively about your career, and to know how to measure the value of the path you’re on.