One of the things I had to do as an adult was learn to see what makes a good job. Some people intuitively know how to find a job that feels good. Most of us spend the first half of our lives trying to learn what feels right and the second half of our lives trying to get it. Maybe this post can speed up that process for some of you.
The bottom line of a good job is that it makes you feel like you have unlimited energy for your work because it’s so fulfilling. Psychologists would say the job matches your personality type. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi would say it puts you in the state of flow. However you approach the idea of a good job, though, The Economist presents research to show that good work has these four components:
1. Provides clear goals.
The way I think of my childhood is that the first half was my parents ruining it (in the house pictured above), and the second half was my grandma trying to fix it. There were some fundamental problems with this situation. For example, it was impossible for my grandma to admit that her son had something wrong with him, so she had to blame the physical and sexual abuse on me and my mom. Not that my mom wasn’t responsible as well, but you can imagine the mental gymnastics this required of my grandma.
Since I spent my teen years with my grandma, my education about how the world works came largely from her. She was born in 1923, and while other people seem to have experienced the Jazz Age and Woodstock, those passed over my family.
My grandma and my great-grandma bought me all my clothes. I’m not really sure why my mom didn’t buy me clothes. But I know she started giving me money to buy my own clothes at a young age, and I bought 20 sweaters in one day and she grounded me.
I remember thinking to myself that I was stupid for buying so many sweaters. This is what we do when we take action based on unclear goals: we try our hardest and then blame ourselves.
2. Provides a sense of control.
So, anyway, I wore dress-up clothes to school, because that’s what my grandmas bought me. I didn’t know they were dress-up clothes, but I happen to have saved my dress that I wore on the first day of third grade, and it’s incredible how inappropriately formal it is.
My grandma ended up telling me things that I don’t think she told anyone else. I think, as she got older, she wanted someone to know, and she thought it would be fine to tell me because I had already been corrupted in so many ways.
She told me that her mother gave her this advice on the day of her wedding about sex: “It will hurt a lot. Don’t say anything. Just lay there and it will be over fast.”
She also told me that when she had her appendix out, when she was about six years old, the doctor raped her. She said she was groggy from the anesthesia and she wasn’t sure what he was doing.
I remember, we were sitting in the car. She was driving. I remember being surprised that she knew the word rape.
That’s probably when I started feeling like I wanted to be a writer for a job. I wanted to make sure the information was recorded. I wanted to help maintain the public record: doctors were raping little girls in the operating room in the ’30s. Of course we could have guessed this. But I wanted to write down that it’s true. I know it was important to her because she could only say it when she was looking at the road.
3. Provides unambiguous feedback.
My family won’t believe me. My family thinks I’m nuts. That I make stuff up. Of course, that’s the easiest way to deal with me.
Psychology Today has an excellent article about the hereditary nature of Asperger’s. In girls, genetically speaking, the father’s mother has the most impact on the girl, because the mother passes on an X chromosome that combines her mother’s X with her father’s X. But the father passes on an X that came wholly from his mother.
So, if the father’s mother has Asperger’s then the father’s daughter is much more likely to have Asperger’s. This made so many things clear to me. My grandma and I were so similar. No social skills. Great memorizing skills. Both started multiple companies, both had a hard time with marriage, both read incessantly, both had difficulty with emotion and clothing.
Also, my grandma’s father’s mother: all we know about her is that she was very mean and very weird. So of course there’s a great possibility that this is actually just Asperger’s. Also, of my grandma’s granddaughters, I’m the only one that came from her sons. The other granddaughters have great social skills because their father’s mom had great social skills.
The puzzle all fits together in my mind. It makes total sense. But the people in my family would say that I’m nuts. No one wants to hear from me that my grandma had Asperger’s. It’s kind of like people write in the comments that I don’t have it. It’s hard to understand how successful people can have Asperger’s, and my grandma and I share the trait of being excellent entrepreneurs against everyone’s advice.
My family thinks I’m the crazy unreliable person, which is such a stark contrast to what I am in my work. For example, right now I’m going to tell you here that to some extent, the local food movement is responsible for the shift to domesticity that has fueled the resurgency in stay-at-home moms.
It’s a surprising connection, but it makes sense (those links are great – click them!) and you probably believe me. You probably think: Hmm. Interesting.
But whatever you think, you tell me in the comments. I know where I stand with you. It’s very clear, which makes it much easier for us to get what we need from each other.
4. Stretches you without defeating you.
Cassie emails me all the time. About her mom (she won’t do Mother’s Day with Cassie’s girlfriend). About her boss (sales genius with a knack for content). About her girlfriend (she would hate to be on my blog because she would want to control what I said).
What Cassie emails to me most, though, is ideas. She has a million ideas about sales and marketing and social media but the ideas are not relevant to her job. Cassie’s job is actually very easy for her and her mind runs way deeper than her job.
Like, look at this. The coolest chart about marketing technology. Cassie can talk about this chart for hours. Each time she looks a little closer, she gets another idea.
But Cassie’s boss is big at their Fortune 500 company and has to stay focused. Cassie’s co-workers are not interested in her volcano of maybe-inter-connected business ideas. So Cassie tells them to me. And we sort them into startup ideas. I teach her how to evaluate them from a financial perspective. She dumps some ideas and gets more. And what she loves, more than anything, is having someone force her to think more intricately about business models so her questions get sharper and sharper.
I struggle to figure out why I work more than I need to. Clearly I don’t need to earn as much money as I’m earning in order to support my family. But I keep working. And the reason I do it is because the four traits of a good job are nearly impossible to get while taking care of kids, but the four traits are so comforting to have in my life.
We are all capable of seeing a good job and a bad job. We can recognize when our failure is from lack of goals and not lack of effort. We can recognize when we’re not fulfilled at work and we can extend our job to include what we need. Once you know what you need from work you are much more likely to get it. And this is true of me and Cassie and my grandma.