People would be a lot happier with the job they had if they were happier with themselves outside of their job. We have seen steady decline in job satisfaction, no matter if the employment rate is very high or very low, and even when most people have control over their time and their workload, they still report that they are unhappy in their jobs, according to the Harvard Business Review.
People do not like work because they don’t like their personal life. And the key to being happy at work is not so much finding the perfect career as it is finding yourself. The more self-knowledge you have the happier you will be. So stop looking at your job to solve your problems and instead look inside yourself. Make friends with yourself and with other people, and your job, whatever it is, might start looking better because you’re not asking so much from it.
If you are looking to your job for the meaning of life, forget it. Even people who feed starving children with the Peace Corps have crisis of meaning. (For example, What is the point of feeding one child when six will die?) The meaning of life is elusive and you must put in a lot of time and energy to find meaning in your life.
The job hunt is separate. The job is something you have to do to support yourself. Since you’re going to be doing it for a good portion of your life, you should look for some basics: People who respect you and your personal life. A company that is honest. A job that uses your skills and experience. A job that challenges your abilities without overwhelming you.
Work does not need to give your life a grand purpose in order to be a good experience. The most pleasurable work provides a perfect balance between too much and too little — in terms of both amount and difficulty, according to Diane Fassel, the chief executive of workplace survey firm Newmeasures and author of the book Working Ourselves to Death.
A career is like a mate. The relationship is limited by what you bring to the table. If you are not happy with yourself, you won’t be happy with the match-up. Here’s an analogy a friend once told me: You have to have the cake, and then the relationship is the icing. It doesn’t matter how good the icing is if there’s no cake to put it on. Who eats icing by itself? Gross.
The part about you is the most important. What do you do when you’re alone? How do you feel about yourself? What are your core values and do you lead your life according to them each day? Do you numb yourself with food or TV or alcohol? It’s very hard to be honest about this stuff. Yet amazingly, people spend lots of time on locating a job and a mate and very little time locating themselves.
“Employees should not demand that companies imbue their lives with meaning,” writes E.L. Kersten in the Harvard Business Review. “Employers and employees have something the other needs. One of the keys to a mutually beneficial relationship is a realistic understanding of what that something is.” A job is not a life.
In fact, online dating is not a bad model for evaluating a job. For one thing, you should never write that you want a mate to make you feel fulfilled — that’s asking much too much from a single person. Yet we complain all the time that our jobs are not fulfilling.
Dating services ask that you be as specific as possible in your desires. So try that for a job. Here’s what I would ask for in a job, and it’s the same thing I looked for in a spouse:
Consistent with my values
Leaves space for the other parts of my life
And here’s another thing about those lists: You are probably going to have to be your list to get your list. That’s why interesting people are at interesting companies. So be who you want to be instead of looking for a mate or a company to make you who you wish you were.